Orbitz effort lifts off on TV

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Orbitz, a Web site backed by major airlines, launches its first TV campaign today, as the summer vacation season starts and the trend toward online travel planning accelerates.

Separately, another airline-backed startup site, Hotwire, has quietly parted with Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, and moved its account to DiMassimo Brand Advertising, New York. Hotwire indicated it is moving away from brand-building TV advertising, focusing instead on grass roots, word-of-mouth advertising, along with public relations and direct mail.

Orbitz (orbitz.com) today breaks its 30-second launch spot in eight key markets; two 15-second spots will start in mid- to late-July. Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, created the estimated $30 million effort. A sweeping print, airport and online campaign broke June 4. The company is spending close to $100 million on total marketing efforts.

Orbitz enters a marketplace that has been growing steadily. Defying the odds of fellow dot-com industries, online travel sales have soared. Last year, sales weighed in at a healthy $14.5 billion, more than twice the 1999 sales total, according to PhoCusWright, an online travel consulting firm. PhoCusWright projects this year's online travel spending to hit $23 billion and to climb to more than $40 billion in 2003.

Selling online has made it easier for low-fare airlines to keep costs low and court buyers. Southwest Airlines, for example, last year snagged $1.4 billion in online sales through its Web site, almost twice as much as the next highest earner, Delta Air Lines, according to PhoCusWright. But Southwest, as well as travel sites such as Expedia and Travelocity (AA, May 28), have a new challenger with the launch of Orbitz.

"There's lots of room to grow in this industry because there are lots of consumers yet to come online," said Roland Jacobs, Orbitz's chief marketing officer. "Many of them are intimidated because no one site contains all the information they need. That's the big consumer confidence gap that Orbitz is setting out to bridge."

The U.S. airline industry's Big Five-American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines-created Orbitz to grab a larger share of the online market. While these airlines account for 69% of all domestic flights, they only account for 34% of all online domestic sales, according to PhoCusWright.

Hotwire, on the otherhand, was founded by Texas Pacific Group with $75 million in investment capital and a number of airlines as partners, among them American, America West, Continental, Northwest, United and USAirways.

Hotwire.com originally anticipated spending $40 million on its advertising campaign. Spending, however, was only at $500,000 in 2000, but up to $1.5 million in the first two months of 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres CMR. Goodby did produce a TV campaign that used graphics reminiscent of the airline safety cards found in the seat pockets in front of passengers.

Orbitz markets itself as having so many flight choices that consumers will find e-booking not only easy, but fun. TV spots use humor to promote the breadth of flight options available on Orbitz vs. unnamed rival sites.

With its new print campaign, Orbitz called upon two octogenarian illustrators, Robert Swanson and David Klein, to create ads recalling the "golden era" of travel.

The artists created six avant-garde ads that will appear beginning this month in 65 magazines and newspapers and on 15 online portals; the ad will also appear on airport billboards and airplane meal tray cards and postcards, all touting the tagline "Visit Planet Earth."

While Orbitz advertises the ability to search flights from 455 airlines, not every low-cost fare will be available for booking online. Fares from Southwest will be shown, but Southwest chose not to pay to book flights through the site.

To draw travelers to its own site, Southwest today launches two spots from Omnicom's GSD&M, Austin, Texas. One depicts a man standing forlornly in a corner, punished by his wife for overspending on airline tickets. He asks: "How did I know that not all airlines were represented on this Web site?"

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo

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