Hyatt Turns to Users to Shift Brand Image

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Situation: Global Hyatt Corp. is one of the leading hotel chains for business travelers, with nearly 300 locations around the world. The company has marketed itself as a luxury brand for business travelers, focusing its online efforts on high-end photographs of its properties. In the hotel rooms themselves, Hyatt offers video montages of Hyatt destinations, but had not provided video online until this summer.

Problem: To build on its success in the business market, Hyatt wanted to make inroads with vacation travelers and families. Hyatt’s ad agency, Critical Mass, saw an opportunity to reach out to vacation travelers by moving the brand into Web video. The goal is to harness the current interest in consumer-generated media to present the brand as hip and fun.

“The agency and Hyatt recognized a need to shift brand perception from not just being a business traveler’s hotel but also a family fun adventure hotel," said Jim Forni, VP and executive producer for Critical Mass.

The Solution: Critical Mass concocted for Hyatt “The Ultimate Adventure Challenge,” a combination online reality adventure series and contest, that started in the spring of 2007. Hyatt invited Web visitors to submit 90-second videos of themselves and their families, with kids ages 9 to 12, making a pitch for why they should be selected as one of four families to participate in the challenge and win 50 nights at any Hyatt, or 10 years worth of vacations.

Company: Hyatt

Industry: Services

Video play: Promotional

Strategy: Use Web video contests to shift brand image.

Result: Hyatt solicited user-generated videos as part of a promotion that led the creation of a reality show on the company's Web site. The videos on the site were viewed more than 600,000 times.

With the contest, Hyatt targeted moms who are heads of household planning for vacation. Mr. Forni said eMarketer research indicates that 88 percent of travelers say they want more online content related to travel destinations, while 83 percent use the Internet to research their travel.

Harnessing user-generated media made sense for Hyatt because 47 percent of online video consumed is created by consumers, Mr. Forni said. Those numbers underscored that a market existed for creating fun and useful videos that are a mix of professional and user-created material to help promote the resorts.

The adventure challenge gave Hyatt a way to participate in user-generated media, while also protecting its brand, he said. Regular people can be featured in the final videos based on the quality of their own submissions, but Hyatt produces the actual show.

Hyatt invited 20 families who submitted videos to audition in person at the newly renovated Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago. Of the 20 families, Critical Mass picked four as the cast for its Web reality show and brought them on a two-week adventure challenge to three different Hyatt resorts in June 2007.

At each property, the families participated in outdoor events like kayak races and mountain bike races, as well as scavenger hunts and obstacle courses. Critical Mass producers shot each event and put helmet cams on each family member to show first-person perspectives.

Critical Mass posted a new episode every five days on starting Aug. 16 and finished on Sept. 15. Viewers voted on the winner. Site visitors needed to register on the home page of, the microsite for the campaign. Viewers registered to win the second grand prize of equal value – 50 free nights.

The Curium Studios division of Critical Mass devoted 10 people plus a crew of 20 to production of the project. Critical Mass’ Web site and e-marketing team comprised another dozen. Hyatt’s team was led by two key players in marketing, as well as an e-marketing executive.

All professional content was captured on Panasonic HVX hi-def cameras and stored digitally. Contestants wore Sanyo helmet cams. Special underwater, shock proof and weatherproof housings were used for the equipment. The project was edited in Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD 6.0.1, motion graphics were created with Adobe’s After Effects and sound editing was completed on Avid’s Pro Tools. The final videos were optimized and compressed for Flash Video and provided to Akamai for video serving.

Mr. Forni declined to disclose the cost of the production but did say total costs were reasonable, including production, the Web site and online marketing for the contest.

Evaluation: During the run of the show, about 170,000 people registered on Hyatt’s Web site, providing a list of leads for the hotel to market to. Also, the videos were viewed more than 600,000 times and each viewer watched an average of three to four Web episodes. Each episode ran six to nine minutes.

“They spent a lot of time with the brand,” Mr. Forni said

Hyatt promoted the contest and the Web series via banner ads on a handful of Web sites, including several travel and entertainment sites. The cost to acquire those 170,000 names via the adventure challenge was three to four times less than it could cost to generate those same leads through other campaigns, both online and direct response, he said.

Reality check: Hyatt created a reality contest featuring families as part of its initiative to appeal to a new market segment.