Hotwire Pushes Frugality on TV

DeVito/Verdi spots say it is ‘badge of honor’ to be cheap

Hotwire.com targets cost-conscious travelers with new TV spots that urge consumers to “Fly. Sleep. Eat. Cheap.”

The three-year-old site’s first TV work, which bows this week from DeVito/Verdi, New York, follows radio ads that in April broke the tag. The strategy for both: To position the site as a beacon for frugal travelers.

“In today’s economy, saving money is a badge of honor,” said Ty Shay, vp of marketing for the San Francisco-based client.

In one spot, a father encourages his son to jump into a hotel pool. The boy exclaims, “Look Dad, a quarter!” and the dad jumps into the water fully clothed. He emerges, quarter in hand, as copy appears: “Now that’s our kind of customer.”

“Expedia and the Travelocities are the Wal-Mart and Target of the industry. They have a broad appeal,” Shay said. “We serve a specific niche of people whose main concern is cost.”

Hotwire must raise its profile against larger competitors, said Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research. “Priceline was in the market first. If consumers have bookmarked Priceline, Hotwire has to work really hard to overcome that bookmark,” he said.

Hotwire in 2002 booked $550 million, sixth in the category and far behind leader Expedia’s $5.3 billion in gross bookings, according to PhoCusWright’s Online Travel Overview.

Hotwire will spend $40 million on ads this year, including online efforts, Shay said. Offline spending last year was $20 million, about the same as Priceline. Expedia spent $50 million, and Orbitz, $30 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.