NEW YORK Holiday Inn Express, a unit of Intercontinental Hotels, has taken its "Stay smart" campaign online through a joint venture with AOL and its cable network sibling HBO.
Holiday Inn Express' digital agency, Publicis Groupe's Digitas, developed the campaign.
Ben Jones, creative director at Boston-based Digitas, said the proposal request for the venture was unusual because instead of simply asking what placements and audience the media vendor could deliver, it outlined the concept and asked what the winner could do to help trigger activation.
AOL won because it focused on its partnership capabilities, which include a new broadband video content program, This Just In, that uses a blog format. By doing so, AOL was able to bring HBO's production capabilities to bear, said Jones. (AOL competed against Yahoo!, MSN and Google.)
The well-known campaign encourages travelers to "Stay smart," by spending wisely on overnight accommodations. The hotel chain targets value-oriented travelers.
"This is a way for the 'Stay smart' campaign to tap into a new generation to engage it with the brand and take it 'on the road' within the interactive space," said a Holiday Inn Express representative.
The parties have introduced a microsite that will host approximately 40 Webisodes documenting a two-person road trip from Boston to Los Angeles. A rough route has been planned, but travel and stops can be altered, dictated by viewers who interact with the show and offer suggestions.
One of the hosts will be selected from online viewers who enter an audition video on the microsite. The other will be actor, writer and comedian Henry Dittman.
"The theme is exploration and what does it mean to be smart in America through travel destinations, which involves going off the beaten path—places that smart people know about," said Colby Hall, executive producer of ThisJustIn.com.
In addition to viral outreach to bloggers and vloggers, media placements for The Smart Show will be targeted to the 25-54 demo via AOL Travel, Mapquest, AOL Video and AOL Instant Messenger.
Placements within CityGuides, AOL Radio and People Connection will be targeted to geographies highlighted within the show route.
"All of the advertising falls within the AOL family, but due to the nature of the interactive community, we expect the viral outreach to expand beyond the advertising and reach other new media outlets and social networks and communities," said the client rep.
"We are very excited because this marks an entry into a brave new world within the branded entertainment model. It is a Web show where online participants will choose one of the co-hosts. There will also be an ongoing dialogue between the hosts and Internet users in an unscripted and largely un-produced manner," said Hall.
Added Digitas' Jones: "I don't know of any other branded content deal that shoots, edits and uploads the same day. This project truly attempts to be between the brand and customers."