You may associate Holiday Inn Express with affordable family vacations and all-you-can-eat cinnamon rolls, but lately the hotel chain has been trying to regain relevance with younger travelers. The brand, owned by hotel heavyweight Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) has already brought back a humorous ad campaign called “Stay Smart.” Originally aired in the late 1990s, the commercials featured normal people accomplishing abnormal feats (a new iteration features a layperson who solves a difficult equation that has stumped mathematicians). Regardless of the circumstances, when asked whether or not they are professionals, the subjects in the commercials always answer “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express Hotel last night” (Cue laugh track.) As part of the rebooted campaign, Holiday Inn Express has also launched a site, StaySmart.com, which the company describes as “an online hub where consumers are invited to engage with the brand by showcasing their smarts in a light-hearted and amusing way through videos, images and tweets.” It’s also hired on The Daily Show “correspondent” and comedian Jason Jones, who will create videos for the site. Fortune caught up with Jones to find out what he’ll be contributing to the new website, how brands can best create content that’s both funny and viral (it doesn’t always work) and whether or not he’s ever stayed in a Holiday Inn Express.
Fortune: What exactly is your involvement with the new site?
Jason Jones: We partnered to launch this platform StaySmart.com. It allows the guest of Holiday Inn Express to engage with the brand with videos and share thoughts and feelings and concerns about the brand. I thought that was cool because back in the day if you had a problem with a company the only thing you could do is write a letter and most of the time they wouldn’t answer it. This is an opportunity [for people] to share their thoughts. I’ll be shooting about 15 short videos on Vine and Instagram.
How do you make the hotel industry funny?
I think they started it with the original “Stay Smart” campaign. It’s a funny commercial. I remember it as a kid, or a teenager. As far as hotel brands go it’s always these decadent, luxury commercials and there’s something more real about being funny.
What does trying to be funny say about the demographic they’re trying to reach?
Humor transcends. It’s for the smart traveler. There’s all-you-can-eat ice. I mean, come on, how smart is that? Just try to get that at the Hilton.
What works and what doesn’t work for brands that are trying to create their own viral content?
Too much content is the problem. We’ve got a simple message, stay smart. When you start jamming in corporate messaging too much, that doesn’t work. We’re encouraging people to get on the phone and complain but also post amusing tips and advice in a humorous way. It will all be streamed to StaySmart.com. Beyond that it’s the simplicity that they are offering — they give you everything you need and nothing that you don’t. We’ll be shooting 12 videos — well, we’ll shoot 15 but only air 12. That’s how we work in the biz.
So what do you do with the other 3 videos?
Those are for my private consumption.
Have you ever stayed in a Holiday Inn Express?
Yes! At Herald Square. When you’re raising three kids in Manhattan you don’t have too many places to go. They have all-you-can-eat cinnamon rolls and a comfortable bed. What more do you need?