Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC

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Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC


3 Ravinia Drive, Suite 100
Atlanta, Georgia 30346
Telephone: (770) 604-2000
Fax: (770) 604-5403
Web site:



In 1996 Holiday Inn, then owned by the British brewing conglomerate Bass PLC but subsequently acquired by Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC (IHG), embarked on a $1 billion renovation program that forced franchises to improve their facilities or lose their association with the brand. Holiday Inn wanted not only to publicize the physical improvements it was making but also to revitalize consumers' ideas about the chain. After dominating the roadside hotel market for decades, the chain had been struggling since the 1980s to distinguish itself from a host of new competitors. Parent company Bass brought in ad agency Fallon McElligott (later Fallon Worldwide) of Minneapolis to modernize the Holiday Inn image and rebuild the brand's reputation for quality and consistency.

Fallon launched its brand-rejuvenation efforts with a splash during the 1997 Super Bowl, using the tagline "On the way" to tell consumers about the physical makeover in process at many Holiday Inns. The television campaign "Mark" followed, running to wide acclaim from 1999 to 2002 and significantly raising the brand's profile. After "Mark," Holiday Inn left television for two years, focusing on print, airport displays, and outdoor ads in its "What Matters Most" campaign. A 2004 television campaign on the children's network Nickelodeon followed, and in 2005 Fallon adapted the concept behind the "What Matters Most" campaign for placement on a variety of cable television networks.

The success of the brand-rejuvenation strategy was most evident during the "Mark" campaign, but Holiday Inn's evolution was complicated by the economic downturn following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, as well as by the growing consumer preference for budget accommodations. Holiday Inn remained the heart of IHG, and the parent company continued to look for ways of leveraging the brand's heritage while appealing to changing consumer tastes.


The first Holiday Inn was opened near Memphis, Tennessee, in 1952. Entrepreneur Kemmons Wilson conceived his chain of hotels as an antidote to the uneven selection of accommodations then available along America's highways. As the brand expanded, its consistency from location to location set it apart from competing mom-and-pop establishments, as did innovations like free ice cubes, swimming pools, in-room televisions, air-conditioning, and kids-stay-for-free room rates. A computerized reservations system revolutionized trip planning and triggered a large-scale franchising push. Holiday Inn's famed "Great Sign," as it was called, loomed over highways across the nation and came to symbolize dependable, unpretentious comfort for weary travelers. By 1972 a new Holiday Inn opened its doors for business every three days.

But the 1970s oil embargo reduced the number of vacationers on the nation's roads, and in some ways the wild success of Holiday Inn's first two decades became a hindrance to the brand's continued development. The large number of franchises the chain sold during its boom years threatened to undermine the very consistency that had set Holiday Inn apart in the beginning, and competing chains, having adopted Wilson's innovations exactly, began using them in varying combinations to attract specific subsets of the everyman traveler who had always been Holiday Inn's target customer. Holiday Inn itself eventually spawned subbrands—such as Hampton Inn, Crowne Plaza, and Holiday Inn Express, Select, and SunSpree—to compete in the fractured travel market, and though Holiday Inn's parent company performed well, by the 1980s the original brand had lost not only its authority but also its identity. The Great Sign was retired in favor of a supposedly more modern, back-lit plastic model, and consumers could no longer say with confidence what to expect from a stay at any given Holiday Inn.


During preliminary market studies Fallon found that Holiday Inn had an incredibly strong base of consumer loyalty and that this loyalty cut across cultural barriers. Individuals who participated in Fallon's study, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, recalled fond childhood memories of Holiday Inn vacations and spoke of Holiday Inns "as places where 'good people' stay." The overwhelming sentiment was that consumers of all backgrounds wanted Holiday Inn once again to become a brand they could trust. This information dovetailed with Holiday Inn's age-old definition of its core target as the everyman traveler. "It is a heartland, middle-market brand," Fallon's chairman, Pat Fallon, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Accordingly, the resulting campaign emphasized middle-American values and the sensible, standard features that had constituted the brand's reliability in earlier years.

