Introducing (drum roll)… KAYAK on national TV. The story behind our ads.

By Andrea Charriez

I’ve heard that Peter Drucker said there are only two functions of a business, product innovation and marketing. I guess we missed that class. You see, we’ve always had a “build it and they will come” approach. And they’ve come… quite a few in fact. So what does he know?

OK, maybe he knew something. He was apparently some really famous professor, and as it turns out we don’t live in a movie. You see, about six months ago we looked into whether people were aware of KAYAK. We found out that supposedly, “according to research”, 68% of people who use online travel have never even heard of us. So we decided maybe we should look into some of that marketing stuff. The short version of the story is that we brought in some pros to help us including a smart creative agency in NY called Plaid to refine our brand identity and the world-famous ad agency, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to develop an ad campaign.

Interested in hearing more? If so, read on friends. This is the “fascinating”, “it’ll keep you on the edge of your seats”, “Gosh, I can’t wait to work on stuff like that when I graduate from business school”, story about how we went from being a “we don’t do marketing” company to running ads during pro football games.

We started by hiring Plaid to “refine our branding” (translation: change our logo). Why did we choose them? Well, we wanted to work with a small, innovative company that would partner closely with us as opposed to a big, corporate-branding agency. And, by utter coincidence, the founder of Plaid led the initial name development project for KAYAK and was the lead strategist for the agency that launched Orbitz back in 2001 (a few of us worked on that start-up). We always thought she was very clever and gets our business.

We asked Plaid to create a brand identity that was authentic to the idea that we’re a travel search engine rather than an online travel store. As they developed a strategy, they found inspiration on our site. We’ve always had a device we call “flippy” that runs while a search is underway. “Flippy” borrows from train station schedule boards as a way to demonstrate that we let you compare hundreds of travel sites with one search. So Plaid created a new logo based on that idea and gave us a bunch of design ideas including a new design for the “flippy” device on our site.

At the same time, we also conducted an ad agency review. For those of you not in advertising, an agency review basically involves a client like us beating a few agencies senseless while they compete for our business. It’s harsh if you ask me, but it’s how it works for some reason (that means we’re innocent on all charges of abuse). In the end, we selected one of the most respected and awarded ad agencies in the world, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. Why them? Pretty simple. They have an amazing track record for making brands famous (we do want to be famous, we really do), they have smart, innovative ideas for helping us grow, and they’re experts in what we’re not, i.e. creating integrated marketing campaigns.

It turned out that the Goodby, Silverstein team also thought “flippy” was pretty cool. Hopefully you’ll catch a glimpse of our ads. If so, you’ll notice that “flippy” is the center of it all. In television, “flippy” is always there, searching through hundreds of travel sites. We’ve also got some ads in the Mecca of outdoor advertising, Times Square, as well as some other major markets. The creative? You guessed it – “flippy”. Online advertising? Yep, it’s “flippy”. Of course, you need a tagline to summarize what you do for people, so the agency wrote a line we really like – ‘search one and done.’

We hope there are more people who like the ads than people who don’t – we had a good time making them. As you can see below, our two co-founders, Steve Hafner and Paul English joined the Goodby, Silverstein team at the television shoot. We’re just 89 people, so in the back of our minds, the fact that we’re advertising in “prime time” is a big deal to us.


To bring this back to the original point about product innovation and marketing, rest assured we’re still going to choose to disagree with Mr. Drucker. We may have ads now, but in our humble opinions, we think it’s only about product innovation. And we have lots of stuff in the works.