When travelers think of DoubleTree by Hilton, one of the first images that pops to mind is the warm chocolate chip cookies the hotel offers for free to its guests. The service, core to DoubleTree's identity — it even has its own website page — is now being brought to life in new ways to meet the heavy demands of multichannel marketing.
This fall, the brand launched an ongoing campaign spanning digital and social media channels, as well as out-of-home activations and live events in cities including Malibu, Boston and Washington, DC. The idea driving "Your Warm Cookie Awaits" and the #SweetWelcome contest, according to DoubleTree's Vice President of Global Brand Marketing Stuart Foster, was to help spread the hotel's dedication to providing warmth and hospitality well past the check-in desk.
To accomplish those goals, DoubleTree looked to offer a resonant experience that stepped beyond traditional brand advertising. Based on initial results, the approach is working: Just a few weeks after the campaign's mid-September launch, a gamified "Catch a Cookie" social contest drew 5,500 entries, exceeding the brand's expectations by 83%. Three of the live events also generated 44,000 Instagram Stories views, 398,641 social impressions and 5,428 total engagements via real-time posting, with plans to extend the tour into 2018.
"People are sort of immune to advertising," Foster told Marketing Dive, calling out research that underscores how consumers have become completely inundated with online ads, receiving thousands of generic messages a day.
"You've got to do it in a breakthrough way," he said of his strategic mindset. "Otherwise no one's going to see you and no one's going to care. That's really what we're trying to do here — something different and more innovative."
Baking up a solid strategy
If Your Warm Cookie Awaits and the #SweetWelcome push have been a success, it's only because there was a lot of work put into getting them off the ground. From its genesis to planning and national rollout, the entire effort took anywhere from three to four months and required the help of four partner agencies: The Martin Agency, Ketchum Public Relations, HZDG and OMD.
Foster noted that the lengthy gestation process and scale of collaboration exemplifies the challenges brands are facing in developing truly multichannel campaigns for the digital age.
"My job and my team's job as a marketer or as a marketing team is just becoming increasingly complex," he said. "The number of channels we have to manage [and] the number of channels where we have options are definitely complex."
Those complexities included not just a big social play, but also properly tying the digital components to real-world and OOH elements — a feat DoubleTree finessed with skill.
Sweetening on social
At the center of DoubleTree's first round of digital outreach was a #SweetWelcome contest run through Instagram and Twitter from Sept. 14 through Oct. 18. Those who shared the campaign hashtag with a photo of themselves bringing warmth into the world entered for a chance to win two free nights in one of DoubleTree's 500-plus locations, with a grand prize winner getting a week-long vacation. The push attracted 55,000 social impressions, along with 538 engagements and more than 200 entries on its first day live.
Out-of-home elements related to the contest as well, including the interactive Catch a Cookie billboards in four busy metropolitan areas.
"We gamified these billboards so there's a little social media game as a part of it," Foster said. "It's a high engagement out-of-home approach that's the first pillar of the campaign."
The inspiration behind the Catch a Cookie OOH elements, he noted, was a little "Pokemonish," in reference to the massively popular augmented reality mobile game Pokemon Go. A follow-up ethnographic study uncovered DoubleTree's offering spurred 5.1% business travelers and 8.7% of leisure travelers to increase their brand consideration with DoubleTree.
Taking the cookies on tour
The second pillar and heart of the campaign, however, are the real-world moments on the Welcome Event series, which has so far touched on a naturalization ceremony at Boston's Faneuil Hall, a celebration of culinary professionals in the U.S. military in DC and a cookie-themed charity bike ride in Malibu.
At each stop along the tour, DoubleTree has handed out its warm cookies with the help of influencers like "High School Musical" star and U.N. Youth Champion Monique Coleman, who partnered with the brand on the Boston stop. Coleman shared her experience on Instagram Stories as well, with posts that racked up 20,749 engagements.
"She was there hugging people, handing out cookies and taking pictures — just helping us tell this story to a wider audience," Foster said. "She's very passionate about the types of things she's part of [...] so she was a great partner in this."
Foster estimated that 5,000 warm cookies were given out at Faneuil Hall alone, making a powerful impression on attendees. With plans to extend the campaign into next year, he provided some parting advice for marketers inspired by DoubleTree's strategy.
"The main message here from a strategic standpoint is how integrated it is — not just how important the digital and social aspects are, but how they are integrated with the events," Foster said. "It's not just one aspect that's the most important. I think that's really the message."