November 29, 2021

Advertising: Hilton Site Prescribes Vacations for Workers’ Ills

Onion Labs, the creative services arm of the publishing company, has helped Hilton Hotels and Resorts create a Web site,, that lets users diagnose their vacation needs and receive customized prescriptions for visits to Hilton hotels to cure what ails them.

Onion Labs has created cartoons that represent humorous ailments that afflict workers in need of a vacation. They are featured on the new site and have been designed to be shared by social media.

More than a third of the business of Hilton Hotels and Resorts is generated by leisure travelers, and the new campaign is directed at them, said Andrew Flack, vice president for global brand marketing.

“We are particularly targeting working professionals,” Mr. Flack said. “It’s becoming harder and harder to switch off work, harder for people to think about and plan vacations. This time of year is popular for people to plan vacation travel. When they come through Christmas, they think ahead for the year, think about where they might go.”

To that end, the Web site, called the “Hilton Urgent Vacation Care Center,” asks visitors to take a quiz to receive their “vacation diagnosis.” Visitors are asked when they last took a vacation and how long it was; during which activities, such as a child’s birth or a first date, they check their office e-mail; how long their commute is; and which activity they “look forward to most if/when” they take a vacation. They are also asked for their home and e-mail addresses.

The site also urges visitors to “stop vacationitis before it spreads,” and to view and share the disease’s 14 symptoms, illustrated by Onion Labs’ cartoons. These symptoms include “acute cancelitis,” “commuteritis,” “cubiclophobia” and “yellow Post-it fever.”

The customized remedies the site prescribes for visitors are vacations of different lengths and types, determined by the severity of one’s “vacationitis.” The site might recommend a weekend getaway near home, or a longer vacation at a destination farther away; all recommendations include links to Hilton Hotels and Resorts’ online booking form.

The site, which is being introduced Monday, also features a contest, running through Feb. 28, that will offer 15 weekend getaways as prizes. Through this year, 550 of Hilton Hotels and Resorts’ locations are participating in a sale, called “Any Weekend, Anywhere,” with discounts of up to 40 percent on weekend stays.

The site also contains a “global vacation alert level,” a real-time, interactive map that shows differing levels of need for vacations in respondents’ home countries, as well as vacation research by Hilton, dating from 1989 to 2013. For example, a new survey among 2,000 workers in Britain found they spent only one third of their average, annual 24 days of leave time on vacation because they had to spend the rest on “domestic admin.”

Mr. Flack said the site, with content in English, Spanish, Portuguese and many other languages, is meant primarily for prospective travelers in North and South America and Britain.

He said that when Hilton “decided to take a humorous approach, we got only so far ourselves.”

“We approached The Onion,” he said. “They’re experts at making fun of life. And they have their own audience they can share the site with, an attractive demographic 18 to 45, at the younger end of the Hilton demographic. It’s an audience of up-and-coming travelers and an attractive audience for us.”

Grant Jones, director of marketing for The Onion and a partner in Onion Labs, said The Onion had 4.5 million Twitter followers and 2.2 million Facebook fans, to whom the new Hilton Web site will be promoted. Established last year, Onion Labs has included Microsoft, Dodge and 7-Eleven among its clients.

The new Hilton site also will be featured on the in-room television channel in the brand’s hotels, and in brief Hilton ads on Facebook and Twitter.

Mr. Flack said Hilton Hotels and Resorts would spend more than $10 million on advertising, public relations, social media and other marketing activities in the United States this year to attract leisure travelers. According to Kantar Media, Hilton Hotels and Resorts spent $19.4 million to $50.1 million on advertising annually in all media from 2008 through 2011, and it spent $36.6 million, including $2.3 million on online advertising, in the first nine months of last year.

The new campaign received mixed reviews from travel and marketing specialists.

Henry Harteveldt, an analyst for Hudson Crossing, a travel consulting company, said Hilton’s vacationitis concept was “not very original.” He said, “Expedia does an annual study on how vacation-deprived Americans are.”

The vacationitis symptoms created by Onion Labs are “absurd,” he said. “There are still a lot of people out there who don’t have jobs or are underemployed; they might be very glad to have these problems,” he said. “The approach they’ve taken seems sophomoric.”

Paul Valerio, a San Francisco-based principal of Method, a brand and design consulting company, also said the vacationitis concept “taps into something that’s been seen before.” But he called Hilton’s use of Onion Labs “unexpected, in a positive way, coming from a brand that’s been around that long.”

Irma Zandl, a New York-based brand consultant, said the campaign felt “on-trend with how people are stressed.”

“The collaboration with The Onion is excellent; it differentiates Hilton in a key, positive way,” she said. “You don’t see anybody else doing this.”

