IDEA: Who can resist the dulcet tones of a lecherous old crooner? Hotel staff can't. Or at least, they couldn't a generation ago, when the old windbag was in his prime. Charm, and baritone pipes, would get him a fancy suite, and the girl as well. But now, in a pair of Kayak.com ads from Barton F. Graf 9000, we find the crooner bemoaning his fate—in plaintive song. He used to seduce his way to a corner room with extra towels. These days, he needs Kayak just to get in the front door. While continuing to position the travel-search site as a simple, effective tool in a world of comically inefficient alternatives, the agency is shifting the focus from flights to hotels. So, the campaign is getting gussied up a bit. The crooner—the latest in a string of oddball characters—is the first to get two spots to himself, a :30 and a :60. And they've paired the ads in a fun way on cable in recent weeks. So, maybe things aren't so grim for the old dirtbag after all.
COPYWRITING: The crooner, loosely based on guys like Steve Lawrence and Robert Goulet, came out of the existing creative strategy. Previous spots suggested there's no good reason not to use Kayak—only bad reasons. Likewise, there are no good reasons not to find hotels through Kayak—only old or dumb reasons. The crooner's song was written on the fly. "We were at lunch during the shoot," said chief creative officer Gerry Graf. "We all huddled together, quickly wrote out the whole song, had him rehearse it once going straight to camera, and after lunch we picked it up in a couple of takes."
The script was straightforward. "We messed around a little bit, but found our way there pretty quickly," said executive creative director Eric Kallman. At the end, the crooner says in voiceover: "You could save 25 percent or more on the same hotel. Kayak. Search one and done." A digital version of an old split-flap departure-board display echoes the message.
ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Director Harold Einstein looked for a hotel to shoot in, but couldn't find the right location. So, he built the entire set in the lobby of an apartment building in Pasadena, Calif. "Coming off the bar, seeing the crooner, seeing the lush bar he's in, and going into a hotel lobby—we were looking for a very specific shot, and we just weren't finding it," said Graf. "Then we found this place, and we could get that shot just by building around it." Earlier spots, focusing on flights, were shot on 16-millimeter film in nondescript offices and homes. This one had to look more impressive. It was shot digitally "to bring a crisp, clear quality to it," said Kallman. "The picture is much more lush, and the colors are more saturated," added Graf.
TALENT: Einstein cast in four or five cities, eventually finding an actor named Andy Stahl in Nashville, Tenn. "We were casting for someone with a fantastic voice who could act, and we found him," said Graf. "Working with us, Harold built the look. He's wigged and mustached. He doesn't look anything like he does on camera." Added Kallman: "I went with Harold through all kinds of old pictures of crooners from the '50s, '60s and '70s. I think we took three or four hours at least just wardrobing the character—not just the suit but the rings, the watch, the chain under his scarf. We went to town with the details."
SOUND: The sound is mostly ambient hotel-bar piano, delivered with a bit more conviction when the crooner sings the full song in the :60.
MEDIA: The :30 broke in September, the :60 in October. The two spots have bookended commercials pods—beginning with :30, ending with the :60—on shows like TBS's Conan and Comedy Central's The Daily Show.
Agency: Barton F. Graf 9000, New York Production Company: Station Film
Director: Harold Einstein
Exec Producer: Eric Liney
Editorial: Mackenzie Cutler
Editor: Gavin Cutler
Asst. Editor: Ryan Steele
Exec Producer: Sasha Hirschfeld
Audio: Sound Lounge
Audio Engineer: Tom Jucarone
Colorist: Tim Massick