30 Years Later, Motel 6 and Tom Bodett Are Still Cranking Out the World’s Best Radio Ads

BBDO’s Robin Fitzgerald picks her 3 favorite ads

Among long-running advertising campaigns, few are as charming as Motel 6’s radio work featuring Tom Bodett as the folksy voice who promises that the motel will “leave the light on for ya.”

The campaign—which BBDO’s Robin Fitzgerald picks as one of her three favorites in our new “Best Ads Ever” video, above—has been running for a staggering 31 years. It was way back in 1986 that David Fowler, a creative director at The Richards Group in Dallas, heard Bodett talking on NPR’s All Things Considered (he had a gig as a humorist on the show, while making a living building houses in Alaska) and signed him up for the Motel 6 campaign.

The rest is history. “I didn’t expect to be doing it 17 months later,” Bodett told Adweek in 2003, when the campaign was 17 years old. “I think everyone will know when it’s over, but it never seems to be over.”

It still isn’t. And in fact, the latest execution shows how far it’s come and yet how little it’s changed—in it, Bodett riffs about millennials, yet the structure remains basically the same as it’s ever been.

“I think [radio is] one of the hardest things to do,” Fitzgerald, chief creative officer of BBDO Atlanta, told Adweek when we caught up with her at One Show judging in Bermuda. “You just have you and a script, and it’s all out there. I really appreciate when radio is done well.”

Chris Smith now runs the account creatively at Richards. Smith was in 8th grade in 1986. He told Adweek in 2015 that the campaign was one of the reasons he got into advertising in the first place—and even why he was drawn to Richards.

“My creative philosophy on that account is simple: Don’t screw it up,” he said. “Before I was charged with running it, only a handful of writers had ever touched it. It was this precious, delicate thing. I felt all this pressure to handle most of the writing myself. But I quickly wised up and opened it up to a more diverse group of writers, including women, juniors, other group heads, even—gasp!—an art director.”

He added: “It’s gratifying to see it all keep working.”

Check out the video above for more from Fitzgerald, including her other favorite ads as well as the work she’s proud of that’s come out of BBDO Atlanta lately.

See her other two “Best Ads” picks in full below. And for more “Best Ads Ever” videos, click here.