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Courtesy of Marriott

One of Marriott's newest advertisements targets members of the LGBT community.

Marriott courts gay and minority consumers

by Megan Hickey
Oct 09, 2012


Megan Hickey/MEDILL

Patrons of the JW Marriott Chicago can expect to see the new minority centered advertisements by the end of October.

This summer’s Chick-fil-A controversy brought back memories of a 2008 boycott of Marriott International Inc. hotels related to the company’s ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Diverging from the Mormon Church’s stance against same-sex marriage, Marriott’s latest advertising campaign reaches out to gay travelers and other minorities in the hopes of preventing any further political storms.

In an announcement Tuesday, the global hotel chain announced the “For You, We’re Marriott” campaign, a marketing strategy that specifically targets African-American, Hispanic, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender business travelers.

“Our intention is to celebrate frequent business travelers and recognize that their expectations are as diverse as they are,” said Joanna Todd, vice president of segment strategy for Marriott in a release. “For You, We’re Marriott” is part of a $5 million “multicultural marketing effort.”

One marketing expert called it a really smart strategy that reflects reality. “Business people are not just white men anymore, you can’t deny that,” said Karen Bergh, a marketing professor at the University of Redlands in California.

Three advertisements were released on Marriott’s website Tuesday morning with an additional ad expected to be released at the end of this month. One shows an African-American man in a suit stepping out of a taxi.

In another ad targeting gay men, a spiky-haired young man holds a phone to his ear. The message accompanying the photo is written in text-speak and includes the phrases “gift 4 prtnr” (“gift for partner”) and “u wr brn tht wy” (“you were born that way”).

While that message might escape some people, Marriott spokeswoman Felicia McLemore explained that the ad is the result of research by Marriott’s marketing team. “The research shows that texting and text-speak is really big for members of the LGBT community,” said McLemore. She also said the company’s research shows that those consumers also tend to be “overachievers,” which is also mentioned in the ad’s text.

The campaign comes as a shock to some consumers who still associate the hotel chain with the Mormon church's political views. While five members of the Marriott family are major direct holders of the company’s shares, McLemore emphasized that Marriott’s connection with the Mormon church is restricted to the family itself.

“We welcome everybody,” said McLemore. “The Marriott family and the Marriott corporation are separate – the views of the family do not represent the views of the company.”

But some still see Marriott’s advertising strategy as a way to avoid future unwanted attention. “It’s kind of hard as a marketing person not to see this campaign as strategic,” said Bergh. “It’s smart marketing and a productive way to relate to different demographics. People-based campaigns want to use images that reflect cultures that people can relate to.” Bergh explained that “segmenting the population” is a classic technique used by marketers to target certain lifestyles.

Bergh can understand why Marriott might want to combat negative associations. “Companies being scrutinized for connections that make them controversial is an unavoidable reality today,” said Bergh. “We can learn from Chick-fil-A that CEOs should be careful about sharing personal political convictions.” Gay and lesbian groups called for a boycott of the fast-food chain in July and Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference to say that the company did not reflect “Chicago values.”

Members of the gay community are already raising issue with the marketing strategy. Jasmin Nair, spokeswoman for Gender JUST, said the ads are “far from what the majority of the LGBTQ community needs or desires.” While Nair was glad to see Marriott’s show of respect, she said other issues are more important for the gay community. Many people cannot “afford health care, leave alone overnight stays in luxury hotels.”

So far, Marriott’s shares have seen little impact from the announcement. The company’s stock price fell 28 cents to $38.45, close to its 52-week high of $41.84.