Expedia Travels to New Territory

How the company's marriage equality spot wasn't aimed at the LGBT community

Earlier this month, Expedia launched “Find Your Understanding,” a 3:20-minute film about Artie Goldstein, a retired business owner who struggles to come to terms with his daughter’s decision to marry a woman. Reversed engineered into an ad by senior marketing director Vic Walia and agency 180LA, it combines real footage from the nuptials with recollections filmed after the fact into what may set a new bar for nuance in LGBT-themed brand messaging in the online travel category (LGBT tourism generates more than $65 billion per year, estimates research firm Community Marketing). Adweek spoke with Expedia.com vp and gm Joe Megibow about the thinking behind the spot, the reaction to it and what to expect next from the brand’s “Find Yours” campaign.

Adweek: Why make support for marriage equality a part of your messaging now?

We were looking for stories. What we liked about this one is, while it is certainly very friendly to marriage equality, if you step back away from all of the politics and the contention of the topic, it’s really a story about the father. It’s a message you don’t hear spoken about a lot.

Did you make a conscious effort to avoid the stereotypes that LGBT-targeted marketing has been criticized for reinforcing?

We aimed it for a non-LGBT community. We aimed for the, call it the everyman. I think it was very respectfully done. It tried to be focused on this arc of the father and the daughter.

Any message for people who are saying they’ll boycott Expedia because of the ad?

Anytime you put anything out there that could be divisive, you’re going to get some anger. We had a prior campaign with [Project Runway host] Tim Gunn in it, and that one wasn’t about any specific ideology. That one actually drove some crazy anger toward us. It had nothing to do with LGBT or anything like that. Tim Gunn as a person turned out to be more divisive than this spot. Who knew?

More brands—Oreo, JCPenney, for example—are making LGBT-themed ads part of their messaging. Is there anything about the broader landscape today that makes it easier to do that?

I wouldn’t call this easy at all. Even wanting to do this, at every step in the process, we had to step back and say, “Are we doing the right thing here?” Yes, what’s nice is we’re not alone. But it’s still the minority, and it can backfire as well.

Orbitz.com has been targeting the LGBT community for ages and recently run mainstream TV campaigns subtly signaling their support for the Human Rights Campaign. Were you trying to up the ante for your competition here?

We were prepared that this spot could drive no incremental travel for us, that we might earn some bookings from those who are sympathetic to this, and we might alienate some people who thought this was the wrong thing to do. If that at the end of the day in the short term was a wash, we were OK with that. We’re trying to build some long-term brand messaging here…But this was not a, “Let’s carve out a specific audience and go heavy into that audience and try to do damage to our competitors.” [That] was never the intent.

What else can we expect to see from the campaign?

We’ve got some other great really moving stories coming. They’re all very personal. They’re going to be very real topics…and stories that we believe are worthy to be told.

@GabrielBeltrone gabriel.beltrone@gmail.com Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.