Travelocity Travels Back to McKinney, Shop That Created the Gnome

Account Was Parked at Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett For Nearly Two Years

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After nearly two years at Leo Burnett, the Travelocity account has returned to McKinney, the agency that created the famed gnome mascot.

McKinney won the account in late 2003, and held onto it until July 2010, when the marketer put the account up for review. It awarded the business to Publicis Groupe 's Leo Burnett and Razorfish -- though Razorfish hasn't worked on the business in some time -- and media was handed to Zenith, which will continue to work on the account. Performance Media Group also recently picked up digital and search marketing for Travelocity.

It's not often in adland that accounts boomerang back to the agency that lost it, and Travelocity declined to provide specifics on why the account has shifted back to McKinney. It's understood that the split between Leo Burnett and Travelocity may have been rooted in strategic differences.

It also comes on the heels of an ad-related fine served up to the travel website by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The agency said in late July that an investigation found that Travelocity's website sometimes omitted fuel surcharges in the advertised price of tickets, something that is required under a new D.O.T. rule issued this year.

Brad Wilson, Travelocity's CMO, declined to comment on the agency shift beyond this statement: "McKinney's passion for our brand and love of the Roaming Gnome is unquestioned. We are looking forward to tapping into their creative and strategic thinking immediately as we continue to tell our story to travelers."

Although McKinney created the gnome, Leo Burnett continues to use the mascot in its advertising, so it's likely the gnome's presence will be seen in McKinney's upcoming work.

"We've helped him grow through several iterations, and have a good sense of how to use him moving forward," said McKinney Chairman and CEO Brad Brinegar, of the Travelocity gnome. "Helping Travelocity stand out from the crowd is something we have experience with. As the world continues to be more complicated and there's more competition, the ability to optimize every aspect of the brand is important, and nobody knows [the brand] better than we do." Leo Burnett declined to comment.

Travelocity, a privately held company, has significantly decreased its measured-media spending since 2009, according to Kantar Media. The company in 2009 spent more than $80 million on U.S. measured media, but in 2010, it slashed that number to $47 million. Travelocity did, however, up its spending in 2011 to nearly $55 million.

For McKinney, the news comes a week after Cheil Worldwide finalized the deal to acquire the Durham, N.C.-based shop. Ad Age first reported in June that the Korean holding company was in talks to buy McKinney.

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