IHG Hotels & Resorts Plunks Down its Largest Single Marketing Investment in a Decade

Posted on by Patty Odell

This weekend, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express will activate their official hotel sponsorship of Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day at the U.S. Open. The activities are part of the largest marketing investment parent IHG Hotels & Resorts has committed to a single campaign in a decade.

The multimillion-dollar integrated campaign, “We’re there,” launched in June with two TV spots. Supporting the ads are dynamic paid and social media activations, as well as radio, digital and social media in the U.K., and in digital and social in Canada, Mexico, Central and South America later this summer.

The communications strategy celebrates authentic moments of human connection and the role these two hotel brands—4,000 locations—have played in connecting people all over the world for nearly seven decades over product and price points.

Heather Balsley, svp of global marketing, mainstream brands at IHG Hotels & Resorts, takes us through the strategy and execution.

CHIEF MARKETER: The “We’re there” campaign launched in June, what is the overall strategy?
HEATHER BALSLEY: The strategy is around elevating the two brands— Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express—in a way that connects them with a unified purpose that leans in to and reinforces the brand’s heritage and authenticity and ubiquity, and really stands for something much bigger than the product. It’s a unified communications strategy for two hospitality industry icons. We’re celebrating authentic moments of human connection and exploring the unfiltered emotions people experience when they reunite with those they care about the most, personally and professionally.

CM: What differentiates the brands?
HB: Holiday Inn is a full service brand so it offers a full bar and restaurant as a part of other amenities within the product experience, whereas Holiday Inn Express is a more limited service offering. The focus is really on a great night’s sleep, a hot shower and a free hot breakfast to get our guests moving.

CM: How are you connecting the two brands in your marketing?
HB: Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express are two distinct brands, but the big idea around human connection brings them together. It’s allowed us to market them with one unified purpose, putting them side by side in a way that we feel will bring a stronger emotional connection for both brands.

It really comes back to the founding of Holiday Inn, which is the foundation of both of these brands. When Kemmons Wilson founded Holiday Inn it really was about connecting people. He believed that travel could bring people closer and bring the world closer. So we really leaned into that truth around the brand heritage, but also the insight around why people travel that being there in person really always matters.

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CM: How is this message different from what you’ve done in the past?
HB: Our past brand campaigns focused a bit more on the physical product and on our brand proof point. This campaign really takes the messaging to a much higher level and really elevates the brand around how travel connects people all around the world.

CM: How are you activating atArthur Ashe Kids’ Day?
HB: We want to show up in really exciting and unexpected ways. We think that this partnership will really reinforce the role that these brands play to connect people. As the official hotel sponsor we have great brand signage throughout the space. But the sponsorship also includes on site activities that will reinforce our message around experiences families will be able to enjoy together. We’ll also be using that partnership to showcase one of the unique value propositions of Holiday Inn, which is that kids always stay and eat free, partly through our sponsorship of Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day Aug. 24.

CM: How does Coca-Cola fit in?
HB: At the Open we’re partnering with Coca-Cola to provide lunch vouchers to help kids eat free during the U.S. Open. It’s just one more activation that really reinforces the reach of this campaign and how we will be going far beyond our television advertising to bring it to life in really compelling unique ways.

CM: What’s next?
HB: As the campaign progresses you’ll start to see individual brand advertising that reinforces the differences between the two brands.
The collection of advertising connects the brands to the higher order purpose but also starts to reinforce that process by putting the brand side by side in the consumer’s mind.

CM: #BeThereIRL (in real life) for life’s important moments leads your social campaigns. What are your thoughts behind using a hashtag?
HB: Our first moment around [the hashtag] was connected to Father’s Day. We saw a phenomenal connection to the campaign and we invited customers to share memories of their own #BeThereIRL moments with their fathers.

CM: You are marketing in an extremely competitive category. What keeps you up at night?
HB: It is an extremely competitive category and you know what has always kept me up at night is how do we breakthrough in a very crowded media landscape. Most of our competitors are talking about their product features and price even their locations. This platform is going after a very different way to talk to our customer and connect with why they travel as opposed to selling what we have to offer.

“We’re there” is a WPP-led campaign with creative by Ogilvy, PR by Ogilvy and H&K, production by Hogarth, and media planned by Mindshare.


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