Monday, February 7, 2011

HomeAway Launches More than Just a SuperBowl Ad..."it's a bird, it's a plane, wait no, it's a test baby."

Update 2/8/11: HomeAway issues sensitive apology AND changes their ads and social media campaign. NICE SAVE. Perhaps they should choose to support a preventing child abuse charity too. Read the HomeAway Superbowl Apology

I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a critic when it comes to $3 million dollar ad buys, but even more so when the company doing the buying is an important part of my own advertising plan. On top of that I'm a bit of a vacation rental nerd. Since 1999 I've been immersed in this world of vacation rental ownership, marketing, and management. When HomeAway placed their "Chevy Chase Vacation" ad in 2010's SuperBowl, I was unimpressed, but never the less very excited for vacation rentals to get national attention and press. After all, according to PhocusWright research, only 10% of US travelers even think of a vacation rental as a lodging option.  So when word started to leak out and the hype for SuperBowl XLV begain, I was a bit surprised, and excited to hear HomeAway would be launching their second ad for the Big Game, and that it would be interactive and have the potential to go viral in social media (since I'm a social media nerd too). Then I watched the trailer for the ad online.


HomeAway didn't launch an ad campaign: they launched a "test baby."

Daring! Smushed test baby? British accents in the US? Ministry of Detourism? (I suspect they'll be running the ad across the pond). Not promising. Though I have to admit, I laughed the first time the test baby flung at the glass, even though I'm a very serious mom. I didn't laugh the next time when I watched it on the big screen during the big game.  I don't like the ad. I don't think it targets my audience. It feels like it was written by 12 year old boys (kind of like GoDaddy). My guests are a bit more sophisticated and much more family oriented to really think this is funny and want to go book a vacation rental instead of a hotel because of this kind of ad.

Showing a miserable crying baby in a hotel room, waking up the other kid in the hotel room, and the parents trying to have a glass of wine in the bathroom so they don't wake them up would make a commercial that rings true. That's of course because it really is true (Chicago Marriott c.1994). This ad reminds me of the tragic story of a mom recently shooting her two teenagers for talking back. Every mom can at first relate to a mother's frustration with teenagers, but carrying through with frustration with an act of violence? No we get disgusted.  The smushed test baby is pretty disgusting (even if we all know it's a test baby and meant to be funny). I don't see how gramps, mom, auntie, or golf buddies getting away are going to connect to that baby and remember vacation rentals supply more space when they make their next lodging choice. Plus smushed has taken on new meaning compliments of Jersey Shore and I have no patience for ad companies that don't properly vet everything.

There is a saying in publicity that no publicity is bad publicity, so at least HomeAway has some definite buzz happening. In fact "test baby" trended on Twitter for quite a while after the commercial.

What do you think? Is this ad a good thing for vacation rental owners and guests? If you are a vacation rental owner, are you excited about the message and buzz? If you are a guest, does this ad call you to take action? Will you play the games online (you can put your face in and choose the baby's fate or put your vacation rental in the ad)? Will you consider a vacation rental for your stay?

Looking forward to the buzz on this launched test baby.

Update 2/7/11

As the buzz comes in I wanted to share some more links with discussion on the HomeAway test baby ad. It looks like a cold blast is coming into Austin. (comments section)

@LizSzabo is tweeting about the issue and wrote the USA Today article.


  1. "This ad reminds me of the tragic story of a mom recently shooting her two teenagers for talking back. Every mom can at first relate to her frustration, but carrying though on the act?"
    Please consider removing that comment. NO sane mother can "relate" to the mother who shot both of her children!!! I stopped reading your post at that point...

  2. Dear Anonymous, I've updated my post to be clearer on what I meant, and I'm sorry that I offended you. I haven't removed the referral since the comparison makes sense. You just don't smush babies for a Superbowl ad, just like you just don't hurt a child in real life. Melinda

  3. I am also a homeaway vacation property owner. I am embarrassed to be represented by this super bowl commercial.

    There are so very many compelling arguments to choose a vacation rental over traditional lodgings, yet the best homeaway can do is fling a "test" baby against a wall of glass?

    How does this communicate any of the wonderful features of the thousands of homes listed on the website to potential clients?

    Is this the image we want families to have when considering renting our homes?

