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Gnomes

Roaming Gnome - Kidnapped lawn gnome that was the focus of an $80 million ad campaign for Travelocity, a popular travel website.

Travelocity Roaming Gnome

The two-foot tall "Roaming Gnome" first appeared in late 2003 in a series of ads that were created by McKinney & Silver ad agency of Raleigh, North Carolina.

The ad spots (which aired on DIRECTV, cable TV, national and local radio, and print ads) were inspired by a practical joke popular in Europe and the UK that involves mischief makers who steal ornamental garden gnomes from people's lawns.

Soon after the theft, the owner of the statue begins to receive snapshots of their gnome that depict all the places their kidnapper has taken the statue. Sometimes a ransom note accompanies the pictures.

Since the central theme of the prank is showing a gnome "traveling" to various places, the Travelocity people thought the idea of a roaming gnome mascot was a perfect match for their online travel business. To track the gnome's movements, the company initially provided a website called www.whereismygnome.com.

"Wanted: My garden gnome. Have you seen him? Has red pointy hat. He was taken last week off front lawn. No substitutes please. Call Bill.
1-800-229-0053"

In the ads, the Roaming Gnome (stolen from a home in Durham, England) finds the time to send letters to his owner Bill that chronicle such exploits as cliff diving in Mexico, bobbing in a hot tub, riding on a ski lift, and enjoying a stinky wedge of cheese in Quebec. The ad's tagline was "Book with Travelocity: Don't Forget Your Hat." The red-capped gnome used in the ads spoke with a voice-over British accent.

Roaming Gnome Stinky Cheese
The Roaming Gnome "stinky cheese" ad spot

TRIVIA NOTE: The French-based Garden Gnome Liberation Front (Front de Libération des Nains de Jardins) wreaked havoc in France until 1997 when a northern French court handed its ringleader a suspended prison sentence and fined him for his part in the disappearance of around 150 gnomes.

Variations of the prank have appeared in the such foreign movies The Full Monty and Amelie. In the film Amelie (2001) impish actress Audrey Tautou plays Amelie, a shy, single coffee shop waitress living in Paris who decides to help lonely people fix their lives. To inspire her widowed father Raphael to travel, Amelie sends his garden gnome on a tour of the world.


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