DoubleTree Took Its Signature Warm Cookies On Tour

November 09, 2017

DoubleTree took its signature warm cookies on tour — and drove nearly 400K social impressions

By Peter Adams

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.

Read the full story here.


Posted By: The Martin Agency

Randy Jackson's 'Dawg' Show in Adweek

November 09, 2017

Randy Jackson Finds New Gig Judging a ‘Dawg’ Show in Geico’s Latest Ad Westminster Kennel Club awaits

By 

Music producer and American Idol judge Randy Jackson calls people “dog” so much, it became the central gag of a new Gecio ad.

This spot by The Martin Agency, titled “Dawg,” sees Jackson lend his patented brand of vague critiques to a kennel club dog show. He’s also wearing what looks like Will Smith’s prep school jacket from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

There’s a behind-the-scenes video for “Dawg,” too, and it might be even more staged than the ad itself. Watching Jackson try to coach a poodle through scene banter is totally worth it, though. His comedic timing works much better in interactions. And I mean, it probably beats working with Stryper again.

“Dawg” is part of Geico’s “It’s Not Surprising” campaign, where most (if not all) of the ads are built around obvious wordplay. It’s one of the insurance company’s most charming marketing initiatives, and has been in play for over a year at this point.

Read the full story here.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

'It's Not Surprising' Featured by The Drum

November 09, 2017

By Kyle O'Brien

Geico hits the mark again with another spot from the Martin Agency, featuring a 'Casual Friday' beefeater at Buckingham Palace.

It’s the latest in the insurance company’s ‘It’s Not Surprising’ campaign, which has also included Ice T selling lemonade, an orchestral triangle solo and Tiki Barber running a barber shop.

‘Casual Friday’ finds a changing of the guard for the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace. While the outgoing guard is perfectly upright, stoic and on point, his replacement saunters in wearing the signature puffy hat, but also an unkempt bathrobe and tee shirt, plus flip flops and carrying a coffee drink and a bag of food as he sits in a folding chair on guard.

“Casual Fridays at Buckingham Palace? Surprising,” says the voice over. He goes on to say that it’s not surprising that people are saving money by switching to Geico.

"With a lot of Geico ads, we try to tap into human, relatable truths. Like say, butt-dialing or looking-busy-while-the-boss-walks-by from our 'It's What You Do' campaign," said Ken Marcus, senior copywriter with the Martin Agency. "Casual Fridays are pretty much a universal experience, so we tried to come up with a situation in which a Casual Friday would be unexpected and fun-to-play-with. Originally, we talked about 'Casual Fridays' at The Center For Disease Control. You know, all these folks are in hazmat suits and some guy in a bathrobe walks up, eating a donut. But ultimately, we felt like Buckingham Palace would be more visually interesting and well, surprising."

Marcus gives credit entirely to the team at Geico for the success of the campaign.

"They have this disciplined instinct to keep our messaging bone simple. In this case, demonstrating our savings claim with real customers. This allows us the time to let a joke breath and play out, versus cramming all of these RTBs into thirty seconds. Also, we try and mine our humor from everyday life. Versus just being weird for weird's sake. So hopefully, our material is always relatable and universal in appeal," he said.

Read the full story here.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

Finding the Poetry in Animal Feed

November 09, 2017

Martin Agency finds the poetry in animal feed appeal

By Stephen Foster

Mars animal feed brand Purina Mills is donating a dollar per pack (bale?) to look after retired horses so this, in a way, is a B2B ad.

The Martin Agency usually finds a way with the most unpromising task and goes straight for the heart here – with a poem from one Jess Vee about Sam.


Only American agencies seem able to do this without emptying the room. Maybe it’s the nature of Americana – a set of myths built on sentiment.

Clever idea to use someone else’s words too – no self-conscious copywriter would own to such feelings. Been done before of course, most notably in The Richards Group’s ‘so God made a farmer’ celebrated Super Bowl ad for Ram Trucks.

