They are risk takers whose hilariously controversial commercials elicit debates in newspapers and cyberspace alike. Who can forget the iconic ad in which an underwear-clad guest walks into the hotel's dining room and squeezes out what politely may be referred to as a 'wind', while he pours a cup of coffee? Then he turns around and realises he's not at home. He's at City Lodge, surrounded by other guests having breakfast! Definitely a case of 'We'll make you feel at home'.
TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris has been working on the account since the hotel group was first started by Swiss-born Hans Enderle, the former chairman and CEO of Holiday Inn, in 1985 who had a dream of creating quality accommodation in hotels that would be inexpensive and affordable.
"Hans was a pragmatic Swiss hotelier who had this huge dream and people thought he was crazy, because inexpensive, yet quality hotels didn't exist. He was smart, but also very courageous," recalls John Hunt, TBWA\Worldwide Creative Director. "We met Hans at the first City Lodge, which at the time, was a one-star hotel on Katherine Street in Sandton Johannesburg. Reg Lascaris and I handed him a Magnum champagne and a scroll that predicted, 'from small acorns, mighty oaks will grow', which has proved prophetic considering how far they've come over the past 25 years."
TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris Executive Creative Director, Damon Stapleton, describes City Lodge as a "successful brand building story". He says that City Lodge has always been a brave client who took risks and wasn't scared of being controversial over the past 25 years that the agency has been doing the hotel chain's advertising. "They were always really smart with what they did. They grabbed the media's attention and added value to the industry. Every ad ended up in the newspapers and they always found ways to make their brand better," says Stapleton.
City Lodge recently launched a new ad in which a businessman stays with his aunt during his business trips and she smothers him with a too homely environment. "When we started brainstorming for the new campaign, we had to figure out if we could carry on or come up with a new idea. We came up with the strategic concept that City Lodge offers guests just 'the right amount of home'," comments Stapleton.
Hunt says that after 25 years of doing business with City Lodge, not much has changed. "Their core DNA remained the same, they still have a wicked sense of humour and they still ask: 'why pay more?' We'd like to think we're the same. We know what they were like when they had one hotel and they know what we were like when we only had a few clients."
There's always been synergy," says Hunt, "Back then we didn't have big money to throw at advertising so big ideas would have to do instead. We would erect hoarding on the sites of new lodges as they sprang up which we'd saw in half and tear to illustrate their cut-and-slash approach to hotel costs and the pressure City Lodge puts on rates."
TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris Creative Director on the City Lodge account, Adam Weber, says really long term and successful relationships between brands and advertisers in this country are rare.
There are a few good reasons why the relationship between TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris and City Lodge has lasted two-and-a-half decades. Weber says the initial relationship may rest with the senior partners on both sides of TBWA\ and City Lodge, but this amicable connection has filtered down to the new people who joined the team in later years.
He stresses however that having built a lasting friendship is one thing, but at the end of the day, you have to produce the goods as well. "It comes down to work," says Weber. "The client has to be happy with the work delivered. In keeping it creative and fresh, the client will have no reason to change advertisers. We know what they want, we know that they like to push the envelope and that they expect new and creative things from us. It has been a long relationship but never a boring one!"
Weber adds that in a long-term relationship such as this, mutual trust is of the essence. "We trust that they are experts in the hotel industry and they trust that we know advertising and marketing. They trust us enough to allow us to do what we do well. And in turn we know they don't just want creative work, they want strategic and business solutions that are entertaining and innovative and will put people in hotel rooms," he says.
Damon Stapleton explains, "A level of mutual trust is developed over a long term relationship with a client, it takes hard work and commitment from both the brand and the agency. Once this trust is established, you are left with a real sense of partnership and understanding which as a result gives the agency the sense of freedom to come up with unique creative solutions. We have seen this trend of with many of our long-term clients, including City Lodge, Standard Bank and SPAR."
And while it's an advertiser's dream to work on such a prestigious and successful account, it's also a big challenge to churn out one successful advert after the other. "We constantly have to come up with something better. Some of the country's top creative minds have worked on this account, so we have high standards to follow to keep the work creative and innovative."
But the benefits of creating a successful advertising campaign are so much more rewarding because you get to practice the kind of advertising you love, the reason why you got into advertising in the first place, Weber adds. "It's not just about being creative for the sake of being different; it's always about being strategically creative."
"We didn't create a brand. The pay-off line used to be 'why pay more' because the message of our adverts was that if you can't afford a five-star hotel, come to City Lodge. You'll get a great breakfast, a great room and great service - what else do you need? Why pay R550 a night for stuff you don't use when you can pay R95 a night and get everything you need," says Hunt.
Hunt concludes that he suspects City Lodge stayed with TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris this long because over the past 25 years they've been consistent in delivering the goods. "We had our ups and downs as every relationship has, but we have an embedded honesty that neither of us will ever take for granted. A relationship that's not taken for granted, yet very long lasting is a very rare thing."
Here's to another 25 years!