Los Angeles-based photographer Gray Malin typically injects a playful spirit in his imagery with a retro sense of glamour from the analogue age of travel.
After coming across Malin’s work by happenstance, George Fleck, VP, global brand management at Le Meridien Hotels, developed the hotel company’s latest social media campaign and Instagram contest around Malin’s work called Follow Me.
The campaign was inspired by the Catch Me if You Can movie, in keeping with the sense of cheeky whimsy inherent in the artist’s work. Fleck, Malin and their creative teams fly around the world to Le Meridien destinations for photo shoots, which are then pushed out on Le Meridien’s social channels. The exotic nature of the locales chosen from Bhutan to Barcelona are designed to inspire people to follow Gray’s globetrotting to learn about the destinations through a visual-first, mobile-friendly user experience.
To enter the contest, travelers have to follow @lemeridienhotels and @graymalin on Instagram, and then upload their own photos themed around “spontaneous travel” with the #FollowGrayContest hashtag. The winner, to be announced after April 15, wins 250,000 Starpoints. Since the contest’s launch last month, Le Meridien has been sharing the user-generated content on its Instagram and other social platforms.
None of this is entirely new, of course, but this specific campaign provides insight into creating and crowdsourcing imagery that aligns with a unique hotel brand voice.
Le Meridien Hotels differentiates itself as a gathering place for the Creative Class, beginning in the hotel lobbies called “The Hub.” The co-working, coffee shop-themed environments have video screens depicting Malin’s artwork from around the world, and the spaces are often used as platforms for events developed by the brand’s “LM100” coterie of global creative influencers, such as Malin.
Fleck feels that Malin’s retro glam narrative in his photography segues well with Le Meridien’s similar visual storytelling, both in terms of interior design and brand communications, informed by the company’s legacy dating back to Paris in 1972 when Air France originally launched the hotel group. Finding an artist with a subtle vintage aesthetic and modern delivery helps Fleck communicate Le Meridien’s identity as a local, cultured travel curator bridging the new and traditional with a healthy respect for both.
“We always ask how can our brand really provide a filter of discovery that allows our guests to experience each destination a little bit differently,” says Fleck. “That might be through the lens of culture and the arts. That might be through music. It might be through cuisine. I would liken the Le Meridien experience to sitting on the back of a Vespa where you can learn so much about a city by just a snapshot.”
The Malin collaboration is coming on the heals of last year’s partnership with London’s Tate Modern museum, which co-created a brilliant series of celebrity-hosted videos teaching various aspects of art in a fun and easy-to-understand manner. Both the Tate and Malin campaigns are part of Le Meridien’s “Destination Unlocked” brand positioning and Unlock Art initiative where Le Meridien properties partner with major cultural institutions to provide insider access for guests.
We spoke with Fleck to get a better appreciation of the nuances behind Le Meridien’s creative ethos.
Skift: What inspired the partnership with Gray Malin?
George Fleck: Actually, the way I found him is I discovered his work in a colleague’s office. I didn’t know who the shot was taken by, but I loved it so I found out who it was. Then I contacted Gray and we had a great conversation about what his visions of art are, where he sees his art going, and who is fans are and the people that collect his work.
There were so many similarities with how he takes a lot of inspiration from the mid-century time, but he puts his own unique modern perspective on it. That’s something we do too, and the reason why we love Instagram for this brand, as a key communication spot, is because you can take these images and make them look rather vintage. We really loved how he has that same sensibility of beautiful, almost vintage photography but with this very modern point of view that is quite original.
Gray has also been to so many places in the world, which he illustrates with his playful point of view. He uses balloons, he uses patterns of umbrellas on a beach or in poolside formations. He definitely has taken a lot of pictures of hotel pools. So it’s a great partnership because we were asking ourselves, who can we work with that has a unique perspective of destinations, who is a world traveler, who is this curious and creative minded traveler, and who is very adventurous about how he sees the world.
Skift: What are deliverables for the Le Meridien brand?
Fleck: The majority of our hotels are outside of North America in very exotic places. We’re opening in Bhutan and Saigon, Vietnam. We have hotels in places like Croatia, the Seychelles, Dubai and Indonesia. So we wanted to make sure that our guests could follow Gray and follow his journey to some of the most unique places in the world, and therefore create a new way to bring those images into our hotels worldwide.
We have Follow Me programming playing 24 hours a day in the Le Meridien Hub lobbies. It’s based on the idea of Catch Me If You Can, and for every photo shoot that we do with Gray, we concept that together about how we can bring alive this destination in a new way. One of the goals that we have in common is, how can we stop our guests in their tracks? We want our guests when they leave the hotel or come back in the evening to be confronted by these beautiful new images, whether they’re taken in the Seychelles, Bora Bora or Bhutan, and then get excited about discovering these places.
Also, the reel is synced with the time of day in terms of the colors and the images selected, as well as the music which is curated by our partner Nouvelle Vague. That way, we feel from a sensory point of view that all of the touch points create a real story that guests can experience, whether you see the images or you hear the soundtrack by Nouvelle Vague, while you’re having an Illy coffee during the day or a sparkling aperitif at night.
Skift: It seems quite a bit of thought goes into the programming on these video screens, because so many times you just see generic hotel shots.
Fleck: Yeah, there absolutely is. It falls into the category of what we call “video art.” We introduced these video art screens a couple of years ago in our hotels. The content was previously curated by a German artist by the name of Marcus Kreiss, who has a TV art channel called “Souvenirs from Earth.” It was just another way for us to have a strong point of view using moving art inside our lobbies to engage and intrigue our guests.
But then we wanted to find different ways to talk about our destinations and use this existing real estate in our lobbies with video art to drive more interest around destinations. That’s all aligned with our new Destination Unlocked promise that we introduced about 18 months ago.
So Gray is now starting to travel to new places. He’s going to Bhutan next week with an incredible shoot. We did the first shoot at Le Meridien Ra in Spain. He’s going to Croatia, Dubai, Bhutan and the Seychelles, and every shoot has a different concept. Then he releases his images through his site, his Instagram, and his retail channels as well. He also just shot at our Le Parker Meridien in Palm Springs with zoo animals. They had monkeys and zebras and all kinds of animals running around the hotel, which was very cool.
Of course the idea is that people who follow the Le Meridien and Gray’s Instagram accounts can then upload their own “Follow Me,” if you will, Gray Malin-inspired photographs. They have a chance to win 250,000 Starpoints, which then allows them to realize their trip of their dreams to follow in Gray’s footsteps.
Skift: Are there plans to build out this content on other Le Meridien platforms?
Fleck: We are looking at ways to do that. The last time I checked, there were over 2,000 individually tagged photos with the #FollowGrayContest hashtag. We’re looking for ways about how we now can integrate some of the top images into other aspects, whether it’s the reel itself or other projects as we continue this partnership.
One thing we’re excited about is creating key cards with the photography that are like little pieces of art. All of Gray’s different shoots with us will become actual hotel key cards. We launched the first series with our Barcelona images last month, and so, every time he goes and shoots, a new key card series will go to the market to all of our hotels. Guests hopefully will either keep them or be inspired by them.
Then we have other channels like retail, where we will have at the end of the year a special lineup of merchandise like iPhone covers, pool towels, and all of that kind of stuff, that highlights the hotels in a very artistic and a very authentic way. You will never find a hotel shot in it, but you will find a shot that might have taken place in a pool or in a river alongside the hotel, or places that are really inspiring and inspire people to travel.
Greg Oates covers hospitality & tourism development.