Marriott tries appealing to the soul for new global rewards campaign

Grey New York goes past everyday business needs to stir something deeper

Marriott Rewards, the loyalty program of Marriott International, is launching a new marketing campaign today designed to heighten awareness of its many brands, particularly among younger travelers.

The campaign, by Grey New York, features a 30-second TV spot debuting tonight on a New York Jets-Buffalo Bills football game broadcast; special events designed for loyalty program members; and use of the CNN Airport Network in U.S. airports. It centers on the tagline "You are here."

According to Karin Timpone, global marketing officer for Marriott International, the campaign is meant not only to help Marriott Rewards members understand "the depth and breadth" of the portfolio of Marriott brands, but also to help them connect emotionally with the brands through members’ travel stories. She said previous advertising had simply focused on how the loyalty program works.

The campaign’s first TV spot features an Australian member of Marriott Rewards who is a marine archaeologist and mother of a five-year-old boy; the two were shot in the Caribbean off the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. The second spot was shot in Venice and features a curator passionate about art and a friend touring the city, while staying at a JW Marriott. Another spot will feature a safari at the Protea Hotel by Marriott at Kruger Gate, South Africa.

In addition to running on broadcasts of select NFL games, the campaign will also run on the Emmy’s broadcast September 18, and on TV shows such as "Scandal," "Empire" and "Dancing with the Stars." It will also run on the CNN Airport Network in U.S. airports starting in October, and in December, on flights of carriers like Emirates, Lufthansa and Aero Mexico.

Other aspects of the new campaign include a section on Marriott Traveler, a digital magazine, that will highlight members’ stories, and use of social media platforms, like Facebook’s Canvas and Instagram, to more deeply engage travelers. Marriott also is working with partners such as the NFL, NBA and Universal Music Group to hold exclusive events for members; the first will be a concert by Demi Lovato on September 22 at L.A. Live. Not coincidentally, L. A. Live--an entertainment district adjacent to the STAPLES Center and Los Angeles Convention Center—is surrounded by four Marriott properties, including a JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton.

According to Timpone, 18 of Marriott International’s brands participate in Marriott Rewards; Bulgari does not. An early version of the program was launched in 1983 and was expanded in 1997 under the Marriott Rewards name. She said it has 57 million members worldwide.
Timpone declined to quantify Marriott’s budget for the new campaign, though she said it would be one of the reward program’s largest. She also said the campaign had been in the works before Marriott announced its bid for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which has been approved by governments worldwide except that of China. In early August, the two companies gave Chinese authorities two months to review the $13.4 billion merger.

Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst for Atmosphere Research, said the "core audience" for hotel loyalty programs is frequent business travelers, whom he said the new campaign does not address. "They should say they’re in the process of starting to bring two great loyalty programs together, and here are the benefits that could result from a larger network," he said.

He also warned that competing hotel brands such as Hyatt were aggressively trying to poach participants in both Marriott Rewards and the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program.

Another challenge facing Marriott, he added, is that travelers tend to be less engaged with hotel loyalty programs than airline loyalty programs, noting that Atmosphere Research has found that while 28% of hotel guests belong to hotel loyalty programs, 40% of air travelers belong to airline programs.

"The stakes for hotels are big. Members of loyalty programs not only travel more often, they generally pay higher than average prices for their rooms," he said.

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