Several hundred Hollywood High School students left their books Wednesday to boo, cheer and otherwise help Marriott Corp. stage a publicity stunt for the hotel giant's Big Boy Restaurants--and all with the blessing of the school's educators.
Donating $5,000 for Hollywood High's gymnasium and student body, Marriott held a rally replete with cheerleaders and flag-waving teen-agers to announce that the 46-year-old Big Boy symbol had won a monthlong battle to be retained by the restaurant chain.
Marriott, which had sales of $3 billion last year, spent several million dollars on TV ads asking the public whether it should kill or keep the fat, pompadoured boy whose checkered pants are almost loud enough to hear. When the votes were tallied, Big Boy had won by a landslide--87% of 3.8 million ballots cast. But the real winner was the corporation that waged the advertising gimmick.
"To match this kind of publicity (by traditional means), we would have had to double what we spent," crowed Mark Goldstein, chief operating officer of Earle Palmer Brown, the advertising firm in Bethesda, Md., that dreamed up the ad campaign.
Getting restaurant-goers to participate in the decision making won Marriott the kind of advertising that money just can't buy: news coverage. "It was brilliant," said Steven Doctrow, director of promotional marketing at Chiat/Day, the Los Angeles firm that does advertising for such clients as Apple Computer and Nike. "It has created more awareness for Bob's. It's good advertising. But I wonder if they ever really seriously considered getting rid of Big Boy."
Acknowledges Tom Kempton, vice president of marketing for Washington-based Marriott, the ad campaign so succeeded in linking the fat boy to Big Boy restaurants in the public's mind that it might have been impossible to dump him, no matter what the vote. "There was a lot of discussion in the board room about that," Kempton said.
Although companies often donate money or equipment to schools, they rarely do it in exchange for this kind of publicity.
Still, many Hollywood High educators thought the event worthwhile. "We have a lot of foreign students here," said Kay Smith, who teaches Spanish. "They'll benefit because they'll learn some new English phrases." As she spoke, cheerleaders led different factions in chants of "kill the bozo" or "keep Big Boy."
Students had been practicing looking spontaneous for weeks, school officials said.
The marketing ploy by Glendale-based Big Boy Restaurants was an attempt to draw attention to the 850 Big Boy restaurants that Marriott owns or franchises in 35 states, Japan and Canada. On Sunday, an Indiana television station inadvertently aired a commercial saying that Big Boy had won. But Marriott officials, insisting that the voting might have gone the other way, say they also prepared commercials announcing the fat boy's demise.