Rebranding a loyalty program just doesn’t make sense when you start with both a recognizable name and a good reputation. You wind up spending nine figures on advertising, merchandising, printing, and education — all to get back to where you started, at best, which is that the median consumer doesn’t even identify which brands are part of the program.
I believe it was the New York Times‘ Ron Leiber who asked a Marriott executive to name their brands and the executive couldn’t do it. The median hotel guest can’t tell you whether Protea is part of Marriott or Hilton.
Marriott created a new loyalty program after acquiring Starwood that was a devaluation of the old Marriott earn-and-burn, and a devaluation of the old Starwood elite recognition program. However it was an improvement on Starwood’s earn-and-burn and an improvement on Marriott’s elite benefits.
They could have just called it Marriott Rewards. If they wanted to make clear that this wasn’t just folding Starwood into Marriott Rewards, they could have reverted to the program’s original name, that helpfully sounds a lot like Starwood’s program name: Marriott Honored Guest.
Instead they made up a word, and effectively asked customers to fill in its meaning. Initially members called it Bonfire out of frustration, but as the program struggled to deliver benefits or a consistent experience to consumers (which Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson calls “noise around the edges”) “Bonvoyed” took on a new meaning. Whenever something went wrong with Marriott, you were Bonvoyed. Whenever you took it on the chin in life you were getting Bonvoyed.
Marriott had one of the biggest data hacks in history, they’ve had ongoing IT problems delivering member benefits and even getting accounts merged correctly, and members are frustrated with the program. So what are they gonna do? Just like Stringer Bell in The Wire they’re changing the name of the product.
Now Marriott’s Vice President of Global Creative and Content Marketing reveals their internal view on the Bonvoy rebrand, as reported by Ad Age.
- Of course it was going to be mocked. In other words they’re dampening expectations, like a presidential front runner does before a debate. He says “he would have been surprised had there not been ‘negative reaction’ to the rollout of Bonvoy, an abbreviation of the phrase ‘bon voyage.'”
- The name doesn’t actually matter. It’s about the benefits, which are an improvement for Marriott guests not used to Starwood-type treatment such as late checkout and suite upgrades (let alone 24 hour check-in and an Ambassador service) as well as the rest of the services the brand delivers.
“For us, it comes down to filling that name with meaning,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about ‘What are those benefits that we are giving to our members?’” he said, citing Marriott’s new homes and villa program, its tours and activities and a new food and beverage offering on the horizon.
- We’re stuck with it, so why look back? Sure it was a train wreck, but what else could they have done? Accept the damage and move on.
“We have the name—it is what it is. We have people talking about it and we have to accept there’s negative reaction.”
It turns out that The Wire is the perfect metaphor for how Marriott’s own leading brand executives think about the Bonvoy name, because of the show’s use of tautology to express a sense of helplessness and pre-determination.
Marriott’s Vice President of Global Creative says about Bonvoy, “it is what it is” and that suggests people are mere players in a game that’s not of their own construction, they have to take the world (with all its flaws) as given, and react to it.
And once you get there, any negativity is just noise around the edges.