Hotel advertising has a curious duality to it. Consider this: While a property’s marketers unfailingly boast about the hotel’s interior amenities— the room size, the service, the food, and spa and health club—print advertising usually eschews these things in favor of showing the hotel’s exterior. What guest really cares about the facade? Actually, that’s just the beginning. As these ads for New York’s Park Sheraton of 1954 and the Omni Dallas of 2011 demonstrate, marketers also clearly believe it’s essential to use a rendering instead of a photo and (holy of holies) to show the property at night too.
Why might these things be? As it turns out, each of these hotels had its own reasons for these visual presentations, but both are grounded in thinking that goes far beyond literal amenities and into the realm of the psychological. According to Stefan Haverkamp, a JWT creative and teacher at the Miami Ad School, consumers have always been more influenced by the exteriors of products—be it an iPhone or a hotel—and, accordingly, these brands take various understandable liberties to present their exteriors to maximum effect. “Both of these ads,” Haverkamp said, “are trying to glamorize the hotels.”
Since opening in 1927, New York’s Park Central Hotel was one of midtown’s swank addresses. Its 1,600 rooms and proximity to the Theater District made it a fave of celebrities from Mae West to Walter Winchell to D.W. Griffith. Even after the property joined the Sheraton chain in 1948, it retained its cachet. Jackie Gleason rehearsed episodes of The Honeymooners at the hotel, which boasted five restaurants and a nightclub called the Mermaid Room. A year before the ad at right ran in Life magazine, management had added TVs to every room.
All perks, however, are subordinate to an artist’s rendering of the hotel at night—and Haverkamp says that makes perfect sense. “Illustration was the Photoshop of its time, and this ad was drawn out of perspective to make the Park Sheraton nearly as tall as the Empire State Building and the skyline surrounding it. It makes it seem more sophisticated.” So did the subtle but significant touch of showing the hotel in the moonlight. “Hotels are about the night,” Haverkamp added. “People associate them with nightclubs, with encounters at hotel bars.” Leave the amenities to the fine print; the ad’s job was to convey size, location, sophistication.
Now, fast-forward 58 years to a city nearly 1,400 miles away, and you’ll see the same kind of thinking at work. Not unlike the Park Sheraton, Dallas’ Omni Hotel boasts over 1,000 rooms and four restaurants. But its marketing equity lay in its contribution to the Dallas skyline. The helicopter perspective made possible by the computerized image magnifies the sunset along the sweep of glass curtain wall and shows the hotel at a sexy, rakish angle. “They want to show the size—this is a massive hotel—which indirectly tells the viewer that it’s glamorous,” Haverkamp said.
Alas (sorry, Dallas), nobody will be running into Mae West in this lobby.