Chicago Sun-Times
Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

Recently in Orbitz.com Category

It's hardly a new tactic. But it is cheap. And cheap is apparently what Cheaptickets.com, a unit of Chicago-based Orbitz Worldwide, wants. Cheaptickets.com has launched a "we're too cheap to advertise" contest.

The Web-based seller of discounted leisure travel products will award $50,000 in free travel to the person who creates the best 30-second commercial demonstrating how it feels to save with Cheaptickets.com.

The idea here, of course, is to circumvent the costs of dealing with a traditional ad agency and let a layman do the hard work of coming up with an advertising concept for Cheaptickets.com. It's certainly worked for other brands that have even managed to win over discerning Super Bowl viewers with ads created by consumers rather than ad professionals.

The winning spot in the Cheaptickets.com contest will air on the Travel Channel, which reaches more than 95 million United States households. For more information go to www.cheaptickets.com/commercials.

BBDO/New York, the new agency of record for Orbitz.com, could be a reasonably good fit for the travel Web site. You see, BBDO has had some experience dealing with a dysfunctional client. A big one called PepsiCo. While Chicago-based Orbitz.com isn't an operation anywhere near so big as PepsiCo, it's certainly displayed just about as much dysfunctionality in recent years, especially when it comes to advertising issues. Orbitz has churned through more ad agencies and marketing chiefs than we care to count.

That wouldn't be such an issue, really, if the work that all these marketing honchos and agencies produced had been great stuff. But it hasn't been. Most of it, in fact, has been dreadful. Which is another reason Orbitz can be glad BBDO has signed on with the company. They are certainly capable of doing well-above-average work, though their track record of late has been a bit spotty. Whether Orbitz's current marketing chief Deborah Italiano can work with BBDO to craft a smart new campaign that doesn't make the Web site seem to be a place where dummies go for their travel needs remains to be seen. But both will need to work fast to ensure yet another Orbitz marketing upheaval doesn't derail the whole effort.

It's become a familiar -- and somewhat disturbing -- occurrence in recent years at the Chicago-based travel Web site Orbitz.com. The company said Wednesday it has brought on board yet another new vice-president of brand marketing Deborah Italiano, who most recently was handling marketing for another travel Web operation, Travelocity.com.

An Orbitz spokesman also said the company is now conducting a closed agency review. Only last year, Orbitz brought on board Trailer Park/Los Angeles to work on both creative concepts and advertising production, though Trailer Park over the past year primarily was a production source for Orbitz. The ad campaign Orbitz is currently running was produced by Mullen/Boston, another agency the company has worked with in recent years, along with Young & Rubicam/Chicago. Orbitz apparently has asked Trailer Park and Mullen to re-pitch the business. Orbitz would not disclose the names of other shops it has asked to participate.

Meanwhile, Italiano is the third executive in the last five years that has signed on to handle Orbitz's marketing responsibilities. Orbitz no longer has an executive with the chief marketing officer title, but now uses the vice-president of brand marketing title instead.

The entire travel industry has been hard hit by the sharp economic downturn the past couple of years, which may explain in part the reason for Orbitz's rapid turnover in marketing executives and ad agencies working for the company. But Orbitz and the various agencies it has worked with also have struggled to come up with ad campaigns capable of galvanizing the public's attention and compelling customers to turn to Orbitz instead of several other aggressive competitors.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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