The current Hotels.com campaign really bugs me.
Now, I like Hotels.com. I have used it to research and to book lodgings on trips and think it's a good service. I've even liked some of their previous commercial campaigns, but the current one . . .
It is probably the first commercial campaign I've seen that highlights the user-reviewer, the citizen critic that is now weighing in on the virtues and pitfalls of virtually every product out there, from hotels to movies to nose-hair removers. Once again, nothing against user reviews. They can be informative for people buying products or services, particularly sight unseen off the Internet. I'll often use them, though in the case of hotels, I usually also check in with professional critics at, say, Frommer's or Fodor's.
The problem with the Hotels.com commercials is the implication that their reviewers are being bought.
In one, a family is checking into a room, and the mom tells the bellman that they picked the hotel based on reviews at hotels.com, and maybe they'd be writing a review. The bellman opens a suitcase full of cash and jewels and says, "I bet you will."
Ha, ha, ha, ha. Hotels want a good review so bad, they'll try to buy you off if you use Hotels.com. Ha, ha.
That was cute, and to any of us who write reviews for a living, it probably reminded us of a time when someone sort of blatantly tried to curry our favor, knowing we were writing reviews -- not that I or anyone I know has been offered a briefcase full of cash and jewels.
But there are a few spots that bug me, because the traveler accepts and encourages the gifts. In one, a man finds a fur bathrobe in his room, and when the bellhop fesses up that it was a bribe and gets ready to take it back, the guest strokes the robe, says he'll let it slide, but don't do it again, especially when he comes back on a specific set of dates. In another one, a man finds two tubes of shampoo, and when his wife says maybe they were trying to butter him up for the review, he shouts, "It's working."
Yes, these are jokes. And maybe I am a little hypersensitive because I am a critic and I don't like to see things that impugn the integrity of that craft.
But the message of these commercials is that the reviewers take and are being influenced by the bribes. Is that really the message Hotels.com wants to send?