Read full story here.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

Downtime: Santia Nance’s hoop dreams

October 17, 2017

Richmond Biz Sense

By Jonathan Spiers

When Santia Nance finished college in 2010, she found her life outside of work spinning in circles.

So, naturally, she picked up a hula hoop.

After googling “hooping” and taking a local class, the VCU grad, now a media planner at local ad giant The Martin Agency, found a pastime and passion she’s pursued ever since.

Recently promoted to media planning supervisor, Nance’s workdays are spent in the thick of Richmond’s biggest creative shop, strategizing media placements for ad campaigns for clients such as Land O’Lakes and pudding maker Kozy Shack.

But while her job is in the heart of the creative think tank, Nance said her own creativity comes out when she’s hooping.

“It’s like yoga in a way: it makes you feel at peace, it makes you feel yourself,” she said. “It makes you feel happy, because it’s so nostalgic, and you’re focused on something else versus thinking about other things. You’re just in your zone.”

Active with local hoop group RVA Hoop House, Nance can be spotted spinning hoops around town in group sessions and events such as Inlight Richmond, when she’s encircled with LED-illuminated hoops. She’s performed in theater showcases and in a burlesque show at Gallery5, often under her stage name, Santobella Spark. She’s even picked up fire hooping, spinning a circle of flames to the point that they make a whooshing sound.

“When you’re fire-hooping, you hear it. The rush is to hear it,” she said. “It’s hot!”

A Hampton native, Nance first picked up on hooping in high school, motivated in part by an unlikely source: Hilary Duff as Lizzie McGuire.

“For some reason I was obsessed with the Disney Channel in high school. (Duff) did this thing where she was a rhythmic gymnastics person or something, and she threw the hula hoop in the air, did a cartwheel and then caught it. I was like, ‘I’m going to do that!’”

After graduating from VCU with a degree in creative advertising, Nance revisited the activity when she found herself idle outside of a part-time job with Radio Disney.

“I was real bored. I didn’t have a job really. I was like, ‘What do I do?’” Nance said.

“In 2010, I just made it up in my head that this has to be a thing, so I googled it. That’s when I found my hoop mama, Stacey Firefly,” she said. “She’s one of the originators in Richmond who was hula hooping.”

Nance signed up for one of her now-mentor’s classes at Dogtown Dance Theatre, and she’s been hooping ever since.

“It was Oct. 13, 2010 – my hoopiversary. That’s a real thing,” she said, laughing.

Watch Santia Nance Hooping Outside The Martin Agency

When she’s not spinning her hoops or dancing in circles of flames, Nance said she’s found joy in her work at The Martin Agency since joining the firm in 2013, specifically planning digital media placements for campaigns.

“We have to figure out where the best place is to put the advertising,” she said. “Not necessarily just thinking about is it on TV or a magazine or a website; it’s usually which website, which TV show, which time, what makes the most sense and what’s the cheapest and what’s going to actually get people to do what you want them to do. A lot goes into that thinking.”

Focused on strategy at work, Nance said she releases her creative side out of the office in her performances, which she choreographs herself.

“I try really hard to come up with something unique for each event,” she said.

And when she’s not performing onstage as Santobella Spark, Nance said she helps “spread the hoop love” in group hooping sessions and community outreach events, helping first-timers pick it up and pinpoint difficulties.

Laughing, she said: “People call me the hoop whisperer.”

Watch Santia Nance Hoop With Fire


Posted By: The Martin Agency

Joe Alexander of The Martin Agency - Making Advertising Great

October 11, 2017

Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Tammie Smith

Early in his 26-year career at The Martin Agency, Joe Alexander was on a team working on an advertising campaign for children’s clothing company Healthtex when he suggested they try something different.

The children’s clothing market was dominated by competitors OshKosh B’gosh and Carter’s, remembered Martin Agency president Beth Rilee-Kelley, who was an account executive at the time. The competition’s ads usually showed cute children in cute clothing.

