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Holiday Inn Express is a hotel brand that banks its personality on hilarity just as much as it does by offering a satisfying cup of coffee.

InterContinental Hotels Group has held their place in the hotelsphere and pop culture alike by working with comedian Rob Riggle as creative director for their “Stay Smart” campaign over the last two years.

“We know that our guests love humor, so last year, when we set out to find our creative director, we wanted someone who had a mix of smarts and humor. Rob’s creativity and wit make him the perfect addition to the Holiday Inn Express team,” Jennifer Gribble, vice president of Holiday Inn ExpressAmericas brand, told [a]listdaily. “As creative director, Rob not only stars in the brand’s hilarious ad spots, but both this year and last, worked closely with us throughout the creative process, lending his humor and ‘smarts’ to generate unique ideas.”


Highlights from the campaign over the last year have featured the funnyman promoting programs such as the Pancake Selfie Express and BREAKFA-moji keyboard.

The hospitality company also made another foray into virtual reality this year by filming a 360-degree video of Rob in a raincoat highlighting a guest’s room experience through the power shower—all while delivering the snappy spiel the funnyman has long been known for.

“It’s somewhere between a squirt gun and a fire hose which, as we all know, is the sweet spot,” Riggle says of the water’s “proprietary blend” during the two-minute immersive experience.

It’s not the first time IHG has been at the forefront of innovative technology. During the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, IHG’s Holiday Inn brand used augmented reality to allow visitors to take pictures with the athletes. They’ve also kept things a bit simpler by offering 360-degree virtual tours for their hotels.

Gribble joined [a]listdaily to explain how Holiday Inn Express is leveraging technology, social media and influencers for their integrated marketing campaign.

Why is using emerging technology such as 360-degree video critical to a marketing campaign? How do you plan on experimenting with such immersive experiences like virtual reality in the future?


Our target guest, who we call the ‘smart traveler,’ is a tech-savvy individual who generally travels with at least four devices. We know that they’re always online and consume much of their content via mobile. As such, it’s important to us to leverage technology to reach them where they are. With our new 360-degree video, the combination of the new technology and the unique, humorous approach allows us to connect with consumers through a memorable, tongue-in-cheek experience.

We always keep our finger on the pulse of the latest technology and marketing trends in order to break through to our target guests in ways that interest and matter to them. Last year, we leveraged truly innovative technology when we took our one-touch pancake machines on the road and amplified breakfast by creating an immersive experience that allowed consumers to laser print their selfie on the pancake. By combining something simple like pancakes with the innovation of laser-printed selfies, we created something incredibly engaging for consumers that was widely sharable via social media.

Why is it important to give an influencer creative freedom? Would you use the same approach with, say, a YouTube or Instagram influencer?

Consumers are very smart and know when content is inauthentic. This is why it is important for brands to partner with individuals who genuinely align in style, tone and vision. When we first set out to find a creative director, it was a difficult position to fill because we knew whoever we hired had to check a lot of boxes. He had to be funny, since we know humor resonates with our guests, and he had to be smart. Rob’s humor and wit make him a natural fit as creative director and his personality is true to the Holiday Inn Express brand, which we believe is essential to any partnership.

What insights can you share from your integrated marketing campaign from 2015, which was highlighted by the Pancake Selfie Express? How did you measure success?

The 2015 “Stay Smart” campaign performed incredibly well. As a result of our 2015 campaign efforts and partnership with Rob, we saw significant lifts in all of our key brand health metrics. This year, the bar was set even higher, meaning that our team had to find new, creative and compelling ways to continue to drive brand performance. To achieve this, we’re continuing to leverage new technology and humor to highlight the simple pleasures that help our guests leave our hotels ready for anything.


What did you learn and refine for the latest “Stay Smart” campaign that focuses on the “simple pleasures?”

Last year, we went big on breakfast as we know it’s one of the most important decision factors for our guests when deciding where to stay. This year, we have expanded our campaign in order to showcase more of the ‘simple pleasures’ that Holiday Inn Express hotels offer guests. We’ve gone one step further by building our in-room credentials—a restful night of sleep, a good cup of coffee at the push of a button with the addition of Keurig K130 brewers in every U.S. guestroom and a powerful shower—in addition to breakfast. We have also fine-tuned our media approach in order to ensure we reach more of our target guests more frequently across digital and broadcast channels as well as through experiential activations.

How will you be leveraging the “Stay Smart” campaign on social? What’s the execution plan looking like on the brand’s YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages?

Humorous content featuring Rob as creative director performed very well across social channels in the 2015 campaign. For the first phase of this year’s Stay Smart campaign, we are focusing on Facebook and Twitter as we continue to raise the bar for engagement and break through the clutter with filmic shorts, GIFs and 360-degree video to highlight the brand’s smart in-room amenities—coffee at the push of a button, a powerful shower and a good night’s sleep.

In the second phase of the campaign, we’ll integrate a few new elements such as Twitter Polls and Facebook Canvas to highlight our breakfast offerings as we execute against experiential activations and media partnerships. This strategy is all part of laying the foundation for reaching our target guests.

How is “smart traveler” targeting millennial business and leisure travelers? 

Our target guest, the smart traveler, includes business and leisure travelers ages 25-to-44. These people are independent and self-sufficient, and value simplicity and efficiency. As mentioned, they see their hotel as a launch pad that helps them get a great night’s sleep so they are prepared to tackle the day. With these consumer insights in mind, we developed an integrated campaign that highlights the simple pleasures that our guests value and reaches them through the digital platforms in which they’re connecting throughout the day.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan