Starwood's W hotel ads display interior motives

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Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide offers an inside view in a new print campaign breaking this week for its W hotel line.

Believing that the warm, yet sleek interiors of its 13 properties represent one of the brand's strongest attractions, Starwood features shots of W lobbies that appear lifted from an avant garde interior decorating guide. The spread ad highlights lobby decor such as an elaborate hanging paper lantern in New Orleans, a cozy fireplace in New York and a round sofa in Seattle.

"The backbone behind the campaign is the desire to show people the hotels," said Diane Briskin, W's corporate director of sales and marketing. "We have really striking properties."


W, a less than 2-year-old brand, found its roots in the frustration Starwood Chairman-CEO Barry Sternlicht felt toward hotel monotony when he was a financial road warrior. Principal targets include twenty- and thirtysomething dot-com executives, along with business travelers in the entertainment and fashion arenas.

To reach members of what Newsweek termed "the overclass," the campaign will run in publications such as Red Herring; Conde Nast Publications' Vanity Fair; and Fairchild Publications' relaunched Details and its title W, a hip fashion magazine unaffiliated with the hotel but carrying a similar cachet.

Spending could not be determined, though Starwood is expected to boost its ad budget from last year, when it spent only $732,000 in measured media, according to Competitive Media Reporting. The company relies heavily on word-of-mouth and alternative media; marketing for the recent opening of the W Suites in Newark, Calif., was done entirely on the Internet.

The new campaign, the first for the brand by Grey Worldwide unit Gwhiz Entertainment, New York, marks a change for W. Last year's image work from DDB Worldwide, Chicago, focused on product offerings such as a 24-hour fitness center, a trendy bar with late hours, and Aveda bath products. Not mentioned were the bubble-gum machines and interactive TV in rooms.


The launch effort sought to position W as a boutique hotel apart from the mass of comfortable yet similar big-city business stops. The catchphrase: "There are hotels you stay in. And one that stays in you."

This year's effort, however, is less product-focused. "It gives you a sense of what the experience is," said Guy Hensley, W's VP-operations. "And that's what we're selling: the experience."

Besides the shots of the hotels in four cities, the center of the print ad lists the locations of the 13 hotels now open and the eight to come by 2002. The message: When you know where you're going, check if a W is there first.


W competes against trendy boutique hotels such as those run by Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group and Ian Schrager. Each of the properties is distinct. But as part of Starwood, W can offer customers the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program and other conveniences such as an international reservations system.

"We want to create a uniquely designed, refreshing business hotel with the backup benefits of a chain property," Ms. Briskin said.

The W pitch appears to be working. On a worldwide basis, its occupancy rate is the second highest among the Starwood brands, behind Westin and ahead of the Sheraton and St. Regis chains. The rate increased from 70% in the second quarter of 1999 to 76.4% in the corresponding quarter this year. Bookings are healthy enough that Starwood rarely offers special deals and continues to boost room rates.

"There has been fairly rapid acceptance of the W concept in the major cities in the U.S.," said Scott Berman, a partner in the PricewaterhouseCoopers Hospitality & Leisure Consulting Group. "There is certainly a growing market that is looking for hotel accommodations that are non-traditional and not a square box with a square pool."

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