A few nights ago I overheard an elderly woman at a restaurant talking about Marriott: “Now they call it ‘Bonvoy’. I hate that name.” Agreed. We hate it too. All of us. Not only do we hate the name, but we hate the TV commercials where happy travelers loudly proclaim the nonsense word: “Bonvoy!”
They want you to hate the commercials
I remember a time in 7th grade where a substitute teacher asked our class what we thought about a particular TV commercial. We all agreed that we hated it. The teacher then told us that the advertising agency wanted us to hate it. The more we hated a commercial, the more likely we were to discuss it with friends. Long before social media existed, advertisers had found a way to make their ads go viral: make them repetitive and as annoying as possible.
Fast forward about 40 years and now we have the same thing happening with Bonvoy! It’s repetitive. It’s annoying. And we’re all talking about how much we hate it. Success?
Marriott Bonvoyed itself
I think of the Marriott Rewards / SPG program merger as one of the worst executed loyalty mergers ever. That’s saying a lot given how poorly many airline program mergers have gone. Marriott forced the merger through far earlier than they were ready for technically. Worse, much worse, was their customer support. Time after time, Marriott reps told the media one thing, while those on the ground understood the opposite. Customers were left with nothing but frustration.
When Marriott renamed its rewards program to Bonvoy, they inadvertently gave name to our displeasure. More and more, when things go wrong with Marriott, we say that we’ve been Bonvoyed.
“Bonvoy!” represents everything bad
I believe that most (but not all — not by a long shot) of the technical merger issues have been fixed. By “fixed” I mostly mean that Marriott Rewards…, er… Bonvoy, now works pretty much just as good or bad as it did pre-merger. You might not remember this, but the Marriott status quo, pre-merger, was that their technology was really bad. Lots of things went wrong. And now, lots of things continue to go wrong with the platform, but they happen equally across legacy SPG, Marriott, and Ritz properties. The difference is that we now have a name for things that go wrong. Bonvoy!
And, of course, there have always been issues at various hotels. Some hotels are better managed than others. Some staff are better than others. Sometimes bad things happen that are outside the hotel’s control. All of these bad things happened at SPG properties too, but many SPG die-hard loyalists may choose to forget them. Regardless, when things go wrong in the new merged program, we now have a name for our displeasure. Bonvoy!
Bonvoy: a meme gone wrong
Merriam-Webster defines meme as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” I believe that’s happening here with “Bonvoy”. The usage (“I’ve been Bonvoyed!”) is spreading from person to person. It’s now a meme, but not the meme that Marriott wanted.
On the one hand, the marketing geniuses behind Bonvoy may be proud. Their goal, undoubtedly, was for the name to spread. And, I’d guess that they knew we would hate the commercials, and they hoped that this hatred would lead to the viral spread of the new name. In that, they succeeded.
The problem is this: It’s one thing to have customers hate your commercial, but it’s quite another for them to hate the brand. And I believe the latter is what is happening.
Before Bonvoy, when things went wrong at a particular hotel, we usually thought of it as a problem just with that hotel. Now, we name it. We were Bonvoyed. That reinforces an overall negative view of the brand. At some point down the road, this may lead many people to have an “anything but Marriott” approach to picking hotels. Worse for Marriott would be if large corporations back away from Marriott in favor of Hilton, IHG, or others.
Will it spread beyond Marriott?
There’s a small chance that the negative usage of “Bonvoy” will spread beyond Marriott. I can imagine a future where we say we were Bonvoyed anytime a big organization screws up to our detriment. American Airlines cancelled your flight? Bonvoy! Uber overcharged you? Bonvoy! Your Hilton account was hacked? Bonvoy!
I think it’s unlikely that the negative connotation will catch on beyond Marriott, but if it does that might help Marriott drag itself out of this hole it has dug.
As a long time Marriott elite member, I actually think that things are better in many ways than they were before. For example, many more hotels offer free breakfast to 50 night elites than they ever did before. Point earning rates are better too… at least when the points are awarded correctly (which is surprisingly rare). For most people, though, the enhancements are lost in the Bonvoy storm. We can’t possibly remember the few good things when we are constantly reminded of the bad… by Marriott’s own commercials.