An Ad Age Original Video Feature


Video Clip From His Interview With 'Ad Age' Editor Scott Donaton

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Steven J. Heyer, CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, is a branded entertainment guru who believes that much of the work currently being done in that field is ineffective.
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NEW YORK ( -- The most surprising aspect of Steven J. Heyer's discussion at Ad Age's Madison & Vine Conference was how a guru of branded entertainment has become one of its strongest critics even as he continues to explore the category in new ways.

400 attendees
In an onstage interview in front of 400 ad agency, media-company and entertainment executives at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Advertising Age editor Scott Donaton recounted how the former Coca-Cola Co. chief operating officer and current CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts had three years ago stunned the industry with the strength of his call for a new marketing model that combined entertainment and advertising in new forms.

At the first Madison & Vine Conference in 2003, Mr. Heyer said if a new marketing model was not developed, the old one would collapse in chaos.

Surpising answer
Last week on the same stage, he was asked by Mr. Donaton how he thought the rapidly expanding branded-entertainment business had been doing. And he surprised many with the quote that starts the video clip that accompanies this article.

"I see efforts to take the cultural content of Hollywood ... and tie brands to it," he said, "but it feels like a lot of logo slapping in the middle of story lines. It doesn't damage the story lines, but I don't think it really enhances the story lines and I don't think it enhances the brands."

But he also made clear that he has not backed away from his vision of how cultural-entertainment institutions and marketers can join together to create new kinds of synergies capable of effectively serving brands in a time of dramatic market change, media fragmentation and consumer control.

New Starwood plan
As an example, Mr. Heyer explained that under his new marketing plan at Starwood, the company's product is no longer viewed as the sale of rooms in hotels. Instead, he said, "We sell experiences. We deliver memories."

His said the sprawling, $14 billion hotel chain is now a "distribution company" engaged in offering the kinds of entertainments and ambience that provide opportunities for people to create memories.

His string of W hotels, for instance, has positioned itself as a "flirty, insider escape" for its target demographic of sophisticated urbanites.

Mr. Heyer said Starwoods now "programs" its hotels, running daypart deals with affiliates "that allows for interesting things to happen."

Victoria's Secret show
In one of those deals, The Limited and Victoria's Secret have become W partners to produce The Limited Victoria Secret shows that are exclusively seen in W hotels. The tickets to those shows are only available to Starwood preferred-guest members. And those members bid for them online.

It is, he said, an example of bringing interesting cultural material into a brand environment in a way that reinforces a brand positioning far more powerfully than "contextless" insertion of brand icons into movies or TV.

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