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Trivago vs. Hotels.com: Who has the most effective campaign?

This month’s Adquirer covers travel titans Trivago and Hotels.com as we delve into their campaigns and analyse how they deploy their differing creative strategies to cut through the congested travel marketplace. So, how do their approaches differ, who has the most effective and efficient campaign, and crucially, how can you apply these learnings to your own TV advertising activity?

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Creative analysis – Variety is the spice of life TV advertising
Hotels.com definitely shy away from showing viewers the classic aspirational glimpse into what their trips and holidays could look like with comedy very much the order of the day, perhaps at the expense of the key message(s) they are trying to convey.

Over the last 12 months, Captain Obvious has continued his witty and blunt adventures in two particular creative treatments. The main spot used focuses on winning, covering the hapless “Sally from York” and her clumsy and unlucky holiday which sees her walk into glass walls, sit on the sauna heater and receive the (old hat) water splash from a passing car. The context here is that no matter what befalls Sally, she is still “winning!” – which she shouts after every mishap – because she earned a reward night from Hotels.com. However, this message of a free night’s stay when 10 nights are purchased over time – similar to Itsu and Nando’s for all you sushi and chicken fans – is delivered so quickly and early, that the rest of the ad becomes distractingly all about Sally’s demise and one forgets what all the “winning!” is actually all about. There are 20” and 30” versions of the ad, with the former covering 46% of all impacts over the last 12 months, seemingly being discontinued in April this year.

Their other main spot, launched in 2019, sees Captain Obvious visit a couple in their bathroom – again pushing the rewards night offer and omitting selling points such as price, ease of use or the selection of hotels and destinations that they offer. The reward offer itself only covers 3 seconds of the 30 second spot, with the rest of the ad being dedicated to more comedy and a toilet gag. In 2019, they continue the trend of 20” spots taking the majority of airtime, but the 30” bathroom spot is the most utilised individually.

So, when most of an advertiser’s budget is deployed around a comedic creative strategy, do viewers still retain that sense of why they might prefer Hotels.com and simply see the ad as a jovial reminder to use them next time they need a hotel? Or over time will viewers forget these reasons the more they are omitted, and indeed miss the rewards night message as well?

Where Hotels.com only use three different creative treatments, Trivago utilise many more variations and cover a wider range of benefits and features. So, how does their creative strategy look?

If Hotels.com’s Captain Obvious needed some introduction, the omnipresent and somewhat nameless (as far as the ads go) Australian actress from the Trivago ads surely does not. Her presence culminated in the conquering of London tube stations a couple of summers ago, which led to a backlash from the ad industry, whilst actually delivering them a brand awareness uplift of 15% in London according to YouGov, from 27% to 42% at its peak. So, with that track record, the Aussie predictably remains in the vast majority of their ads to date.

The variety of messaging is such that in one spot they even call out that Trivago doesn’t use pop-up advertising on its website. It seems when you are spending almost £18m per year on TV alone, one has the airtime to discuss a lot of topics! It is quite the contrast to Hotels.com, whose £9.4m TV spend is not inconsiderable by any stretch, which makes their limited creative variation slightly surprising.

Trivago’s most used spot – which has been on the air for almost two years now – sees our Australian lead going through the basics of Trivago, showing that they compare hotel prices from hundreds of websites and apps, finishing with the line: “Trivago just compares, the choice is up to you.” The tone is pleasant, relaxed, clear and concise, making it an obvious foundation spot for their overall campaign. Trivago mainly utilise 30” spots, which cover 58% of their airtime, but they also use 20” (29%), 10” (7%) and 60” (6%) spots in their campaign too. Apparently, with an eye on their ad’s response performance, Trivago tend to have their brand name logo on screen for the entirety of their ads, whereas Hotels.com again leave it to the viewer to do the maths.

Both brands have more of a bias to mobile website visits, according to Hitwise, yet neither advertiser chooses to call out their apps in their ads. One assumes with this level of airtime at their disposal that they would play to the immediate browsing environment viewers will be finding themselves in when reacting and responding to these ads.

So how did these ads succeed in driving traffic to their websites?
Our estimations show that Hotels.com achieved a cost per web visit (CPV) of £5.78 over the last year, which might be seen as pricey for a well-known, high volume operator. This of course takes into account the fact that not all viewers will have the immediate requirement to book a room. Delving deeper, we see that this CPV figure drops to just £1.68 from 1st July to 30th September 2018. This could be down to cheaper airtime or some last-minute airtime booking. Or, it could be down to Sally from York, as 2019’s main creative (in the bathroom) garners a CPV of £4.78, potentially saturating the comedy element and venturing too far from actually telling viewers why they should visit the website and book.

Trivago on the other hand achieved an overall CPV of £1.96 over the last 12 months, but splitting this into the last half of 2018 and the first half of 2019 paints a slightly different picture. The CPV achieved in H2 was estimated to be £1.40, but H1 in 2019 sees that figure rise to £3.98. The potential reasons for this are plentiful, but some clear changes in strategy include introducing 13 new creative treatments to their campaign, with only 4 from 2018 surviving Big Ben’s tolls. Did they go too far with their variety-based approach? Or could their media strategy have negatively affected results…

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Media strategy
Evident changes to Trivago’s strategy include a 15% increase in ITV station impacts in 2019, mainly taken from Sky’s share from the 2018, similar to their counterpart. Was Sky’s inventory providing a more cost-effective response source for Trivago? Noticeably, they take a break from TV in November, and return on Boxing Day – which is actually the cheapest time to hit the airwaves, if you’re interested – as viewers’ thoughts begin to drift towards creating something to look forward to once the turkey is digested.

Across the Adquirer ring, Hotels.com make no attempts to counter the predictable post-summer reduction in traffic by coming off air in September and also not returning until Boxing Day, before taking 3 weeks off across January and February. They too increased their presence on ITV stations by 11%, mainly taking that share away from Sky’s impacts. Hotels.com’s burst strategy is also noteworthy here, as they chose to utilise 2-3 week bursts in 2019, with similar length gaps in between each burst. With annual TV budgets of over £9m, which is more than sufficient for more consistent activity, there must be some valuable learnings behind such a periodic strategy.

In conclusion, there are two very different creative angles at play here, and it seems that Trivago’s variety and deeper pockets have gone some way in them producing better estimated CPV results, based on our analysis. Interestingly, it seems that this position of variety may have been pushed too far, and keeping a level of consistency across an advertiser’s output is a relative requirement when trying to land particular messages within a wider brand dialogue. It is also worth highlighting the fact that both advertisers moved budget from Sky to ITV from 2018 to 2019, and that too could have potentially affected CPV results, as terrestrial impacts in general tend to deliver higher priced but less responsive impacts. This could be boiled down to a simple case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”… and “if it is broke, change it!”


The Adquirer provides insight into the creative and media strategies behind the campaigns of industry-leading advertisers, with estimated costs per web visit results provided by our data scientists utilising sources including Hitwise, Nielsen and BARB.