Marriott’s mixing up media spend for travel’s return

Why the hospitality brand is using TikTok, Snap, and shoppable ads.
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· 4 min read

Finally, travelers can get back to collecting those miniature bottles of shampoo.

The travel industry is (mostly) back, and Marriott debuted its biggest global campaign in more than a decade last week, reminding travelers that it has indeed survived the pandemic.

Dubbed “The Power of Travel” (...really?), Marriott will run the campaign at least through the fall, Brian Povinelli, marketing SVP at Marriott, told Marketing Brew, while declining to detail the brand’s campaign ad spend.

  • In 2020, the brand spent about $77 million on ads—going through about $40 million in Q1 alone, according to Kantar, which tracks digital and traditional ad spend.
  • For context, that’s roughly a third of the $239 million Marriott spent in 2019.

Slowly...but surely: According to industry tracker STR, US hotel occupancy was at 68% for the second week of June, down only about 10% from 2019. Customers are spending about $1289a night, down only 4.4% from 2019.

“The world is ready for the message,” Povinelli told us.

A mixed bag of media

As one of the largest hotel companies in the world, it isn’t exactly surprising that Marriott and its 30 brands bought ad time during the NBA Finals and NBC’s broadcast of the Olympics. But the brand is also leaning on newer channels to remind guests of the virtues of a free continental breakfast.

Yes, that means the brand’s testing out TikTok for the first time:

  • It’s running a campaign with 27 influencers—including @lianev, @visitearth, and @voyagefox—filled with all the blue ocean cliches we’re accustomed to seeing in aspirational travel advertising.
  • Combined, Marriott said the 27 influencers have 34 million followers.
  • Each TikTok features a music track created by Marriott, filled with breathy narration that aims to inspire other travelers to create and share their own content.

“It’s somewhat experimental for us,” said Povinelli. “We don’t have the track record here, but we believe that it's one of the stronger platforms for consumers to engage with the campaign idea and actually create their own content and story around travel.”

+1: It’s running an OOH activation with Pinterest in Los Angeles and New York City, which will guide travelers to an in-app quiz that’ll encourage traveling with Marriott. And there’s a partnership with Snap, which the brand has worked with before, to build a branded Marriott VR Lens.

It’s also made a big bet on streaming services, with a native screen takeover of Amazon’s Fire TV, inventory blocks on HBO Max’s ad-supported tier, and shoppable, QR-code enabled ads on Hulu. The investments mark the first time Marriott’s using shoppable ads, which Povinelli sees as a booking vehicle. He claims the number of people booking + going on trips within a 24-hour window is up “significantly from two years ago.”

  • “People seem to be a little bit more impulsive in their purchase decisions. We wanted to test that,” said Povinelli.
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The results of this campaign will inform the brand’s media mix in the future, as it’s using the post-pandemic travel boom(let) to experiment and find what works.

“We're seeing a lot more brands willing to invest in new channels across the board, primarily due to the pandemic. The pandemic was like this catalyst for new vehicle usage and adoption, and advertisers naturally follow eyeballs,” said Chris Ebmeyer, VP of digital services at the agency 160over90, who said his clients are asking to invest in platforms like TikTok, Pinterest, and Twitch. According to Ebmeyer, many marketers with kids “quickly became acquainted” with TikTok over the past year.

“Marriott isn’t unique here. Content creators and brands need to stop thinking about the big streaming platforms and the big production companies in terms of how consumers are engaging with content,” said Carrie Dino, head of media at full-service agency Mekanism, adding that her clients are asking about joining Platforms like TikTok and Pinterest.

Zoom out: It’s hard to show off everything from a Courtyard to a St. Regis with a billboard, and “you can only do so much in a traditional 30-second film or TV ad or a print ad,” Povinelli said. “In these newer forums, you have an opportunity to tell a broader story.”

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