Databank News: Orbitz stays on e-marketing course

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Online discount-travel broker Orbitz, launched in June as a venture financed by American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines, uses interactive for between 70% and 80% of its marketing. (The company spent $30 million on its launch campaign, via Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day.) So it should be no surprise that the site was the biggest advertiser on major news Web sites during September, according to research and analysis firm Jupiter Media Metrix.

But what is surprising is that the company still was one of the top advertisers despite the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, which prompted it to pull its advertising for about two weeks. Orbitz returned with a revamped message, moving from autumn sales to promotions of its "care" services. "We, like everybody else, pulled back on all of our marketing," said Mike Sands, Orbitz's VP-marketing. "We reformatted our site to be communicative with consumers about ways they could get help."

When Orbitz began to run its banners on news sites and others such as Google, Yahoo! and Landmark Communications' Weather.com, the ads were more tuned to the concerns of travelers following the terrorist attacks.

They promoted Orbitz's care alerts, which provide updated flight information to customers' wireless devices or a voice mailbox that they access through a personal-identification number, as well as promotional fares.

"[The new campaign] was informational advertising about reconnecting with friends and family, plus information about great new sales that our partners were coming to market with to get people traveling," Mr. Sands said.

The media buy seems to have worked: Company research found that more than 85% of users who used the care alerts after the disaster would use them again, he said.

While the site has been promoted offline as well, for the time being the company plans to keep its focus on interactive media, including banners and e-mails. "We feel that it's time to be prudent, and what we like about e-marketing is we find it accountable," Mr. Sands said.

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