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Insurer Finds the Humor in Common Travails of Travel

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Travel Guard International, whose insurance-policy sales have boomed amid travel concerns major and mundane, is launching its first TV effort with work from BVK.

Breaking today, three spots from the Milwaukee agency take a humorous look at how common problems endured by travelers can be alleviated with travel insurance, which covers lost baggage, medical emergencies and canceled trips. BVK won the account last May.

The Stevens Point, Wis., company's effort is a limited one, with a budget of about $2 million and a buy on the Travel Channel only, but it may be unique for the category.

"Nobody else is doing it," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst at Forrester Research. "Nobody is advertising travel insurance. And with the lack of travel-related advertising on TV, their commercials have a better chance of standing out."

One spot shows a group of baggage handlers having fun on the tarmac with the contents of a suitcase that was tossed and comes open. The shot pans back to a hapless traveler watching from the gate area. All of the ads end with a voiceover saying, "For the things you can't imagine when traveling, there's Travel Guard insurance," along with an onscreen 800 number and Web address.

Two other commercials focus on medical mishaps, one during a trip, another before. In one, a couple is riding bicycles in Italy. The man runs into a bush because he's leering at a comely woman. His wife asks if he's OK, he says yes, and she kicks him.

In the other, a man reads from a travel guide and munches on cheese snacks while his wife uses a vacuum pack to consolidate their belongings in a suitcase. When the man drops crumbs on his chest, she cleans him up. But his nipple gets sucked into the vacuum, leading to a hospital scene and a canceled trip.

Founded in 1985, Travel Guard has been sold largely through travel agents, said Dan McGinnity, vp of communications. Awareness of the category increased after 9/11, and Travel Guard's sales spiked 78 percent last year compared with 2001, McGinnity said. He declined to give sales figures for the privately held company.

The increase is not about fear of catastrophe, but rather concerns changes in airline and hotel policies and the way people book trips, McGinnity said. Tickets and reservations are often nonrefundable. At the same time, the precarious state of many airlines has travelers on edge. "Travel has been hard-hit," McGinnity said. "Travelers want someplace to turn if something goes wrong."

The campaign's focus on common travel issues rather than on fear and anxiety was applauded by Harteveldt. "That's exactly the right thing to do," he said. "The medical thing happens all the time."

McGinnity said 70 percent of claims are for canceled trips, mostly for medical reasons, all unexpected and some bizarre.

"Some of it's so absurd, like getting run over by a donkey," said BVK creative director Gary Mueller. "It isn't things you could imagine. That was the insight."

Set to break in early April, the TV effort was delayed because of the war in Iraq. The spots will also be part of a viral e-mail campaign, and print ads will run in travel publications.

The campaign will attempt to build the category as well as the brand. "It's one of those things you don't want to buy," Mueller said. "We want to get on the radar screen."