“What (Alexander) thought was important was that we needed to be talking more to moms and acknowledging what moms are going through every single day,” Rilee-Kelley said. Alexander was a senior copywriter at the time.

The advertisement that the team came up with had a lot of text on the page, which was unheard of at the time, Rilee-Kelley said.

It was different and wordy, but had a cute and catchy headline.

“One of the things we talked about was new moms had so much on their plate, would they even read long copy?” Rilee-Kelley said.

“What we learned ... was that moms loved the copy, and it endeared the brand to them. It was a home run. He wrote it from a mom’s perspective,” Rilee-Kelley said.

The headline? “When you’re bald and toothless, you’d better wear cute clothes.”


That willingness to take risks is one of the traits that has landed Alexander at the creative helm of the Richmond-based but internationally recognized advertising agency.

As chief creative officer for The Martin Agency, it’s his job to lead efforts to come up with advertising for clients that have included national brands such as GEICO insurance, Oreo cookies and Benjamin Moore paints, among many others.

The Martin Agency in the past seven years alone has won 60 awards at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, company officials said, including the Grand Prix in film in 2015 for its “Unskippable” ad campaign for GEICO insurance.

Alexander was named chief creative officer in 2012. More recently, Alexander was named one of the 100 people who make advertising great by the 4A’s, a membership organization representing the marketing communications agency business. The Martin Agency is a member of the organization.

The awards were presented last week at the 4A’s 100th anniversary gala held in New York City.


“Since (the 4A’s) represents about every advertising agency and a lot of clients, it’s a very big deal,” said Helayne R. Spivak, executive director of the VCU Brandcenter, Virginia Commonwealth University’s highly touted advertising program.

“To be recognized as one of the top 100 people to make advertising relevant, fun or great is a very big honor,” Spivak said.

Alexander is quick to share the honor with the people he works with at The Martin Agency, which has its headquarters in Shockoe Slip and an office in London.

“I am only as good as the people in this place,” Alexander said.

“We are good to each other but really tough on the quality of the work. That’s what’s got me here,” he said.


Alexander came to The Martin Agency in 1991, hired by Mike Hughes, the longtime creative leader of The Martin Agency who died in 2013.

Before coming to The Martin Agency, Alexander, a Minneapolis-St. Paul native and a journalism/mass communications graduate of St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, worked at agencies in his hometown.

Much of what he learned about advertising came from studying the works of the pros.

“There weren’t graduate schools you would go to and work on your portfolio book and get hired a couple years later,” Alexander said.

Instead, he poured over advertising recognized as the industry’s best and collected in “One Show Annuals,” yearly compilations from The One Club for Creativity.

“You learned from studying the ads. That was your textbook,” Alexander said.

“I was lucky to be in Minneapolis at the time when one of the best agencies over the last 50 years, Fallon, started. There were some great people there that I learned a lot from. I eventually was hired by one of those guys, Tom McElligott, who is in (The One Club Creative) hall of fame.”

McElligott had left Fallon and worked at Chiat/Day when he hired Alexander to help lead Chiat/Day Toronto.

Martin Agency president Rilee-Kelley said one of Alexander’s strengths is that he remains a student of the advertising profession.

“I remember when he started, he was one of those people who studied creative work. ... He admired the work that people did and he reached out to his fellow creatives across the country to talk to them about the work. He learned about the techniques that were different and were being used. He truly studied,” Rilee-Kelley said. “I think that is what has made him the leader he is today. And he hasn’t stopped. He has such an appreciation for this industry and creativity.”

Alexander’s role as chief creative officer at The Martin Agency includes being a coach and mentor to the people who make up the agency’s creative staff.

“A lot of people think we are in the creative business and the advertising business. I really think we are in the talent business. Talent is everything. We survive and we thrive when we have great people,” Alexander said.

Alexander said his work at times also includes battling misconceptions among outsiders that great creative work can only come out of such places as New York City and Los Angeles.

