Airbnb’s global brand campaign fails on fresh consistency

I read with interest that Airbnb was launching a new global brand campaign. A holiday is top on my lockdown-liberation wish-list, as I’m sure it is for lots of people. I was hoping for an inspiring, exciting, uplifting campaign that built on their brilliant Live There campaign that I posted on here. We use the Live There as a great example of global brand positioning on our Mastering Brand Growth program. Oh dear. What a bloody letdown! Most importantly, the campaigns fails to build on the Live Here campaign. More subjectively, it left me underwhelmed and not wanting to search straight away for an Airbnb booking.

The new global brand campaign is called Made Possible by Hosts. According to the company, “the aim is to educate people on the magical experiences that hosts bring to guests.” It uses that Covid-era style of a real photo montage, showing Airbnb guests from around the world (see example below). In this post I raise some questions about the approach Airbnb has taken and what we can learn about global brand building.

1. The power of fresh consistency

Creating ‘distinctive memory structure’ is key to get your global brand top of mind when people make purchase decisions, such as who to book a post-lockdown holiday with. And to build this memory structure, you need to balance two things. First, you need CONSISTENCY in terms of brand properties, such as colours, slogans, music and visual devices. Second, you need FRESHNESS to keep your brand up-to-date and tap into trends. The best example is, of course, brand Bond that we’ve posted on many times, including here.

Importantly, building memory structure takes TIME: you need two to three years of consistency to start building it.

2. Airbnb fail on fresh consistency

Marketers find it hard to get the right balance of freshness and consistency. They love change and new stuff and so over-emphasise freshness. The ‘new broom’ is very much a feature of brand teams, with marketing directors tending to change every 18-24 months. And new marketing directors often try to make their mark by changing agencies and changing campaigns.

Airbnb look like they have failed the fresh consistency test. The new campaign seems to have thrown out the brand baby with the bathwater. See below for a series of distinctive brand properties which have been ditched.

The decision to not refresh the Live There campaign is all the more suprising given that it was an effective global brand campaign. Below are some global brand equity results from an article by former Airnbn CMO Jonathan Mildenhall (1).

Most brand property changes like this one are based on judgement, not data, as I posted on here. We recommend using Iconic Asset Tracking (IcAT) to help you ‘measure and treasure’ your brand assets. I’d love to know if this sort of testing was done on the Live Here slogan before deciding to ditch it.

3. Loss of relevance?

The Live There campaign built on three sources of brand truth. “Homes, ’hoods, and hosts are the core aspects of the Airbnb experience – these are the things that enable guests to travel like they live there,” explained Jonathan Mildenhall (1). It was this combination of 3 Hs that made the brand relevant and distinctive.

In contrast, the new campaign slogan focuses on one H, the hosts. The aim is to “attract more hosts back to its platform, many of whom were left disillusioned by the company’s handling of refunds in the early stages of the pandemic,” according to press reports (2).

This raises a few questions:

  1. Inconsistency: the slogan Made Possible by Hosts heroes the hosts. But watch the film and you don’t see the hosts at all, apart from a brief shot of hand written signs welcoming the guests. Indeed, hosts had a bigger role in the Live There campaign.
  2. Relevance for guests: I question the relevance of focusing on the hosts, as opposed to bringing to life the distinctive guest experience. Again, Live There did a better job of dramatising this experience of living somewhere. The new campaign looks a like a photo scrapbook that could have been taken during any home rental from any company.
  3. Relevance for hosts: I also question whether this ad campaign is the best way to attract hosts back to Airbnb. A package of more tangible service features for hosts is needed to really drive hosts back to Airbnb. For example, what about making a contribution to online marketing for hosts, or offering a reduced price for cancelation insurance? And if comms is to play a role, then dramatise the role hosts play in making an Airbnb stay special. Like, you guessed it, the Live Here campaign.

4. Missed opportunity to uplift and inspire

This point is more subjective and relates to the tone of the new campaign. The style, look and music all feel rater dreary and downbeat to me? It looks rather like a lockdown photo diary of people stuck in their country cottage! I think Airbnb have missed a trick by not coming out with something a bit more upbeat and energising.

I am sure shooting commercials is hard to do with lockdown restrictions continuing. But why not dust down, edit and re-air the brilliant Live There campaign? A fresh twist could be added. “Now you’re free to travel again, don’t just go there. Live there,” for example. System 1 research show that old ads have proved to be highly effective during the Covid crisis, as I posted on here.

5. Remember and refresh: KULA

KULA is a practical tool we use on brandgym projects: Keep, Update, Lose, Add. We use it to help teams clearly define a brand revitalisation brief based on a thorough and ideally data-based assessment of brand health and brand properties.

I wonder if this sort of analysis was done on Airbnb before they tossed the Live There idea in the trash can?

In conclusion, building a strong global brand needs a delicate balance of freshness and consistency. Airbnb have decided to break with this approach, ditching one effective global campaign and creating a new one. Check back here in 12-18 months to see how effective this change has been. Maybe I’ll be writing about another new campaign, given that a new CMO is likely to in place by then!

You can watch the Live Here campaign here.