Forget Hilton or Marriott, there’s another hotel that’s being touted as the place to stay this summer, and it’s not from a brand you would expect.

It actually comes from fast food chain, Taco Bell, which is set to open its own pop-up hotel – ‘The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort’ – in Palm Springs this summer.

So, what’s the ‘hotel’ all about and why are brands dipping their toes in the hospitality industry?

An extended brand experience

Taco Bell isn’t averse to an off-the-wall marketing strategy. Previous activations include a ‘slide-thru’ at the bottom of a snow-tubing run, and a billboard that piped out nacho cheese. Since 2017, it has also held weddings at its Las Vegas concept store, complete with Taco Bell-branded champagne flutes and bridal bouquets.

Taco Bell has also experimented with ‘sleepover activations’ in the past too. In 2016, it offered fans the chance to stay the night in one of its Canada locations (complete with a Taco Bell butler).

Now, it’s taking this concept one step further and opening a pop-up boutique hotel for five nights this summer. The hotel will include an on-site salon to create Taco Bell-inspired nail art, a gift shop selling Taco Bell apparel, and of course, Taco Bell meals (including new and exclusive menu items). The brand has yet to announce how fans can book a stay – only that 18 people will be able to secure a spot.

Taco Bell’s Chief Global Brand Officer Marisa Thalberg, said in a statement: “The Bell stands to be the biggest expression of the Taco Bell lifestyle to date. It will be fun, colourful, flavourful and filled with more than what our fans might expect.”

Naturally, Taco Bell is hoping that the stunt will lead to inevitable buzz and excitement on social media – both before and after the event. It also seems that brands are using this type of experiential marketing – which is extended over the period of a week rather than just a day or few hours – to differentiate themselves from the competition.

With marketing activations becoming increasingly over-the-top and immersive, consumer expectations and opinion about ‘what’s cool’ have also become heightened. For Taco Bell, a hotel is the ultimate branded experience, allowing the fast food chain to surprise and delight fans (even if only 18 directly) in a completely immersive way.

The benefits of gamification 

Another brand experimenting with hotels this year is Hasbro; the toys and games company behind Trivial Pursuit. In partnership with agency Leo Burnett, it has opened the Trivial Pursuit Hotel in Moscow, to run from 20th May to the 14th June.

Instead of being a fairly standard pop-up, however, this example has another layer of innovation involved: gamification.

Essentially, the hotel acts as a real-life game, with guests required to answer questions in order to gain a better experience (instead of paying). Correct answers result in room upgrades, better food options, and other luxurious add-ons. The game even starts before visitors arrive, with the booking process also requiring a display of general knowledge.

What makes the Trivial Pursuit Hotel stand out as a marketing and PR activity is that it has the power to appeal to a wide range of people – not just fans of the game itself. With young people increasingly searching for unique travel experiences, the concept itself is likely to draw interest, opening up the brand to a potentially new demographic. The campaign should also breathe new life into the game itself, making it relevant for a modern and digital audience. 

Sleep as a service

Not all hotel concepts are designed to make a big splash. Others, such as Casper’s Dreamery in New York City, offers a subtle and surprisingly valuable service all year round.

The Dreamery is a nap room where visitors can book a 45-minute slot in a ‘nook’ – a cosy pod with a Casper mattress and pillow inside. The experience also includes pyjamas, a sleep mask, and free coffee upon awakening.

The concept is based on the idea that 45 minutes is the optimum time for people to sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. COO Neil Parikh commented: “The concept enables us to pilot new ways of bringing better sleep to more people and to more places — whether that’s here, the workplace, airports, or beyond.”

Of course, the concept also allows Casper to open up a showroom without actually calling it a showroom, giving visitors the perfect opportunity to test a mattress (and actually enjoy it, rather than awkwardly lie on a bed in a bright and open retail store). And, of course, to generate some good PR.

Ultimately, the Dreamery doesn’t just provide Casper with a marketing opportunity for its mattresses, but a way to reinforce its position as a brand that sells sleep. By focusing on the overall experience – including how to optimise sleep, and what might hamper it – Casper helps to ensure that it is the first brand people think of in relation to the subject.

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