Acura is extending a two-year-old deal with W Hotels for another year starting in April. The program puts Acura MDX vehicles at dozens of the properties in the U.S., and marketing content at the hotels' digital and physical spaces. The MDX is "preferred vehicle" of W Hotels Worldwide, although the new program involves only U.S. and Montreal properties.
The co-branded effort, "The Acura Experience," via channel marketer NSI, lets guests take a chauffeured ride in the vehicle from the hotel to a location within a given radius. Information on the drivers is then forwarded to Acura and distributed to local dealers for driver follow-up.
The upscale chain, owned by Starwood International, has had programs at specific properties with other automakers in the past, including Volkswagen, whose short-lived foray into the upper reaches of the car market with the Phaeton put that sedan at certain W Hotels. But Acura's program with W Hotels involves all 27 or so properties in the U.S. and one in Montreal.
Susie Rossick, Acura's manager of national advertising, said the program started in 2007 with a pilot program. "We were pleased with the results and decided to expand it the next year. That's when we went full out." She says the focus has always been on the MDX. "It's our feeling that this is the best way for consumers to experience Acura because we are taking them from location to location; they are getting a first-class experience in the MDX rather than being in a cab."
Andy Arnold, EVP of business development at NSI, says the key objective is to get the vehicle on more peoples' shopping lists. "So rather than waiting for people to come to Acura dealerships, they are bringing the vehicles to them."
Acura will sponsor a number of W Hotel programs, including its Symmetry concert series, which features up-and-coming performers. Also, rising designers will partner with Acura for shows at the properties. "A big component of it this year is lifestyle," says Arnold.
Acura's brand identity at W Hotels will include digital components. Arnold says about 70% of all guests confirm their room through Whotels.com, and Acura will have a presence on the site, with each of the pages on the Web site talking about the program. "And when you book a room, you will get confirmation email with banner ad talking about the program; that happens pre-stay. At the property, inserted in your key-card envelope there is branded messaging about the program," says Arnold.
Acura will also have signs in hotel lobbies, and at 12 of W Hotels properties there will be Acura brand ambassadors at lobby desks to talk about the program and schedule ride and drives. They will also have flat-screen TVs advertising the program in lobbies. In hotel rooms, guests will get inserts in room-service menu guides, and there will even be miniature Acura MDX vehicles next to the room phone, with a "Need a Lift? banner. The third iteration of the program runs from April 1 through March 31 next year.
Rossick says the program is bringing both new customers and consumer insights to Acura. "We ask consumers to fill out response cards while they are in the car, with an incentive. We consistently get really positive feedback, and it also gives us an opportunity to learn specifically what they like about the vehicle."
When Acura took those lists and matched them against future buyers of Acura vehicles, there was a surprising correlation, says Rossick. "Since 2007 we have seen them go back and purchase an Acura. This is putting us on consumers' shopping lists." She says the program is conquesting for Acura because W Hotel guests index with Acura's competitors. "From our standpoint, it's the most successful program we have ever done."