At the same time Fallon's creative team believed that consumers, and young people in particular, needed an initial shock in order to be encouraged to take another look at what they believed to be an outdated brand. The campaign thus made an intentionally risky television premiere with a 1997 Super Bowl spot in which an extremely attractive female at a high school reunion turned the heads of her male classmates before they discovered that she was their former classmate Bob Johnson, now a transsexual. This dramatic metaphor for Holiday Inn's renovation project was followed, in the campaign's first year, with spots that used a more mainstream brand of humor to communicate the brand's return to consistency.

As the campaign developed, Holiday Inn and Fallon increasingly tailored the brand-rejuvenation message to the 25- to 54-year-old businesspeople among their everyman audience, those who by 1999 accounted for 70 percent of the chain's guests. This focus on business travelers was especially apparent in the "Mark" television campaign, which used the ongoing story of a 37-year-old slacker who lived at home with his parents. In repeatedly making it clear that he could not expect the amenities at home to compare to those of a Holiday Inn, Mark's parents pointed out to business and other travelers the specific advantages of staying at the chain's hotels.


Though the innovations of Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson in roadside lodging amenities transformed the American hotel industry and landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1972, his entrepreneurial instincts were not infallible. According to USA Today, Wilson demanded that all Holiday Inn rooms come with flyswatters before realizing that "it probably wasn't sending the right kind of message." Likewise, the notion of equipping every franchise with a trampoline was banished to the scrap heap of hotel history when "a youngster bounced too high and crashed (unhurt) through Wilson's office window."


The scope of the rejuvenation campaign and Fallon's unconventional approach to the brand placed Holiday Inn among the most striking of hotel advertisers on the national stage at the time, but competitors across the market spectrum likewise had noteworthy campaigns. Accor Economy Lodging's Motel 6 had met with sustained success in its radio spots featuring the voice of National Public Radio personality Tom Bodett and his well-known tagline "We'll leave the light on for you," supporting the chain's own billion-dollar renovation of its properties. These spots eventually moved to television. Holiday Inn's sibling brand in the budget sector, Holiday Inn Express, boasted an acclaimed ongoing campaign called "Stay Smart," also the handiwork of Fallon, that showed hotel guests making absurdly intelligent statements about matters on which they had been ignorant before getting a good night's rest at a Holiday Inn Express. Cendant's Days Inn chain used its "There You Go" campaign to position itself as a brand whose extensive global presence took the guesswork and inconvenience out of travel.

Other chains tried to appeal to children, who, it was believed, could strongly influence their parents' lodging decisions. Embassy Suites, a leader in the family leisure sector, used characters from Nickelodeon's long-running Rugrats series in television commercials that were filmed, like the popular cartoon, from the point of view of children. Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites used a promotional tie-in with Pokemon, the cartoon character trading-card phenomenon that became a movie in 2000, which they publicized via national radio and print outlets.


From the time Fallon pitched the Holiday Inn account, it was apparent to all that reviving the brand would be an extremely difficult, long-term project. The belief that Holiday Inn was a mediocre chain whose time had come and gone was as widespread as consumers' affection for the brand. Likewise, the massive renovation project behind the claim that Holiday Inn was changing did not yet apply to all franchises. At the time the campaign opened, only about one-third of the chain's hotels had been renovated. "This puts us in a conundrum," Fallon's president and creative director, Bill Westbrook, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We need to have another way [aside from detailing the renovation project] to tell consumers about Holiday Inn but not to get them to expect too much."

The first phase of the campaign was launched with the Super Bowl ad in which, according to Holiday Inn's John Sweetwood, transsexual Bob Johnson served as a "wake up call to consumers across America." The commercial indeed attracted attention, but much of it was negative, and the ad was pulled from circulation rather than being used, as planned, in combination with the other spots in the ongoing campaign. The television spots that followed up the campaign's launch reminded consumers of the Holiday Inn they had once trusted and used the tagline "On the way" to indicate that the chain was in the process of reviving its prior standards of excellence. Print and outdoor ads supported this message of ongoing improvement.

