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Hilton Hotels Social Media Marketing

For Hilton, TikTok is now a vital part of the marketing mix

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By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

February 24, 2023 | 9 min read

The 104-year-old brand has been getting experimental with the platform as part of a new global campaign.

Hilton

Paris Hilton fronts its successful TikTok campaign

For Hilton Hotel’s international marketing boss Gurmej Bahia, TikTok has ‘turned marketing on its head’ and is forcing it to think differently about its approach to content creation. This has never been more true than for its new global advertising campaign.

The work, called ‘For the Stay’, was developed by TBWA/New York. It’s already launched across the pond to “great success,” says Bahia, and a £7m spend, its biggest investment to date, will bring it to the UK this week.

The creative is pinned on research that travelers are no longer happy with the extra hidden costs of accommodation. In the TV spot, voiced by actor Sophie Okenado, a woman checking into a hotel is asked if she would like any extras added to her stay. These include luggage storage, coffee making and even electricity. When the woman asks whether they were included when she booked, the unsympathetic receptionist pulls a chord that unfurls a banner saying ‘Happy Surprise Extras’ as an oompah band plays a tune from a supply cupboard.

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It’s a value-led message at a time when cost-conscious consumers see travel as a luxury. But it’s also a subtle dig at rivals, reflecting – intentionally or not (TBWA was once Airbnb’s advertising agency) recent headlines proclaiming Airbnb’s model to be a bust as its users bemoan the added cleanings fees and “chores” they’re asked to do by hosts during a stay.

“What we’ve found is that there has been a shift in regards to people wanting to travel and a push towards experiences,” said Bahia of the market right now. “We remain focused on things we can control. We’re a resilient business with a strong model, travel is an unstoppable force and demand remains strong. With our campaign, we spent just over a year doing research globally looking at all different regions and their travel needs and how Hilton can play a role. What I love about our work, is that it’s centered on the hotel itself. It makes it stand out from the formulaic approach you see today.”

It’s also taking a non-formulaic approach to how the campaign translates across media, namely TikTok. Hilton claims to be the first hospitality brand in the US to have launched on the platform and is doubling down on the content its producing.

“It turned marketing on its head a bit. You have to take away convention. It’s all creator-led. We generally sit down with creators and our media agency and think about the content they want to see. It’s not about making a TV ad,” said Bahia.

“Our breakthrough came when we thought of platform and creator first. It took it to a different level and we saw a lot of engagement. We won seven awards last year for our TikTok campaigns. We’re really doubling down.”

The success of this approach can be seen in the brand’s 10-minute long video created for the ‘For the Say’ campaign which has become its most viewed content since it launched. It features the hotel chain’s heiress Paris Hilton alongside famous creators like Chris Olsen, GirlBossTown and KelzWright who all challenge viewers to watch until the end in order to win Hilton Honors Points. The video was a mash-up of the different styles of creators, who used their own effects and filters to make it seem like 10 minutes of seamlessly scrolling. It included (more) veiled digs at Airbnb and a fun, self-deprecating ending that viewers have applauded.

@hilton Unexpected & amazing things can happen when you stay, and we want you to stay with us for 10 minutes. Yup, we made a 10-minute TikTok AND we’re giving away 10M Hilton Honors Points + more. #HiltonStayFor10 #HiltonForTheStay ♬ Hilton’s 10-Minute Stay - Hilton

Allan Blair, head of strategy for VaynerMedia EMEA, said it worked because Hilton really invested in the talent. “The format of challenging viewers to watch the full ten minutes for a reward for their loyalty cleverly ticks a few popular marketing boxes. However, the real beauty is in the creativity. By using a multitude of creators and content types – they keep the spot interesting – reveling in the challenge of holding user attention but also showing off what can be done on social platforms if you really invest in the talent, writing and creative direction.

“Right now, brands are built on social and this kind of work is how the world’s biggest ones can effectively generate awareness, engagement and positive perceptions. Hilton being so self-aware and self-deprecating is the cherry on top. It demonstrates a really deep understanding of the audience they are talking to and the types of content they crave.”

But does Bahia have any concerns about how hard it goes on a platform that is under such scrutiny? In the US, the Chinese-owned company has faced criticism from the government which it believes poses a security risk. They said it gives China access to American data which has led to a ban on state-issued devices in 28 states. Its biggest critics are pushing for yet more legislation that would make it difficult for users to access.

Bahia dismisses concerns, chalking it up to the same growing pains all social platforms encounter as they scale.

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“A couple of years ago we had the same problem on other social media platforms, where brand reputation was critical. So again, it goes down to the fundamentals of what we’re trying to achieve. We want to be where customers are. We’re always thinking about brand reputations and making sure we’re consumer-led. It’s not new to have certain social media and have to take it through a different lens. It’s been an ongoing thing for six years,” he said.

“Reforming social media is still new – in many ways, we’re still forming what the consensus is. And we’re learning more. Especially as consumers shift to spend more there than anywhere else, like linear TV. It’s all new and that’s what we’re trying to navigate.”

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