From celebrity takeovers of its Snapchat account to video series on its YouTube channel, content is placing an increasingly important role in Marriott International, Inc.’s marketing strategy.

The objective: engage millennial, next-gen travelers.

“Millennials don’t engage traditional advertising, banner ads or anything else that interrupts what they’re trying to enjoy. We want to engage them with great content and storytelling,” said David Beebe, Marriott vice president of global creative and content marketing.

Demonstrating its commitment to the content strategy, the hotel giant in 2014 launched the Marriot Content Studio, an in-house production studio that resides within the company’s global marketing department. The studio is charged with creating consumer-facing content across Marriott’s 19 brands.

The studio focuses on two types of content: entertainment (TV shows, short films, webisodes, etc.) and travel information (Marriott Traveler digital magazine, etc.).

Much of the content features YouTube celebrities and other digital influencers.

“A brand yelling at you is a big turnoff, which is why we use influencers. They have built their brands online, and many have more subscribers, viewership and engagement than cable channels,” said Beebe, noting that influencers often are seen as more authentic than traditional celebrities among millennial consumers.

The Content Studio is tasked with creating content that enhances the viewing experience, with a brand message or promotional offer baked in.

“Creative content has traditionally sold features and benefits. Millennials see a ‘look at me’ message as a turnoff. We want to provide value first rather than asking for a sale.”

Case in point: Marriott last week launched a digital video campaign with Grace Helbig that highlights the benefits of booking rooms directly on Marriott.com. The videos feature the comedian, actress and YouTube celebrity jumping into different situations to teach people why it makes sense to book direct (best rate guarantee, Marriott Rewards perks, etc.).

“We’re trying to sell the benefits of booking direct, but we don’t open with that.”

The hotel chain is distributing the spots via digital display ads and the Marriott YouTube channel. It also will post shorter outtakes on the Marriott Facebook page. 

The content has gained traction. Marriott’s French Kiss short film has been viewed more than five million times on the company’s YouTube channel. The film follows a magical romance in Paris between an American and a mischievous Parisian.

“Storytelling, such in French Kiss, makes for a deeper, more genuine engagement to further our ‘3C’ strategy of producing content that builds worldwide communities of people passionate about travel that drives commerce to our hotels.”

While Marriott is placing more focus on content, it has not abandoned traditional media. “We continue to use TV with a lot of our brands, but there is certainly a shift underway in terms of our media spend.”

Activates Sponsorship With Digital Content
The Marriott Content Studio is helping the hotel chain activate its partnership with the NFL and other properties with digital content initiatives.

Courtyard activates the NFL with the Courtyard Camera, a comedic webisode series that features Jared Allen and other athletes. Marriott also is producing an original digital series around its new global partnership with Universal Music Group.

“We have great partnerships, and our buzz marketing team looks for opportunities to activate with content. There is a content component in everything that we do.”

Marriott last month announced a partnership with the NBA that makes the company the official hotel of seven international NBA events through the 2015-2016 season.