Music Is Key to Marriott’s Marketing Strategy, So Naturally It Launched a Global Music Festival for W Hotels

The brand will host 3 festivals in the second half of 2018

The Wake Up Call music festival will arrive at the W Bali in October. W Hotels
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In 2016, the W Scottsdale held an epic party where musicians including Mike Posner, CeeLo Green and Bebe Rexha played sets for hotel guests and attendees. The event, dubbed Wake Up Call, was a huge success for the hotel chain, so much so that W Hotels decided to bring it back as a fully fledged, traveling music festival for the second half of 2018.

“We know that music is really important to many of our brands here, as well as our loyalty members. Looking across all 30 brands there were two in particular that really popped for us this year with an opportunity to do something different in the music space,” Jennifer Utz, vp of buzz marketing and partnerships for Marriott International, explained. The first brand was W Hotels.

Beginning this September, Wake Up Call will return in full force with a three-day event at the W Hollywood from Sept. 1-3, followed by three days at the W Barcelona in late September and a trip to the W Bali in early October. Then, in 2019, there will be an event at the new W Dubai, The Palm. Each location was thoughtfully selected for its musical heritage. Each of the three hotels include a proper recording studio that artists can book to record albums, EPs and so on.

“We are kicking off in Hollywood because it is such an amazing music town and also a music media town. You think of all the recording studios, all the labels and the history of music in Hollywood. It’s part of the culture. The fact that that hotel has a recording studio and has hosted so many legendary acts in the past, from live performances by Maroon 5, recording artists coming in and actually using the recording studio, we thought it was a great way to kick off the festival,” Pablo Henderson, senior global director, brand marketing for W Hotels, said.

“I don’t know that there is another group that could be able to speak as authentically in the music space and put on a festival and for it to feel so natural. It’s expected to some extent because of all the other things we are doing with music,” Henderson added.

These aren’t simply concerts at a hotel that are marketed to be like a Coachella or Lollapalooza. Wake Up Call was created to be a new genre of music festival, designed to offer luxury perks to an exclusive group of guests. Henderson and his team see it as, “an opportunity to bring a W culture to life.”

For the time being, W Hotels is selling tickets and rooms for the festivals exclusively to those signed up for any of the Marriott brand’s rewards programs (including Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards and The Ritz Carlton Rewards). While some events will have extra tickets for purchase (again for rewards members only) most require that guests book a room at the respective locations. That’s a big part of what differentiates the experience from your standard festival.

Think about it. Say you get tired between acts, you can head to your hotel room for a quick nap. Feel like taking a dip in the pool while Charli XCX performs? Go for it. W Hotels is also leaning into the lack of long bathroom lines, which those that frequent music festivals are all too familiar with, as a selling point. Plus, the experience will have a special selection of food and cocktails (again without the horrendously long lines) for guests to enjoy. Fitness classes will also be offered as part of the hotel chain’s Fuel workout program.

W Hotels is also drawing some impressive names to each of the three festivals planned for 2018. Phantogram, Charli XCX and Chrome will play in Hollywood; Martin Solveig, Gorgon City and Thomas Jack will take the stage in Barcelona; Angus & Julia Stone, Sam Feldt and Nightmares on Wax are booked for Bali.

“Many of the artists we’ve also had longstanding relationships with so we wanted to continue that thread, but we also have a very specific sonic identity for W. It’s always this fresh sound. We like to pride ourselves on introducing our guests to what is new and next, so it’s finding that hybrid of recognizable names that will generate excitement around the festival, but also taking curation into account so we can introduce guests to someone they might not know about,” Henderson said.

The relationship with musicians is a common thread throughout the Marriott International family. This year another Marriott brand, Aloft Hotels, is kicking off year nine of its Project: Aloft Star—a competition that identifies emerging talent in the music industry. Winners can score everything from mentoring sessions with major bands and artists (this year it’s X Ambassadors) or a chance to record a single at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. This year, Aloft Hotels doubled down on the music competition by partnering with Universal Music Group & Brands to help develop some of the emerging talent that enters the competition.

“I think the overall sensory experience of a hotel today really creates the emotional connection, and music is an important part of connecting with the local community. Music can be very local,” Toni Stoeckl brand leader for Aloft, said.

Another selling point for the W Hotels new venture is that rewards members can also bid on experiences at the festival using rewards points, through Marriott’s moments platform. At the W Hollywood festival, guests have a chance to win a complete makeover and photo shoot with artist Betty Who, among other things. In Barcelona you could score a sound suite session with Boston Bun and in Bali you could attend a VIP party with Angus & Julia Stone.

While Marriott International is trying out the idea of its own festival, some of its brands will still be partnering with major music festivals. Earlier this year Marriott set up luxury yurts for rewards members to bid on.

“What we are not saying is we don’t see value in Coachella. We are not saying that at all. There is tremendous value in Coachella and other festivals, and we are constantly looking at ways to continue to innovate what our presence is at these various festivals around the globe. With Wake Up Call it’s just a different approach,” Utz said.

For the time being, W Hotels will not work with any major partners on these festivals, but they do have a few “micro partners” like those who help provide fitness classes. “We really wanted to W and SPG Marriott Rewards to come through loud and clear. We didn’t want to see this trend that so many festivals have adopted in over partnering to some extent,” Henderson said. “We do have a lot of amazing partners we hope to tap as we get closer to the festival to enhance the experience in a very different way but as of right now there are no additional sponsors.”

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.