"We'd all like to be having better numbers and better performance right now," says Steve Ekdahl, director of brand marketing for Holiday Inn Express, based in Atlanta. "But our brand has always been all about smart value, and so our messaging resonates even more in difficult times. We want to make sure we're out there in the media."
The new ads are part of same campaign the hotel chain has been running since 1998, positioning it as an affordable alternative for smart people. "They're everyday heroes," he says. "In terms of demographics, we're aimed at frequent business travelers, from 25 to 54, and it skews male.
But we really think of them in terms of psychographics--they're the kind of travelers who say: 'Why should I pay for business meeting space I'm not going to use?' or 'Why should I have to tip someone $2 to move my roll-y bag six feet?' We have people staying with us who could afford to stay anywhere, but like that we're a bargain. And we have travelers who aren't making much money yet and wish they were staying at a W, but are pragmatic and rational about their budgets right now. These ads target anyone with that value mindset, in what we hope is a refreshing and unexpected way."
One ad, for example, features a fan fainting at a Cal Ripken Jr. book signing. A bystander--a doctor--offers to help and is rebuffed. Instead, the security guard demands someone smarter: "Did anyone stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night?" In another, astonished parents watch a newborn cut her own umbilical cord and then recall--"We did stay in a Holiday Inn Express," the dad says. "About nine months ago," chimes in mom. (Fallon, Minneapolis is the agency.)
It's true that the ads stand out because they resonate with Generation Next, the younger consumer that so many hotels are trying to woo, says David Brudney, a hospitality consultant in Carlsbad, Calif. "I don't see any other chains playing off the hip-hop generation. But they also appeal to the kind of Baby Boomers who consider themselves on the edge," he says--a good spot to be in with so many consumers trading down in hotel brands.
Brudney expects that trading-down trend to continue, as more corporate travel departments confront what he calls the "AIG Factor." During the recent AIG bailout furor, it didn't help the troubled insurer's image much that top executives were photographed at a corporate retreat in a super-swanky resort. "That's going to continue to hurt upscale properties," he says.
The rapidly growing Holiday Inn Express--opening about two hotels a week with more than 1,600 so far in the Americas--is owned by the Intercontinental Hotel Group, which through its Holiday Inn, InterContinetal, Crowne Plaza and other brands is the world's largest hotel company, ranked by number of rooms.