Sheraton ads criticize other hotels for advertising too much

After a 10-year silence, Starwood's flagship brand takes global stage to say "actions speak louder"

For its first global advertising campaign in nearly a decade, Sheraton is taking aim at hotels that put more effort into advertising than pleasing their guests.

"Words. Anyone can say them. But actions. They speak louder." Thus begins the copy on a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal that runs today. The ad — shot by famed celebrity photographer Mark Seliger — depicts a male employee photographed from the back as he opens the doors of the lobby of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. It closes with the campaign’s tagline, "Sheraton, where actions speak louder."

With more than 440 hotels in 72 countries, Sheraton is the largest of Starwood Hotels and Resorts’ 10 brands, ultimately generating 40% of the company’s revenues, said Starwood acting chief executive Adam Aron.

Sheraton — which was introduced in the late 1930s — is "a solid, respectable brand, well-known and well-liked, but not necessarily top of mind," Aron said. "We’re increasing the advertising to see if we can’t solidify Sheraton’s position."

The brand’s 10-point plan, announced in June, includes introduction of a new premier tier of hotels, Sheraton Grand; a goal of opening over 150 new hotels worldwide by 2020; innovations in sleep, bath and other amenities, plus new food and beverage offerings; and a $100 million marketing campaign, which will run through 2017. In addition to the current advertising, the marketing campaign will include loyalty program promotions, guest events and other activities.

Targeted not only at prospective guests but also at hotel employees, developers and owners, the campaign aims to solidify Sheraton’s positioning vis a vis its competitors, which include what Aron termed brands in the "business class tier of hotels," such as Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and Intercontinental, as well as another Starwood brand, Westin.

Six additional print ads will focus on Sheraton Grand and on services offered to guests, such as Sheraton hotels’ club floors, and a newly upgraded sleep experience and guest-room entertainment.  These will run in the New York Times, Fortune, The Nikkei and Sydney Morning Herald, among others.

Two different 30-second TV spots — the brand’s first commercials in nearly 10 years — will feature a female staff member walking through public and back-of-house spaces at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney until she reaches a guest room. In one spot, she zips up the back of a dress of a female guest, while, in another, she suggests a tie for a male guest preparing for a gala. The spots will run starting Sept. 21 on U.S. networks and global cable channels, including ABC, ESPN, CNBC and CNN International.

There will be related digital advertising, while the brand’s website and collateral also have been redesigned.

Aron said Sheraton’s guests "tend to be no-nonsense customers" who would appreciate the new campaign’s tagline and underlying concept. He said the ads would provide "real proof of the pudding, that we’re meeting customer service every day in our properties."

The tagline is also meant to "motivate leadership of the hotels to take concrete actions and live up to the positioning and please guests," he added.

Jamie Rosen, the managing director of Marcel New York, which is part of the Publicis Groupe and did the creative for the new campaign, said the agency had come up with its tagline after meeting with Aron, who she said commented, "When you’re in a service business, what you do and not say is what matters."  This comment, she added, "informed our thinking and led to the creative platform, that the actions a hotel takes are what make the difference."  

Frits van Paasschen, who was named chief executive of Starwood in 2007, abruptly resigned in February; according to company chairman, Bruce Duncan, van Paasschen had not grown the chain sufficiently, sold off enough of its hotels, or increased value for shareholders sufficiently.  Aron, a Starwood director since 2006 and former marketing chief for both Hyatt Hotels and United Airlines, was named to succeed van Paasschen on an interim basis.

In April, Starwood announced it would explore "a full range of strategic and financial alternatives to increase shareholder value" and said "no option is off the table."

Aron said the new Sheraton ad campaign was unrelated to these measures.

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