HomeAway Super Bowl ad resurrects the Griswolds

Vacation rental service has gotten decent buzz and raised a ton of VC, but how does it become as much of a household name as Craigslist? Well, it's going to try by reviving the beleaguered couple from the 1983 film "National Lampoon's Vacation."

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
A screenshot from HomeAway's Super Bowl ad, bringing back the protagonists of the 1983 movie 'National Lampoon's Vacation' HomeAway

I'm only moderately familiar with vacation rental exchange HomeAway.com because a few of my longtime friends use it to book the house for our annual ski weekend (outdoor hot tub absolutely mandatory!) But it looks like this online service is going to get a big boost in publicity: Not only will it be running a TV commercial during the Super Bowl, but the commercial will feature actors Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo in their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold from "National Lampoon's Vacation," the 1983 comedy about a holiday gone horribly awry.

A press release explains that the commercial is an intro to a whole Griswold-themed "microsite," complete with a "short film" as a promotion, and ensuing ad campaigns both on TV and online--which basically means that this whole thing cost a lot. Oh yeah, there's also a Clark Griswold Twitter account.

Is this awesome marketing, or 1997-worthy dot-com excess? Well, HomeAway isn't exactly a new entry to the market. The Austin, Texas-based company is heavily venture-backed, having raised a $49 million Series A in 2005; late in 2008, it raised a whopping $250 million, with TechCrunch reporting a $1.5 billion valuation. The company's total roster of investors is Austin Ventures, Institutional Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Technology Crossover Ventures and Trident Capital; its strategy for expansion, at least thus far, seems to have been to snap up smaller competitors. TechCrunch estimated its annual revenue at the time to be around $150 million.

The rule of thumb for Super Bowl ads generally seems to be the more ridiculous, the more people will be talking about them. So if HomeAway's goal is to become as much of a household name as Craigslist (which I speculate is probably its closest competitor), a well-executed Super Bowl ad may put them on the right track. That's a strategy that Hulu, needing recognition beyond the early-adopter set, used last year with its Brain-Sucking Alien Alec Baldwin spot--and 25 years earlier, it's what Apple did with the iconic "1984" ad that positioned it as a fierce upstart alternative to IBM.

Whether Clark Griswold can fill those shoes has yet to be seen.