I know they probably weren’t, but if Mary and Joseph had somehow been watching Comic Relief this year, they would have seen a sketch in which Lenny Henry tried to persuade James Corden’s Smithy to come to the BBC to help sort out which celebrity messiah should go to Africa.
You probably saw it on the night but, if you didn’t, Smithy doesn’t initially know who Lenny Henry is despite Lenny reeling off a CV of TV programmes he has starred in. Finally – and a little reluctantly – Lenny says he is the bloke from the Premier Inn ads. With this, the penny instantly drops for everyman Smithy and he comes to Lenny’s aid.
This punchline is pitched as bathos – and perhaps even pathos, like the actor who has trodden the boards at the RSC for a lifetime but is famous for their minor role in Neighbours – but it goes to show the place TV ads occupy in our collective mind and popular culture.
As well as this collective recognition and the fame the Premier Inn ads have enjoyed, we should also be aware of the impact the ads have had on the business. Premier Inn didn’t just want fame; they wanted bums on beds and have announced an 11% increase in sales. This may have something to do with being a budget option in straitened times, but Whitbread – Premier Inn’s owner – is happy to acknowledge the impact TV has made. It has also announced plans to expand the Premier Inn chain.
Its competitors have noticed this success. If Mary and Joseph were watching commercial TV recently, they would have seen a selection of ad campaigns for different hotel chains. Joining Premier Inn on screen are the likes of Park Inn, Holiday Inn and Travelodge. It seems this is a case of joining them to beat them. According to Nielsen’s figures, TV spend in the hotel sector increased 200% in 2010 compared with 2009, and spend so far this year already surpasses 2009. Overall the category has grown 2000% since 2006.
This is a good example of how a business, making the bold but clearly informed and wise decision to advertise on TV, can create a new TV advertising sector, and force its competitors to play catch-up. Hotel chains themselves aren’t new; but their collective advertising on TV is. Mary and Joseph are spoiled for choice.