The Light Is Still On in Richards’ New Motel 6 Ads

Longtime pitchman Bodett is back for effort’s 17th year

He is not Motel 6’s owner, but people commonly think he is. He is not a fictitious character either, another common misconception. But author and commentator Tom Bodett is one of the longest-running pitchmen in America. The latest incarnation of the hotel chain’s 17-year series of Bodett ads breaks today from The Richards Group.

In 1984, David Fowler, then a creative director at Richards in Dallas, was cruising in his ’74 Chevy pickup when he heard a voice on National Public Radio that intrigued him. Fowler contacted Bodett immediately and stayed in touch; two years later, when Richards won the Motel 6 business, Fowler asked Bodett to be the voice of the campaign.

“What’s special about Tom is he embodies the everyman, but he sounds wise, and that’s the kind of person that Motel 6 wanted to reach—people who felt smart for staying there as opposed to people who were cheap or broke,” said Fowler, now ecd at WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather in New York.

It is an award-winning strategy that has worked for nearly two decades. Since Richards won the business, the 41-year-old chain, owned by France’s publicly held Accor, has doubled to 800 locations, and the budget-lodging segment has grown to include at least 35 competitors.

The new campaign, with a $10 million spend that is consistent with last year’s effort, includes eight 15-second TV spots and 23 radio spots. Some TV work follows the classic formula of customers explaining why they like Motel 6 and offers a twist at the end. In one spot, a man says he likes the motel because “they have the lowest price of any chain,” and they welcome his dog. He adds that his pet “likes that so much he insists on paying,” as a paw appears on the counter with a credit card.

Another commercial shows a man wearing a kilt who expresses how comfortable he is at the chain as he takes off his clothes. Other spots highlight the chain’s “Click 6” online feature, which offers special deals, through graphics. At the end of every spot, Bodett says the famous tagline, “We’ll leave the light on for you,” adding, “An Accor hotel.” National print is also in the mix.

Richards’ last work for the Dallas-based client broke in April 2002 and featured similar creative.

The fact that many people do not know the true identity of the voice behind Motel 6 is beside the point, said James Bell, senior partner at brand consultancy Lippincott Mercer in New York. “I think the warmth of his voice, the folksiness of the message, is very much in tune with what Motel 6 is delivering as a brand,” he said.

Richards creative group head Mike Malone said the effort enables Motel 6 to have a “running dialogue” with customers via the 48-year-old Bodett. Malone said that while the shop evaluates the work every few years, the time has not yet come to alter the strategy.

Bodett himself is astounded at the campaign’s longevity. “I didn’t expect to be doing it 17 months later,” he said. “I think everyone will know when it’s over, but it never seems to be over.”