Hans Brinker Budget Hotel turned the bad into the good – using humor works!

aneta    November 7, 2016

“People don’t buy from clowns.” The famous quote from Claude C. Hopkins may have been true in 1923, but times have certainly changed. Some of the biggest brands in the world use humor to sell their products on social media.

We all love a good laugh and when we’re choosing who to follow on Twitter or Facebook, brands that make us smile are usually at the top of the list. In fact, entertaining content is one of the top five reasons people follow particular brands or individuals online.

Incorporating humor into marketing materials isn’t for everyone and can seem like a risk for your business. Done right, though, a few laughs can bring big benefits to your social media presence, and your bottom line.

The Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam claims to be the worst hotel ever. In fact, an official line from one of their ads claims, “The Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam. It doesn’t get much worse.” Without apology, they have made a successful business out of being awful.

To truly understand how they can do this however, requires understanding of their target audience, their competitive environment, their strategic competitive advantages, and how all of that can be successfully leveraged.

The target market for this hotel  – students and youth in their 20s, single, budget minded, international travelers visiting Amsterdam, attitude of adventure, curiosity and risk tolerant. Advertising slogans warn of no hot water, sparse rooms and filthy conditions. Guests are encouraged to dry off with the shower curtain to save on washing.

The Hans Brinker owns awful. Nobody generally wants to be the worst when it comes to travel and hospitality. But trying for the best is a crowded space. They recognized that their target market just might love their honesty and humorous attitude. This position has allowed them to not only stand out from most hotels, but it also allowed them to stand out against other budget accommodation options.


The best way to ensure powerful word of mouth is to give people something that makes them look smart, funny, insightful, or connected to an inner circle in some way. At the heart of word of mouth is powerful storytelling. The Hans Brinker is a story begging to be told, whether its as a travel tip, a survival story, or simply something that begs to be shared for pure entertainment. To that end, the company made visually sharing their story easy. They have a Youtube channel, where their commercials are posted, and they also encourage customers to post their own awful experiences. Here’s their Youtube channel.

Recognizing that Instagram and Facebook were social channels heavily used by their target, they regularly post to those platforms, and encourage their customers to as well, tagging them #hasbrinker.

Apparently curtains double as blankets at the Hans Brinker, and they do not replace light bulbs regularly and to leave the heat turned down, is simply billed as “being eco-friendly.” The Hans Brinker is something to be endured. Survival offers bragging rights, and that frankly is part of their “blue ocean” strategy.

The Hans Brinker heavily uses Instagram, Facebook and Youtube since their customers frequent those social media platforms. But they also know their customers, armed with mobile devices, will help with the heavy lifting of telling their story and personal experience. If you Google the Hans Brinker, the results and resulting earned media dominate the first 10 pages. Their approach is a model of anchors, outposts, earned and paid media.

The company has even published their own book on customer service – appropriately displayed on the floor to prop up a table leg, rather then with pride on a bookshelf.

The Hans Brinker does traditional paid advertising including print, broadcast, and outdoor. But the primary focus is digital, where they amplify their message through sponsored content directly to their target audience on mobile through Google ad words for search, and sponsored content on Facebook and Instagram.

Disruption cuts through the competitive clutter. It’s a blue ocean strategy. Disruption can happen in the form of: price, product or service, promotion or the way you distribute. Disruption gives you a story to tell. Stories are at the heart of word of mouth. Disruption feeds content for your owned and rented media. Disruption will earn you media. Humor is disruption.

For the worst hotel in the world Hans Brinker is sure quick to reply to facebook messages, I got a message 15 minutes after I send a request with a personal contact to Erik Kessels, owner of the communication agency responsible for the advertising strategy

The latter advertising campaign has been truly a differentiation strategy based on negativity. Travelers came to Hans Brinker for almost 15 years thanks to the hotel’s brand and outrageous advertising. Asked for a comment on the results, Erik Kessels (KesselsKramer communication agency), said paid nights at the hotel have “risen from 60,000 to 145,000 in one year since we took a sledgehammer to the Hans Brinker’s reputation.”
When I was initially approached by the hotel manager, his single demand was not getting complaints anymore. It soon became evident that the only privilege the hotel had was honesty. The ironic advertizing campaign celebrating the hotel’s weakness has given birth to a book called “The Worst Hotel in the World

The upfront, tongue-in-cheek attitude to KesselsKramer’s new corporate identity for the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel that reminds us of its disappointing amenities, is a welcome relief from the companies who constantly claim to enhance our wellbeing if we buy into their services.

For 45 years the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel Amsterdam has offered the same, below par service to its customers and the company has just become an empire of two with the newly opened Hans Brinker Hostel in Lisbon. For the Lisbon branch, visitors can expect the “same irony, same indifferent housekeeping, same bullying staff”, but slightly better weather when staying there. The new corporate identity includes variations of the Hans Brinker logo in gloriously contrasting type to give the false impression of multiple hotels across the world. Other touches include business cards that have an employee of the Amsterdam hotel on one side and another from the Lisbon branch on the other to save paper and a scarf that doubles up as a beach towel depending on which branch you’re staying in.

Hans Brinker Hostel encourages their clients to post reviews, and they definitely do so, even the well known Katie Dawes (a.k.a. The Hostel Girl) couldn’t resist to post.

Because they were actually quite good. Which in fact makes them the worst at being ‘The Worst Hotel in The World’…


Lessons for Others

Not every brand has the personality to pull off cheekiness, but it’s been remarkably successful in promoting the property.

The results speak for themselves, as Angharad Lewis writes
“Apart from courting admiration and controversy in equal measure in the press, the ongoing … campaign has succeeded on a business level for the Hans Brinker, tripling room bookings and making it a stalwart of the budget travel game.”

The global firm TrendWatching has characterized this new consumer appetite for honesty as a penchant for the “flawsome,” describing “winning brands” as those “that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humor and dare we say it, some character and humanity.”

Who doesn’t like laughing?
I’m pretty sure the answer to that is no one. So why not be a funny brand and make your followers happy? With the rise of social media, a new phenomenon has arisen in the world of day to day marketing –humor as a consistent marketing technique! That means not just being funny every now and then in a television commercial, but actually being funny in your day to day interactions with your fans and customers. It’s a pretty cool and pretty effective marketing technique.

Why Use Humor? The way I see it it’s pretty straight forward – social media is a platform meant to be used to create personal connections. Therefore, by using humor you can show your fans that you are human and relatable, so that more people will like you. In addition, humor is attention grabbing! It sets you apart from your competitors and gets people to notice your brand in a crowded space.

Finally, all of these things contribute to more shares. More shares = more exposure. So, even if humor doesn’t lead to direct sales, it is a great way to build awareness and grow loyalty!

Humor works exceptional well for brands on social. Jokes and laughter are a universal form of communication for all cultures, age groups, and demographics. They are responsible for creating a pleasant emotional response in the body and mind. A good sense of humor equals to a good amount of positive feelings and this in return translates into good chances to get more likes and shares. A recent survey by Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange (OTX) suggests that social media users are more likely to share a “funny” than “important” content (49% vs. 43%).

Organization: Hans Brinker Hotel
Industry: Hospitality industry
Name of Organization Contact: Maaike Schutter, marketing manager, Erik Kessels, KesselsKramer -Advertising Agency for Hans Brinker

Authored by: atabor

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