Six Ingredients that Make Motel 6 a Successful Brand

December 10, 2018

By Tammy Greenberg


Motel 6, a brand with authenticity and value at its core, has kept the lights on for travelers since the first property opened in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1962. The brand has grown to become the leader in the economy hotel and lodging segment targeting budget-conscious travelers thanks in great part to the longest running radio advertising campaign in history.

Back in 1986, David Fowler, then a creative director working on the Motel 6 account at the Dallas-based branding agency The Richards Group, heard comedian Tom Bodett talking on NPR's All Things Considered and knew immediately that Bodett would be the perfect voice for a Motel 6 campaign. In fact, it was Bodett who, at the very first recording session, ad-libbed the now famous tagline "I'm Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and we'll leave the light on for you."

Thirty-two years in, this radio campaign continues to reap rewards, both in brand building and industry recognition. Awareness of Motel 6 advertising dwarfs the competition with total awareness levels of 40 percent and a staggering 18 percent in unaided awareness (comparatively, the next highest brand achieved a 31 percent total awareness level and 4 percent unaided awareness.)

The Radio Mercury Awards maintains an archive of award submissions. Listen to 26 years' worth of Motel 6 spots on their website.

Motel 6 has also been awarded several advertising industry awards, from The Clio Awards to the Ad Age Book of Tens. It is also a three-time Best in Show, Grand Prize recipient of the Radio Mercury Awards. In fact, The Richards Group won the inaugural Radio Mercury Awards Grand Prize in 1992 for its work with Motel 6, won again in 2009, and won for a third time with unique executions within the same campaign 25 years later in 2017. No other Grand Prize winner has had such a long streak.

In 2016, Nielsen research designated a Motel 6 spot that aired in the Westwood One Super Bowl broadcast as "most likeable" among all the spots that aired during the big game. And in 2018, Motel 6 won the Westwood One Sports Listeners' Choice Award for the most engaging audio commercial to air during Westwood One's Super Bowl LII broadcast. In this case, Veritonic, an audio creative testing company, found Motel 6's ad made people feel happy, and it also brought about feelings of trustworthiness, particularly from the 35-plus demographic.

In 2017, in response to the Best in Show Radio Mercury Award honor, Lance Miceli, EVP and CMO at G6 Hospitality/Motel 6, said, "These awards embody our continuous efforts to position Motel 6 as a modern icon, with the support of Tom Bodett's fun and refreshing narrative that speaks to our audience and guests."

Here are the six key ingredients The Richards Group uses to bring the Motel 6 radio strategy to life:

  1. The voice of Tom Bodett, who brings humorous commentary to a commoditized category and most importantly provides a sonic identifier for the brand.
  2. Fresh thinking, with a focus on pop culture to maintain relevant messaging while promoting the evolution of the Motel 6 brand.
  3. Writing that is whimsical, folksy, funny, and stays on point.
  4. An iconic and sustaining tagline that reassures consumers "the lights are always on" for them.
  5. Music that is as well known as Bodett's voice and has become an audio logo for the Motel 6 brand.
  6. Radio as a lead medium. Motel 6 is a dashboard brand (i.e., one drivers see along the road); there is no better medium than radio to help build the Motel 6 brand because it delivers the right audience at the right time, every time, driving amazing results.


Tammy Greenberg is the SVP of business development at the Radio Advertising Bureau. You can email her at

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