Choice Hotels’ CMO talks new media campaign, role of marketer amid hospitality landscape

In January, Choice Hotels International unveiled a new multichannel national marketing campaign—“A Stay for Any You”—starring actor and writer Keegan Michael Key, in television and social media spots.

The campaign highlights some of the reasons people travel and how Choice meets those needs through its portfolio of 22 hotel brands. The campaign features four specific brands—Radisson, Cambria, Comfort and Quality Inn.

The broadcast advertisements were co-written by Key, his partner Elle Key and McKinney, Choice’s creative agency. Choice worked to execute the media buy with Havas.

Any new media campaign is the result of myriad internal and external input. At the center of Choice’s new campaign was Choice Hotels’ chief marketing officer, Noha Abdalla. HOTELS caught up with Abdalla, who joined Choice in 2022, to discuss the genesis and concepting of the new campaign, how it builds off Choice’s last large media campaign that also starred a Hollywood A-lister and how a CMO goes about their job to create and drive brand awareness.

HOTELS: How do you characterize the role of the CMO within the confines of the hospitality segment?

Abdalla: At Choice, our marketing strategy focuses on three key areas: building awareness, driving loyalty and repeat business and increasing top-line revenue for franchisees. We want to drive consumer awareness that Choice has expanded its portfolio, which now ranges from full-service upper-upscale and upscale, down through midscale and economy. We want to drive loyalty and repeat business since we know that members of Choice Privileges are more likely to stay a second time and book directly, lowering customer acquisition costs for franchisees. We are doing this by adding exciting experiences and perks to our rewards program and driving top-line revenue for hotel owners by increasing traffic and conversions on ChoiceHotels. com. Since the digital migration of Radisson in July 2023, total traffic, bookings and revenue on ChoiceHotels. com and the mobile app have significantly increased compared to the pre-migration websites and apps.

HOTELS: How does marketing travel and hospitality to the consumer differ from other brands and other industries? Is there a certain chord you try to strike?

Abdalla: I love working in hospitality— travel is something that many people enjoy and look forward to. It is certainly different than other industries since there is a family of brands that cater to different customers and stay occasions. Our goal is that people think of us first when planning their travel. We have several specific target customer segments, but they all have similar things in common. We call them “Authentic Achievers,” they are real, self-sufficient and quietly confident individuals. They know their preferences and seek hotels where they can be themselves, unaffected by trends or fads. They believe in taking action, actively seeking out experiences and planning with purpose and confidence. They are smart with their money and understand the difference between price and value.

HOTELS: How do new technology and tools enhance the way you market Choice’s brands?

Abdalla: Choice operates at the intersection of hospitality, franchising and technology. We’ve been leveraging AI and the cloud in our development and franchise-facing tools for more than a decade. In fact, we were the first hotel company to develop an app for iOS back in 2009. For marketing, we leverage advanced technology to personalize the customer journey. For example, the cloud enables us to pull data points together to customize what guests see on our site when they are searching for hotels. If you are a Choice Privileges rewards member, and we know where you’ve stayed with us before, we can make sure to surface hotels in a particular order, near your search location, that match Choice brands you have stayed at before or that you are likely to prefer. We are also leveraging technology and tools to help with identity resolution across the customer journey and create look-a-like audiences to attract new customers.

“A Stay for Any You,” Choice’s latest campaign, stars actor and writer Keegan-Michael Key.

HOTELS: What makes for a strong media campaign?

Abdalla: Having clear goals, knowing your audience and developing breakthrough creative are key for a successful marketing campaign. The goal of our latest marketing campaign, starring Keegan-Michael Key, is to drive awareness of Choice and its portfolio of brands, as well as drive direct traffic and bookings on Our campaign target audiences are the value-conscious family, young professional, adventurous couple and business traveler, and we are reaching them directly with our targeted media buy on broadcast, cable, streaming TV, SiriusXM, Spotify, social and digital platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Keegan-Michael Key’s own social media channels.

HOTELS: The new media campaign highlights some of the many reasons people travel with the tagline of “A Stay for Any You.” How did you come up with that concept?

Abdalla: Through customer research, we uncovered that there are different versions of ‘You’—the version of you on a friends trip, a family vacation, a work trip, a romantic getaway—and all of those different occasions need different things. There are so many options out there for where to stay and our target customer wants to feel good about where they choose to stay. That’s where Choice’s portfolio of brands comes in—we have a brand for every type of stay or occasion, budget and location. The “Stay for Any You” concept communicates the versatility of our portfolio. Through testing, we know that the “Any You” character played by Keegan resonates strongly with our audience.

HOTELS: Keegan-Michael Key is the face of the campaign. How and why did you land on him and is it difficult to pin down a star personality, like him, for it? Did he contribute any ideas beyond just acting and delivering the dialogue?

Abdalla: We picked Keegan because he is approachable, charismatic and real. His humor and genuineness bring people together. He has a quiet confidence that we believe is reflected in our consumers. And who better to play “Any You” than the guy who is famous for his ability to transform into all different kinds of roles? The broadcast ads were co-written by Keegan, his partner Elle Key, McKinney and us. Thanks to Keegan’s authenticity and creativity, we were able to get so much great content from the shoot.

Choice Hotels’ chief marketing officer, Noha Abdalla.

HOTELS: Last year’s media campaign starred Zooey Deschanel as the Fairy Hotel Mother to help travelers feel confident that they are booking the right hotel. Does the new campaign grow off this or is the intention for it to be distinct and separate?

Abdalla: This new campaign featuring Keegan builds off the one featuring Zooey. For both campaigns, our tagline and platform is: “Where Travels Come True.” This unifying theme showcases how Choice has a hotel for every type of stay and occasion, budget and location. Both campaigns help give customers the confidence they need to know that they are booking the right hotel at the right price.

HOTELS: How far out do plan new media campaigns and is the concept fluid?

Abdalla: For a national marketing campaign, we usually plan around 8 to 9 months in advance of the launch. This includes everything from start to finish—from briefing, testing, production, creative development and launch.

HOTELS: What advice do you have for those looking to progress in and achieve a career in marketing?

Abdalla: I would say try as many different things as possible because you won’t know what you like until you try it. Early in a career, there usually isn’t a wrong role or path—you should go into every opportunity ready to learn something new. Raise your hand for a project or opportunity with a new channel, a new role or a new company. There’s a lot to learn early in your career about what you like versus what you think you like. While marketing at its core is about customer insights, strategy, data and creativity, it is different at different companies and across industries. Wherever you learn the craft, try to get close to the business and really understand the goals of the business and how the business makes money. It will make you a better marketer.