Behind the scenes – Disrupting the photoshoot

In a bold and unsurprisingly dilemma-ridden move, our Traveler Marketing Communication Design team decided to hack the traditional photoshoot status quo, in search of the beauty of imperfection. We talked to Anna Druckrey, Design Lead, about the reasoning behind it, and the proceedings that followed…

Life at trivago: Hey Anna! So, you recently returned from a few days shoot in Palma. You took a team made up completely of internal trivago talents, including the models. What inspired this approach?

Anna Druckrey: Well firstly, and most importantly, we wanted to move in a more authentic direction, to capture and express our brand. We nurture such a hacking culture at trivago, it seemed completely OTT to organize a shoot with super-models, stylists, make-up artists, catering and all those other high-end shoot shenanigans. To capture our brand’s authenticity we decided to cast our own talents as the models. We want to show the people we meet and interact with day in day out, at work, on the streets, even online. So instead of striving for perfection, we strive to capture the diversity, naturalness and uniqueness that we all bring along. It’s the ‘beauty of imperfection’ as I like to call it. We also extended this approach not only to who we shot, but also the way we shot. We threw away traditional briefing for natural story-telling. We set a scenario and then practically followed our ‘models’ just being themselves. There was a lot of improvising.

Lat: That’s a nice out-of-the-box approach, what were the main challenges you faced when planning the shoot?

AD: The challenge we face is that we have such a broad audience, millions of users every day, ranging from teens to senior citizens, from different cultural backgrounds. In a way we have to be generic and yet at the same time we want to bring our brand to life in the best possible way. For us to be able to connect with our users we have to differentiate between implicit and explicit avenues for our branding efforts. ‘Explicit’ meaning directly perceivable and recognizable details such as the logo or our brand colours. ‘Implicit’ meaning more indirect branding that can be applied to elements, such as a tone of voice, or, in this case, images.

Lat: In this case, it is purely implicit. No-one is wearing trivago-branded bathrobes or anything, right?

AD: No, no! It is just the “feeling” you get from those pictures. The realness of the situations and stories that we show, without sacrificing quality of course!

Lat: A very trivago approach! Back to the shoot itself, who was involved?

AD: Our two adventurous photographers Tom Ziora and Maximilian Fischer, our models Arlinda, Raquel, Luca and Miguel and myself as Creative Director.

Lat: How did our trivago models feel about the shoot? Were they nervous about being models for the day?

AD: Yes, at first. Of course, everybody has their own insecurities about the way they look, so it was really brave of them to put their hands up to push the envelope. They asked “Do I really have the looks and skills for this? To which I replied “Yes, you do!”. We also put their minds at rest by reminding them that they are in very good hands, and that together with Tom and Max we will make them shine.

Lat: That sounds like it would put them at ease then! Did the shoot all go as planned?

AD: No! Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong!

Lat: Oh dear.. What was the first disaster?

AD: The hotel we were planning to shoot at, which we had spent a looong time scouting, cancelled on us 2 days before the shoot. We didn’t want to give up though. I thought “we will go, and we will find a place”. Never say die! We will be adaptable! So, the first day was a bit stressful, contacting a bunch of hotels to get a new location. A few hours later, we found somewhere that would take us and the team calmed down. We had a really late night (working…), but still got up at 6am the next morning, like the pros we are.

Lat: Nice. haha. Did everything go okay in the early hours?

AD: No 🙁 We arrived at the location first thing in the morning and my heart sank. As soon as we pulled around the corner we knew it was the wrong place. I mean, it was nice but it was too old and ‘picturesque’. Two of our trivago stars were already there but our contact from the hotel was running late. She finally arrived at 10am, and told us we had until 1pm. 3 hours… We decided to cancel the shoot as we knew we couldn’t get what we wanted in that window.

“Not only had I cancelled a shoot but also had destroyed our photographer.”

Lat: Not the best start to the day.

AD: Oh it gets worse! As we left the hotel we had to walk through dark hallways. We couldn’t see and we heard this loud crash. I turned round to see if everyone was okay, but Tom, the photographer, had fallen down some stairs in the dark. He was very lucky he didn’t break his arm. Not only had I cancelled a shoot but also had destroyed our photographer. My gut was starting to tie up in a knot.

Lat: So you got nothing at the hotel? Aside from an injured photographer?

AD: Well, we also got a bit of a telling off from the hotel owner, they were not happy about my decisions. The mood was quite deflated on the way back to Palma. We stopped by a Cervezaria to try and regroup emotionally, and come up with a last-minute hack. We had come this far, we really wanted to make this shoot happen but it just felt like nothing was going our way.

I called Miguel, who not only volunteered to star as a model but also helped organize the locations, and I confessed the situation I had caused by cancelling the shoot. He was actually on another shoot in Bilbao that was also cancelled, due to rain. The both of us frantically started searching for new hotel locations on trivago with our phones, whilst at the same time trying to keep morale up for the rest of the team … who were obviously not having the best day either.

After 30 mins or so a giant splash arrived on the table. A bird shat all over Tom’s phone. That moment the heavy silence broke and we all burst into almost insane laughter. The waiter came over looking at us with a bit of an astonished face and, awed by our reaction, explained that a bird shit means good luck.

Lat: I daren’t ask, was it?…

AD: Know what? It really was. 5 minutes later I received a text from Miguel saying “Anna, we have a hotel, the manager is expecting your call!”. We all quickly got our shit together and set off. We eventually arrived, about 30 minutes late, still riding a rollercoaster of emotions. But, as the security gate opened and we pulled into the drive you could sense everyone let out a deep sigh of relief and smiles started to appear on faces.

Lat: And the shoot itself?

AD: It was the best shoot! We were given anything we needed and we got just the images we were hoping for. Even better than expected!

Lat: Lucky!

AD: It was lucky, yes, but it was also a really good example of teamwork and getting results against the odds. The whole shoot set-up was a real experiment for all of us. For all we went through at the beginning, I would do it all again to get the results we did. The models were brilliant, the setting was perfect and the creative execution of the shoot with Tom and Max left no wishes unfulfilled. It just goes to show that there is always a solution if you look hard enough for it.

Lat: The pictures do look amazing. Time to scale up the operation, then?

AD: Absolutely, yes. Hopefully we have taken some important learnings from this test and things will run a little smoother next time. Then again, maybe not! The most important takeaway though is that as long as you are willing to take risks, are ready to adapt instantly and can keep smiling in the face of adversity, then nothing is impossible.

Lee Jones
Lee Jones

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

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