Making a connection
And so to New York with Starwood Hotels for a media summit to talk about hotel branding. To be honest, I had never really thought much about this before for which I thought there had to be a really good reason... hotels don't really have brands.
They all look more or less the same and it's kind of difficult to pick out a Le Meridien from a Marriott or a Hyatt Regency. It's all heads on beds just with different logos on the ashtrays and towelling robes that you stuff in your suit case (not that I have been doing this, of course).
Then there are the bad ads that you see on CNN or in Conde Nast Traveller
with people on beaches and... more people on beaches. Possibly people in other places as well.
Starwood did actually talk a good game. It owns some world-class brands (Sheraton, W Hotels and Le Meridien to name three) and it has done, in recent years, something serious about branding such as hiring Steve J Heyer as CEO, who was most recently president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola.
They actually hired a marketer as their chief who then hired another former Coke and P&G executive Javier Benito as chief marketing officer.
They talked a lot about marketing, how there had been no consistent spend on advertising and what there was had no "emotional connection". We watched some really good ads from the usual suspects Reebok, Nike, but others as well particularly some from a US insurance firm Geico, which dramatically outperformed expectation.
Unlike ads for hotels these ads were not interchangeable… before we then saw interchangeable new hotel TV ads with people jumping on beds for that essential Sheraton experience. Nothing to persuade you to pay a little extra for a room that you could get cheaper across the street on Expedia.
They just didn't say anything (lacked the "emotional connection" being talked about) and five minutes after they had been shown you would forget every detail about them other than they were generic.
But there was better. Strikingly simple and memorable ads for one of its newer brands, Four Points by Sheraton, (a moderately priced Sheraton with the emphasis being on the simple pleasures rather than paying for extras you'll never use).
No beds in sight, no beaches and not many people. A rocking chair moves slowly backwards and forward in one 15-second spot and a hand pops some plastic poppers in another. These ads actually did rise about the parapet -- they were distinctive and conveyed exactly what they set out to do: showing some of life's simple pleasures.
Coincidentally both sets of ads were created by Deutsch. Really, I would get them to try again on the Sheraton work or try someone else.
I did mention this to Javier Benito, but he was of course having none of it.
"They tested well", but then he had to say that. I should have asked him about his emotional connection. Then again…
The brand has done other things as well, like the Starwood blog, thelobby.com, which is really very good and has been mentioned along with GM's blog as being among the few corporate blogging outing that
There's going to be more spend on advertising as well, as Benito admitted to date there had been no consistent spend on ads, which is something that defines the sector. Quite how much this will mean in actual dollars on ads above and beyond the $30m currently spent (mostly in the States) they're not saying.
Part of that will likely see a pitch for the recently acquired European based Le Meridien, which is parting company with TBWA\.
There are more brand extensions along the lines of Four Points, like the coming launch of the Aloft, a sub brand of the chic W Hotel, but more suburban and on the road. Budget, but cool with the DNA of W (of which there isn't one in London, but that looks like it is about to change in the near future).
All these innovations support what Heyer says when he was talking about being truly differentiated and driven by innovation and that brands are more than just logos, they are experiences.
This is all very well on paper, but the problem comes at the other end when you actually get into your hotel room and start to have that experience: when after your 12 hours of travelling (and that while everyone likes to travel, no one actually likes travelling) you get a surly check-in guy who thinks you're a moron (he might be right, but it's not in his remit to tell you), when find a bit of the shower hanging off, there's no bottled water, no tea or coffee and a Snicker's bar costs five bucks or there abouts.
Why is that? The Snickers, I mean. I didn't actually eat one, but they tried to charge me for it as everything in the mini-bar is on a sensor. If you move the Snicker they think you ate it. It's like big brother is guarding the snicker.
"Just breakfast and a Snickers?"
"Er, I didn't actually eat the Snickers, I just moved it."
"You moved it?"
"Yeah, I was going to eat it, but...I didn't."
He eyed me neutrally, no doubt thinking I ate it and, of course, I was going to, but then I picked up saw it was 280 calories and thought "well, I already consumed at least 5000 getting here in the last 15 hours with my non-stop grazing maybe I should eat the apples. No charge, or maybe it just wasn't electronically tagged.
I digress, I was going to say that when I was waiting to get a table at the New York Le Meridien's famous Norma's, the guy running the reservations desk called out for a "Gogor?" several times, before I lifted my head out the New York Times and got that maybe he was calling me.
Is that even a name? Possibly, but just not mine.
He shrugged in a kind of whatever names are mere details kind of way.
The point being, as Heyer said, people have more of a relationship with a bottle of Heinz Ketchup or Tide washing detergent because these brands deliver on their promise. Hotels have so much to deliver on and so much can go wrong, but then hotel rooms are a little more pricey than washing detergent.
But should you pass Norma's (at the Le Meridien) on 56 between 6th and 7th the blueberry pancakes are great. You just won't have any room for that compulsory second breakfast.
Friday, May 26, 2006
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