Travelocity's roaming gnomes are really racking up the frequent-flyer miles on agency visits this year.
The travel site has hired Assembly in New York without a review to handle U.S. media—and it shipped six gnomes to help the agency celebrate. And in September, the iconic mascot accompanied Travelocity execs to Campbell Ewald in Detroit to celebrate the shop's win in a review for the creative business.
Previously, media was handled by Publicis Groupe's Zenith Media. Travelocity spends about $30 million annually on domestic advertising, according to Kantar Media.
Bruce Horner, the marketer's director of media and alliances, said Assembly was tapped "to ensure that our brand and the Travelocity roaming gnome remain visible, relevant and differentiated in an increasingly competitive landscape."
Expedia Inc. acquired Travelocity at the beginning of the year, and the site's shift to Assembly represents "quite a significant expansion of our relationship" with the parent company, said agency chief executive Martin Cass. The MDC Group shop, formed last year by the merger of TargetCast, RJ Palmer and Doner Media, also handles buying and planning for the flagship Expedia brand, and buying for the company's Hotels.com unit.
All told, Expedia Inc. properties—which also include Orbitz, Hotwire.com and Trivago, among others—account for about 75 percent of the U.S. online travel market. The company spends $265 million annually on U.S. ads, with the Expedia brand accounting for $180 million of that outlay, per Kantar.
"Everyone is trying to crack the code around millennials," said Cass, "so you may well see us focusing on a younger audience" moving forward, including more ads in digital, social and mobile. He cited Expedia's presence on the Vice Network, which has strong millennial appeal, as an example of that strategy already in action.
Industry watchers expect the digital travel ad category to consistently rise in the foreseeable future, with projected spending of $4.85 billion this year and $5.55 billion in 2016, according to eMarketer. A key Expedia Inc. competitor, Priceline.com, shifted creative to BBDO New York late this summer. That move, along with Travelocity's agency shifts, could signal heightened competition in the space next year.