Once the idea of renovations and a return to excellence had been publicized, the popular "Mark" campaign, which ran on television from 1999 to 2002, pointed out specific perks available to business and leisure travelers. A jobless 37-year-old living at home with his parents and grandmother, Mark's demands for amenities like free rent ("kids should stay for free"), better breakfast, and business services led his mother to ask, "What do you think this is, a Holiday Inn?" In its second year Mark's parents continued to ask that brand-defining question, and the tagline "More is better" was added to promote features like high-speed Internet connections and large work spaces. In his third year on the air Mark took the logical step of moving into a Holiday Inn, where he was shown eating leftovers off a room-service tray in the hallway and interrupting a "Symposium for Global e-Thinking" to ask if anyone could direct him to the pool.

The emphasis of the brand-rejuvenation strategy then shifted to print and outdoor advertisements as the "What Matters Most" campaign again emphasized Holiday Inn's all-American roots, down-to-earth personality, and basic features. The ads brought back the iconic Great Sign, pictured against a sunrise or sunset in a way meant to duplicate the feeling of arriving at a Holiday Inn. Witty copy like "Close to downtown. Near the airport. As far from trendy as you can get" reinforced the convenience and no-nonsense image that Fallon and Holiday Inn had long been trying to reestablish. Another popular spot referred to the widespread practice of filching hotel towels: "About the towels, we forgive you." In late 2003 the "What Matters Most" ads focused on the quality of Holiday Inn breakfasts to distinguish the chain from budget competitors who provided little or no breakfast choices. These ads ran in publications such as the business-friendly Wall Street Journal and USA Today and were placed in dioramas in the Hartsfield-Atlanta International Airport.

In 2004, for the first time since the "Mark" campaign had ended in 2002, Holiday Inn commercials returned to television, beginning a two-year partnership with the children's cable network Nickelodeon. The initial Nickelodeon spots featured a cartoon family with enormous noses who found freedom from their insecurities at a Holiday Inn. As part of the Nickelodeon deal, Holiday Inn became the official hotel sponsor of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and its DVD release. In 2005 the brand-rejuvenation effort moved beyond Nickelodeon to a wide variety of cable networks with "Signs," a television campaign derived from the "What Matters Most" print ads.


During the "Mark" portion of the brand-rejuvenation effort, Holiday Inn's advertising strategy met with its clearest signs of success. According to Holiday Inn's Greg Price, unaided awareness of the brand grew by roughly 50 percent in the "Mark" campaign's first two years. But the U.S. lodging industry as a whole suffered during the economic downturn that followed the terrorist attacks in 2001 and the bursting of the stock market bubble, with the midscale-with-food-and-beverage sector—Holiday Inn's sector—losing out in particular as more and more travelers opted for budget hotels.

Holiday Inn remained the heart of IHG's portfolio, with 1,484 hotels worldwide. In 2004 IHG unveiled a new prototype Holiday Inn in Gwinnet County, Georgia, that showcased artwork celebrating the brand's past, employed a modernized Great Sign, and had streamlined kitchen operations with an eye toward greater profitability.


Alexander, Keith L. "Hotel Ad May Get Early Checkout." USA Today, January 28, 1997.

Baar, Aaron. "Holiday Inn Offers More Mark." Adweek, March 13, 2000.

――――――. "Renovations Done, Holiday Inn Touts Amenities." Adweek, March 8, 1999.

Bly, Laura. "Come Inn off the Highway." USA Today, May 24, 2002.

Gleason, Mark. "Fallon's Challenge: Make Holiday Inn More 'In.'" Advertising Age, September 2, 1996.

"Hello Again, Great Sign." Lodging Hospitality, July 15, 2003.

Lazare, Lewis. "Holiday Inn Brings Back Successful Mark Campaign." Chicago Sun-Times, July 2, 2001.

Lippert, Barbara. "Marking the Spots." Adweek, April 5, 1999.

Merrill, Ann. "Ad Agency Fallon McElligott Captures Holiday Inn Account: Minneapolis Company Will Get Foot in Door of Travel Market as It Creates Campaign to Shed Hotel Firm's Outdated Image." Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 20, 1996.

Petrecca, Laura. "Holiday Inn Makes Its Mark to Tout Amenities: Ads' Yutzy Guy Wants More than Comforts of Home." Advertising Age, March 8, 1999.

