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'Up in the Air' Grounds Hilton in Star-Power Marketing

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Continuing a tradition of chumming with major Hollywood productions, Hilton Hotels will be making several guest appearances in Paramount Pictures’ Up in the Air. The association has also spurred a themed sweepstakes that kicked off last week.

The film, which premiers in New York at the end of the month, stars George Clooney as a frequent business traveler whose life on the road is threatened just as he is about to reach 10 million frequent-flyer miles—and after he has met a frequent-flyer love interest. Director Jason Reitman shot several scenes for the movie at Hilton hotels, and various Hilton amenities—including a Hilton HHonors Diamond VIP card made for Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham—show up on screen. In the movie’s trailer, the dashing star is also seen looking svelte in a Hilton bathrobe.

Even in an age in which brand placement in blockbuster movies is more common than $8 popcorn, the product cameos are quite a coup for Hilton. “This fits our brand positioning—both in above-the-line and below-the-line tactical terms,” said Andrew Flack, Hilton vp, global brand marketing. Flack added that the timing of the movie is fortunate for the brand, too. The upcoming holiday season “is the busiest time of year for people booking transient leisure,” he said. With the national rollout of the film combined with its move into international markets and on to DVD, Flack estimates six months of heightened exposure for the Hilton brand.

Hilton maintains that it did not pay for product placement per se. Instead, it gave free accommodation and reduced rates for cast and crew as well as work space (like ballrooms, meetings rooms where they could set up during a month of shooting). The actual Hilton locations used in the Up in the Air include the Hilton at the St. Louis Airport, the location at the St. Louis ballpark and the Hilton at the Miami Airport. Hotel rooms at those locations were also changed to look like Hiltons in other cities, as scenes required.

Though the movie’s premier is still some weeks off, starting now, guests who book a Hilton hotel stay by visiting either Hilton.com/UpintheAir (or just Hilton.com) will be entered into a sweepstakes that gives them a chance to win prizes inspired by Clooney’s globe-trotting character. These include one million Hilton HHonors points, Hilton HHonors Diamond VIP status and a trip to Paris for two, with a stay at the Hilton Arc de Triomphe. Hilton is promoting the sweepstakes online with its Up in the Air microsite and through active use of social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.

This is hardly the first time Hilton has showed up on the silver screen. The hotel chain has worked with big studios since 1950, when Born Yesterday was shot at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. Last year’s Frost/Nixon was filmed at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. And the list goes on: The rooftop of the New York Hilton hosted scenes of 2007’s Spider-Man 3, while the Las Vegas Hilton served as a glitzy backdrop for Indecent Proposal back in 1993. Hilton founder Conrad Hilton is also a recurring character on the current season of Mad Men.

In September, Hilton Worldwide, formerly Hilton Hotels Corp., underwent a thorough re-branding. The new corporate identity was meant to reflect the company’s efforts to reunite its stable of brands after Hilton’s international business was returned to its ownership in 2006. (Those operations had been sold off in the late 1960s.)

The new unified structure made it easier for global marketing to link Hilton to premieres of the film around the world.  “In the recent past, we had two separate marketing organizations,” Flack said. “Now, we have one team to coordinate activity around the film in markets like the U.S., Australia, Japan, Turkey and Northern Europe.  The global nature of the film fits our new identity.”