In this week’s “All-Nighter” Robin Beery looks at a heart-stirring, new ad from Holiday Inn and gets a bit hungry for lemon sandwich cookies.
First of all, the guy’s not even looking at the whiteboard. What is he looking at? Before it even rings, he’s looking at his phone, which is shot in direct profile, lying on a black tabletop but in front of a notebook, so you can’t even really see it until it buzzes and he quickly picks it up. He’s keyed up; he’s been waiting for the call.
The close-up gives us a lot of important information in a brief shot. We see that the text is from Sofia; it reads simply “It’s time!” The brevity and the vagueness of the message suggest a degree of intimacy with the sender. The exclamation point, excitement.
Note the oversize lime-green dialogue box in Holiday Inn colors. The ad uses the Holiday Inn color scheme to tie the scenes of the story together visually.
Green text on a white background (which evokes not just hope, and peace, but cleanliness, an important feature of a hotel). The music comes in. Piano arpeggios. Is that a diminished chord it shifts to as the next shot comes in? My old piano teacher would know. Her name was Mrs. Lutz. I’d sit at her kitchen table with a glass of milk and some lemon sandwich cookies, listening to the kid who had the lesson before me. But I digress. Piano arpeggios always make me nostalgic.
The copy mentions guests’ “extraordinary journeys.” There’s an element of the mundane to the video so far, and it may cause us to wonder: How exactly? We shall see.
How subtly the Holiday Inn logo floats in reflection, first across the windshield, then settling onto the passenger side window. The man and woman exchange a glance as they unbuckle their seat belts. A side note: If you watch this exchange with the sound off it feels quite rushed. But with the music, not as much. The tense restraint of this piano music smooths out the quick cuts necessary in a 52-second commercial.
In the following scene we get our single line of intelligible dialogue. Again, the phone provides the pretext to impart a lot of information in a little time. The woman is smiling, but she tells the person on the other end “I know. We’re nervous.” The occasion is something hoped for, but maybe a little scary.
How daring is it that in this ad they use a shot of someone in a hotel room lying in bed not sleeping? Having sweated every detail of an ad in view of its potential downside for a client, we’d have to say it’s at least a little daring. This is a good place to note that this ad follows Holiday Inn’s “Journey to Extraordinary” series of web documentaries, themselves a shift in tone from the long-running, comedic Holiday Inn Express “Stay Smart” commercials.
This “based-on-a-true-story” approach allows for a more finely controlled emotional impact. In narratological terms: “Narrative strategies are often reduced to the writer’s techniques. However, the notion of strategy, taken from military science, correctly describes the speaker’s preferences that direct his creative behaviour after he makes a strategic choice and determines the final result, as opposed to various tactical actions.” Is that serious? Yes. I think we all want to stay at a hotel that takes narrative strategies as seriously as it takes the whiteness of the towels.
As the couple departs the hotel on their extraordinary journey, the Holiday Inn employee watches them go, her expression reflecting their anxiousness. Or is she just a little tired because she was on the late shift last night, and after a brief night’s rest is right back at her post?
We’re probably not supposed to notice that. We just need her to be here because she has a part to play in this extraordinary journey.
And here it is, the climax of the story. At the 34-second mark, a Holiday Inn housekeeper rolls a crib into a room. You can tell the moment is climactic because the piano, which has been rising in pitch, suddenly stops as synthesized strings swell. They did it! They put the thing in the room that the customer had requested! We can only assume that somewhere off screen, rounds of high fives are being exchanged.
The arpeggios come back in, but with a twist: They sound more like a toy piano or a child’s music box than a real piano. And the couple is back, now toting a baby. If you haven’t put it together yet, here’s a Teddy bear with a ribbon in the lime green signature color, and a card with the Holiday Inn logo on it: “Congratulations on your adoption! Sincerely, Kim — General Manager.” Not to hit you over the head with it or anything.
And the voiceover: “Together, let’s make your next journey extraordinary.” Did Holiday Inn really contribute much to the extraordinary nature of this journey? They put a crib in the room. They gave the card, the Teddy bear, and the clean white towels. Actually, you can get a crib at most hotels, if you ask.
So, why do we feel so good about Holiday Inn after watching this commercial? It’s because they were part—a small one, but a part nonetheless—of a story that moved us. They’re not just “that place you go to sleep when you’re tired,” but rather “that place you stay when you’re out there, experiencing your life.” It’s a pretty effective approach, all kidding aside. Just remember, in real life the general manager probably won’t scrutinize your every move to find out what’s going on in your life.
And that’s okay. You just go ahead and take a few little soaps, a shower cap, and some moisturizer, as souvenirs of your own extraordinary journey.