WASHINGTON, August 23, 2014 – You read our rant about the Trivago Man in our previous article. (Or should have.) Not only is this one of the weirdest ad campaigns we can remember. It turns out there’s actually some method to the madness.
Just what is Trivago?
After our initial, wildly negative reaction to the Trivago Man, we decided to do some digging on both the dude in the ad and the company behind the image. Not only did we discover that our negative critique of this bizarre pitchman was shared almost universally among most TV viewers. We also discovered the interesting story about the pitch man and the travel web site he’s trying to sell you.
Trivago is actually a German company, trivago [lower case] GmbH. It was dreamed up circa 2004 by three individuals we never heard of—Peter Vinnemeier, Malte Siewert, and Rolf Schrömgens (try reciting those names three times, quickly)—in Düsseldorf, Germany, and actually went online as a service a year later in 2005.
Trivago’s unique contribution to the growing presence of travel search sites was its developing ability to aggregate information from other such sites. Its metasearch engine was developed to focus specifically on hotels, pitting the upstart company—foolishly it would seem—against giants like Priceline and Hotels.com.
But not really. As we discovered when trying it out, Trivago actually aggregates the searches from available hotel search sites, sorting them in any number of ways you can choose and providing access to relevant Tripadvisor reviews and ratings as you narrow your search. Plus, you actually get to see the hotels and link to them. No mystery bidding here.
As a European-based company, Trivago’s growth was initially on that continent. After getting its corporate sea-legs in Germany, the company expanded to neighboring France as well as Spain and the UK in 2007, and launched platforms in Poland and Sweden in 2008.
With some outside investments, Trivago continued its expansion, moving outside Europe for the first time by establishing further platforms in China, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and the United States in 2009.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Late in 2012, the American travel company Expedia Inc. picked up a majority stake in Trivago in a $630 million stock and cash deal. That’s not a surprise, as Expedia, in addition to its own omnibus travel site, already owned Hotel.com and Hotwire.com. Acquiring a clever aggregator like Trivago was a logical way to further enhance Expedia’s presence in the lucrative hotel pricing and reservation arena.
It’s obvious that once Expedia had digested its chunk of Trivago, it would want to start selling the service to travelers. Particularly the legion of travelers who need to plan trips quickly without going through the mystery and hassle of playing games with several hotel search and booking services at once in order to find the best deal.
Hence, the fairly recent launch of Trivago’s cable TV-oriented ad campaign. Although Trivago had established its U.S. platform back in 2009, relatively few people in the huge U.S. travel market knew the site existed.
Why the Trivago Man? Er, Guy?
Enter the Trivago Man. Or, more correctly, the Trivago Guy. That’s what most people seem to be calling him now as article after article pops up to describe this now-notorious pitch dude. However we howl in protest over his sloppy, morning-after appearance, this guy is grabbing eyeballs and apparently moving the merchandise. And maybe that’s why he is what he is: a genuine if surprising marketing success story.
According to YouGov BrandIndex, a site that measures brand perception in the general public, “Germany-based travel search engine Trivago has come out of nowhere with a much-talked-about video ad to join Priceline as the online travel booking sites with the highest recent ad awareness.”
Among domestic leisure fliers, 29% recall seeing an ad in the past two weeks for both Priceline and Trivago, compared to 19% for Expedia. Veteran site Tripadvisor recently launched a $30 million TV ad campaign for the first time, tripling ad awareness from 5% when it launched in spring to its current 15% level, although still half of what Priceline and Trivago have notched up.
Trivago is also leading all its rivals on YouGov BrandIndex’s Buzz score measurement, which asks respondents: “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?” Trivago’s current Buzz score is 17, just ahead of Tripadvisor with a 13 score, on a scale of -100 to 100, with zero being neutral.
But here’s the clincher:
Trivago’s business may be benefiting from the quirky campaign as well: the site went from just 1% of domestic leisure travelers considering to purchase via the site at the beginning of the year to its current 12%. While that percentage is about half of its rivals, which are all bunched together in the 22% to 25% range, that’s a significant achievement in a relatively short space of time.
So how did this brand’s image awareness skyrocket in such a short period of time? In a recent article on Mashable.com, BrandIndex CEO Ted Marzilli noted that Trivago’s “ratings ascendance coincides with a TV ad campaign from the brand featuring a somewhat disheveled middle-aged guy known as ‘the Trivago Guy.’”
“Disheveled” is too polite a term. Earlier this month, an article in online magazine Slate went a bit further, painting a picture of the Trivago Guy as “seedily creased, grayly stubbled, distractingly beltless. He may be looking for a hotel after coming home at 3 a.m. to find that his wife changed the locks.”
“When asked why the ads took off,” Mashable reports, “Jon Eichelberger, regional developer for North America for Trivago, said Williams is unique as a pitchman: ‘He is not the typical spokesperson that people see on TV. In an oversaturated media environment, it is hard to cut through the clutter and get your message across and then have people remember it. It seems having a normal guy as a spokesperson and going against expectation really stands out.’”
In other words, it’s highly likely that the Trivago Man’s Guy’s irritation factor is actually driving people to the site.
So who exactly is this Trivago Guy? And why should we care?
A little more digging and we learn that the Trivago Guy is in reality a 40-something American named Tim Williams. He’s actually a former Texas Guy who traveled to Germany years ago, liked it a lot, and decided to stay.
By profession, Williams is described as an actor and musician. Not surprisingly, one of his recent German acting gigs had him playing an American rock star on a popular German TV soap opera.
A virtual Yank rocker in Berlin? Trivago figured that here was the perfect dude to pitch its still relatively unknown service to the U.S. audience. And they could film the pitch in Germany, too.
It’s not entirely clear that the series of ads we’ve been seeing here was specifically designed to attract attention via irritation. But that’s the way it worked out. The rest is advertising history.
As a result, Tim Williams, the Trivago Guy may just have become the most weirdly memorable product salesman on TV since Wendy’s aging 1980s pitch woman, the late Clara Peller, examined a competitor’s tiny burger and demanded to know “Where’s the beef?”
BrandIndex’s Ted Marzilli told Mashable that the Trivago brand “still has a long way to go until it convinces consumers that it has better deals than its competitors. “It’s mission: accomplished on awareness…but [w]hether people ultimately push the button is another story.”
But that may not be much of a problem either. Even this cranky writer finally couldn’t resist checking out Trivago online to see whether it was even worth a passing glance. The site, in fact, is fantastic, and I booked hotel reservations through Trivago for a recent trip out west. Contrary to Marzilli, Trivago doesn’t “have” better deals. It lists all the deals it can dig up and you get to make the decision based on what you’re looking for, including the price point vs. quality.
So now we know what Trivago is, and we’ve learned a bit about its controversial pitch man. But what in heaven’s name are we going to do about the Trivago Guy’s epic wardrobe malfunction?
Find out in our concluding episode in this series. Trust us: you’ll really want to know the answer.