NB: This is a guest article by Peter Matthews, founder and CEO of web design agency Nucleus.
When a hotel brand admits to spending $18 million on a new website, well, that’s news (the brand later changed press material to reflect an ongoing investment).
The new Four Seasons website, launched in January, is pretty impressive, but, when it was first unveiled many peers asked why it had cost so much; couldn’t it have been created for a mere million or two?
Yes, it has a new CMS platform, is multi-device-friendly and socially connected, but perhaps, that was only part of the plan. After all, $18 million is peanuts in the context of a single hotel refurbishment. I know of a single hotel spa that cost rather more – and spas never make money like websites can.
Four Seasons Weddings launched last week with, wait for it, the following: a quarterly online magazine, a flip book, a "Real Weddings" section, a mobile app, newsletter, twitter channel, facebook channel and Pinterest.
All launched on the same day. That’s what I call an integrated digital blast-off.
Clearly nuptials are big business for Four Seasons, or targeted to be. Much time, effort and budget has gone into this launch, from excellent photography and original content in the Four Seasons Weddings Magazine to lashings of PR in social media (I’ll come to that later).
The magazine is contract publisher-created, formed from the Conde Nast mould, with approaching half the 88 pages being full-page glossy advertising; the first editorial page appears on page 12.
Global luxury brands mingle with aspiring brands, but did they pay for the space? Maybe, but I suspect Four Seasons Weddings needs the big jewellery brands more than they need Four Seasons.
The app works well on an iPad (Android out soon, I’m told) with stunning photo resolution but, weirdly, won’t function in landscape format, offering a prompt to tilt to portrait.
This feels at odds with the slick presentation and has severe ramifications for the big advertisers, as single page ads look great and double page spreads look titchy. If Tiffany had paid serious bucks for its inside front cover spread, they’d be asking for some of it back, but, then again, perhaps they didn’t, so won’t complain.
Then there’s the social media. Let’s start with the upstart Pinterest. "Pin your own dream wedding" is a contest with a $2,500 prize, but the most pins I found on a single image was a meagre seven, so not much interest there. Many were not re-pinned at all.
That’s the problem with social media; even when it’s beautifully executed, if there isn’t much engagement, it’s obvious.
Moving onto Facebook, the page looks great at first glimpse with an emphasis on ‘Real Weddings’, but on second glance it’s a replica of the Real Weddings section of the website, where ‘real’ Four Seasons weddings are shared.
Clear evidence of the level of social engagement is telling – the top image gets just 19 likes compared to 1,423 on the Hotel & Resorts page. Do these Real Wedding couples not have friends?
Perhaps they don’t, as out of ten "real" weddings on the website, there are just five comments. When you deduct the number of PR and in-house likes, comments and pins from these totals, you are left with the impression of very few engaged brides, grooms or friends…
Four Seasons #Luxbride Twitter chat hosted by Four Seasons on May 8 and @FSbridal (with 541 followers) seem to have generated more activity, but, again, first impressions are misleading.
The #Luxbride Twitter history shows plenty of tweets, but half are from FS properties (you will tweet!), brand partners (please tweet!) and the rest from PR companies and wedding planners (you are paid to tweet!).
It’s a dead giveaway when your tweet is from @deirdrePRCO or @denisePRCO. Others disguise their roots, but if you check them out it’s only a little less obvious: "PR Gal", "Luxury PR", "Wedding Planner", "Integrated Marketing Pro". It feels like they are all in it for the money and not a real bride amongst them.
What’s more, like TripAdvisor reviews, this stuff quickly gets stale.
So at the end of the day, an integrated digital blast a marketing director’s ego trip that explodes on the scene and then peters out, or will it create a viral tsunami that will justify the huge investment with lots of engaged couples interacting with the brand and saying "I do" with Four Seasons?
This is certainly a bold attempt, but it inadvertently begs the question, can traditional marketing and PR excess catalyze viral, or does contrivance kill it?
In the meantime, perhaps we now know where some of the millions are going…
NB: This is a guest post by Peter Matthews, founder and CEO of Nucleus. Follow on Twitter @nucleuslondon
NB2: Unhappy couple image via Shutterstock.