W Hotels Wakes Up To The Power Of The GIF

W Hotels turned to a new kind of cultural language to publicize its Wake Up Call music festival last month: the GIF.

The Marriott-owned brand teamed up with Giphy for both the pre-campaign awareness push and an on-site activation for the festival, which W launched in 2016 and plans to roll out globally this year.

“We’re flipping the traditional festival environment on its head by putting it in the setting of a luxury hotel,” said W Hotels CMO Pablo Henderson. “Experiential marketing is at the core of everything we do.”

To promote the campaign, W bought sponsored keywords on Giphy’s platform related to the event and its brand – anything with a design, fashion, fitness or music component, Henderson said. The hotel group also bought the top spot in Giphy’s trending feed, which aggregates the most popular GIFs of the day.

“Search is our largest behavior,” said Alex Magnin, head of revenue at Giphy. “But people also use GIFs to talk about what’s happening in culture. We offer marketers the ability to pin their GIF to the No. 1 position in that feed.”

W teamed up with influencers, who distributed GIFs of themselves waking up in a W hotel room on social media, to get the word out. Because W works with influencers for a lot of its marketing efforts, the brand has fostered a “community of friends” around the world that it trusts, rather than working with influencer marketing platforms, Henderson said.

“There needs to be an alignment around the content that’s created, the ethos of what that influencer is trying to communicate,” he said. “We understand the benefits of working with people within certain destinations, because they show higher metrics in that region.”

At the event, Giphy had an on-site photobooth where attendees could make their own GIFs and upload them to social media, as well as stickers associated with the event. Users could access the W GIFs through Giphy’s platform or other platforms plugged into its API, such as Instagram.

“There’s a real-life component to this that in a very unique way is taking the [physical] experience and translating it back to social,” Henderson said.

Through the partnership, W’s Wake Up Call festival GIFs were viewed 98.4 million times – significantly more than the 11,000 people who bought passes to the festival, Henderson said. The campaign, which was launched in August, will run through the end of the year to promote upcoming Wake Up Call festivals in Barcelona and Bali. W Hollywood was at 99% capacity during the September festival, and Barcelona is projecting 100% occupancy for both nights.

“You have to have a digital component to any real-life experience,” Henderson said. “Content created from this will be seen by thousands more people digitally than those who had the opportunity to experience the festival in person.”

Giphy was the right partner for this activation because “they are speaking in the language of the now,” Henderson said. The platform reaches 300 million daily active users.

“We reach a younger demographic fluent in the language of GIF,” Magnin said. “A lot of that behavior is happening in private messaging apps, a place where brands don’t have a ton of access right now.”

But Giphy’s reach through social platforms like Instagram “had to have been key” to the campaign’s success, Henderson said.

“That’s the beauty of Giphy,” he said. “Whoever plugs into that API has that access.”

W Hotels worked with Giphy’s in-house creative agency, Giphy Studios, to create the GIFs, rather than with an outside agency.

“When two groups that are creative, disruptive, like to break the rules and have some fun get together,” Henderson said, “they don’t really need anyone else to make it a party.”

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