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Advertising: From Zappos, an Unadorned Approach

The campaign was created by Mullen, the company’s agency of record and part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, and is intended to highlight the company’s apparel. “Zappos has a quirky culture,” said Tim Vaccarino, group creative director at Mullen. “Doing something typical is not really them.”

The campaign departs from Mullen’s last work with Zappos, which featured (clothed) felt puppets whose voices were provided by real customer service calls and was made up primarily of television ads. The new campaign will incorporate a heavy dose of digital ads, videos and QR (for quick response) codes, as well as print ads in magazines. And if the idea of using naked people who need to be clothed to sell clothing seems too literal, that is exactly what the marketing minds at Zappos and Mullen say they had in mind.

“Sometimes advertisers try to do something very creative and the messaging gets lost,” said Michelle Thomas, the senior brand marketing manager at Zappos. The campaign also highlights Zappos’s focus on clothing as a “growth engine for the future,” Ms. Thomas said. “Zappos has a belief that really, we can sell anything.”

The Kantar Media unit of WPP says Zappos spent $19.7 million on advertising in 2010 and $4.8 million in the first quarter of 2011.

The hundreds of brands on the Zappos Web site are as varied as Stuart Weitzman and Spanx, and the company has a separate Web site, Zappos Couture, that sells higher end items from designers like Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. The company also features Web pages where in-house stylists put together outfits and customers can determine their style personality (Are you a Mom-on-the-Go, a Casualista or Boho?).


The new ads were shot outdoors in Manhattan locations like Park Avenue and the West Village and feature naked women, with censor bars strategically placed, doing outdoor activities like jogging or riding a Vespa scooter. A tagline on one ad reads “To help you break a sweat without breaking the law.”

Instead of tall willowy models, the ads feature “the shapes and curves of many, many people,” Mr. Vaccarino said. Tiffany Payne, who is five feet tall, was a model featured riding a scooter in downtown Manhattan.

“Sometimes when I see ads and the girls are 6 feet 2 and skinny, it sort of deters me from buying the product because I don’t think it would fit me right,” Ms. Payne said. During the shoot, the models wore pasties and thongs or tiny bikinis, which were edited out later.

Zappos is hoping consumers will keep looking at the campaign’s print ads long enough to notice that they will be enhanced with quick response codes. When scanned by a smartphone, the codes will take the phone user to a mobile site featuring fictional videos of what happens to the naked women in the ads. Users can also select outfits for the model to wear and can enter the Zappos mobile site to buy the items on the smartphone.

Ads will begin running in the August issues of magazines like Lucky, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, and Harper’s Bazaar. The target audience is what Zappos calls “happy hunters,” or women who are fashion conscious and heavy consumers of online media.

Women who may feel slighted by the lack of a naked man in the campaign will have to wait until the end of July, when Zappos will take over the home page of a major search engine portal with an interactive ad introducing a male character, Arthur. In the ad, Arthur asks the user to help him dress while he makes his way to the Zappos Web site.

“He should be captivating in an ‘I hope you’ve had your coffee already’ kind of way,” said Kay Pancheri, an account director at Mullen.


Using nudity and sex to sell products can be a tricky proposition for brands. Ads for Calvin Klein featuring a ménage à trois of young models wearing nothing but Calvin Klein jeans drew criticism for being too sexual. Abercrombie Fitch, the retailer of clothing for teenagers, has come under fire for using overtly sexual images in its catalogs and advertisements.

In 2003, the company withdrew a holiday catalog, AF Quarterly, after protests from parent groups and others that the images encouraged sexual behavior among teenagers.

Another retailer, American Apparel, has been criticized for nudity in ads. In 2008, the company ran ads online that featured topless women among other overtly sexual images.

“The American public, I think, is mature enough to be able to handle these types of images,” said Ryan Holiday, the director of online marketing at American Apparel. Brands should consider their motives for using nudity and sexuality in ads, Mr. Holiday said.

“Are they doing it because they want to get attention from blogs and Web sites that will write about it?” he asked. “Or are they doing it because it’s the ad campaign that speaks most truly to who they are and what they want to sell?”

After being shown the new ads, some Zappos brands declined to participate in the campaign for fear that it was “too risqué for them,” Ms. Thompson said. One brand that signed up was Lolë, a manufacturer of women’s active wear. Nathalie Binda, the marketing vice president for Lolë, described the campaign as “gutsy” and “very Zapposesque.”

Lolë has been selling clothing on the Zappos Web site for four years and will feature items like tank tops and pants in the new campaign. As for the nudity? “If there was one brand out there that can do it, it’s them,” Ms. Binda said.

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