The rebooting of Iberostar – a market targeting and positioning case study in 3 acts

Despite some non-marketing, we discovered the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall in 2009 and returned in 2010.
Despite some non-marketing, we discovered the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall in 2009 and returned in 2010.

Every once in a while, the stars align and you get a front-row seat on the reboot of a brand. This can only happen if all of the following happen:

  • You have enough marketing experience to understand how and why certain words and images are being used to execute a market targeting strategy
  • You have actually sampled the marketing and the product (Iberostar Hotels and Resorts)
  • You are a member of the Baby Boomers generation (born 1946-1964) and you notice that virtually everyone else at the resort is a Boomer
  • You happen to be staying at an Iberostar hotel resort when a film crew is on site to shoot a television commercial for Iberostar
  • You know the initial market target, including the television commercial, didn't do the job because it lasts only one year

  • Need proof the Iberostar really was under marketed and needed some new market targeting and positioning? Take a look at this photo, taken during our first trip to the Iberostar, and notice what is missing: guests.
  • You have a theory why the first effort market targeting and positioning failed (me-too advertising, not targeted to Boomers) and how it could be fixed
  • You get to see whether your market target theory was correct when the entirely new marketing campaign is launched

The story begins two years ago, when my wife, Debra, and I went to the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall resort in Jamaica for the first of two trips (we returned in March 2010).

I thought I was going to have a one-week break from the marketing business, lasting from April 14 to April 21. Instead, I was launched into a marketing case study that rolled out in three acts over the better part of two years and showed how a company can quickly – and successfully – correct some, but not all, of its marketing missteps.

Act One – What's this thing they call the Iberostar?

It is the Winter of 2009 and I am shopping for a holiday. We want a premium, all-inclusive holiday that is within a short flight of Toronto, ideally no longer than three hours because that's about all that my wife (and her bad back) can tolerate. We also want to avoid any long bus rides after the flight (are you paying attention vacation companies?). We are looking at the Bahamas or perhaps Florida, but take an absolute different route after we are introduced to Ibersostar by our son, who found it while doing some internet research for his own holiday.

Hanging out in our favorite pool-side gazebo at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall resort in Jamaica – just feet away from where a television commercial for the Iberostar, with a very short life, is being shot.

We had a look at the Iberostar listing in a Vacation Booklet and were left very unimpressed, even though the listing showed it was a five-star, all-inclusive resort. Our next stop, predictably, was the Iberostar web site. Again, very disappointing. The story should have stopped right there and then. But we got lucky. Someone whose opinion I respect hears we are considering the Iberostar and gives it a rave review. We decide to give it a try – and are blown away when we arrive. I realize the Iberostar is like many of our clients (hugely under marketed).

Act Two – Oh, look, they are shooting a television commercial

Shortly after arriving for our first stay at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall, I notice a film crew is setting up right next to the gazebo occupied by my wife and me. The crew is at work for our entire stay and it doesn't take long before I have spoken to selected crew members and representatives of the agency that is doing the shoot. I learn that the Iberostar owner (who is at the resort) feels he needs to do more marketing (no surprise to me) and this shoot was organized for a new television campaign that will launch in 2010.

Sandals television commercial.
This Sandals television commercial features the usual images of beautiful, young models – and a token image of Boomers that is so short most viewers would miss it. Change the logo and it could easily have been the first Iberostar television commercial.

I immediately notice that all the models are young and, except for one couple, white. They all look like perfect 24-year-olds, which strikes me as strange since there are no 24-year-olds at this resort. Not one. I am a Boomer (1946-1964). My wife is a Boomer. The people next to us are Boomers. They come from all over the world. And they look nothing like the models in the television shoot.

Does this make sense? I think not. And don't tell me that this strategy is OK because Boomers aspire to look like a 24-year-old. We are not that stupid. What we want is to look great for our age.

Now what about the actual scenes being shot for the television commercial? Were they closer to reality and, more important, did they capture what sets the Iberostar EuroCentric experience apart from competing all-inclusive offerings like… Sandals? No. In fact, what was filmed was all the usual images (lounging pool side, dining room shot, spa shot.) shot in all the usual ways. No differentiation. No personality.

Months later, while working in my office I saw the commercial. As I expected, it all looked and felt like a Sandals commercial. Change the logo and it could have worked as a Sandals ad. But wait. There is still one more act.

New Iberostar outdoor ad.

Act Three – Enter Antonio Bandaras

Fast forward to March 2010. We have decided to return to the Grand Hotel Rose Hall, but not because of anything the Iberostar has done. We didn't get any direct mail encouraging us to make a second visit (big mistake), and when we arrive at the hotel our receptionist is not even aware that we are returning guests (bigger mistake). However, the receptionist is very good and quickly informs us that we have been upgraded and we go on to enjoy another great holiday.

I should also mention that the television commercial did not affirm our original choice (great advertising doesn't just attract new customers, it also makes existing customers feel good about purchase decisions). In fact, we felt a complete disconnect with the television commercial.

Now let's fast forward again to September 19, 2010. As part of my research for this Wolf Bite, I take a second look at the Iberostar web site (now marginally better), and I discover the Iberostar is doing an entirely new campaign featuring new market targeting that immediately catches my attention and is everything the original campaign was not. Most important, this campaign is just drenched in personality and it is fronted by a man who is, in my humble opinion, the perfect spokesperson for Iberostar: Antonio Bandaras. Latin. Exotic. And just about the right age.

New Iberostar print ad.

I also love the tag line: on vacation, we're all stars. Why? When you are at the Iberostar, you feel like you are being treated like a star. Bandaras is a star. And the name of the resort is the IberoSTAR. Yes, it all fits, and it is all very female friendly, a wise choice since women are going to make, or strongly influence, the buying decision.

Have a look at the making of the Bandaras television commercial. You won't confuse it with a Sandals television commercial, which is good. I prefer the print and outdoor executions.

New Iberostar television commercial. The 20-something models are gone, replaced by Bandaras and two female actors who say it all with just a few lines of dialogue.

Lesson: Anyone who spends any time in the marketing business is going to make a misstep. It's what you do next that matters. I have no access to the marketing numbers for Iberostar, but I bet the new Bandaras campaign outperforms the soon forgotten first effort.

PS: We still haven't received any mail – or emails – from the Iberostar. Guess you have to go three times before that happens.

Wolfgang Franke is President & Creative Director of Words at Work Advertising & Marketing, a full service communications company established in 1988. Our growing list of valued clients are found throughout our local market, Markham and the Greater Toronto area, across Canada in cities such as London, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta, and an expanding list of international locations ranging from The Big Apple in New York to Kanturk, Ireland.

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