Thursday, December 30, 2010
Hilton’s quest to forge a unified brand image occurred while many of its rival upscale hotel chains were striving to do the same. According to the Wall Street Journal, hotel occupancy rates in 1998 had reached a four year low because of overbuilding. At the same time, the industry was in the midst of a significant consolidation. Chains such as Marriott and Renaissance merged with each other to help bolster their presence on a national and global scale. The result of these agglomerations was a degree of industry-wide uniformity, as local or regional properties with their distinct characteristics, selling points, or histories, were folded into often generic multinational conglomerates. ‘‘If you ever stay in a three- or four-star hotel, they are increasingly offering more or less the same product and levels of comfort,’’ Greg Delaney, one of the creative forces behind ‘‘It Happens at the Hilton,’’ told Marketing Week. While hotels had once used such features as excellent service or a four-star dining room to differentiate themselves, by the mid-1990s, ‘‘these [were] standard in each sector,’’ noted Marketing Week. ‘‘The only way that hoteliers [could now] stand out [was] through brand building.’’
One of Hilton’s most formidable rivals was the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, which embarked on an updated global branding campaign in 1999. Created by agency Cramer Krasselt, these print ads targeted individual business and leisure travelers, meeting planners, travel agents, and corporate travel planners. While the campaign built upon Hyatt’s slogan from a pre-existing campaign, ‘‘Feel the Hyatt Touch,’’ it avoided the conventional formula of using service and traveler bonus programs as its focal point. Like Hilton, Hyatt acknowledged that ‘‘in the minds of our target audience, the difference between major hotel chains is becoming less and less apparent,’’ a Hyatt spokesperson told Advertising Age on October 19, 1998.
Another large hotelier, Holiday Inn Worldwide, had launched its first branding campaign in 1997 to support its Crowne Plaza chain of high-end hotels. This campaign, ‘‘Get to Know Us, We’ll Get to Know You,’’ used famous ‘‘business personalities . . . to give the somewhat stony corporation a relatable face,’’ explained the January 27, 1997, Brandweek. With agency Scaros & Casselman, Crowne selected celebrities who reflected the interests of its targeted guests to appear in its ads. For instance, Crowne used Armour Golf CEO Michael Magerman in a television spot that humorously showed hotel staffers so accustomed to Magerman’s indoor golfing that they gracefully avoid golf balls flying across lobby floors as a matter of course. ‘‘A lot of upscale hotel users’ principal hobby is golf,’’ Crowne’s marketing vice president told Brandweek. ‘‘Michael Magerman is an up-and-coming CEO, and, at 34, a prototypical Crowne Plaza user.’’ Other spots depicted various comparable business leaders.
Some of Hilton’s other competitors began to institute similar marketing programs as well. Marriott International, which had acquired Renaissance in 1997, consolidated its massive ad account in 1998 in order to better broadcast its message. Promus Hotels Corporation’s Doubletree and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, on the other hand, continued to stress the traditional attributes of pleasant rooms and attentive service, according to the June 28, 1999, issue of Advertising Age.
According to Advertising Age International, ‘‘It Happens at the Hilton’’ strove to appeal to people between the ages of 35 and 50 who were ‘‘active achievers among business and leisure groups.’’ It would certainly be a challenge to attract an audience this broad within the confines of a single campaign. To do so, HHC opted to use a diverse array of photographs in the ‘‘It Happens at the Hilton’’ ads in the hope that this multifaceted approach would connect with consumers on various levels. For example, HHC chose to use images of celebrities from different generations at Hilton hotels both to grab people’s attention with the famous faces and to reinforce the notion that Hilton had a long and storied history. The use of political icons such as Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill was intended to lend the campaign a particular gravitas, which was calculated to appeal to the elite business travelers Hilton wanted to reach. At the same time, the images of iconoclast John Lennon and supermodel Naomi Campbell ensured that the campaign would appear neither stuffy nor dated. In fact, the incorporation of celebrities such as these into the branding campaign let Hilton speak to a more statusconscious and upscale group of travelers. ‘‘The implied message to Hilton customers is, ‘If it happens for these people at Hilton, it can happen for me too,’ ’’ Dirks explained. In a period when affluent business and recreational travelers had a slew of hotel options, ‘‘It Happens at the Hilton’’ provided the hotel chain a certain cachet that played well to its more status-oriented guests. But Hilton was careful not to pursue this more upscale and business-oriented identity at the expense of other travelers. ‘‘We wanted consumers to know the hotel is accessible, not just for the rich and famous,’’ Ken Sakoda, a Bozell vice president, said in the October 5, 1998, issue of Advertising Age. The company therefore presented a variety of scenes of everyday people enjoying the Hilton’s amenities in order to balance the celebrity shots. Bozell also injected humor into these projects, and stressed the pleasure and convenience Hilton could bring to any vacation. In an ad for Hilton’s line of resorts, a couple is shown sprawled in lounge chairs on the beach. ‘‘Tailored vacations call for a fitting,’’ the tag line declared. By presenting reallife scenarios—such as weddings or stressed-out families in dire need of respite—Hilton made it possible for a whole other sector of consumers to relate to the scenes.
The Hilton chain had come a long way from its beginning in 1925 when Conrad Hilton built the first hotel to carry his name in Dallas, Texas. By 1998 more than 400 Hilton hotels—ranging from resorts and casinos to airport business hotels—were operating in 50 countries. The company’s 1964 decision to spin off its global properties into a separate entity, however, impeded Hilton from developing a consistent worldwide image. After Hilton’s international wing was acquired by Trans World Airlines, HHC and HIC agreed not to develop their franchises in the other’s zones. Nevertheless, the erstwhile siblings bickered over trademarks. In the early 1990s HHC had struggled to forge an identity. Pernicious price wars among upper-class hotels led HHC, and its ad agency McCann-Erickson, to craft ads focused more on price and perks than on the chain’s own attributes. The result was a frequently chaotic marketing strategy that relied heavily on special promotions, often to the detriment of HHC’s bottom line. In an effort to rectify this situation, HHC severed its relationship with McCann in 1992 and hired Daley & Associates to develop a new ad campaign. The resulting ‘‘Take Me to the Hilton’’ effort helped the company overcome some of its difficulties, but HHC was still hampered by its inability to expand in overseas markets. The burgeoning travel market, both domestically and internationally, had generated a wave of consolidations in the industry, as hotel chains teamed up in order to offer broader options to consumers. As an industry insider explained in the January 16, 1995, issue of Brandweek, ‘‘just to be a domestic brand does not insure long-term visibility.’’ HIC faced similar limitations by virtue of its exclusion from the sizeable U.S. market. Recognizing the importance of presenting a more unified front to its rivals, HHC and HIC linked their advertising, sales, loyalty programs, and development strategies, and then sought to leverage this new alliance into enhanced business opportunities.