HomeAway Looks for Reset After Last Year's Super Bowl Gaffe

Vacation Rental Firm Looking for a New Agency

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Smarting from its Super Bowl controversy earlier this year, HomeAway, the online vacation rental marketplace, is looking for a new creative agency.

The search for a new shop comes months after HomeAway attracted criticism for a 30-second Super Bowl spot, which was officially called "Test Baby" but earned the nickname "Smush" for depicting a baby doll thrown up against a window, with its face being smushed. The ad, created by Austin-based agency Vendor, was yanked shortly after its big debut after consumers accused HomeAway of trivializing child abuse and in showing a likeness of an infant being injured. Consumers also took issue with an online component of the campaign, where website visitors were told they could customize the ad by uploading pictures, and if they so chose, decapitating the baby.

Matt Cohen, senior director of global brand marketing at HomeAway, in an email told Ad Age that the company expects to select a new shop in the next month, and noted that the new agency will not be working on a Super Bowl commercial. "Our approach starting in 2012 will be to build our brand over the long term. A key component of our review process is to learn how different agency partners might attack this marketing challenge."

HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples
HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples

At a public speaking event in Texas this month, CEO Brian Sharples acknowledged the problems it faced with the Super Bowl and why it's not going back: "After the experience last year, I don't have the stomach for it," he was quoted as saying by the Austin Business Journal.

Austin-based HomeAway is understood to have held talks with a range of shops, including some local agencies in Austin such as GSD&M and McGarrah Jessee. The latter recently exited the review, though. Said a spokesman: "Based on our early involvement with their branding efforts we had several recent discussions with HomeAway, but we chose not to participate in the spec creative phase of their current review." Vendor, the agency that was responsible for the panned ad, isn't part of the process.

HomeAway's first foray into Super Bowl advertising was in 2010. That year it played it a lot safer with a theme that leaned heavily on the 80s comedy "National Lampoon's Vacation." That spot was created by a different agency too: Publicis, Seattle. In recent years, the big game has seen a wealth of interest from dot coms, among them Hulu, GoDaddy, Groupon, LivingSocial, Cars and Auto-Trader.

It's no wonder that HomeAway is rethinking its Super Bowl presence since a misstep in the big game can be very costly.

NBC has been seeing robust demand from marketers looking to angle their way into the 2012 Super Bowl, and is said to have been seeking as much as $3.5 million for a 30-second ad berth (of course not all marketers are paying that price, and in some cases that cost includes ad inventory in other NBC Sports broadcasts and even pre- and post-Super Bowl coverage). But if the network is indeed getting $3.5 million in some cases, that would mark a new high for Super Bowl inventory, breaking the high that Fox hit last year when it sought as much as $3 million.

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Contributing:Brian Steinberg

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