Travelocity's British Humor Lost on U.S. Viewers

By Published on .

Agency: McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C.
Star Rating: 1.5

Ah, the smoking gnome.

AdReview has often grumbled about advertising that gets so caught up in its own cuteness, or hipness, or comedy, or irony, or High Concept,

Travelocity ads feature a roaming gnome.

that it neglects the wants, needs, desires, sensibilities and interests of the target audience. (You know: the potential customers, the ones with the money.)

But in the new campaign for from McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., we may have discovered a certain purity of irrelevance: a campaign so wordy, silly and self-indulgent that its central joke refers to the pop culture of another continent.

That continent happens to be Europe, which, in spite of the Internet, is still between five and nine time zones away.

Odd tagline
The campaign, oddly tagged "Don't forget your hat," follows the adventures of a ceramic garden gnome being spirited from one vacation destination to another.

"Now I'm in le Quebec!" the roaming British gnome says, in addition to much else, in one spot, posed next to a large wheel of cheese. "I'm something of a cheese connoisseur. I do enjoy a stinky cheese, a pungent, ghastly, stinky piece of cheese!"

The joke is based on the kitschy appeal of such colorful little eyesores to unsophisticated middle-class Britons, who display them proudly despite their manifest declasse. We have pink flamingoes and mirrored lawn balls on pedestals; they have plaster pachysandra sprites. But gnomes' very existence has inspired a cult of kidnapping, in which they're nicked by neighbors, taken to exotic locations and held for ransom. All in good, ironic fun, of course.

Campy high jinks
That's the background. OK, so let's just say that large numbers of those in Travelocity's American target audience are somehow hip to the campy high jinks gnomes inspire 4,000 miles away. And let's just say those people are so fixated on TV commercials that they don't tune out a lot of obscure verbiage but pay strictest attention to every oddball word.

Those are big "ifs," but, Your Honor, we'll stipulate. We'll further stipulate that such close attention yields some smiles. "Stinky cheese" is not an unamusing concept. That leaves us with the visuals: vacation destinations shot in such a way as to make them look, well, not especially appealing. The seductive Alpine beauty of a ski resort, for instance, is rendered markedly less seductive by a piece of stupid statuary duct-taped to a pair of skis, like Buddy Lee in an elf's cap.

Transitory traffic boost
The agency points to Rose Bowl teaser ads and other integrated elements of the campaign meant to establish the gnome-kidnap concept. It also points to an increase in traffic since the campaign broke. While we concede that the gnome, with years of service, could eventually become the Pillsbury Doughboy of online travel, we're inclined to believe he won't last that long -- and that the traffic boost was transitory, based on the sudden blast of advertising. Any advertising.

The question remains, if you are looking for something peripatetic and funny to stand for your travel-booking brand, why import it from a foreign culture? We have plenty right here in the U.S.A. If you wanted, say, an American gnome who's famously going to Michigan, and South Carolina, and Delaware, and California, and Washington, D.C. ... yee-HAAA! Howard Dean might soon be available.

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