On Sheraton’s new campaign

The Sheraton hotel chain has not run a single TV commercial since 1996 or so (that would be approximately 39 years in television time). So it’s probably a good thing that this new TV campaign from Deutsch jumps right out of the screen and grabs you by the neck, until you too are singing along with this rollicking cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” (Or at least lamely nodding your head while silently trying out the “la la la las.”)

Aside from the total waker-upper/attention-getter aspect of such a magnetic version of the rock song, its title also provides a perfect tagline for a hotel. This is a bold move for the category. Could anyone actually argue that we need more hotel advertising that features traveling pod people (and their families or business associates) enjoying the rooms and the pool and the food, and the smiling androids who serve them?

The surprise use of the song alone, for something as out of mind as the Sheraton, probably justifies the entire media budget. It’s further analysis of the three spots released so far that gets dicey. I’m not going to go down the road that using the Stones’ sacred text about premarital sex and sin—meant as a sly, subversive thing (“I’ll satisfy every need, and I know you’ll satisfy me …”) but sterilized in this context to sell “a new spin” on Sheraton—means the end of civilization as we know it.

This is not a case of Nike buying “Revolution” from Michael Jackson (and that was in 1987). The world of rock ‘n’ roll changed, and the idea of “sell-out” was rendered moot way before then, probably in 1981, when those money machines (Mick, Keith, Charlie, Ronnie, et. al) started accepting corporate sponsorship for their tours.

And since then, of course, Microsoft bought “Start Me Up” to launch Windows 95 (and Paul Allen got to hang out with the band a lot), and Apple used “She’s a Rainbow” for the inauguration of the colored iMac. The iMac spot was nice and gentle, oddly comforting. This version of “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” by the San Diego garage band Convoy, really rocks. Convoy’s members also play the generic band shown here, in what amounts to a series of music videos starring the newly redecorated Sheraton.

In pure business terms (and the Rolling Stones have been called a perfect Harvard Business case study), the marriage of the big red “S” with the trademarked big red lips and tongue is a union of two old brands that, to mix in a disco refrain, want to live forever.

It’s the weirdly sanitized visuals, the morph from the Rolling Stones to the Monkees, that offends my friend the rock purist. “Why would you want to see this pseudo-plastic rock band behaving itself and going to bed early?” he asks. “It’s generic, theme-park mod, and that’s supposed to be cool?” He’s annoyed by the blatant lack of drugs and sex. (“It makes me nostalgic for the Dell dude and his reefer,” he says.)

I find it problematic from the opposite angle, as a soon-to-be-geezer—why would you want to check into a hotel that has frenzied teenyboppers screaming outside the lobby and rockers sleeping five to a bed (or in the worst-case scenario, dangling babies from balconies)?

But obviously, all this is meant to exist in its own highly stylized, fictional universe, not so much the real thing as it is an homage to the iconography of a still-innocent time. (In a cross-breeding of the Beatles and the Stones—why?—A Hard Day’s Night is suggested, as is the cover of Abbey Road.) This kind of stylized license is big in the culture, as with the exaggerated early ’60s look of New York in Down With Love and the sweetness and nostalgia—along with sex and drugs—of Almost Famous.

To be sure, the desexing action results in some weirdly impacted, suggestive moments. To illustrate service, a woman behind the desk fixes one guy’s guitar string (while he’s still playing) and bends down to do it, giving new meaning to the “surprising Sheraton Service Promise.” When the doorman tries to keep the screaming groupies back, two business guys in the lobby start removing their jackets and gettin’ down and it’s creepy to see them do that.

This is wave one of the campaign. More specific services will be promoted in the future, like the Sweet Sleeper Bed. This initial work has at least gotten the crested “S” back in people’s minds. Once there, let’s hope the Sheraton delivers, even without the Beatles in the lobby.