Three Cheers For The Red, Blue - And Neutral

Once again, a Washington hotel proves it’s possible to capitalize on political excitement without upsetting potential customers. As was the case with The Jefferson hotel pushing a puppy for president (see my column), the equally venerable Mayflower Hotel (part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection) launched a campaign earlier this year positioning itself as the city’s “official bi-partisan” hotel. Upon check-in, guests are asked to select a red or blue guest room key card, signifying #TheMayflowerVote. — and triggering an informal straw poll. Of course, any guests who aren’t interested in being polled can simply request a standard room key.

Michael Hennessy, the hotel’s director of sales, says that the Mayflower has been part of the political process for many years (since it hosted a Calvin Coolidge event in 1925) and has been the scene of many events that have shaped the political landscape. Hennessy says the blue and red keys are great conversation starters, some of which result in walk-through tours of the hotel which is home to several historic and iconic ballrooms — scenes of inaugural balls and other events for more than 90 years. 



On weekends, says Hennessy, families are more numerous in the hotel and kids love to choose the color of the key. 

In addition to the key promotion, the hotel also has a presidential lending library on its mezzanine level where, using an honor system, guests can borrow books and return them when they’re done; or sit and read them while they are there. 

And, while not always presidency-related, the hotel capitalizes on its long and politically connected history in other ways. Four years ago a new restaurant opened called Edgar Bar & Kitchen, named after J. Edgar Hoover, who ate lunch at the restaurant almost every day for 20 years. He always ate the same thing, according to Hennessy: chicken soup and a salad comprised of lettuce, cottage cheese and grapefruit.

That meal would not be on a 2016 Most Wanted list.

Being discreet, Hennessy won’t hint at who might be partying at The Mayflower on Inauguration Day next January, only saying there will be many inaugural galas. There will be election night and presidential debate parties as well. For the record, the Mayflower straw poll shows that as of a couple of weeks ago with more than 36,000 votes, 61% of those who chose a color chose blue while 39% chose red. The results are continually updated on Facebook and Instagram.

Hotels like The Jefferson and The Mayflower have one really big chance every four years to make the most of their location and history. The Jefferson chose to do so with humor and whimsy while The Mayflower opted for a more serious positioning. 

An election is a sensitive event to use as a marketing tool but as these properties demonstrate, it can be done with delicacy — and make a lasting impression on guests who might check the hotel’s social media to see where the straw poll stands. And the colorful cards will probably be saved as souvenirs with The Mayflower name printed prominently on them.

Bottom line: marketers might see this as an inexpensive, memorable, social-media friendly campaign — no matter which side they’re on.

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