A fuckup? Or a marketing masterstroke…?

The ‘trivago guy’ Tim Williams has become something of a household name in recent years. trivago’s TV spots have certainly divided opinion, but it would be hard to argue they weren’t in part responsible for the company’s growth. So, how did the Creative Production team come up with such an engaging advertisement? We spoke to Jon Eichelberger, one of the original small team responsible for the very first tests.

Life at trivago: Hi Jon, thanks for meeting me. We are currently running a small campaign to raise awareness of how we celebrate ‘Fuckups’ at trivago. And, someone mentioned your name to me, in relation to the origin of the TV spots. Would you care to elaborate?

Jon Eichelberger: Well… You could say it was a total co-incidence that just worked out well by accident. We wanted to to run a TV spot, with the main criteria being that we wanted to test the concept of a spokesperson, give a good explanation of the product, and do it very cheaply. We aimed for something we could get a response from, so the original budget and team was very small. Myself, Billy and Fabian developed the script end-to-end and we were pretty happy with it. However, a couple of days before the shoot, literally, two days, we got some feedback that we needed to change it entirely.

Lat: Uh-oh. How long was the script/ the ad?

JE: 60 seconds. One shot.

Lat: Shit…

JE: Yep.

Lat: Okay, so what happened next?

JE: On day one, we go into the studio with Tim and head to wardrobe and make-up. At the time Tim was starring in a German soap opera called ‘Gute Zeiten Schlechte Zeiten’, in which he was playing an American rock star called Kurt Leroy. Because of his contract with the show we couldn’t really change his look. So he had to have this long-ish hair and couldn’t be clean shaven. So, with a leather jacket and a guitar, he looks like a bit of a rock star. In another outfit, well, he looks a little scruffy….

Lat: I see… Well, surely you could sort of “clean up” what he was wearing to compensate for his hairy face and head?

JE: That would have been nice. However our options were quite limited. The “look” that wardrobe had in mind was, I would say, “Hipster Berlin”. Skinny jeans, a couple of over-sized shirts, very pointy shoes and some awful, awful belts.

Lat: The belts were a particular sticking point, am I right?

JE: Well, it was all bad but yes, the belt choices were a little out of the box. The two options given to us were a) A rhinestone studded number with a huge belt-loop, which was a little country and western crossed with a hell’s angel. or b) A really thin, tan leather, woven women’s belt. No way we could use these belts.

Lat: Didn’t anyone else have a belt on the set?

JE: Yes, I did! I was wearing a plain black, leather belt, but it was too big for Tim for one. We did try to use it but it was also ‘shiny’, and when we tried to shoot, the studio lights reflected off it and it looked like he had a white, glowing band around his waist!

Lat: So, this is where the ‘no belt’ decision was made?

JE: Yes, we thought, let’s do the best with what we have, as time was already ticking. So we started to dress Tim, as far away from a 20-year old Berlin hipster as we could with what we had. He ended up wearing his own (not so pointy) shoes, the un-skinniest of the skinny jeans we had, and the least baggy shirt. He looked a little bit of a mess, but we thought that by tucking in the shirt, we were at least doing some damage control, however minimal.

Lat: Okay, well after all that, it was plain-sailing, right?

JE: Haha, far from it! For one, our strangely-dressed lead Tim did not know his lines at all. That obviously wasn’t really his fault, because we had changed them at the last minute. He had also never worked with a green screen, and to make matters worse, we had no reference points as all the ‘actions’ were now different due to the change of script. So we were really winging it just to try and get something.

Lat: And, did you?

JE: Not for a long time. We were very close to giving up actually. In the first 12 hours I think we got to a maximum of 10 seconds. Morale was very low.

Lat: But you made it to the second day at least, was that any better?

JE: The second day was a little bit better as Tim had been studying through the night! It was far from perfect but instead of 10 seconds, now we were getting consistently to around 30 seconds. Then, one take, Tim hit 40 seconds, then, 45. The room went deadly silent. At 50 seconds there is some serious tension, I am literally praying at this moment! Then. Wow, he did it! All the way, top to bottom. After that the room erupted, there was huge applause and we managed to get a few more perfect takes.

Lat: You had me on the edge of my seat there… So, what next?

JE: We took care of the post-production. Which, luckily, could have been a lot harder. Then we started to run the ad with a minimal spend. As the budget was small to begin with there wasn’t too much of a backlash, just some general social media chatter around the “grubby guy” from the trivago ads. The ads were actually performing really well, so we decided to scale. That’s when the spot really got some momentum.

Lat: What was the reaction?

JE: There was a real love/hate relationship to Tim! Some were saying “Oh that sleazy guy from trivago” others were calling him the “Handsome silver fox”. Whatever people were saying though, they were certainly talking. Tim was featured in Rolling Stone magazine, Elle magazine, Slate magazine, he was really turning heads, for good or bad. We ran a lot of focus groups to determine whether to clean him up a bit, the jury was always pretty undecided, as the ads were still performing so well! The main question on everybody’s lips was “Why doesn’t he have a belt on!?”.

Lat: Brilliant. So, there you go. A fuckup come good!

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Lee Jones
Lee Jones

Lee Jones is a Conceptual Copywriter and Employer Branding Specialist at trivago.

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