Travelocity's Roaming Gnome Shows How to Get Ahead in Social Media

Last Updated Apr 1, 2010 1:53 PM EDT

The fact that Travelocity's Roaming Gnome now sits on Chatroulette suggests that brands looking to engage in social media will have a huge advantage if they have an anthropomorphic mascot. The gnome -- courtesy of ad agency McKinney -- spends several hours a day on the pointless but enormously popular video chat site that serves up random strangers for even more random encounters, according to Brandweek:
At various times during the day, a staffer from Travelocity agency McKinney engages in short chats with users on the service. The staffer "nexts" those engaging in inappropriate behavior.
The only reason Travelocity can do this is because it has a gnome closely associated with its brand. The gnome also has a Twitter stream and a Facebook page. While many brands also have those things, it's just not as much fun for consumers to "friend" Coca-Cola (KO) as it is a gnome. (In fact, I suggest you don't friend Coke because when you visit the company's Facebook page you're forced to allow a new app to pull through all your information -- which isn't very friendly behavior.) And how would Coke interact on Chatroulette?

The difference between interacting with a character and a faceless corporation online suggests that companies that want to take full advantage of social media ought to develop a person, character or mascot that can do that for them. Would you pay more attention to a message from Subway or Jared? Quiznos or the creepy talking oven that has starred in its recent ads?

Some mascots are already deep in social media without their corporate parent's permission. I was delighted to find that Procter & Gamble's (PG) Mr. Clean is on Facebook, and even more so to find that last September he wrote this on his Wall:

Billy Mays? Mr.Clean killed him.
Which suggests that Mr. Clean's fans are leagues ahead of his brand managers on this issue, although P&G's lawyers are doubtless on the trail.

Separately: The thing I find baffling about the gnome is that Travelocity paid British comedian Harry Enfield to provide his voice. Enfield is huge in the U.K., but an unknown in the U.S. Surely there were cheaper voice actors? Some vintage Enfield comedy follows: