February 18, 2009

Dear Sandals Resorts Marketing Executives,

Posted in Marketing Commentary at 12:59 pm by the Green-Eyed Siren

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

15 Comments »

  1. freshhell said,

    You need a vacation, I think.

    *ducks to avoid being punched*

  2. Green Eyed Siren's Mom said,

    I still prefer the Sandal’s commercials to the erectile dysfunction medication ad that shows the couples side by side in twin bath tubs. For some reason, that one really creeps me out. Who has bathtubs out on the lawn anyway? The only bathtubs I’ve ever seen on lawns have been converted into planters.

    And secondly, if you are about to have “one of those moments”, why are you in separate bath tubs? Seems to me you would be sharing a bathtub or a shower…..or something. And they look very uncomfortable. I get cold buns just looking at the commercial.

    But who am I to question the great minds of Madison Avenue? I will leave that up to you, my dear.

    P.S. You can always call your dear old Mom to babysit so you can have a much-needed night out with your husband.

  3. freshhell said,

    I could, but I prefer not to. My mother is 45 minutes away and I always have to work around her schedule rather than the other way around. Not that it matters. My husband has little interest in going anywhere ever and, frankly, I’m tired of trying. I do my best to make my own fun. Divorce is the other option.

    I solve the commercial problem by keeping the mute button on during them and looking away. They are so ridiculous they don’t deserve my attention. The on-line ads make me insane, though.

  4. Unfocused Me said,

    Which reminds me, GESM: are you busy Saturday night?

  5. harri3tspy said,

    I agree entirely about the Sandals ads, but I have to say that it’s the Sybaris Pool Suite ads that get me. But what do I know? I can still sing the “Beautiful Mount Airy Lodge” song (and if you don’t know what that is, ask your husband; I bet he does.), which, in all likelihood, I have not heard since I left the greater NY area in 1983. It was a song so annoying that I can still remember it more than a quarter of a century later. But I’d STILL rather hear it than any version of the theme song to Dirty Dancing.

  6. The Lass said,

    We don’t get the Sandals ads down here but I have seen them in Chicago – and while I agree they’re annoying, I think I’m with your mom on this. The erectile dysfunction ads are really skeevy.

  7. Unfocused Me said,

    Oh, she’s heard the Mount Airy Lodge song. I sang it at the top of my lungs for approximately 15 miles after we drove past the exit for Mount Airy, Pennsylvania (it’s in the Poconos, don’tcha know) on the way to NYC for Thanksgiving. Pavlovian reaction – 18 years living in New York, watching those damn ads — I couldn’t help myself. I’d rather watch 35-year-old couples with spray-on gray in their hair run along the beach in an ED medicine commercial than see or hear the Mount Airy Lodge commercials again.

  8. Mike said,

    I agree with all the points above. Do people really go to Sybaris still? I get I’ll just thinking about that place.

    One suggestion on the new Sandals ad. Some people, like me, really don’t like feet; no matter whose body they are attached to. The close up of a foot might turn such people off. Otherwise, all good points.

  9. Jeanne said,

    I’m with Mike. Could they maybe show some sand and the ocean? I can see feet at home.

  10. Green Eyed Siren's Mom said,

    What is it about feet? I really don’t want to see people’s feet unless I am feel really close to them. Otherwise, it comes under the heading TMI.

  11. No, no, no! you are all missing the point. The point is not the feet, it is the sandals. Focus on all the different kinds of sandals you have to pack to go on this fabu vacation. Sandals are glamorous. Sandals connect back to the name. And believe me, I’m not in any way saying this is the only way—they should have a team of people all thinking about the most off-the-wall ideas they can to get away from the very, very tired associations they’ve spent years shackling to their brand. Shoes are only one possibility. There should be 49 others.

    This is an industry that will be in serious trouble. The ad I saw was a direct response to the recession, because they know they are very vulnerable. But that tinkering around the edges approach is not going to work. They need to do something radical to reinvent their brand identity.

    They do have a few market opportunities out there. They could take a different angle on how they sell their wedding packages, for example–it’s a good bet that eloping will start to become pretty damn popular when couples start to compare the costs of a week at a Sandals resort to throwing a big fancy party at a hotel or banquet hall. That’s one place where they can communicate a message of relative frugality.

    They can also talk about quickie escape vacations for couples. Not as affordable as a “staycation,” of course, but a downsizing option for the folks who are accustomed to spending a week in Europe or similar. Make it seem easy and convenient to travel a world away from where your head is.

    And I still think there’s something they can do to appeal to harried mothers: an “imagine a weekend where someone is taking care of you” kind of angle. I recently participated in a conversation about the Star Trek holodeck concept with a single gentleman; he intimated that his holodeck fantasies would involve adult pursuits in some fashion, although he declined to share details. I suspect there are many gentlemen who would share this perspective. I, however, suggested that my personal holodeck fantasies were more likely to revolve around silence and the notion that I wouldn’t be responsible for arranging anyone’s dinner. How difficult should it be for this company to get me to start thinking about dropping the kids with anyone who would take them so I could go sit on a beach and have someone serving me drinks with paper umbrellas?

    And re: erectile dysfunction ads: of course I find many of them distasteful, but, and this is the crucial point, I am not their target audience. There is no need for me to find them appealing; the important thing for them is does their target find the ads appealing. And, really, they are making a very different sale than Sandals, one which is much more difficult because the central point has to be implied. Lots of those ads are actually doing a much better job of selling their products creatively because they have no choice but to engage your brain on the subtext and cause you to make the connections yourself.

  12. Beta Reader said,

    Wow. This is a whole new side of your vocabulary of which I was previously unaware. I can’t wait for the sirenette and unfocused junior to come of age so I can share it with them.

  13. Finance Game said,

    Has anyone ever been to Sandals or Beaches, I have and the commercials do not portray them accurately, they are actually better. I have been to the onse in Bahamas and Jamaica and going again in October to Jamaica. The place is unbelievable overall, except the one in Ocho Rios, hated that one, its not advertised very much. If you ever go and experience the resorts no other resorts will compare. As my friend and his wife we carried with us said, “Sandals ruined me, no hotel can come close to them.” Sandals does not have jet ski to repaint, or at least the 4 I have visited.

  14. Great weblog right here! Also your site a lot up fast! What host are you using? Can I am getting your affiliate hyperlink for your host? I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  15. […] found this absolutely hilarious commentary on Sandals! I have no idea who wrote this, but it’s […]


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