Airbnb: building on a human truth

The new communication campaign for Airbnb grabbed the attention of Mrs Taylor and myself when we saw it on TV this week. It's a really interesting example of a digital business making use of good old fashioned TV advertising to drive further growth of their brand and business. It follows an earlier attempt at advertising that I thought was frankly a load of brand bollocks. Below I suggest why I think the latest work by Airbnb will be more effective.

  1. AirBnB’s first campaign – brand bollocks?

Airbnb’s first campaign celebrated the human kindness of #Mankind. In their words:

Airbnb believes that people can and should feel like they belong anywhere in the world. That is possible because of the human kindness in our community- hosts who were once strangers welcome us no matter how far we are from home. Join the conversation at  and let’s experience and celebrate these moments of kindness together

This fell into the trap of “laddering” up so high away from the product up into the emotional ether that the brand disappeared up its own behind; all emotional sizzle and no product sausage, with little of no link to the brand. We see a baby taking steps to look out at the world beyond the front door. Huh? And the idea that I will "sleep in their (the hosts') beds to see their dreams" is just a bit creepy.

I also question the insight on which it was based: do Airbnb hosts really "strangers who welcome us" because of their human kindness? I suggest the idea of making money by renting out thru home may have more to do with it.


  1. Building on a human truth

Looking at the new campaign makes me think that Airbnb have been busy doing consumer insight work. They have built the campaign on an insight about how we don’t just want to stay in a city we visit, we want to live in it. They have then matched this with a brand truth: staying at Airbnb host’s apartment or house gives us the freedom and space to “live like a local”. I wonder if they perhaps followed the approach we use on projects to do “immersive insight”. This involves spending time hanging out with customers as they use the brand. This way you get findings in “real-time” based not just in what people say, but also what they do and how this makes them feel. This tends to lead to deeper and more inspiring insights than relying on focus groups where people are trying to remember how they felt whilst using the product.


  1. Brand-led business

Airbnb have built on the insight described above to create the brand idea “Don't go there. Live there". This idea is used in the communication. Ideally, the brand will now look to use the idea to inspire and guide the customer experience and other touchpoint, an approach we call “brand-led business”. For example, you could have Airbnb guides in a book you get when you arrive, or even better, and Airbnb app with local info.

In conclusion, whilst many things have changed in today’s digital age, having a deep consumer insight is still the key for building a successful brand.