Oof. Talk about clunky transitions…
Hotels.com is a top contender as far as online booking services are concerned. Their reputation generally appears trustworthy, charismatic, and accountable–all qualities fundamental to the longevity of a company premised on third-party services. Prior campaigns, like this light-hearted animated series, set a distinctive tone that was light, comical, and family-friendly. Their new ad campaign for 2014, “Captain Obvious” isn’t so obviously great. Taking bits and pieces from preexisting viral campaigns, this commercial series appears to be a off-shot knockoff lacking in originality and asserting a new tone that digests as well as the meat casserole at a half-star resort.
Captain Obvious is an ambiguously aged man who embodies a strange mix between the Captain Morgan’s pirate and the Old Spice man. He blurts out the obvious (like reaffirming there’s water in the pool), in both mundane and hyperbolic situations. The idea in itself isn’t horrible. I will admit that I had a few chuckles at some of the delivered lines.
What didn’t click so well was how the tone seemed so misaligned with the brand. Standing on its own, the commercials don’t necessarily crumble, but in relation to their previous work, this series seems like a slight stumble backwards. It’s an interesting example of a rebranding attempt, or at least a branding shift. I would argue, given the nature of the videos, that Hotels.com is trying to make an appeal to younger travellers who would find this type of humour captivating. Don’t believe me? Here is a video showing Captain Obvious’s foiled pickup attempt at a bar. It’s a bit of a stretch from claymation and surely doesn’t scream “family vacation”.
So what can we take away from this? Without focusing too heavily on the negative, this example offers some insight brand transitions. I previously labelled this particular one clunky. If the original board-meeting plan was to achieve some form of viral internet success, I’m afraid this was a miss. Remember, originality is key. Many still argue that viral success can be reduced to a formula (kitten+baby+unexpected end=2 million views), but even at the root of that formula is usually imagery that sparks new connections in the viewer’s head, making it memorable and most importantly, shareable. Many of these short clips are painfully similar in tone to the famous Old Spice campaign, given the comparable comedic timing and puzzling male lead nonchalantly walking us through various scenarios.
New spokespeople or changes in branding strategy do not always signal the demise of a brand. These changes can often be positive steps towards ultimately widening a market. What Hotels.com missed here was being able to either match or exceed the quality of work achieved in their previous marketing campaigns. Poor execution doesn’t leave for a memorable experience and in a competitive market, they had big shoes to fill. Perhaps a comedic lead with less of a forced “shock factor” put in exciting scenarios would have taken this campaign to the next level. All in all, the numbers speak for themselves and by quick assessment of youtube views, it becomes painfully obvious that this campaign didn’t come close to making a dent in the viral history books. Let this be a lesson for all!