Starwood Online Contest Quizzes Players About Its Brands

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Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. began a sweepstakes and quiz show on last month tied with the relaunch of that flagship site.

"What the game enables them to do is really have the opportunity to cross-promote the brands and their individual features as well as promote the corporate identity, among other things," said Steve Buck, director of marketing at Ayzenberg Group, the Pasadena, CA, interactive agency handling the game.

En route to meeting those objectives, Starwood also hopes to boost the numbers of its new loyalty program, the Starwood Preferred Guest Program, which is unique in that it has no blackout dates and lets members redeem stays when and where they want.

The Flash-based trivia "Play & Stay" sweepstakes tests players' knowledge about facets of the six Starwood brands -- Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, St. Regis and The Luxury Collection. It also tests awareness of the Starwood Preferred Guest Program.

The game is accessed through a box that pops up on the home page. Players are asked two rounds of five questions each. A sweepstakes registration page pop-up appears next, requiring fields like name, e-mail address, date of birth and phone number.

Once the sweepstakes data are entered, players are taken to a bonus round of questions. A total score then pops up.

Questions during the game might involve anecdotes of what participants can find in Starwood hotels and locations, amenities or about redeeming Starwood's loyalty points.

"One of the interesting things about the Starwood game is that we built this game to be different every time it's played," said Jen Palmieri, vice president of account services at Ayzenberg. "We have two different characters and 100 questions that will rotate to provide a different experience each time the consumer plays the game."

Winner awards include four first-prize vacation packages, including round-trip airfare for two. The grand prize is an annual, weeklong Starwood vacation at Sheraton's Vistana Villages in Orlando, FL, whose drawing is Sept. 24.

A key reason for this exercise is to build Starwood's database.

"It's something that Starwood can utilize for future promotional campaigns," Palmieri said. "Obviously, if somebody does not want to be a participant in future promotional activities by Starwood, there's a privacy policy that reflects the usage."

Starwood last year owned, managed and franchised 743 hotel properties with 224,000 rooms in more than 80 countries. It also has 15 vacation ownership resorts in the United States.

This is the first time an online sweepstakes has been combined with a game on Sweepstakes registration is not required to play. Nor do people need to play the game to win the sweepstakes.

Richard Sankey, vice president of marketing at Ayzenberg, said that a sweepstakes like this is effective for building Starwood's database among online consumers. But the cross-promotion of company brands in a single promotion is not limited to the hotel and travel sector.

"It's really about fast food, movie chains, automobile companies, it's about anything you can think of, especially with multiple brands," he said. "The film industry's been doing it for years, having product placement within their films."

Ayzenberg created similar games for Nestle USA and Hyundai Motor America, plus interactive branding for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox. Starwood is looking into using the same game and sweepstakes engine by Ayzenberg on the individual sites of its hotel brands.

"It allows the user to interact with the brand for minutes at a time, upwards of 15 to 20 minutes, as opposed to a 30-second TV ad or a print ad," said Kirk Braufman, an account executive at Ayzenberg. "So that concept, in general, of aggregating is becoming an increasingly important marketing tool for Fortune 500 and beyond companies."


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