Marriott International

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Marriott International

1 Marriott Dr.
Washington, DC 20058
Telephone: (301) 380-3000
Web site:



NOTE: Since the initial appearance of this essay in the 1999 edition of Major Marketing Campaigns Annual, Marriott Hotels Corporation changed its name to Marriott International. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.

Marriott Hotels Corporation debuted a major television advertising campaign for its Courtyard by Marriott chain of hotels in May 1997. The five spots that made up the campaign showed hapless people making terrible blunders at work-related functions. Created by Lowe & Partners/SMS, the commercials were filmed in a grainy style reminiscent of home videos or live news broadcasts. Courtyard's forays into high-profile television commercials were part of its efforts to maintain its position in the extremely competitive mid-priced hotel market. Because other major chains such as the Hilton Hotels Corporation and Holiday Inn had entered the segment, travelers were faced with a dizzying array of hotel options from which to choose. With the "Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest" spots, Marriott sought to establish a memorable identity for the Courtyard brand, as well as to carve out a specific market niche for the hotel chain.

The humorous commercials all depicted the perils of working when not at one's best. In the award-winning "Missed Cue," a person scheduled to speak at a business conference was shown losing his bearings at the function. After this speaker was introduced, he burst into applause along with everyone else, until the man sitting next to him reminded him that he was the one who was supposed to talk. Startled and flustered, he leapt up to the podium and belatedly began his presentation. Another commercial captured an on-the-scene reporter, oblivious to the fact that he was on the air, holding his microphone and staring vacantly at a camera. In a similar vein a third spot portrayed a man struggling to find his way through a thick, red stage curtain to speak in front of a large (and waiting) crowd. Every spot closed with the campaign's tag line, "Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest." The implication was clear: unlike its competitors, Marriott's Courtyard hotels could ensure business travelers the rest that would allow them to function at an optimal level.

Courtyard by Marriott's campaign continued to run throughout 1998. In addition to receiving several major advertising awards, "Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest" was praised by industry critics and consumers alike for delivering its branding message in a lighthearted, yet powerful, way.


Although the Marriott family built their first hotel in 1957, the Courtyard by Marriott chain was not founded until 1983. The Courtyard franchise represented the company's initial entry into the mid-priced segment of the lodgings market. Marriott's previous offerings had been multistoried upper-end hotels, often located downtown in urban districts. But the company recognized that many of the successful hotels run by other firms in the lower-priced category were aging and that a new market entrant with more modern facilities could have success in the field. Confident that it could triumph in this venture, Marriott conducted extensive market research for two years before breaking ground with Courtyard. After determining the attributes that consumers sought in a hotel in this price range, Marriott set out to ensure that Courtyard would provide these things. The hotels were designed to look like country inns, complete with interior courtyards featuring walking paths. Although smaller than the more spacious accommodations at Marriott's flagship hotels, Courtyard's rooms were comfortable and well-equipped.

Courtyard was an element of Marriott's aggressive overall plan for segmentation. In 1988 the company had launched Fairfield Inn, a budget chain, and followed this debut with the creation of several other chains, each targeting a specific market. For example, Towne Place Suites, Residence Inns, and Spring Hill Suites each catered to various types of long-term business travelers. According to the Wall Street Journal on October 13, 1998, Marriott "brand[ed] hotels as if they were packaged goods," as it "blanketed the country with a range of brands."

The Courtyard chain proved to be an unequivocal success for Marriott. After a spate of building in 1996, the company operated more than 300 Courtyard hotels not only in the United States and Canada but also in Australia, Austria, England, China, France, and Germany. Like most other hoteliers, Marriott advertised Courtyard primarily through print and radio. For instance, in April 1997 Marriott used the opening of its 300th location to break its print and radio campaign called "Courtyard Hits 300." As part of this campaign, Marriott tracked the best hitters in Major League Baseball and gave prizes away to the winners of weekly radio trivia contests. But facing increased competition, Marriott decided to step up its advertising efforts on television with "Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest."


The focus of Courtyard had always been on business travelers. In its bid to capture this market, the hotels eschewed the spacious lobbies and elegant restaurants of Marriott's flagship buildings. Instead, Courtyards provided fax machines, dual phone lines, comfortable in-room work environments, a semi-residential ambiance, and a reasonable price tag. As the Wall Street Journal noted on February 2, 1996, Courtyard's emphasis had always been "work first; play second." "Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest" targeted Courtyard's key clientele, which the Journal described as "road warriors," those frequent business travelers seeking affordable yet pleasant accommodations. This audience was a logical one, as the "mid-level business hotel ha[d] been one of the hottest segments of the hotel market," according to the January 11, 1996, Wall Street Journal.

"Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest" directly and cleverly portrayed the world-view of this group. Every scene in the campaign was work related, focusing on public "on-the-job blunders," as USA Today noted. Rather than dwelling on the details of why a Courtyard Inn would leave the weary traveler rested and refreshed, the campaign subtly addressed the latent fears of business people everywhere. Unlike most other hotel advertising, which usually described the service and spacious rooms available, "Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest" spoke to the reality of life on the road for a business traveler. A business hotel, the ads acknowledged to its viewers, could be gauged by one factor: did it allow the traveler to work well, to work efficiently, and to work without regret. No mention of extraneous details was made. It did not really matter if a bellman brought up luggage or if the restaurant served caviar. What was essential, the ads suggested, was the degree to which a hotel enhanced—rather than detracted from—a business traveler's business.


M.D. Asherton-Pickett, editor of an eponymous travel newsletter, explained the appeal of Courtyards and other hotels in its class to businesses. "It's the kind of hotel a boss has to love," Asherton-Pickett told the Wall Street Journal on February 2, 1996. "They can probably demand more work."


The mid-priced, business-oriented hotel category to which Courtyard belonged was one of the more competitive in the industry, and Marriott faced many threats to its continued success. After taking note of Courtyard's achievements, several of Marriott's larger competitors also developed similar chains. As the Wall Street Journal noted on January 11, 1996, "a number of company's have sought to replicate the success of Courtyard." Furthermore, established entrants in the sector were spurred at least in part by Courtyard's success to renovate their existing buildings. One of Courtyard's fiercest rivals was Holiday Inn, which had been the mid-priced mainstay before Marriott's arrival. In 1997 Holiday Inn launched a $30 million ad campaign created by Fallon McElligott to announce its massive hotel renovation projects. An ill-fated Super Bowl ad, which portrayed a middle-aged person returning to a high school reunion after having a sex change, spearheaded the campaign. Subsequent spots were less sensational and stayed more closely on message. The campaign's tag line was direct and to the point: "We are out to make every Holiday Inn like the best Holiday Inn." A company spokesperson explained the impetus behind the campaign to the January 20, 1997, Brandweek: "We are the biggest, [and] at the same time, it's easy for people to take us for granted."

Having hammered home the fact that the chain had been "made over," Holiday Inn broke its first campaign for its Holiday Inn Express, a chain of hotels that directly competed with Courtyard. Also created by Fallon McElligott, this $10 million campaign was launched in 1998 and used humor to convey the advantages of the hotels. The component ads presented vignettes in which ordinary people felt empowered to take charge in dangerous situations. These people's confidence was rooted not in actual skill, however, but in the fact that they had spent the preceding night at a Holiday Inn Express. In one spot a man approached a cyclist who crashed. "Just stay still," he told the cyclist authoritatively. After a brief examination he concluded, "You've dislocated your patella. I'm going to have to set it. Hang on." "OK. But you are an orthopedic surgeon?" the cyclist asked. "No, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night," the would-be doctor replied. Another execution portrayed a female hiker being menaced by a large bear at a National Park receiving cockamamy advice from a besuited man who strode through the on-looking crowd. The ads all closed with the tag line "It won't make you smarter. But you'll feel smarter." This tongue-in-cheek sentiment gracefully conveyed the salubrious effects that Holiday Inn believed its hotels offered. "Our primary goal was to give guests a reason to stay with us rather than our competitors," a company spokesperson told Advertising Age.

Wingate Inn, a property of HFS, also entered the fray and introduced an awareness-boosting radio campaign in 1997. Like Courtyard, Wingate Inn "hope[d] to lure business travelers with amenities like data ports, fax machines, and portable phones," explained Brandweek on September 15, 1997. The radio spots featured Anne Winn and Garrett Brown, the duo who had pitched Molson Golden until 1988, and incorporated the tag line "Built for Business." The Promus Hotel Corp. also dedicated a considerable marketing budget to its mid-range business hotel chain, Hampton Inn. In February 1998 Hampton released a DDB Needham cable television campaign that jokingly portrayed the "Insomniacs Club" and promised, "We make it easy to take it easy."