Rauscher, Susannah Vesey. "The Holiday Inns of the Future: Polishing a Dated Image the First Task." Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 17, 1996.

Rich, Motoko. "Holiday Inn's TV 'Slacker' Is Leaving Nest." Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2001.

Sheehan, Patricia. "Ship Shape." Lodging Hospitality, May 15, 2005.

Siebert, T.W. "Gotta Stay at Them All!" Adweek, June 12, 2000.

Steinberg, Brian. "Ads Target Stay-at-Home Travelers—Hotel-Industry Marketers Seek to Imprint Brands as Domestic Trips Gain." Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2003.

                                            Mark Lane



In 1998, after being in business for seven years, Holiday Inn Express, the limited-service offshoot of the famed but ailing Holiday Inn brand, had no clear identity apart from its namesake and was in danger of being left behind in a burgeoning segment of the hotel industry. Its parent at the time, Bass PLC (the Holiday Inn brands later became part of the Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC), enlisted Fallon McElligott (later renamed Fallon Worldwide) of Minneapolis to establish a personality for the young brand. The result was the "Stay Smart" campaign.

Aimed at male business travelers aged 25 to 54 and supported by a mere $3.5 million estimated annual ad budget in its early stages, the "Stay Smart" campaign made use of the premise that such travelers felt emotional validation at the idea that, in choosing a limited-service rather than a full-service hotel, they had acted sensibly. Exaggerating this idea of intelligent hotel choice for comic effect, the early TV spots in the campaign showed ordinary people opining about subjects in the manner of true experts, even though they had no training or education in these subjects. In lieu of knowledge, these individuals offered the following explanation for their mastery of complicated disciplines: "I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night." Though the content of the commercials went through various alterations over the campaign's multiyear run, the premise as well as the line "I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night" remained unchanged.

The campaign's punch line was picked up and used to humorous effect by journalists, editorial writers, and talk show hosts, among others, and the "Stay Smart" concept was given credit for effectively putting Holiday Inn Express on the industry map. The chain became the fastest-growing hotel in its category and outpaced its own sales goals during the campaign's run. "Stay Smart" saw its budget grow over the course of its run, and it was awarded a 2004 EFFIE that acknowledged its long-running effectiveness.


The Holiday Inn brand was launched in the 1950s by Memphis entrepreneur Kemmons Wilson, who, as a result of his own struggles to find reliable overnight lodging while traveling across the country, saw the need for a standardized set of hotels. The first links in the Holiday Inn chain grew up around Memphis, and their overwhelming success led Wilson to expand nationwide. Thanks to reasonable rates and amenities, like free ice, swimming pools, in-room televisions, and air-conditioning, Holiday Inn prospered, setting the standard for the roadside lodging industry in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, however, the chain began to suffer from its size and success. The number of franchisees operating under the Holiday Inn banner had grown unmanageably in the chain's boom years, and the disparity in quality between individual franchises undermined the brand's promise of reliability. In addition, as competitors copied the Holiday Inn model, Holiday Inn itself was no longer a unique lodging option. The unpretentious, reliable hotelier for the masses had become a shabby, lesser version of its old self in consumers' minds.

The Holiday Inn Express subbrand was launched in 1991 by then parent Bass PLC as a means of capitalizing on another developing trend in the lodging industry. Travelers increasingly were choosing less expensive accommodations, foregoing the full-service model established by Holiday Inn for limited-service hotels offering, in lieu of a restaurant, a free breakfast requiring minimal kitchen facilities and preparation. The established leaders in this segment included Hampton Inn and Courtyard by Marriott. After its first several years in business, Holiday Inn Express could claim no clear brand identity separate from its older sibling. The introduction of other Holiday Inn subbrands like Crowne Plaza, Sunspree, and Select in the 1990s further muddied consumers' perceptions of the brand family's individual members.


