Hilton’s challenge was to distinguish its brand from the numerous competing upscale hotel chains. It’s first objective was, therefore, to make ‘‘It Happens at the Hilton’’ stand out from other hotel advertising. ‘‘There is a lot of hotel advertising out there, but if you take the logo off, they are almost interchangeable,’’ a Bozell executive told Advertising Age on October 5, 1998. Using celebrities to represent the brand was essential to this agenda. But this approach was not without its danger. While ‘‘celebritydriven ad campaigns [were] immediate attention-getters’’ that could break ‘‘through the clutter,’’ of other advertising, the Chicago Tribune noted, Hilton’s effort ran the risk of having consumers confuse its brand with those of other companies the celebrities had endorsed in the past. Alternately, consumers might assume that Hilton was too exclusive, if the likes of Naomi Campbell lodged there. ‘‘We had been concerned that the creative concept featuring personalities might not be relevant to everyday guests,’’ Dirks said to Advertising Age International. To alleviate this risk, Hilton and Bozell conducted extensive pre-launch testing in key Hilton markets, such as Los Angeles, New York, and London, to ensure that ‘‘It Happens at the Hilton’’ was accessible to its target audience.
Having cleared this hurdle, Hilton’s next task was to bring the message of the campaign—that guests should expect a memorable experience when staying at the Hilton—to its chosen audience of elite business and leisure travelers. Print was the predominant medium used because of its ability to hone in on select niches. For instance, since frequent business travelers were a key market, Hilton erected poster versions of the spots at international airports and ran them in in-flight magazines such as American Way and Delta Sky. To address business people even when they were not on the road, Hilton also advertised in publications including the Financial Times, Business Week, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, as well as major market newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the New York Times. Moreover, Hilton utilized travel magazines so that it could connect with consumers planning leisure travel. Hilton placed ads in Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler as well as in family-focused magazines such as Family Fun and Travel & Leisure Family. Finally, Hilton pitched ‘‘It Happens at the Hilton’’ to meeting planners at large corporations by printing the pieces in meeting planner magazines. There was also a small portion of the campaign devoted to television. For the most part, Hilton would trade rooms for airtime on programs such as Entertainment Weekly and broadcasts of the Oscars and Grammys. These short 15-second spots employed the ‘‘It Happens at the Hilton’’ tag line.
The campaign was global in its scope, running on four continents. The first two print pieces broke not only in the United States and Canada, but also in Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and various Asian nations. Publications in each country were used, such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany. The international focus was imperative if Hilton was to reach the growing market of American business people who traveled frequently, as well as international business travelers around the world. According to a company press release, Hilton wanted the campaign to be seen by more than three-quarters of international business travelers.