“Since 2010, I think we’ve started to get into more of the conversations of the best agencies in the world,” Alexander said.


“We’ve had a lot of success at Cannes, and that has helped us overcome some of that insecurity. But I think deep down, we are underdogs. We are scrappy. That’s our culture. We attract those kinds of people. We attract people who really want to overachieve and have a life, too,” he said.

The Martin Agency offices are set up to encourage collaboration. Alexander’s office has glass walls off of an open communal working space where employees sit at work stations set up on long tables. There are smaller rooms available for group meetings.

“When we have great work here, it starts with an assignment, a brief. Then, it quickly goes to some sort of insight, strategic insight that comes from somewhere on the team,” said Alexander, explaining the creative process.

In the case of the “Unskippable” campaign, for instance, the strategic insight was you have to hook people in the first five seconds before the “skip this ad” banner pops up on digital advertising.

“When the guys heard that, they said we are going to win the first five seconds. Sure enough they did,” Alexander said.

The guys in this case were creative director Neel Williams and associate creative director Mauricio Mazzariol, he said.

Another noteworthy and award-winning project was pro bono work for nonprofit organ donation advocacy group Donate Life. The ad features a scraggly dude with a nasty attitude. Dude redeems himself somewhat when he dies, and it turns out he is an organ donor. The tagline is “Even an asshole can save a life.”The ad has more than 2.4 million views on YouTube and more than 1,000 comments, many just as edgy as the ad itself. Some folks like it. Some folks don’t.

“Our business is a creative business, so it’s not perfect. In fact, it’s kind of messy. I think that’s OK,” Alexander said.

“The most surprising solutions in our business are often because of mistakes or accidents. It’s not science. ... There is a creative alchemy that happens between people and ideas and energy. My job is to foster that, to foster that kind of environment, and I think that starts with really talented people.”

Some of that willingness to see opportunities everywhere may stem from growing up in a household with nine children — six boys and three girls. Alexander is the sixth born. His father, who passed away nine years ago, was a high school teacher and principal. His mother, 88, is a homemaker.

His father, he said, brought a lot of consciousness about having a life outside of work.

Alexander is married to Sarah Rowland, a wallpaper designer. They live in Richmond’s Westover Hills neighborhood. It’s close enough to the agency that Alexander rides his bike to work about twice a week. He has three adult daughters — two live in New York City and one lives in Los Angeles.

He admits to being a lawn geek, actually enjoying getting out and mowing the grass. The Martin Agency lets employees individualize their business cards. His has the outline of a guy pushing a lawn mower.


“Work is really important to me but … family is obviously huge,” Alexander said. Equally important is helping the community he lives in reach its potential, he said. He has volunteered in political campaigns.

At The Martin Agency, Alexander shares the senior leadership with Rilee-Kelley and CEO Matt Williams.

The advertising industry, like other forms of communications, is being transformed by technology, Alexander said. Client companies want something different.

For a decade, The Martin Agency created ads for Walmart. Walmart ended the contract as of September 2016. The Martin Agency that month laid off 29 employees.

In March of this year, the agency laid off 21 people — 16 in Richmond and five at its New York office — which reduced the company’s total workforce to 450. Those layoffs were related to a restructuring. The agency closed its New York office and moved those operations to shared space with the ad agency’s parent company, Interpublic Group of Companies Inc.

“The business has been going through quite a transformation. I think it’s going to be like this for a long time where, not just us, but all agencies like us are changing,” Alexander said.

“It’s a reflection of the media that’s out there and the kind of choices our clients need to make about budgets and everything else. We’ve had to transform, too. We’ve had to adjust our staff and the way we work to be more social, to be more digital, to be more nimble, to be always on. That’s what the best clients are. The best clients are always ‘on’ now. They are not waiting to put out some fixed media unearned media solution,” Alexander said. “The best agencies now are creating earned media solutions where their work not only gets placed in incredible places that cost money but also grab attention outside of that.”


Posted By: The Martin Agency