From the world’s best advertising gurus and photographers to partnerships with celebrities, our correspondent finds out the story behind the launch of Mandarin Oriental’s famous Fan Campaign

Rewind to a decade ago in Hong Kong, when Jill Kluge, Group Director of Brand Communications at Mandarin Oriental, presented her new Group Chief Executive, Edouard Ettedgui, with a pitch for their now iconic ad Campaign. Alongside her were two creative young guns, Michael Moszynski and Alan Jarvie, who at the time were working for the world-famous advertising agency, M&C Saatchi, and now run their own agency, LONDON. The duo’s brief had been to originate something unique, that would make Mandarin Oriental stand out in the luxury segment among other global, high-end retail brands. ‘We knew Mandarin Oriental wanted to do something different to other hotels,’ says Jarvie. ‘So, no pictures of lobbies or smiling doormen. When we heard the names of some of the people who regularly stayed at Mandarin Oriental, it wasn’t a huge creative leap to come up with the idea of using them.’

While the concept of using celebrities wasn’t a new one, it was the way in which Moszynski and Jarvie melded them with Mandarin Oriental’s brand that was so clever. ‘The problem with many ads featuring celebrities is that you tend to remember the celebrity and not the brand,’ continues Jarvie. ‘We wanted to avoid this and so we came up with the idea of linking the headline to the hotel’s logo, and the Fan Campaign was born.’

This idea resonated perfectly with Ettedgui, who has always described Mandarin Oriental as combining ‘21st-century luxury with Oriental charm’ and who passionately believes that all luxury brands are a combination of quality, heritage and innovation. Moszynski and Jarvie’s Campaign delivered on all three counts: the quality is reflected in the world-class photography; the heritage in the background, talent and culture of the celebrities; and the innovation with the creative and clever use of Mandarin Oriental’s Fan logo, and the play on the word ‘Fan’. Kluge was equally delighted. ‘We would never have achieved such a great Campaign without the brilliance of Michael and Alan.’

MO Fan Harry Connick Jr

MO Fan Harry Connick Jr

The next step was for Moszynski, Jarvie and the Mandarin Oriental team to put the Campaign together. Of course, to do so they needed a photographer. ‘We held a brainstorming meeting with Michael and Alan,’ says Kluge, ‘and while debating the merits of some of the world’s leading photographers, it occurred to us that one of the greatest was a regular Fan himself, staying often in a suite in Hong Kong.’ So the late Patrick Lichfield was signed up, and all that was left was to find the faces to front the Campaign, which is where Sir David Tang stepped in. As Kluge says, ‘We decided that we wanted to get the ball rolling with some Asian-based Fans and, as Tang had just launched his Cohiba Cigar Divan in the lobby of our Hong Kong property, he was an obvious person to approach. He agreed and added that he was always meeting Michelle Yeoh at the hotel for afternoon tea, so why don’t we ask her?’

Yeoh and Tang were shot in his Hong Kong apartment. And with Vanessa-Mae then on board, they launched the Fan Campaign in 2000 and were quickly joined by more famous faces: author Frederick Forsyth and actresses Maggie Cheung and Jane Seymour.

In many ways, it has been a ‘Campaign of Firsts’. Not only had they eschewed traditional images of rooms and the use of reservation numbers in the advertising, but it was also the first global print campaign to be shot using digital photography. It was also the first time that Barry Humphries and Dame Edna Everage had been shot together!

MO Fan Hélène Grimaud

MO Fan Hélène Grimaud

Over the years, the Campaign has gone from strength to strength and is celebrated for its style, simplicity and sheer genius. The most important thing has been ‘finding people who are genuine Fans of Mandarin Oriental,’ says Moszynski. ‘We have a small budget and rather than pay people, we donate money to their individual choice of charity. It is a testament to the brand that so many fantastic people want to go ahead and do it. They honestly love the hotels.’

On average, it takes around six months to put an individual Campaign together, from approaching a prospective Fan to organising the shoot and bringing the final image to print. Interestingly, Fans are rarely photographed at the hotels. ‘Sometimes we shoot the Fans at home,’ says Jarvie, who masterminds the creative aspects. ‘For instance, we shot Helen Mirren at her house in the South of France and the fashion designer Kenzo at his apartment in Paris. Sometimes we use somewhere they know and like. We shot Sigourney Weaver at the New York Public Library and Darcey Bussell at the Royal Opera House.’

Along the way, other Fans have included actor Liam Neeson and supermodels Elle Macpherson and Jerry Hall, who was, ‘funnily enough, one of the people we presented in our original pitch,’ laughs Moszynski. ‘We were shooting her in America when halfway through, Mick Jagger turned up in a dune buggy!’ It’s this kind of ‘family feel’ that has enabled the team to work so closely together.

‘A lot of the Fans are also involved in the Group outside of the advertising,’ says Kluge. ‘Vivienne Tam has designed the uniforms for our spa colleagues in New York and Hong Kong; and Vanessa-Mae performed an astonishing gig at the opening of Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas. When we reopened Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, in 2006, Dame Edna Everage compered and Bryan Ferry sang. As Lichfield personally loved Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, we have created a suite in his memory with wonderful images that he took in the city. The suite was designed by Nicky Haslam, who was a great friend of his.’

Rather than pay people, we donate money to their choice of charity

So, what remains for the future? ‘Most hotels run new campaigns every two to three years,’ says Kluge. ‘But we feel confident that this idea has longevity because of its simplicity and brilliance.’

Behind the scenes on Patrick Lichfield's Fan Campaign shoot with Bryan Ferry

Behind the scenes on Patrick Lichfield's Fan Campaign shoot with Bryan Ferry

There have, however, been some changes. Following Lichfield’s untimely death in 2006, Mary McCartney is now responsible for all the Campaign’s iconic photography. With her appointment, Kluge adds, ‘We invited her to stay and experience as many hotels as she could before beginning to work with the Group, in order that she may truly understand our culture. We are excited to be working with her and love her imagery.’ And, of course, there are more and more Fans. McCartney has recently shot the latest Fan, Harry Connick Jr, at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya in China, and Kluge and her team are always on the lookout for new stars. ‘As time goes by and additional hotels are added to the Group, more and more diverse and interesting people are becoming Fans of Mandarin Oriental,’ says Kluge. ‘What this means for us is that there is an ever-growing list of fantastic people we would like to feature in the Campaign.’ Here’s to another successful decade.

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