Ultimately Bass and Fallon wanted the "Stay Smart" message to resonate with all travelers, but budgetary constraints made such a broadly aimed pitch untenable, especially at the outset of the campaign. Thus, they narrowed the target market, tuning the campaign's message so that it would resonate with the group of consumers most essential to the health of Holiday Inn Express and others in its market category, namely, men aged 25 to 54 who traveled frequently on business. The business travelers most likely to patronize Holiday Inn Express were those whose expenses were not fully reimbursed by their employers. These travelers were, therefore, expected to be economy minded and inclined to choose hotels for pragmatic reasons.

Fallon research indicated, moreover, that such travelers felt emotionally validated for choosing limited-service hotels like Holiday Inn Express. The idea that they had chosen no-nonsense comfort rather than unnecessary niceties presumably made these businessmen feel intelligent and sensible. The agency therefore arrived at its "Stay Smart" message, which acknowledged and encouraged this feeling of validation. The appeal to feelings was intended to establish a deeper connection with business travelers than would a more traditional hotel campaign touting amenities. Fallon also placed a premium on delivering the "Stay Smart" message in a way that distinguished Holiday Inn Express, in business travelers' minds, from the more established brands in its category. The campaign thus utilized absurdist scenarios and relied heavily on humor, departures from most hotel advertising of the time.


Hotels had traditionally used print and television advertising to reinforce ideas about the cleanliness and comfort of their rooms and the quality of their customer service. As the differences between major hotel chains became insubstantial, many in the lodging industry turned to awards programs to distinguish themselves and to inspire brand loyalty. The awards tactic also became a casualty of standardization, however, as numerous hotel chains came to offer similar programs and airline partnerships. In this climate, hoteliers like Marriott, Starwood—whose holdings included Westin and Sheraton—and Hilton—the owner not only of its eponymous chain but, thanks to a recent merger, of Doubletree, Embassy Suites, and Hampton Inn—added features and elite levels to their awards programs. Among these companies, Starwood attempted to break out of this pattern by renovating its hotel rooms with an eye toward giving them a signature, marketable look. Another option for differentiating hotel brands was, of course, advertising.


Thanks to their outrageous brand of humor, the "Stay Smart" ads on behalf of Holiday Inn Express immediately registered with consumers, but some critics, including prominent industry analyst Bob Garfield, an Advertising Age columnist, derided the premise of ordinary people developing extraordinary knowledge after a night's stay at the hotel chain. The idea that someone became "smart" about a matter like orthopedic medicine, as happened in one spot, after staying at a Holiday Inn Express had no logical connection, Garfield argued, to the intelligence required to choose a sensible hotel. There was no mention of the amenities that made Holiday Inn Express a smart choice and no explanation of how the subbrand differed from the regular Holiday Inn brand.

Bass and Fallon were among the first hotel advertisers to use risky advertising as a way of breaking out of this impasse of sameness, and their branding work for Holiday Inn was, along with the "Stay Smart" campaign, among the hotel industry's most notable marketing at the time. As part of the project to rejuvenate the ailing brand, and in concert with a large-scale push to renovate aging Holiday Inn properties across the country, Bass and Fallon courted controversy with a 1998 Super Bowl ad that used a transsexual as a symbol of the changes then occurring within the organization. This ad was followed up by TV spots assuring viewers "We're on the way" and showing housekeepers entering Holiday Inn rooms with chain-saws when the guests left for the day. After the change in brand identity and the message of the renovation project were established, Holiday Inn unveiled its lauded "Mark" campaign, in which an aging slacker named Mark who lived at home with his parents kept demanding amenities and services from his family. The family's response—"What does this look like, a Holiday Inn?"—was met with hilarity by Mark's elderly grandmother and was meant to reinforce the notion that Holiday Inn was, indeed, the standard for comfortable lodging in America.

Another hotel brand that had managed to create a distinct personality at least partly through marketing was Motel 6. In 1987 the discount chain began to use the voice of down-home radio personality Tom Bodett and the signature phrase "We'll leave the light on for you" in a radio campaign. The campaign, which was effective in establishing the brand's earthy, no-frills image, ran for more than a decade, eventually moving to television with a message of large-scale property renovations in the 1990s and continuing through the turn of the century.


