Holiday Inn Express Calls on Consumers to ‘Stay Smart’

In the face of a slumping economy that has affected the hospitality market, Holiday Inn Express is introducing more advertising to reinforce its value message among consumers.  New TV spots, dubbed “Stay Smart,” begin airing this week.

“While other hotel brands are pulling back, it presents an advantage to us and affords us the opportunity to talk to our target in a less cluttered environment,” said Steve Ekdahl, director of brand marketing for Holiday Inn Express.

The ads, created by Fallon, Minneapolis, evolve the brand’s 10-year-old campaign that carried a well-known punch line: “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” One spot, which initially ran in theaters, shows a businessman being confronted by a rapper who pokes fun at his square attire. The businessman jumps into a freestyle rap battle and concludes with, “I bet you’re still wondering why my verse is so tight? I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

In a second spot, a newborn baby reaches for surgical scissors and snips her own umbilical cord in the delivery room. The parents explain to the astonished doctors that they stayed at a Holiday Inn Express “about nine months ago.” A third spot shows an autograph seeker fainting in front of baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. A doctor is on the scene ready to assist, but a security guard insists on asking the crowd, “Did anyone stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night?”

The ads will air during prime time network and cable programming, including NBC’s Saturday Night Live telecast this weekend. Measured media spending by the InterContinental Hotels Group, which Holiday Inn Express is a brand of, already has reached $21 million through July of this year (not including online spending), compared with $29 million for 2007, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

“We are fortunate that the ad campaign has become so embedded in pop culture that we are now in a position to be able to have a little fun with it by acknowledging the public’s familiarity with the punch line,” said Ekdahl. “That let’s us change the ads just enough to keep them fresh and unexpected without sacrificing comprehension or brand linkage.”

The London-based parent company will announce its third quarter financial results on Nov. 11, but hotels are bracing for a stormy 2009 when net income for the category is expected to decline 3%, per revised figures from PKF Hospitality Research, San Francisco. Occupancy is projected to decrease 2.7% as the supply of rooms rises 3.5%, creating a market where hotel operators may have difficulty raising room rates (as they have been able to do in the past). Marriott International, Bethesda, Md., was among the first major hoteliers to report disappointing third quarter results. Its net income dropped 28%, and the company warned that next year would be difficult.

Smith Travel Research, Henderson, Tenn., this week also will revise its 2009 forecast, which currently projects revenue per available room to increase by 1%. Jan Freitag, vp of global development at Smith Travel, said, “Sentiment is strongly against a positive [revenue per available room growth], so we will likely turn it negative.”