NEW YORK SideStep rolled out an online promotion featuring Star Trek: The Next Generation star Patrick Stewart in a bid to draw more users to its travel search engine.
The promotion will award a grand prize winner a five-day trip for two to London, where they will receive $15,000 in cash and a chance to meet Stewart for a night of drinks at Asia de Cuba and dinner at Nobu.
SideStep's promotion is a thinly veiled swipe at competitor Priceline, which has long featured Star Trek's William Shatner in its TV ads. Sidestep will promote the giveaway on its site and hopes to generate word-of-mouth buzz, thanks to Stewart's celebrity.
Unlike Priceline and travel sites Expedia and Travelocity, SideStep plans to skip television and traditional advertising, relying instead on customer recommendations to build its user base, said Phil Carpenter, Santa Clara, Calif.-based SideStep's vice president of marketing.
"We really believe that it's by building a better product you have the opportunity to wow folks," he said. "It's the same approach that Google has taken."
SideStep hopes to take Google's approach to Web pages to the travel sector. Unlike Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline's fixed-price service, SideStep does not sell plane tickets or hotel rooms, instead searching dozens of travel sites for fares and rates. Users can click through to the airline or hotel site to complete the transaction. SideStep generates revenue through site advertising.
That new Google-led Silicon Valley ethos has led to the current crop of startups avoiding the big ad expenditures common during the dot-com boom. SideStep, which has received $17 million in venture financing, only runs search ads to draw users to its site.
"We don't think in this new Internet age that spending your way to success is going to work in the long term," Carpenter said. "Consumers are smart, they've been through phase one of Internet growth and now they're savvier."