    And, I am disturbed by the email from homeaway offering me the opportunity to personalize the commercial and share it with my family, friends, etc. An, no thank you. My approach to renting my home is much more sophisticated than this inane commercial and I wouldn't think of asking other people to watch a personalized version. Which of my children shall I fling into the window (although, I acknowledge, I'm not sure how the personalizing works)?

    Let's review:

    Tasteless? Perhaps (let's allow for differing perspectives).

    Funny? No.

    Memorable? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons.

    And, let's not overlook the millions of dollars spent to create and air this commercial. Wow.

    Homeaway should have aimed higher, and I don't refer to the "test" baby.

    R @ edgartown, ma

  4. I think the commercial did its job. Homeaway is at the top of my mind at a time when I am trying to find a vacation rental (like I'm sure many other people are at this time of year). I actually brought my laptop in the family room immediately after the commercial to check out the rentals. I've exhausted my search on VRBO, so it's nice to know of another credible site.

    Rest assured, I don't think this ad is going to negatively impact future business. And if the comedic situation bothers you that much, take your rental off of Homeaway!

    I find it funny that this advertisement is so heavily criticized, but I haven't heard a thing about the abusive relationship showcased in the PepsiMax commercial (which I also thought was hilarious)!

  5. Dear anonymous,

    It's not as simple as "take your rental off of homeaway".

    homeaway has purchased many other rental sites, including vrbo, and has quickly become the main player other than regional US and internationally focused sites.

    There are other advertising options emerging as part of social media networks (second porch and flipkey are two examples) which are attracting attention.

    But, I believe, homeaway is presently the leader in rental traffic.

    And, to address your comment about the pepsi commercial, there are certainly criticisms throughout the media. Keep reading.

    Have a great day!

  6. Personally, I didn't find the ad delivered the message that vacation rentals are a viable alternative to hotels and agree with much of what Melinda has said. It doesn't work as intended and since Home Away has gone into damage limitation mode by revising it's online ad generation option, they seem to be 'getting' the feedback. The whole Ministry of Detourism thing has mystified me anyway,but that's just me. Just a consumer.

  7. You guys need to get your panties out of a bunch. This was a great commercial. What if, the dad was flung at the glass? Nothing would have been said. What if the mom was flung across the glass? OOOOOOOOOHHHHHH The Violence Against Women groups would have been rioting in the streets.

    Give us all a flippin break, watch the commercial and see how it happened. It's comedy, if it was on I Love Lucy or The Three Stooges, it would have been classic comedy, but since it's the year 2011 and everyone needs a reason to complain...........

    All those that have complained or don't like the commercial, make sure you check your own life decisions and what you do every day.

    Take your hate and make your life a postive, go donate $10 to the American Red Cross.

    I am sure you won't rush to do so as that would be something good to do. Complain on and please change your panties, they've been in a bunch for wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy to long.

  8. At least they were not using a real baby.
    also, it's the superbowl,
    test babies into windows not okay,
    GoDaddy's risque commercials are perfectly cool though.
    While we are at it, let's talk about all those beer commercials, and how they encourage drinking, with an audience of young children and teenagers no doubt.
    I see where your priorities are.

  9. Once again HomeAway missed the mark on their Super Bowl advertising. To continue on with the premise, as they put it in the commercial "Hotels HATE YOU!" is a flawed and unecessary strategy.

    Vacation Rentals are a great alternative to Hotels in many situations. We have all had great experiences at hotels and the brands tell most of us all we need to know. Marriot, Four Seasons, Fairmont, Motel 6, Homewood Suites says it all. We know what we will get in most cases.

    The Hotel Industry is full of fine professionals and stooping to that level is really not necessary. Name one other Super Bowl commercial that went after their competition in the way HA did.

    I know Brian Sharples. He is a solid guy. That said this strategy does nothing to promote the vacation rental experience in a positive way. Lesson: Don't mess with the baby!

  10. Come on people.
    I saw it as a joke. It was funny, but I don't try to read things into everything and nit pick them. I just enjoy them for what they are. Funny commercials.

  11. I can see where everyone is coming from, but I also like what @anonymous said (2/8), it was probably their goal to create a controversial commercial to draw attention to themselves. I myself am looking into getting some Cape Cod vacation rentals myself, but what draws me to do this is what my family wants to do, and the need for a vacation... not a commercial.

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