TripAdvisor is looking for another creative agency less than a year after it said it hired The Fantastical, a start-up agency founded by former Mullen group creative directors Michael Ancevic and Steve Mietelski.
The Fantastical's CCO Ancevic said the agency was never appointed as creative lead, and was given only a project. He added that Ari Merken, a long-time friend and colleague of Anne Bologna who was hired last July as TripAdvisor’s vp of brand strategy, was responsible for the company’s North American work.
The Fantastical produced a campaign that ran in Europe and South America, he said, although he acknowledged producing the company's first TV spot, which ran as a test in the U.S. The Fantastical stopped working with TripAdvisor after Merken's hire.
Last September, TripAdvisor—known primarily for its reviews of hotels, rentals and restaurants but which has also expanded into comparative hotel price searches—launched its first national TV campaign, with directing credits given to Merkin. Around that time, a Cowen & Co. report said the company was pausing its test of commercials and would not spend the $40-50 million in media spending earmarked for the rest of the year, causing its stock to drop 2 percent. A company rep later denied any changes in its media spending.
Bologna did not respond to requests for comment but a company rep confirmed it was having “conversations” with agencies it did not identify. The Fantastical is not participating in the review, sources said, but among the agencies said to be competing for the account are Hill Holliday, Boston; Johannes Leonardo, N.Y.; Leo Burnett, N.Y.; and Goodby Silverstein & Partners, N.Y. Hill Holliday already handles media planning and buying, responsibilities it was given when TripAdvisor hired The Fantastical.
Those agencies either could not be reached or declined comment.
Ari Merken and Anne Bologna have a history of following each other in their careers. They worked together at Fallon New York and later opened a New York boutique, Toy, which closed in 2010. After that agency was shuttered, Merken rejoined Crispin Porter & Bogusky as an executive creative director. He was followed by Toy’s third partner, and former Fallon colleague, David Dabill, who moved to Crispin parent MDC Partners in June 2011 as chief administrative officer, a new role. Bologna joined MDC in December 2011 as managing director after an 18-month stint at Cramer- Krasselt. (By November, 2012 Merkin was already on to his next gig as chief brand officer and partner at Ft. Lauderdale digital shop AgencyNet, which was being rebranded as Ten.)