Attend enough off-off-Broadway theater, and one is likely to see some questionable interpretations of classic plays.
The theater industry code for well-intentioned efforts that fall short is ” the director had a concept.” Westin Hotels and Resorts’ latest advertising campaign, titled ” This is how it should feel,” has a concept.
The campaign has print, online and television components. Of these, the TV commercials are the most egregiously concept-ridden. Clearly Westin’s ad staff intended consumers who view any of its 15-second spots to be initially befuddled and then intrigued.
Well, good luck managing expectations. Of the first four ads, only one, ” Breathe” contains anything close to a benefit to the consumer. The spot opens, not with images of hotels rooms or even amenities, but with a soft-focus swirl. After a few seconds, viewers are urged to ” Breathe” and then informed that Westin is the first major hotel chain to go completely smoke-free.
This is the strongest of the four ads, and even it has distractions. Both the accompanying music and psychedelic swirls evoke the 1960s, and the word ” Breathe” has a place in that era’s lore as well: It was written on a card that Yoko Ono handed to John Lennon when the two first met.
These are mind-meanderings, of course, but they serve to undermine the ad’s effectiveness. Those of us familiar with the counterculture will be lost in reminiscences of it (as Tommy Chong once put it, ” I remember the ’60s, man, when the universe meant something.” ) Those who aren’t will have this 15-second concept flash by them and be left with ” What the hell was that?”
Either way, this does not put heads on pillows.
A second commercial features a Creamsicle-colored sky with a background of twittering birds. The tagline to this brief spot is ” What’s the first thing you hear when you wake up?” To answer a question with a question, is every Westin hotel or resort based in an ashram?
Perhaps a better one might be, ” Can you guarantee that my room won’t be near the elevator shaft or the ice machine?” As any road warrior will tell you, twittering birds ain’t what wakes one up in these cases.
This is assuming that a viewer makes the connection between orange skies and chirping grackles in the morning with Westins. Quite frankly, the tie isn’t very strong in any of these ads.
The ads move from nebulous to terrifying. The third spot opens with yet more abstract swirls, this time in green. These resolve themselves into something that looks like a child’s finger painting of a green owl with cucumber-slice eyes. The tag line for this is ” Excite your senses. Renew your spirit.”
Excite my senses? If I start seeing green owls with cucumber eyes, not only aren’t my senses in need of more excitement, but I’m packing my bags and heading for detox.
The final spot plays right to the anxiety factor. It opens on a mock news broadcast – one of those multi-element layouts that exacerbates Attention Deficit Disorder much in the way six bowls of sugary cereal does. Stock prices crawl along the bottom of the screen in a blur of red and green numbers, while two separate shots – one of oil refineries and the other of a massive traffic jam – serve to alarm in the viewer.
But the denouement isn’t much better. In the Westin world, the round, white, disk-like oil refineries slowly transform into round, white, disk-like floating candles. That’s round, white, disk-like, floating candles with merrily burning wicks. This generates the initial reaction of ” Holy Texaco, oil prices are high enough and now the refineries are burning?” The traffic jam image somehow morphs into a tropical paradise, which is a bit of association that doesn’t work (the director had a concept.)
The plug for Westin comes in one of the bands of text that march along the bottom of the screen: ” This is how it should feel.” What? Like heart palpitations from viewing burning refineries, or like being stuck in a tropical traffic jam?
Westin, if you’re offering me clean sheets, a massage with my stay, and a quiet environment, show me that. Oh, and include the fact that your rooms have free high-speed Internet access, if they do. (And if they don’t, shame on you: It’s the most popular requested amenity.) But you can keep your birds and bees… and your concept.