Is ‘unadvertising’ the new advertising for hotels?

Hotel advertising has continuously evolved from trifold brochures, to glossy print ads, to digital display ads – filled with typical beach scenes and smiling hotel guests, to social media ads centered around user-generated content. Yet consumers, still annoyed by irrelevant ad content, remain nonplussed by the industry’s efforts. Hotels are struggling to find their voice against the gargantuan budgets of the OTAs who spend close to $34 million dollars a day on advertising. With their backs against a wall, many hotels and management groups are trying their hands at unorthodox approaches to get the attention of potential travelers.

Small Luxury Hotels (SLH) is venturing into uncharted territory with their newest advertising campaign, or should I say, “unadvertising” campaign. Rather than focusing on the cliched imagery and copy that have become synonymous with most hospitality focused advertising campaigns, SLH is going minimalist and cutting out images all together.

Advertising - SLH

The company recently launched their new campaign with the intention of flattering guests rather than trying to pull the wool over their eyes. “Unadvertise” focuses on a non-branded conversation with their guests, implying that they are too smart to simply be convinced by cheesy stock images and saccharine copy. Instead it takes a more “butter them up” approach urging customers to visit the brand site to make up their own minds – the tagline for the campaign.

According to Tim Davis, Vice President of Brand and Marketing, “It is too easy to pick out an incredible image of a hotel and put a logo on it. How does that differentiate one hotel or company from any other? With this campaign we were looking to strike a chord with our independently-minded guests, to really show the personal and authentic experience that staying at any one of our independently-spirited hotels can offer.”

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Is this approach going to work? SLH certainly hopes so, as the company is reportedly investing over $1 million dollars in the campaign over the next year. However, in their effort to “unadvertise” the company is simply switching from one form of manipulation to another. Rather than wooing customers with well-manicured photos and copy that may fudge on what a property actually looks like, they are playing to an inflated sense of ego.

The question is not whether or not “unadvertising” is advertising – it undoubtedly is – but the question is, will it work?

Lowe’s hotels recently ran a successful campaign that featured only user-generated content – photos that travelers had taken of real life experiences on the property and then posted to Instagram. This is another approach that eschews the traditional method of stock photos with a copy overlay and an approach that attempts to be much more honest about what the unique selling points of a property are from the guest’s point of view.

Whether the guest-centric approach to advertising is the most effect way to advertise remains to be seen, but if SLH is so convinced that they are invested $1 million dollars in this campaign, it must be worth trying. Traditional advertising methods are becoming relics as brands move towards influencer marketing and social media channels. However, new approaches – while gutsy and often anxiety inducing for CFOs – can pay off handsomely and sometimes position your brand for advertising infamy.

About the author

Sarah Harkness 1Sarah Harkness is Marketing Manager for Screen Pilot, a digital marketing agency that specializes in telling the stories of hotels, resorts and hospitality brands through inspired communications, strategic marketplace opportunities, and foundational insights.



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