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.

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