The "Stay Smart" campaign, with an original budget estimated at $3.5 million, was launched in May 1998 on cable TV networks, with particular emphasis on sports programming. The initial group of three 30-second spots took the idea of guests' intelligence to a logical extreme, showing ordinary individuals who, after staying at a Holiday Inn Express, found themselves capable of giving extremely nuanced professional advice despite the fact that they had no qualifications for doing so. In one commercial, for example, a motorist stopped on the side of the road to tend to an injured cyclist. After declaring that the man was suffering from a dislocated patella, the Good Samaritan informed him that he was going to reset the bones. When the cyclist asked, "You are an orthopedic surgeon?" the Good Samaritan replied, "No, but I did stay at Holiday Inn Express last night." Copy reading "It won't make your smarter, but you'll feel smarter" ran on-screen.

The TV campaign's first significant update came in 2000, with two 30-second spots that maintained the central premise of the 1998 spots while scaling back the extremity of the humor. Rather than showing people who had become absurdly knowledgeable, the new spots showed people making intelligent decisions in humorous real-life situations. One spot, set in the waiting room of a dentist's office, featured a patient who, while waiting for his name to be called, overheard his dentist having a heated phone exchange involving a trip to the police station. Someone, it became clear as the patient listened, had suffered a life-threatening injury at the dentist's hands, and the dentist was supremely unconcerned with the person's well-being. At the end of the conversation the camera cut away from the insensitive dentist and back to the waiting room, revealing that the patient had fled. A caption reading "Stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night" appeared on-screen.

In the spring of 2001 the concept was given a new twist in a TV spot featuring, or so it seemed, the rock band KISS. The musicians, in trademark face paint, were shown leaving the stage after a riotous encore, only to be revealed, once they had removed their makeup, as impostors. "You guys aren't KISS," a band manager asserted, and one of the members said, "No, but we did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night." A simultaneous promotion took the "Stay Smart" theme in another direction, as Fallon put the operating idea behind the campaign—that those who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express should be commended for their intelligence—to the test. A promotion called "Express Your Smarts" asked ordinary people to write their own scripts for a "Stay Smart" commercial. Entry forms were available in Holiday Inn Express lobbies, online, and at branches of Gold's Gym, and contestants were required to use the campaign's now well-established punch line. The winning spot aired on the Discovery Channel.

By 2003, thanks to the success of the campaign's first five years, the budget had nearly doubled, and for the first time new creative work was used to bolster specific hotel amenities. In that year the "Stay Smart" theme was applied to spots introducing the chain's spruced-up breakfast bar, which featured special coffee roasts and a cinnamon roll developed especially for the hotel. In 2004 the campaign was adapted to publicize an upgrade of all bathrooms in the franchise, including the installation of high-powered "Stay Smart" showerheads manufactured exclusively for the hotel by Kohler. New Fallon-scripted TV spots showed guests arriving at inspired business ideas while showering, with accompanying text reading "If you do your best thinking in the shower, imagine how smart you'll be under our new showerhead." The enduring tagline "No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night" remained in place.


The "Stay Smart" message entered quickly into the American pop-culture lexicon. Ordinary people, as well as journalists and commentators, recycled the "No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night" tagline. Mentions on The Late Show with David Letterman and National Public Radio were measures of the idea's pervasiveness, as was presidential candidate Al Gore's adoption of the tagline for his own humorous purposes during a speech in the run-up to the 2000 election. Holiday Inn Express became the fastest-growing hotel chain in its market segment and surpassed its own goal of generating $1 billion in sales a year ahead of schedule, in 1999 rather than 2000. Brand awareness of Holiday Inn Express grew 40 percent during the campaign's first three years, and in 2004 "Stay Smart" won a Gold EFFIE in the Sustained Success category, an honor based on the complete life of the campaign and its salutary effects on sales and brand image.


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――――――. "New Holiday Inn Express Spots Closer to Reality." Adweek, April 17, 2000.

Beirne, Mike. "Breaking Out of the Hotel Rut." Brandweek, June 5, 2000.

――――――. "Holiday Inn Express Does Breakfast." Brandweek, November 11, 2002.

――――――. "Holiday Inn Express Launches Ad Contest." Adweek, May 28, 2001.

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                                            Mark Lane