Holiday Inn Worldwide last week pulled the "Bob Johnson" TV spot-featuring a voluptuous transsexual as a metaphor for the hotel chain's $1 billion in renovations-after publicity that followed the commercial's debut on the Super Bowl.
Franchisees said Holiday Inn pulled the spot even though the commercial said exactly what the company and Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, wanted it to say-that Holiday Inn in 1997 is not the Holiday Inn of 1957.
Franchisees also noted that the spot appealed to just the right group-young people.
"Bob Johnson" had been planned as the lead spot in Holiday Inn's new campaign and would have continued to run in rotation with other ads; with last week's move, the commercial will only have the one airing, on TV's highest-rated event.
The rest of Holiday Inn's campaign will go on as scheduled, kicking off this summer. The new advertising will humorously point out the major differences between Holiday Inn today and Holiday Inn of years past.
One spot, for example, will poke fun at customers who steal towels from hotel rooms, said insiders with knowledge of the campaign. Holiday Inn's answer: Its new towels are so thick that they're hard to steal. Other spots will focus on better soap bars and electronic locks.
All are tagged "On the way."
In a statement, Holiday Inn Exec VP-Chief Marketing Officer John Sweetwood said it was his understanding the "Bob Johnson" spot had offended some people and added, "That was never our intention."
Mr. Sweetwood and Fallon declined further comment, but Holiday Inn's public relations department said half of the approxi- mately 30 callers to its Atlanta office liked the spot.
Franchisees seemed to like it even more. Gary Schahet, president of the International Association of Holiday Inns, the chain's franchisee group, said calls to his office ran 5-to-1 in favor of the commercial.
Another franchisee said 75% of the people he spoke to thought the ad did a good job of saying what is going on at Holiday Inn. Yet another noted the younger generation loved the ad.
"It was the older people who didn't," he said. "But they aren't our customers. We are trying to get the young business executive back into Holiday Inn."
"We spent $2 million on TV time and production but got $10 million in publicity," said one franchisee. "We would not have gotten that with a `Stay with someone you know' ad. One might say all that publicity isn't bad."
"Even though Holiday Inn has been asleep at the marketing wheel for many years, the way this ad came across was like waking up in the middle of a tornado," said a former Holiday employee.
One industry observer sounded more dubious about the spot: "That brand is vanilla, apple pie and flag waving middle-America, not Calvin Klein."
Among those who objected to the spot, the Southern Baptist Convention's Home Mission Board called Holiday Inn several times to lodge formal complaints.