Orbitz Tries Halo Effect

BOSTON Orbitz.com today unveils a major repositioning from Interpublic Group’s Mullen, the first work by the agency for the travel site since it added the account in November following a review.

Orbitz competitors Expedia.com and Priceline.com have also launched work from newly hired agencies in recent weeks.

A new theme, “A step ahead,” replaces the two-year-old “Orbitz and go” as the primary tagline. New ads show halos literally orbiting consumers’ heads when they make smart travel choices using the client’s products and services.

One spot, “Goodbye,” is set in an airport, and features a weepy farewell between a romantic couple. When the OrbitzTLC mobile service brings news of a flight delay, theoretically allowing them more time to say goodbye, they decide instead to separate, one heading home, the other to the duty-free store.

Another commercial, “Fingernails,” takes place in an office setting. A worker in one cubicle customizes his travel package via Orbitz. Another cannot easily do so, as he is attempting to set a world record for long fingernails.

Each spot prominently features the aforementioned “halo effect.”

“The brand differentiation goes well beyond alerts as we continue to define service within the Internet age,” said Tom Russell, client vp, brand marketing. “Through marketing’s partnership with our technology team, we can better tell the story of Orbitz’ differentiation through our enhanced communication strategy.”

Orbitz has spent approximately $70 million annually on ads in recent years, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. WPP Group’s MediaCom in New York handles planning and buying chores.

Mullen in Wenham, Mass., added Orbitz’s creative by outpacing Omnicom Group’s Element 79 in Chicago in the competition’s final round. The client had previously been with WPP’s Young & Rubicam in Chicago for creative chores. Orbitz was by far Mullen’s largest new-business score last year.

A general desire to improve creative, coupled with management changes—such as Steven Barnhart’s ascension last September as president—drove the decision to review. (He has since also added the title of CEO.)

In terms of the competition, Expedia in February debuted work themed “Go with confidence,” using its trademark yellow suitcase as a symbol of confident travel. The work was the first for the client from independent shop Doner in Southfield, Mich.

Since winning Priceline late last year, independent Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners in Sausalito, Calif., has cast longtime pitchman William Shatner as “The Negotiator” in a recent series of campy spots.

Expedia, the global market leader, saw its share erode about 5 percent last year, though it still leads the segment at roughly 35 percent, per PhocusWright. The No. 2 player, Travelocity.com, has about 25 percent of the market. The next two players, Orbitz and Travelport, have about 15 and 8 percent of the market, respectively. Priceline ranks fifth.