February 18, 2009
Dear Sandals Resorts Marketing Executives,
Enough is enough. It is well past time that someone smacked you around and suggested, nay, demanded that your company engage in some serious rebranding strategies posthaste. You, Sandals Resorts, have a very serious problem with your image, one which you are doing nothing to solve with your latest TV ads.
I live in Chicago, which has been a strong competitor for Midwestern Capital of Wintry Misery this season. Every member of my family has been thinking “beach, beach, beach” for two months now; we talk about our beach fantasies multiple times a week as we drive around in cold and/or miserably snowy-slushy conditions. Not to mention that I am a harried mother who is long overdue for some kind of romantic getaway with my husband; we haven’t even been out to dinner in so long I couldn’t tell you when our last non-work-related night out was. And despite my sun-and-(grownup) fun-deprived state I can tell you that your advertisement did not speak to me at all. Not even remotely.
It is entirely possible, of course, that I am not your target market. I realize that you are looking for a) newlyweds; b) older “second honeymoon” types; and c) anyone who can fucking afford to fucking pay to go to a fucking beach in the middle of a fucking depression…oh, wait, did I say that? Pardon me, my resentment is showing. Right, what I meant to say was that a stay-at-home mom just a sneeze away from forty might not really be who you’re speaking to. All that voice-over along the lines of “How can you afford to get away with your spouse? It’s your marriage! So the real question is, how can you afford not to?” clearly doesn’t have a damn thing to do with me. So how the hell would I know. Right?
Well, Sandals Resorts Marketing Executives, all I can say is that as I watched this ad I kept waiting to see if it was going to turn out to be some kind of parody. Your ads have always seemed a little, well, extreme-romance-novel-cover to me, but this one somehow crossed the border from escapist fantasy to reality-denial bugfuck crazy land.
Now, I’d like to point out that I am not shilling for anyone here. I do not know anyone currently in the advertising business; I have never worked in the advertising business; I am not posting this at the behest of some aggravated creative over on the Sandals account somewhere. I am only an observer—an observer who has had to endure the painful agony of watching endless Sandals Resorts television commercials.
When I first saw the ad which launched this tirade today I Tweeted my displeasure and blamed the agency, but on reflection I have decided this is unfair. No, I believe this marketing debacle belongs at the feet of the Sandals employees with decision-making responsibility for the corporate message, possibly going as high up as the CEO, for it is highly unlikely that any decent creative has not figured out just how dated the Sandals brand has become. But change is not easy for people, let alone institutions, and I would guess that any discussion of this has only involved “tweaking;” unfortunate, for this is the time for a sledgehammer.
Solutions? Why, I’m happy to help.
First: Fix. Your. Logo. Yes, I know it is costly, both in terms of changing a jillion pieces of paper and loads of expensive signage on your properties, not to mention re-painting all the damn JetSkis, etc.; and I realize you have some untold number of years of customer brand awareness invested in it. However, it is customer awareness of a very unhelpful sort. Your logo screams “The 1980s Totally Rule!!!” and not in a retro-cool kind of way—more in a “Is this where the Pretty in Pink Fan Club is meeting?” kind of way. A quick look at your website makes it clear that your logo has absolutely nothing to do with the way you’re selling yourself anyway. Just walk away. Until you change your logo to appear more current you will be stuck in the mud, something you cannot afford because these days you can’t be stuck in the mud and survive as a business.
Second, NEVER PLAY THAT AWFUL SONG AGAIN. You know the one I mean. “I had the time of my life/no I never felt this way before…” It makes us all want to wretch. It’s one of those songs that was super-popular for a microsecond in its day, but that super-popularity very, very quickly collapsed in on itself, much as a star transitions dramatically from supernova to white dwarf, or, worse, a black hole. Which I think is the more apt comparison when it comes to your theme song, actually. You are not conjuring positive associations when you use this song, and the really frightening problem is that even if you don’t use it in a particular ad, the rest of the ad style is so consistent with previous spots that I hear the song in my head anyway. It will take a very dramatic change of every aspect of your branding to start to escape that song. And I would also like to point out that this, too, dates you as being a relevant brand in the 1980s. Is this song a problem only for my demographic? Perhaps it could be effective, if you reason that you are targeting only the people who have either a) no recollection of the 1980s at all, as they had not yet been born or b) the people who enjoyed young adulthood in the 1980s and look back on the song with poorly directed nostalgia. But I think it’s just plain bad. I’m pushing 40, and this song is not only laughable to me, it is repulsive. And replacing it with Kelly Clarkson is not going to help, even if it does solve the 1980s portion of the problem.
Third, stop showing couples looking like such total and complete wierdos. I mean, how do you even get those actors to look at each other that way in your commercials? The men in particular must require extensive direction in order to gaze at the actresses in such unbelievably unnatural ways; truly, the fact that they are able to do so suggests that they are actors of exceptional caliber. People who have been married for more than, oh, ten minutes simply do not look at each other with such extreme goofiness, and it is a rare couple indeed who is able to get past the first month of an engagement in such a state. Honestly, I have a pretty fantastic marriage, but if my husband looked at me like that I would think he had been surreptitiously drugged into dopey ineffectiveness by opposing counsel on some case of his.
How about making use of your name and the fact that we spent the last ten years developing some kind of bizarre national footwear fetish? Can’t you do something with fantastically glamorous shoes? Tie-ins with Manolo Blahnik & Jimmy Choo or, hell, I don’t know, Candies or whatever the hell floats your target market’s boat. Espadrilles! Espadrilles communicate everything you need to know about glamorous beach dining. Or even just flip-flops. Everybody loves flip-flops. Have you even seen how cute they are lately? A closeup of a flip-flop dangling casually from a well-manicured foot then a camera pull-back to see the owner’s tanned crossed legs as the flip-flop hovers over the sand with some “footwear-optional”-ish tagline and I’m ready to buy my plane ticket right now. Or what about ankle-tie sandals tossed over the shoulder of someone walking on the beach. You could go for the sandals/barefoot dichotomy. There are a million possibilities here, people. Use our national shoe lust to your advantage—this is an aspirational motivation that will endure even through the economic morass.
And, really, when you target long-married couples, say it all with the eyes. Long-married couples have developed their own language of facial expressions and they use them liberally; they DO NOT go all windswept and From Here to Eternity on each other. When you advertise as if they do, it does not feel true because it’s not. Go with what is True. Long-married couples communicate through raised eyebrows and sly looks and half-smiles. You could make a totally awesome ad just with closeups on two faces communicating wordlessly followed by a very judicious use of one, maybe two, of your “isn’t this fun!” activity shots. Too many of those is overwhelming and unnecessary. But (just a helpful reminder) change the lighting and style, because otherwise that song is going to still be hanging in the air like the lingering odor of sweat in a locker room.
I only say these things, Sandals Resorts Marketing Executives, because I care. And because I am seriously considering blowing my brains out if I have to watch one more of your 80s-time-warp commercial advertisements on my television.
Thank you for your attention,
The Green-Eyed Siren