Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ritz-Carlton "Loosens Up" its Brand with new Web films

I recently read about the new short films commissioned by Ritz-Carlton to loosen up its somewhat stiff image. The luxury brand has been around a long time and is certainy well established among the well-heeled travelers. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the hotel chain, which is owned by Marriott International Inc., is trying to "broaden its appeal" among young professionals and families. They've hired Saatchi & Saatchi's Team One Advertising to develop a series of short films - or long commercials - that are planned to run on the RC's web site and its hotel TVs next year. Pretty smart - drive more potential customers to the web site, and remind existing customers who may be younger folks that they haven't checked into their grandfather's hotel.

The R-C is making very carefully planned moves to appeal to younger travelers, while maintaining its true blue image among the conservative, "old money" crowd. So the films depict young, hip Gen X-ers in various situations that, I assume, make the R-C look like a place where the "young and hip" would like to hang out. I haven't seen them yet, so that's about all I can say for now. Team One is also working up a print ad campaign as well, so fear not, fans of traditional media.

I called Stephen Deucker, Director of Marketing for the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, and asked for his take on this. Turns out he's pretty hip to the whole thing, having met with the Team One people this summer. He tells me Bruce Himelstein, R-C's senior VP for sales and marketing, is the guy who deserves the credit for taking on this brand tune-up to "blow the dust off the lion and crown." He thinks the films are a cool idea to reach a younger crowd, but without alienating the traditional R-C customer. Wow, you mean luxury doesn't have to be boring? Deucker points out that 25-26 year-old Gen X-ers are starting to check into their hotels while traveling on business, and the hotel chain has an obligation to make them feel as comfortable as the older, traditional customer.

Deucker also told me about some finer points of the brand tweaking - including some fine-tuning of the logo and a loosening of the strict rules governing employee behavior.

When I read about the campaign in the Wall Street Journal, the most memorable passage was a quote from Himelstein, who in a masterful moment of understatement said, "This brand doesn't leave you a lot of wiggle room. But we decided to push the envelope a bit." That's priceless.

Ritz-Carlton may have a long way to go before it appeals strongly to the instant-gratification generation, but it sounds like this new campaign is a smart move in the "managed perception" department.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

If we're banning cigarette companies' print ads, let's get the kids out of the bars first!

It's been all over the news this past week. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., under intense pressure from anti-smoking groups and members of Congress over print ads for its cigarettes, announced that it would not advertise its brands in newspapers or consumer magazines next year.

As reported in the Washington Post, the company had been criticized sharply for both its colorful and feminine Camel No. 9 ads, which appeared in fashion magazines and were seen as cynically aimed at young women, and also for a recent ad in Rolling Stone.

I am perhaps the least likely person to come out in defense of a tobacco company. I hate cigarette smoking. Hate it. It's annoying, dirty, unhealthy and, unfortunately, legal. Here's the problem with all this flap about RJ Reynolds and their advertising. It's a pretty scary thing when any company that is manufacturing and marketing a product that is legal for adults to purchase is put under this kind of pressure by groups who claim to be protecting our children, and the politicians who pander to them. It's a slippery slope my friends, and one that should be of major concern to everyone in the advertising industry.

The latest complaints are about RJ Reynolds' Camel No. 9 ads, which were launched early this year on thick, shiny paper in fuchsia or teal and are adorned with images of roses and lace. A group of Congress members, led by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., have been urging women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Glamour to stop accepting the ads, saying they threaten the health of the teenagers and young women who form a large part of their readership. This is an all too familiar tune, similar to the claims made several years ago that RJR was targeting kids with its Joe Camel cartoon character. I didn't agree then, and still don't. Just because the campaign used a "cartoon" camel it doesn't mean they were trying to get nine-year-olds to light up. Were they targeting a younger demographic? Sure, but not the SpongeBob crowd.

Regarding the Camel No. 9 campaign, here's a news flash - lots of women smoke. Adult women who should know better. And yes, it is like kissing an ashtray. But what's wrong with RJR using its marketing savvy and creativity to get women who choose to smoke to try their new brand?

Let's look at the facts. Sometimes kids happen to see advertising that is not really meant for them. Kids also see their parents smoking and engaging in various other forms of unhealthy behavior too. Want healthier kids? Hey Mom, how about fewer trips to the MacDonalds drive-through?

The Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has long protested the Camel ads, called the company's decision to curtail print ads in 2008 "more a strategy to deflect criticism than a real change in marketing." Matthew Myers, president of the group, said it was unfortunate that R.J. Reynolds had not committed to permanently stop print advertising.
Sorry to dissappoint you, Matt, but don't you think this company has obligations to its shareholders and employees to market products successfully so that it can maintain profitability?

The Washington Post report continues this absurdity - Myers also says RJR has far to go to curtail what his group calls egregious marketing practices, which include promotions at bars and nightclubs. So, I guess in order to protect all the children who are hanging out in bars in nightclubs, we really should make RJR stop this evil, nasty stuff. God forbid someone should purchase a pack of smokes during a night of drinking, then actually be seen smoking by an innocent child!

Enough already. Here I go quoting Ogilvy again, but never has it been a better time to remind these people that "the enemies of advertising are the enemies of freedom."

Let's review...
I hate smoking. I like women. If it's legal to buy cigarettes and smoke them, let's stop trying to demonize marketers and their advertising. And let's get those kids out of the bars!