Motel 6 launches first ad campaign since parting ways with The Richards Group

The campaign, by Barkley, aims to speak to a broader audience and connect emotionally with guests.

Motel 6 is out with its first brand campaign by its new agency of record, Barkley. 

The campaign maintains the brand’s iconic tagline, “We’ll leave the light on for you,” which it has used since 1986, while adding a more emotional, consumer-centric spin to showcase who the motel chain leaves the light on for. 

“We have deep respect for this brand and its iconic equity,” said Chris Cardetti, executive strategy director at Barkley. “We didn’t want to throw away that equity. We just wanted to modernize and evolve it, and that started with the consumer.”

The new brand platform aims to move Motel 6 beyond an economy lodging brand to a brand for economy “movers” — the truckers and frontline workers who stayed on the road throughout the pandemic and relied on Motel 6 for a place to stay. 

“We not only wanted to ‘leave a light on’ for them, but also shine a light on them and support them in very active ways,” Cardetti said. 

The creative, developed with research into what consumers are looking for in their post-pandemic travels, also aims to showcase the diversity of Motel 6’s audience, from grandparents who are yearning to meet their new grandchildren, to people traveling for a family member’s quinceañera or college graduation. The campaign’s two TV spots and six radio spots were produced in English and Spanish to capture a broader audience. 

The campaign also includes a long-form piece of content that captures three diverse sets of grandparents meeting their grandchildren for the first time after staying at a Motel 6. 

The new focus leaves “rich territory to play in to create a storytelling brand that is consumer focused,” said Katy Hornaday, chief creative officer at Barkley.

Motel 6 is aiming to get the word out as appetite for travel picks back up in the U.S. Two-thirds of Americans are planning summer vacations, with 74% of those looking to take a domestic trip. 

“This campaign, and the timing of the campaign, is about welcoming guests back and seizing the moment,” Hornaday said.  She added that the emotional campaign and platform is a big shift for Motel 6, which has built its brand on humor for the past few decades.

Motel 6 selected Barkley as its AOR in the fall, after a fallout with longtime agency The Richards Group, with which it had worked for more than three decades. Motel 6 fired the agency after founder Stan Richards made racist comments about the client’s audience in a meeting, sparking a wave of clients to also ditch the agency, including The Home Depot and Keurig Dr Pepper. 

The mandate to embrace a more diverse creative approach that’s more representative of the Motel 6 audience came before The Richards Group debacle, Hornaday said. 

Motel 6 used street casting for the creative and participated in AICP’s Double The Line initiative, which sponsors a diverse candidate to shadow people on set to learn, network and get their foot in the door of a career in marketing, production or film. 

“We needed to accurately represent [Motel 6’s] audience, and their audience is rich and diverse and comes from all over the place,” Cardetti said.

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