How HotelTonight’s First Instagram Ad Came Together

Moves from direct response to branding

The interest in Instagram’s advertising business only continues to grow for marketers outside of the pool of the social mobile app's initial brand partners, and a new look into HotelTonight’s first national campaign gives a rare look at the different steps in running sponsored posts on the app.

HotelTonight launches its first national campaign today dubbed Tonight I am with a month-long Instagram effort. But instead of flashy pictures of hotels, this campaign shows images of people doing everyday things and then imagines them going to their dream places. For example, one image shows a woman in a cubicle at work holding a beach towel and ball.

The hotel booking app started talking to Instagram about two months ago, claiming to be the first start-up to run paid promos on the app. Up until now, the bulk of Instagram marketers are big-name brands like Taco Bell, Ben & Jerry’sMcDonald’s and most recently, Gap's Banana Republic.

"We mutually thought there was really good brand alignment given that we’re solely focused on mobile, and so are they. If you look at the reach of Instagram on mobile, it’s pretty amazing, and we felt that it was a great way to introduce more people to HotelTonight in a clever, creative way that was true to our brand and true to the company," said Sam Shank, HotelTonight’s CEO.

Instagram is notoriously selective in vetting the creative from each ad before it runs, so the HotelTonight team met with Instagram for a one-day brainstorming session earlier this year. Once the idea was in place, Instagram employees even stopped by HotelTonight’s photo shoot to help with the campaign’s art direction. The brand hired advertising and celebrity portrait photographer John Keatley to shoot six pieces of creative.

HotelTonight’s focus on branding is a significantly different approach than the company has used in the past. Previously, HotelTonight’s efforts have focused on performance-driven app install ads targeted towards specific regions or platforms like Facebook, Google and Foursquare.

But HotelTonight’s business model centers around booking a hotel in three taps and a swipe, a message that is tough to convey with branding-focused marketing. "That’s a hard message to tell in one photo that’s also creative, evocative and memorable," Shank said.

After the Instagram campaign runs, Kevin Kwon, HotelTonight's mobile marketing manager, hinted that the branding focus with social may expand to other platforms, too.

"There are some potential things that we can do outside of Instagram, potentially on Facebook and going forward in more of a brand direction with that platform as well, but for the moment, Instagram is our single priority right now," Kwon said.

Check out all of HotelTonight's Instagram creative below.