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Is it a film? A commercial?

How Marriott is reaching a younger generation of travelers

Photo by Steven Dahlman

‘Business Unusual,’ indeed. Loop’s Renaissance Hotel stars in ‘storytelling’ pitch.

(Above) Cast members of the short comedy film Business Unusual that premiered at Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel on Monday. Left to right: Former NFL receiver Brian Poli-Dixon, Yoshua Sudarso, Tia Carrere, unknown, and Daniel Cabrera. The film, about two business travelers in Chicago for a sales pitch at the fictional Albright Glass company on Wacker Drive, also stars Jason Gerhardt and Grant Bowler and includes a cameo by former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

15-Jan-16 – If travelers were evenly distributed at downtown Chicago’s 112 hotels, one out of every seven would be at a Marriott.

The company has 19 brands and more than 4,300 properties throughout the world. It was only a matter of time before it started producing and starring in its own movies.

On Monday, the third short film in a series intended to, as one Marriott executive put it, win the “hearts, minds, and wallets” of travelers, was unveiled to a crowd at Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel. The film aspires to show off Chicago, promote the hotel, connect with a younger, increasingly fickle generation of business traveler, and do it all in 12 minutes.

“We do have a very intimate relationship with our customers – they sleep with us, after all,” quipped David Beebe to the crowd after the film was shown. Marriott’s Vice President in charge of Global Creative and Content Marketing says traditional advertising is finding it more challenging to reach Millennials, young adults born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, as well as everyone else.

David Beebe “I don’t think it matters what generation you’re from,” Beebe (left) told Loop North News. “You’re not engaging with traditional marketing messages. You have DVRs, you can skip over television spots. Technology is a great thing but it also enables everyone to be a creator, essentially. There are so many messages.”

Storytelling is the way to reach these people, says Beebe. “Stop interrupting them, what they’re actually interested in watching, and become what they’re interested in.”

He brought in a Los Angeles-based production company, Substance Over Hype, to create the film. They had creative freedom, he says, but the star of the film had to be the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel, it had to showcase the hotel’s amenities, reach a very particular demographic, and have the title Business Unusual.

(Right) Travel Channel personality Andrew Zimmern clowns with a fan at the Renaissance on Monday. Zimmern, who says he travels 240 days a year, has his own partnership with Renaissance, hosting food and wine tastings at their hotels nationwide.

“What turns me on is doing things that are unconventional,” said Zimmern, talking about the Marriott-branded hotel. “It has taken me ten years to find a brand and a group of people that understand how people want to have fun.”

Photo by Steven Dahlman

Beebe says they’re not hiding the fact the film is about a brand.

“Obviously, [the film is] going to be about travel and it’s going to involve a hotel but then it’s more about pulling the brand into that story. But not in the way that it’s like a typical product integration.”

Substance Over Hype, specifically the writing and directing team of Daniel Malakai Cabrera and Caine Sinclair, pitched two ideas. Marriott narrowed that down to one. Then with a main cast of ten people, including Daniel, and a crew of 13 people, including Caine, they spent eight days in Chicago to film Business Unusual.

Filming took place at iconic locations such as Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, along the Chicago River at the Renaissance Hotel on October 9 and October 10, and at The Gettys Group, a firm that does interior design for hotels, located on the fourth floor of 55 West Wacker.

Substance Over Hype (Left) Actor Grant Bowler, who stars as Joshua Nolan in the Syfy television series Defiance, appears in a scene for Business Unusual. In the background of the scene, shot at 55 West Wacker, is Wacker Drive and the Dearborn Street Bridge, along with buildings along the Chicago River.

“Let me build a relationship with you first as a brand, rather than try to sell you something right away, and then once I provide value to you – I’ve entertained you, I’ve informed you, I’ve helped you solve a travel problem – then I can say, oh by the way, I also sell hotel rooms.”

It is the third in a series of films commissioned by Marriott Content Studio, the first being Two Bellmen, an action-comedy also produced by Substance Over Hype, about two bellmen who prove their company loyalty when their Marriott hotel in Los Angeles comes under siege by art thieves. Another group created French Kiss, shot in Paris, and these two films are viewed online millions of times, according to Beebe.

“People commenting, liking, sharing, saying, in the case of Two Bellmen, ‘I understood that was a 17-minute commercial, essentially, but I liked it. I watched it.’”

Not everyone who watches the films will be inspired to stay at a Renaissance hotel, admits Beebe, but enough have to make the films a revenue stream for Marriott. He says a sales package for French Kiss, tied in with the film, drove $500,000 in revenue to one Marriott hotel in Paris.

(Right) Actor/stunt performer Yoshua Sudarso, who starred in last year’s Power Rangers Dino Charge, appears in a Business Unusual scene filmed at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Substance Over Hype

Fans of Two Bellmen will be happy to know there will be a sequel. Two Bellman II is being filmed at Dubai’s JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, the tallest hotel in the world.