Doubletree puts friendly face on upmarket hotel

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A hotel chain well-known for its free cookies launches a campaign this week designed to help it stand out from cookie-cutter competitors. Hilton Hotels Corp.'s Doubletree line, which gives out two free cookies to every guest upon check-in (about 75,000 a day), wants the estimated $15 million effort to position it as the welcoming, unpretentious option within the upscale hotel tier.

That, the company said, would place it between Starwood's hip W line and other trendy boutique hotels -- which may be perceived as too avant garde and thus a tad intimidating -- and brands such as Sheraton, Westin and its own Hilton, which may be seen as too large or convention-oriented. In short, the 170-property Doubletree chain feels it offers guests the same top-level comfort with a more personal feel.

"It's consistent with business casual as an attitude," said Bjorn Hanson, chairman of lodging consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers.


The new effort, which launches in USA Today Oct. 17 before segueing to other national newspapers and then magazines, grew out of consumer research Doubletree did along with agency FCB Worldwide, Costa Mesa, Calif. Doubletree "had a little more of a homey feel," said David Horton, Doubletree's VP-marketing, of the results.

And in an industry that's suffered from overt homogenization and lack of brand distinction through the years, Doubletree and FCB officials felt the research gave them a distinction to work with. The first flight of print ads aims to convey an image of Doubletree as a place where guests can feel relaxed and loose. Pretensions should be left at the door, the ads imply.

In one slightly tongue-in-cheek ad, an apparently accomplished businessman floats in a pool with water wings. Copy reads: "When you stay with us, you're encouraged to simply be yourself." In another, Doubletree is defined as a place "where `Have a nice day' doesn't really mean `I want a tip.' "

A third execution grew almost verbatim out of the research, where one woman said Doubletree is the kind of place where she might walk down the hall to get ice from the machine in her robe with wet hair; that would never happen at a Hilton, she said. The ad shows a woman en route, wearing a robe with a towel wrapped around her head. Ads mention the free cookies in the text, but seek to make the brand stand for more.


The campaign, which will run through the end of next year and likely move to TV and radio in 2001, marks the first work for Doubletree from FCB, also agency for the Hilton brand. It's also the brand's first image campaign since a late 1990s effort that featured Roy Orbison's music in a TV spot, and the first since Hilton acquired Promus Hotels, which owned Doubletree and Hampton Inns, last year.

That acquisition brought a loyalty program to Doubletree as well as links with Hilton's international sales arms. Over the past several months, ads from Hilton have focused on the company's new breadth after the acquisition, where all brands are now part of its Hilton HHonors loyalty program.

Now, Doubletree executives feel, is the time for its ads to give Doubletree a distinct brand essence. While executives note the brand gets positive ratings from consumers, not enough make it top of mind.

"Our challenge is to catapult the brand into the consideration set for people who are already going to the Hyatts, the Marriotts, the Hiltons and all these other hotels," said Debbie Zimmerman, group account director at FCB.

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