As travellers know, hotel Web sites are among the most functional e-commerce sites around. Yes, most of them feature the ubiquitous marquee, but that’s as close to any kind of high-level messaging you’re liable to see. And that messaging is itself ultimately offer-driven.
Can anyone tell the difference between Sheraton and Ramada? Not online. Between the input boxes and those tidy little retouched jpegs of the rooms, the only thing you have to go on is the logo. Yes, they use different color schemes and, yes, different fonts. But this ladies and gentlemen, is not branding.
A brand, after all, is a promise. Yet the only contract any of the hospitality giants makes with consumers is:
“We’re a hotel. With rooms. Which you can stay in. For a fee. Pick a date and enter your credit card number. Don’t keep us waiting.”
Keeping in mind that many business travelers stay at hotels prescribed by their companies, some differentiated attributes ought to be selling these hotels to whomever’s in charge of hotel bookings at XYZ Corp. And, of course, you might reasonably expect that leisure travellers would like to feel they’ve chosen a hotel chain for a reason.
Especially, that is, if they’re planning a stay in a major US city where the options are all over the map in terms of price, features, location, etc., etc. But by remaining so blank, these Web sites are not only tarnishing their brand’s image, they’re damaging the image of the entire industry.
“Who cares where I stay?” is the question anyone would be tempted to ask after visiting these sites. “All hotels are the same. Same disappointing “Continental Breakfast,” same stodgy furniture, same prohibitive minibar. Same iffy cable service.
Offline, on it. Online, off it.
Ironically, one of the few travel-related brands to have an advertising concept is hotels.com. Yet, as memorable as the Captain Obvious campaign is, it has nothing to do with the service the Web site provides. Even if I stretch my imagination and conclude that the message is, “Hotels.com is the obvious choice for travel reservations,” the concept spoils itself by simultaneously making the obvious look ridiculous.
Booking.com, at least in TV spots, is much more convincing, even if their Amy Schumerish play on their name’s phonetic similarity to an indelicate word is a bit limiting. More successful is their other play on their name, “Booking.Yeah,” which effectively uses something approaching millennial diction to hippify a boring topic.
Offline, these two brands have done something to transmit a message, a promise, a statement of purpose. But there’s no trace of that messaging on the Booking.com Web site, which might as well be a site for Orbitz or Travelocity for all anyone would notice—logos aside.
Where, I can’t stop wondering, did anyone get the idea that “Buy Now” is a brand identity? On the other hand, you may wonder why I find this so irritating.
Schlock and loaded with clichés.
Despite having survived for over a century in one form or another, through many ups and downs, advertising and marketing are fragile things, whose immortality you cannot take for granted. Mail boxes, airwaves and screens crammed edge-to-edge with schlock are as deadly to the psychological ecosystem of sales as CO2 is to the lungs. Every year that we crank out crap is another year we erode our audience.
Meanwhile, gloom and doom analysts continue to have a field day at the supposed demise of the traditional :30 TV spot. But the real reason people click away is that TV spots and all of traditional advertising went into an accelerating decline after the ’60s. A TV spot today is, with few exceptions, a dreary landscape of tedious clichés. No wonder people reach for the zapper.
Let no one think, however, that digital advertising is “inherently” better. Sites like these from the travel industry, which are only the tip of the iceberg in the schlockification of the Web, will inevitably have the same effect on digital space.
The issue is not the medium, but every bit the message. Remember: the bad work you post today is the baseline you’ll struggle to rise above tomorrow. Because if this trend continues, the much-vaunted “impact of digital media” will be the fond memory of a few archeologists, only a couple of dozen years from now.