MOTEL 6 ADS SEEK TO REASSURE PUBLIC ABOUT ITS CLIENTELE: BODETT ADJUSTS 'LIGHT' APPROACH AS CHAIN PORTRAYS THOSE 'NEXT DOOR'

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For 13 years, Tom Bodett has pledged that Motel 6 will "leave the light on for you." Now, in a twist to the tagline, he asks visitors: "When did you first see the light?"

The $13 million TV and radio effort from the Richards Group, Dallas, breaks May 3 and is designed to dispel any notion that economy-class Motel 6 attracts disreputable guests.

"Many people really weren't sure who they'd meet at a Motel 6," said Carol Kirby, the chain's exec VP-marketing. "We wanted people to understand that Motel 6 was for people like them. It's a huge cross-section of middle-class America."

In addition to national network, cable and syndicated TV, spot will be used in California and Texas, where the 800-unit chain has a heavy presence.

PAST FOCUS ON RENOVATIONS

Since 1997, Motel 6 ads have focused on the $600 million spent to upgrade the facilities. The chain competes in the growing economy segment of the U.S. lodging market against such brands as Super 8, Days Inn and Choice Hotels International's EconoLodge.

Five new 15-second spots feature a construction work-er who travels to jobs "on my own dime"; a middle-age couple who found Motel 6 touring the South; a father and son who stay there on fishing trips; a single woman who travels with her dog "Princess"; and a middle-age couple who use Motel 6 when visiting relatives.

"We're trying to portray that you won't just be comfortable in the rooms, but you'll be comfortable with the people next door," said Rod Underhill, a principal at Richards Group. "That's our last hurdle. Our research indicates there are still people who are a little worried that an undesirable person may be next door."

Motel 6 also plans to continue its heavy use of radio advertising this year. Nine new spots using the "see the light" theme are ready to hit the air next month along with the TV campaign.

Of the $13 million 1999 budget, $5 million will go to radio.

In one radio spot, Mr. Bodett advises people to ride out the possible chaos from the Y2K bug at a Motel 6.

Mr. Bodett frequently injects current events in the radio spots; in recent years, he's made reference to the Clinton White House scandal involving the Lincoln Bedroom and UFO activity in New Mexico.

BODETT'S '4TH PHASE'

Motel 6 is calling this a "fourth phase" of Mr. Bodett's work for the chain.

Phase one, in the late 1980s, involved general brand positioning as "the lowest price of any national chain."

In the early 1990s, the second phase focused on the motel's amenities such as cable TV and free local calls, while the third phase plugged the renovated rooms.

This phase focuses on the people who stay at Motel 6, and a fifth phase is planned for around 2001.

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