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Motel 6 Offers Free Rooms to Three Rock Bands

August 26th, 2009

By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

Rock bands are notorious for trashing hotel rooms.

But in a branding world turned upside down by both the recession and the explosion of online social media, Motel 6 today will unveil plans to dole out free rooms to a handful of up-and-coming touring rock bands as a marketing tool to attract younger customers.

The promotion comes less than a year after another blue-collar brand, Denny's, rolled out a new late-night format and began offering freebie meals to some emerging rock bands in a bid to boost its image with younger diners.

It's all about getting young, cash-strapped bands to go online and chat and give a nod on Twitter and Facebook to the hotel that gives them a free place to crash for the night or the restaurant that doles out free eats.

For older brands with modest marketing budgets that are looking for a quick image fix among twentysomething consumers, it's less about in-your-face marketing and more about cozying up to things such as music that most interest young folks.

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“Instead of marketing to them, they're asking to be part of the community,” says Jennifer Aaker, a Stanford University marketing professor. “If they want to be part of the conversation, they have to authentically engage that group.”

Rock music affiliation — even at a grass-roots level — is widely regarded as an especially effective way to do that. “If the bands place our logo on their websites and thank us on stage, that will increase awareness among younger consumers,” says Jeff Palmer, vice president of marketing at Motel 6.

For Motel 6, it's about making the brand hipper to young customers. The recession has hit even the budget hotel brands. Motel 6's occupancy rate is down 5% to 7% over the past year, says Palmer. “If they stay with us young, maybe they'll remain brand loyal.”

The initial Motel 6 promo offers six weeks of free lodging to three soon-to-tour bands selected by Primary Wave Music, the music publisher and marketer that created the promotion. “We're not telling them what to tweet or post on their sites,” says Devin Lasker, partner at Primary Wave. “But since they're getting free rooms, I imagine they'll have positive things to say.”

The lead singer of one of the bands says that staying at Motel 6 during his band's upcoming 60-date tour will be luxurious compared with past tours. “It's pretty cool to have a place to sleep that isn't on someone's floor — or in the van,” says 23-year-old Alex Roy, lead singer of the band Sparks the Rescue.

Last year, Denny's also adopted some emerging rock bands to which it gave free food for three months in exchange for positive social-media nods.

“If you want to get the 16- to 24-year-old demographic,” says Mark Chmiel, chief marketing officer at Denny's, “the No. 1 connection is entertainment. That's music, video games and social media.”