Hotels.com Books Its Own Promotional Show, And It’s Not on TV

Courtesy of Hotels.com/Expedia Group

Hotels.com, known for throwing the advertising figure Captain Obvious for years into hundreds of TV commercials, is launching a new sales pitch that isn’t so conspicuous.

Starting Monday, the Expedia Group booking service will launch a series of “Perfect 10” vignettes led by celebrities and influencers who explain some of their favorite hotel picks, hacks and habits — all made available on the company’s own digital channels, including YouTube and Instagram. The first three episodes feature podcaster and actress Busy Philipps; “Gossip Girl” star and skateboarder Evan Mock; and “Top Chef” alumni and restaurateur Kwame Onwuachi

TV commercials “serve a very specific purpose, mostly to remind people that we are there and we exist,” says Hector Muelas, Expedia Group’s senior vice president of global creative, in an interview. These new vignettes, which evoke some of the allure inherent in travel programs like “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” or “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy,” “do a better job of telling stories and building a much more interesting emotional connection’” with consumers, he adds.

The executive’s words are sure to wrinkle the brows of TV ad-sales executives. For years, the networks have pitched their programs as the best places to strike a deeper involvement with consumers, confident that the sound and motion of a TV ad did more to explain a product or service than a print ad or digital pre-roll. As more TV watchers embrace on-demand streaming, however, TV commercials have begun to change, and the Hotels.com strategy provides just the latest evidence.

Thanks to the interaction available on ad-supported streaming hubs such as Hulu or Peacock, subscribers can choose to click during a video commercial to get more information or have an offer emailed to them. Some streaming ads let viewers shop for the product almost immediately via an e-commerce venue. That means that so-called “TV ads” have begun to focus more intently on spurring a transaction, not always on broadening recognition or recall.

Audiences that see the Hotels.com vignettes ought to make “a type of connection that is not demanding a transaction from you,” says Muelas, noting that online travel services have in recent years “been very transactional,” and that he hopes to move Hotels.com “into a much more elegant space.” That said, some of the celebrities’ hotels recommendations are “shoppable” in specific venues, such as the Hotels.com app and its Instagram feed.

In the vignette starring Busy Phillips, the actress reveals her fondness for a boutique hotel in Charleston. S.C., and acknowledges how much she enjoys traveling alone. Mock talks of a time when he and a group of friends got booted from a hotel. And Onwuachi discusses his yen for hotels that have so many amenities that guests never have to leave them.

The company is moving forward with the concept partially because of reseasrch that shows two-thirds of travelers have booked a trip because they were inspired by a movie or TV show, no matter whether that be due to “Emily in Paris” or “White Lotus.”

More is likely on the way. “We are going to keep on adding” over months to come, says Muelas, who also promises other dips into entertainment and popular culture in the future.