Posted by: Laura Phillips Garner | February 14, 2010

Clark and Ellen Griswold Are Back and on a “Hotel Hell Vacation”

If you are a fan of the National Lampoon “Vacation” comedies from the 1980s, has a treat for you.

The online vacation rental company brings back Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold, and they are on a “Hotel Hell Vacation.” The national ad campaign debuted Super Bowl Sunday with a 30-second mock trailer for “Hotel Hell Vacation,” a short film that catches up with the Griswolds as they make their way to meet Rusty and his family at a beach house rental. But first, Clark surprises Ellen with a special night at a “five-star” hotel.

I had never heard of until the Super Bowl ad, which seems to have paid off as it generated 1 million incremental page views on immediately following its airing. Consumer visits to were up 500 percent the day after.

The concept of short film as online advertising is less than a decade old. Dozens of ads from companies like Nissan, Volvo, Perelli Tire, Schweppes and Absolut have debuted shorts since BMW created the form with BMWFilm’s “The Hire” series in 2001. These short films are not extended television commercials. They have dramatic or comedic plots with a beginning, middle and end just like we see at the movies.

Though not as sophisticated as “The Hire” series with its big-name Hollywood directors and movie stars like Clive Owen, Madonna, and Forest Whitaker, “Hotel Hell Vacation” does have similarities. Having said that, I doubt Harvard Business School will write a case study nor will the Cannes International Advertising Festival create a new awards category for “Hotel Hell Vacation.” Yet, both short films had campaigns built around them that:

Showcase Their Brands: Short films combine advertising with entertainment and create an extended opportunity for brand association and recall. Consumers who watch them do so voluntarily, so they are paying close attention to what is on screen. Although short films have no hard sell in them, the product usually is present and directed at the target audience. In “The Hire,” Clive Owen drives BMWs in chase scenes that demonstrate the innovation and technology behind the handling of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” for the 46-year-old mostly male target audience who is Internet savvy and has a median income of $150,000. In “Hotel Hell Vacation,” the Griswolds share an extended vacation with Rusty and his family at a vacation rental home after their night of “hell” at a hotel.’s target audience most likely is 35-plus (consumers old enough to remember the National Lampoon Vacation movies the first time around) who enjoy major sporting events like the Super Bowl, are Internet savvy, and can afford to rent a vacation home.

Execute a Plan:
Although these short films are content for their respective Web sites, neither was created solely for that purpose. BMW seeded viewers for “The Hire” and created buzz for the BMW brand by getting newspaper movie critics to review the movies in their columns beside other full-length films. Two of the “The Hire” films were screened at the Cannes Film Festival. The trailer for “Hotel Hell Vacation” debuted amongst other movie trailers during the Super Bowl broadcast.

Create Buzz From Fans:
Both “The Hire” and “Hotel Hell Vacation” gave people something to talk about. A telephone number in the third “The Hire” film led to a recorded telephone message and a promotional stunt in New York City on August 23, 2001, that brought hundreds of people to “the corner of Madison and Twenty-third on the 23rd” where they received copies of “The Hire” DVD before it was released. Once on, consumers see other Griswold family videos, share their stories of hotel horrors via a family vacation contest judged by Chase and D-Angelo, vote on the hotel horror stories, follow Clark Griswold on Facebook and Twitter, and play the interactive “Griswold Getaway” game.

“The Hire” had more than 100 million views on before BMW stopped making it available in 2005. As the first of its kind, “The Hire” won numerous awards, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and spawned a comic book series. We’ll have to see how “Hotel Hell Vacation” fares. I can say that it’s a lot of fun and worth a watch.

This little movie did its job. I can’t get out of my head.

–Laura Phillips Garner


  1. I thought the Griswald mini-movie was very genius. It was comedic and served a great marketing purpose. Although I think the dialogue was a bit shaky, It was still fun nonetheless.

    HomeAway did a great job utilizing the Griswalds (seeing as the actors aren’t likely to reprise their roles on the big screen again) and making a very effective marketing commercial. It is no surprise that HomeAway’s site traffic increased dramatically after the Super Bowl commercial aired.

    I plan on checking out before I make my next travel accommodations.

    Great Post


  2. I had not heard of before seeing the short film but will also be checking the company out before I go on vacation. I just can’t get Clark and Ellen in that tiny hotel room out of my head. The towel scene at the beginning and the billing scene two thirds through were just too funny!

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