Is flooding the tube with Trivago ads good marketing or plain dumb?

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It will certainly “win an award for one of the dullest ads of all time”, was on ad bloggers comment, “dull looking woman in a blue shirt with a destination (mainly Amsterdam), a generic proposition and a big logo. How dull can you get?”

National newspapers have commented that it’s not gone down well with commuters, many finding the campaign excessive and even ‘creapy’.

When it comes to polar extremes, quantity vs quality ads, Trivago has opted for quantity without quality. The only ads equally as dull and intense on the tube are Vitabiotics.

Both can argue that their marketing tactics have been successes in terms of growth. But if they had opted for a smarter strategic approach and better creative, could they have done the same job more efficiently, and for a fraction of the media cost? I think 90% of experience admen would say yes.

This is marketing by bulldozer. Blunt force media. All mind, no heart.

But, you can’t knock success – they are the world’s largest online hotel search site, comparing rates from over 1 million hotels and more than 250 booking sites worldwide. The site includes over 190 million hotel ratings and 14 million photos, with over 120 million visitors per month.

Since 2015 (they were founded in Germany in 2005) Trivago has seen massive growth, coincidently, since they first started using Gabrielle Miller in their ads. But other sites have also seen growth as more of us use the web.

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Before Miss Miller, they did a campaign through Noah (2014) using Mr Men like characters. 

Trivago reported a 67% growth in its revenue for the first half of 2017, and a net income of €4.3m (£3.98m), up from a loss of €50m last year. But what about profit?

The share price has been declining since June and fallen from 23.66 to 14.77USD (NASDAQ). Less than a year ago, Forbes advised people not to invest in Trivago (TRVG), giving it a ‘dangerous’ rating – one reason being: “The firm’s ‘middleman’ business model lacks the differentiation and competitive advantage needed to achieve and sustain profitability.”
Ultimately, Trivago generates revenue by referring users to a specific booking agency, such as Expedia, Travelocity, or Priceline (PCLN). However, as a middleman, Trivago’s service is simply an aggregation of commodity-like data that is available through any number of booking sites, search providers (Google), and hotel specific sites.

Trivago is heavily reliant upon booking agencies to continue operations. Expedia and Priceline represented 39% and 28% of revenue in 2015, respectively. Essentially, 67% of 2015 revenue came from firms that also compete directly with Trivago, and provide more in depth services (hotel search and booking).

Of course two key factors are ROAS and RPQR, especially as marketing costs are so high and restricting profits.

Growth could also be down to their spend, rather than Miss Miller – in the UK alone they spend over £26m (reference ALF – 83.5% on TV, 3.5 on digital but no figure declared yet for OOH). That excludes PPC! Thought ALF doesn’t list a creative agency – I suspect because they don’t currently have one. It all looks like a cheap in-house job.

I suspect success is because they simply have the best product on the market, the best connections and model at this moment. Not because of the Miss Miller ad campaign.

So maybe the question isn’t why are the ads so dull, but why spend so much on advertising when you are already number one?

The irony is that most of us have heard of Trivago, along with Bookings.com (always top of the search), Hotels.com, TripAdvisor, LastMinute.com, Expedia (who are a majority shareholder in Trivago), and the rest.

So what are they trying to achieve? Brand recognition alone doesn’t equal more trusted or more bought.

If they did try a more strategic, creative route they could probably achieve the same increase in sales for £10m. But don’t waste you time having that conversation with clients who don’t get the power of creative, you’ll never win the argument. Instead, just take the money, it’s easier.

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You may recall that the Wonderbra Hello Boys poster campaign budget was ¼ of its revival. And was voted one of the most iconic ads of all time. Wonderbra’s growth was over 300% (according to one website). Who was the rival I hear you say? Precisely.

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According to the newspapers, the ads not been a positive hit, in fact social media comments are less than positive. But for those who are less experienced in brand marketing, the old adage “any publicity is good publicity” are misinformed.

“The British public have been left feeling freaked out by the Trivago advert” was the opening line of the Sun. One commuter counted 38 ads in one station alone.

“Londoners have told how they are being left unnerved,” was the Evening Standards opening words.

I am sure there is an airhead somewhere saying, “look everyone is talking about us”. But is anyone saying, “Wow, I must use Trivago instead of the other 12 options.” No.

Its highly original proposition is… ‘Find your ideal hotel at the best price’.

Umm, isn’t that the same proposition all travel sites offer? Couldn’t they have come up with a better line than that? Well they are essentially a German tech company, and in my experience, those clients don’t understand emotional engagement, they just like facts and like to tell it straight.

So why, as a consumer, should I choose Trivago?

It’s hardly because the woman (who looks very uncomfortable) is an icon, a celebrity or even great looking – she’s certainly no Eva Herzigova. (Thankfully sexist ads are now a thing of the past.)

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In today’s social media work, as shallow as it often is, negative comments can very quickly damage a brand. Could this campaign actually hurt them long term? No one likes a brand that is too pushy and this campaign has irritated a lot of consumers.

What you can’t measure easily is negative word of mouth – remember social is just the tip of an iceberg, WOM is 100 times bigger and 10x more influential.

Getting you name across, as David Ogilvy wisely advised one client, “doesn’t equate to selling.” People do need to trust brands but they buy relevant propositions, and ones that make the brand stand out from the others.

We all know the famous Guinness story about how everyone was talking about their ads in pubs and bars across the UK… whilst drinking gin & tonics. Bad for sales, but some PR or social media person would be claiming it was a success. It wasn’t.

Personally I can’t tell if their strategy will pay off. It’s got some mentions on social (but that’s of little value theses days). It’s got some negative PR – maybe those living under a rock who haven’t heard of Trivago will now.

It doesn’t offer anything different or better than the rest. Yet if you read their Wiki page you’d pick them every time.

I actually think if they stopped running these bland ads the savings would out weight the reduction in sales.

The strategy may not be dumb, but the ads are. What I believe is a proven fact – that they could have achieved the same result for half the media spend with smarter ads.

But when you are on a roll, the best advice is keep doing what works. However, when times get rough, change your strategy fast.

In the last 15 years, 52% of companies have gone from the top 500, many vanishing completely. The average life of a business use to be 75 years, but in today’s digital world it’s about 15. Trivago is already 12 years old.

Staying at the top has never been harder.

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Chris Arnold is a founder of Creative Orchestra Advertising, The Garage (innovation lab) and CONNECT2 (UK’s leading community marketing agency). He is a former director of Saatchi & Saatchi and the former chair of the DMA Agencies Council and the Creative Council. He is the author of Ethical Marketing & The New Consumer and a regular Brand Republic, Campaign and Marketing contributor.

  • HughSalmon

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