The Sweet Story Behind Holiday Inn's Chinese Campaign About a Mother and Daughter

Emotional Film Was Inspired by the Chief Marketer's Own Experience

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Holiday Inn is a seasoned player in China: It entered the country in 1984, even before KFC, Procter & Gamble and many other early movers. Today it has 75 hotels in greater China, and it's at work on doubling that number to cater to China's rising middle class. As Holiday Inn sought to freshen up its image, it wanted a campaign that would speak to a clientele split equally between business travelers and families – a tricky creative challenge. The campaign also had to make the brand's global proposition about "the joy of travel for everyone" resonate in China and stand out creatively in a country where tourism has exploded and people are being exposed to more hotel brands.

"In the hospitality industry a lot of things can be very tactical offers and deals for promos and things like that -- the idea here was to put creativity back up front in their marketing communications," said Darren Crawforth, executive creative director for OgilvyOne Shanghai. (Ogilvy is also doing campaigns for five other brands in the InterContinental Hotels Group portfolio, including InterContinental and a China-focused brand, Hualuxe, which is another creative challenge.)

A personal story

The solution was actually inspired by the personal experience of the brand's chief marketer. Emily Chang, Greater China chief commercial officer for the parent company, InterContinental Hotels Group, told a story about getting heart-rending messages from her daughter during business trips. So Ms. Chang surprised her – instead of taking her to a piano lesson, they went for an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn.

"She got to swim in the indoor pool with me and eat at the restaurant with me, and at night we just cuddled up, not in our own bed, and it felt so special and it fed my soul," Ms. Chang said. "I was surprised to see how much it could rejuvenate a little kid, so we've tried to make a habit of that whenever we can".

"It's not going to exotic locations, it's just taking a moment out where you can feel at home and yet be somewhere special. And that's exactly what we started talking about with Ogilvy and saying, 'That's what Holiday Inn does.' When you think of creating that personal, intimate moment with your family, Holiday Inn's the only brand that comes to mind."

The film, directed by Jingyi Shao and Jess Jing Zou, is about a business traveler and a family traveler who are the same person – the mom.

"We often talk about this phrase, 'Work-life balance.' It's interesting because that depicts the seesaw, work's on one side, life's on the other," Ms. Chang said. "I think for these travelers, they're not one or the other, they're fully integrated."

The film also resonates in a country where working moms are the norm (and where, like everywhere, mothers are conflicted about whether they're spending enough quality time with their kids.) About 72% of Chinese women ages 25-34 with children under age 6 are employed, according to the All-China Women's Federation.

The video is being pushed out online, and the brand also bought airtime during some of the most-watched Chinese TV shows, singing contest "The Voice of China" and "Dad, Where Are We Going?" a reality show about celebrity dads roughing it in rural locations with their kids. Because both those shows feature real, personal stories, the brand thought they would catch consumers in the right frame of mind to receive Holiday Inn's message.

Ms. Chang, who formerly worked for P&G and Apple before joining IHG about two years ago, said she's still learning about the hospitality industry. But she feels there's room for storytelling amid hospitality's more tactical forms of outreach.

With a hotel brand, the guests are "living in your product and they're eating your food and sleeping in your bed and it's so intimate," Ms. Chang said. "How can you not tell the stories and bring it to an emotional level?"