Like its competitors, Marriott sought to distinguish Courtyard from the slew of other mid-priced hotels. According to the April 17, 1996, Wall Street Journal, the proliferation of brands and sub-brands in the category left many consumers "bewildered." As an industry analyst told the Journal, "[p]eople are coming across these brands, and they don't have a clue what they are." Forging a powerful brand identity in the face of this chaos was a particular challenge for hoteliers as compared to other purveyors of consumer products. "Because consumers don't stay in hotels every day, it takes a long time for brand differentiations to sink in," noted the Journal. To overcome these obstacles Marriott opted to use television as the vehicle to carry the message of "Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest," since television spots usually received far more notice than their print counterparts. To reinforce this strategy Marriott often ran the commercials during high-profile events, such as telecasts of National Football League games, to generate even more buzz and excitement about the campaign.

In keeping with its goal to make Courtyard stand out from its competitors, Marriott also strove to make the "Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest" spots distinctive and engaging. The style in which the commercials were filmed did much to accomplish this strategy. Unlike the bulk of television ads, which often relied on slick images and special effects, Courtyard's campaign was deliberately understated. One of the directors "took the low-grade video style of CNN footage and copied it bald-faced, as if the ads were actually chronicling people's out of step behavior," explained Shoot. Not only did the handheld camera footage provide the commercials with a unique visual feel, but—coupled with the potentially disastrous events unfolding in them—gave the spots an irresistible allure (viewers being unable to look away from the impending catastrophes). The humor of the campaign was also an essential element of its appeal. Its wittiness enabled Marriott to reach a diverse group of viewers across demographic lines. As the December 21, 1998, edition of USA Today put it in lauding the campaign, "[a]nyone who has suffered sleep deprivation can appreciate [the 'Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest'] campaign."

Marriott embarked on other promotional efforts to complement the "Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest" campaign. To reward loyal customers and attract new ones across its diverse array of lodging options, Marriott unveiled its Marriott Rewards program in 1997. Marriott Rewards replaced the company's long-standing Honored Guest Awards program and differentiated it in a significant way. The Honored Guest program had let consumers accumulate bonus points for stays at individual Marriott brands. The new rewards program allowed consumers to amass points across the company's diverse holdings, thereby encouraging consumers to use Marriott brands regardless of their reason for traveling. At the same time Marriott co-branded credit cards with Visa U.S.A. and First Chicago Bank in order to put its name before consumers in a wider variety of situations. These cards also allowed consumers to accrue bonus points at the company's hotels.


"Never Underestimate the Importance of a Good Night's Rest" was well-received by advertising industry critics. Both USA Today and Advertising Age ranked the Courtyard campaign among the best of 1998. In addition to winning an ANDY award, a component commercial ("Missed Cue") garnered a Gold Lion at the prestigious International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France.

Correlating the campaign's popularity to the company's performance in its category was difficult (mainly because Marriott's hotel holdings stretched across several price categories and continents), but the company expressed satisfaction with the effort. Marriott's profits for the financial quarter immediately following the ads' debut were up 16 percent. By July 1998 Marriott's revenues per available room had increased 6 percent. Courtyard remained the second-most profitable hotel in the mid-price category behind Holiday Inn.


Bigness, Jon, and Jonathon Dahl. "Soon, Hotels Only a Boss Could Love." Wall Street Journal, February 2, 1996.

Binkley, Christina. "Hotels: Marriott Outfits an Old Chain for New Markets." Wall Street Journal, October 13, 1998.

"HFS Break First Ads for Wingate." Brandweek, January 15, 1997.

Orwall, Bruce. "Hilton to Create Hotels Targeting Budget Travelers." Wall Street Journal, January 11, 1996.

―――――――. "Multiplying Hotels Brands Puzzle Travelers." Wall Street Journal, April 17, 1996.

Petrecca, Laura. "Holiday Inn Express Intros 1st TV Campaign, Via Fallon." Advertising Age, May 4, 1998.

Sanders, Lauren. "Special Report: Directors/Fall Edition." Shoot, October 16, 1998.

Wells, Melanie. "Ad Experts' Best and Worst of 1998." USA Today, December 21, 1998.

                                            Rebecca Stanfel

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Marriott International

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