Advertising Week 2009: Thriving Under Pressure

What happened to the recession? Anyone attending Advertising Week’s festivities in New York got a limited reprieve from the gloom permeating the nation’s psyche.

AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo fought for ad agency attention during the week. AOL set up a big white tent on Times Square and hosted a party, though we heard it was hot — as in temperature — inside. The geeks at Microsoft gave away 3,500 radio-frequency ID tags to track attendees. Meanwhile, Yahoo reportedly hired drivers to take people home from parties.

Other after-hour events included a “Man Men” party sponsored by Rubicon Project and PeerSet, YouTube’s Battle of the Ad Bands, Adify’s bash at Jay-Z’s 40/40, and Facebook’s off-the-record party at the Nokia Theatre.

These diversions didn’t mask the harsh realities facing brand marketers working with tight budgets, navigating emerging channels, and trying to live up to high expectations set by higher-ups. And that was apparent during sessions at OMMA Global, the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s MIXX, and the Association of National Advertiser’s Agency/Client Forum.

Despite those pressures, marketers showed their resilience and demonstrated how they’re adapting and experimenting in social media, mobile, and online video. Those marketers include Scott Monty, global digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford, who has reached out to auto enthusiasts and ordinary motorists alike to spread the word about the brand. And Jeff Goodby, creative director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. What started as a whim — painting words, such as “Together,” “Barefoot,” and “Egg,” on his home — turned out to be an experiment in social and viral media.

Hyatt/BBDO: The Big Welcome

Another inspiring case study came from Hyatt and BBDO, which was forced to shift from a big-budget TV ad campaign to a low-cost alternative that tapped YouTube.

Before Amy Curtis-McIntyre joined Hyatt Hotels & Resorts as SVP, brand communication in May 2008, she was the founding chief marketing officer at JetBlue. “We’d say that JetBlue used to be a marketing agency that happened to fly,” she said. In contrast, Hyatt was known as a sales-driven business specializing in real estate, via its world-class hotels around the world. That would soon change.

As part of its drive to raise its profile, Hyatt also brought in BBDO in August 2008 to handle global brand advertising.

The first initiative: produce a :60 TV commercial based on the theme, “You’re More Than Welcome” and shot in five locations, including Bali. The cost? It was “not inexpensive,” Curtis-McIntyre said.

Then an economic tsunami struck in late 2008. “The market went belly up,” John Osborn, chief executive at BBDO New York, explained during a presentation with Curtis-McIntyre at the ANA summit.

Curtis-McIntyre recalled the phone call she made to Osborn. “Remember the 2009 budget we talked about? It’s gone.”

The BBDO and Hyatt marketing teams sat down to assess next steps. “That was a catalyst that caused us to pause, reset, and go inside out,” Osborn said.

Bottom line: As a luxury brand, Hyatt had to figure out how to attract travelers at a time when many are more inclined to count pennies instead of the threads in the bed’s linen.

The next step for Hyatt included digging into customer data. What did it learn? “Our best opportunity was to tap into our most loyal customers — our Gold Passport customers,” Curtis-McIntyre said, referring to Hyatt’s frequent guest program that enables participants to earn and redeem points for free hotel stays. If Hyatt could encourage these customers to book another stay, it would represent “a huge number of added business,” she said.

Hyatt and BBDO launched “The Big Welcome” contest and sweepstakes in early 2009 to promote the frequent guest program. For the contest, participants were asked to answer the question, “How would you spend 365 free nights at Hyatt to create an unforgettable experience?” Contestants had to answer that question in 250 words or fewer; a photo, video, audio file, or drawing were optional.

In contrast to a big budget “You’re More Than Welcome” TV ad, BBDO worked with Hyatt to create three YouTube videos to promote the contest, including one called, “Froggy’s Dream.” They were shot on one day in Brooklyn for a total of $150,000.

After they were shot, they were uploaded to YouTube. “I realized no one at Hyatt had seen them. You realize you’re way out on the limb. You are happy the next day at work when your security tag still works,” Curtis-McIntyre said.

As part of “The Big Welcome” campaign, Hyatt also launched an employee training program to ensure that its workers were in tune with the brand message. While employees were encouraged to say, “you are more than welcome,” and “thank you,” to guests, it was important that the responses didn’t come across as hollow promises, Osborn said.

The campaign resulted in 100,000 new Gold Passport members, an increase of 22 percent in the enrollment from the same period the prior year. What’s more, “The Big Welcome” participants contributed 14 percent to Hyatt’s revenue from April through June 2009.

Those results are worthy of a big welcome from Hyatt to both BBDO and its customers.

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