Actually, Motel 6 Doesn't Leave the Light on for You

Longtime Spokesman Tom Bodett Talks to Ad Age About Other Perks You Won't Get

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Author and "All Things Considered" commentator Tom Bodett has been the voice of Motel 6 for more than two decades. It was Mr. Bodett, in fact, who coined the budget-priced chain's enduring tagline, "We'll leave the light on for you," while ad-libbing in the studio in 1986 with the chain's ad ageny, Richards Group.
Tom Bodett's podcasts for Motel 6 poke fun at the amenities more expensive hotel chains leave in rooms.
Tom Bodett's podcasts for Motel 6 poke fun at the amenities more expensive hotel chains leave in rooms.

Mr. Bodett is now doing podcasts for Motel 6 that poke fun at the lofty amenities at more upscale hotels, such as sewing kits and chocolates on your pillow.

The podcast at motel6.com is pure Mr. Bodett, full of down-to-earth truisms such as, "I'm happy to report you still get nothing you don't need at Motel 6, and, therefore, you don't have to pay for it. I don't need valet parking. If I can drive the old crate 300 miles to the hotel all by myself, I can certainly handle the last nine feet to the parking space."

Advertising Age: How did you start working with the company and why have you stayed?

Mr. Bodett: I started as a total innocent. In 1986, I was still building houses for my main living in Alaska while contributing humorous commentary to NPR's national evening news program "All Things Considered," which I'd been doing for a couple of years. David Fowler, then a creative director at the Richards Group, heard me on NPR and when the Motel 6 business ended up in his shop he put two and two together. In our initial conversation when I asked, "Why me?" he answered, "Because you sound like the kind of person who stays there."

Ad Age: Why do you think the tagline has worked so well over such a long period of time?

Mr. Bodett: It's like Fowler said, I sound like I use the product myself. I do use it. I come from very common stock and I've always been uncomfortable with pretension and all the forms it can take including disingenuous broadcasting. I think "We'll leave the light on" works because it is one of those spontaneous and practical things we say to each other all the time. I'm hyper-aware, of course, how often I say that line in passing because it has a special charge on it when I do. It's kind of excruciating, actually, when I slip and say that line because people think it's hilarious. When I tell my wife that I left the light on for her in the garage or ask if she left the light on the porch for guests, she laughs at me.

Ad Age: What has the response to Motel 6's podcasts been like?

Mr. Bodett: It has been great. I'm surprised how much play they get. Either we're very good or there are a lot of people out there in need of lives. I'll go with the former. It flatters us all.

Ad Age: For many people part of the joy of going away is having an experience that they cannot have at home -- whether it's fresh towels every morning or turndown service at night. What is it about not receiving extra amenities that you believe will appeal to the public?

Mr. Bodett: Americans are generally very self-sufficient and I think generally averse to pretension just as I am. When you point out that you don't need to have art on your motel room walls because your eyes are closed anyway, or that you can take the money you save from not having avocado body balm in the bathroom swag basket and go buy some real chips and dip -- avocado body balm, by the way, tastes just like soap -- people respond. People feel vulnerable when they travel. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of or talked into something they don't want. Staying at Motel 6 makes you feel smarter. In fact, I think it actually means you are smarter, but I have no hard data to support that.

Ad Age: News of environmental problems is making headlines every day. Is it really such a good idea to still leave the light on?

Mr. Bodett: I know you're joking, but you'd be surprised how many people have pointed this out to us. For the record, and at the risk of exposing myself as a complete fraud, we don't actually leave the light on for you. We just say that to be friendly. You have to turn it on yourself once you enter the room. There. I've said it. Hmm ... I feel oddly peaceful, unburdened.
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