15 May 2023

Brand spotlight: Airbnb

Expert comment
The latest in our series of deep-dives into brands successfully using audio looks at the phenomenally successful vacation rental platform.

Few businesses can claim to have disrupted their industry quite so successfully as Airbnb.

Since launching in 2008, it has revolutionized both tourism by providing a major challenge to traditional hotels and guesthouses, while giving individuals the power the earn money through short-term private property rental.

We’ve taken a look at some of Airbnb’s recent ad campaigns to illustrate how their clever use of sound and audio is helping them reach a huge audience, save money, and become a truly iconic brand.

Driving positive sentiment

We begin with its ‘Made Possible by Hosts’ campaign, which launched in the wake of lockdown and sought to reinvigorate the travel industry.

Airbnb is already a well-known brand, and is often an early port-of-call for travellers seeking accommodation. Its campaigns don’t need to be about driving website traffic right now; instead, they are often about fostering positive feeling about the brand, so it’s top-of-mind when the customer has a need.

This campaign celebrates the experiences its renters facilitate, and emphasizes the difference between renting one of its homes and a hotel room.

Here’s Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky sharing an example from the campaign:

Created by Airbnb’s in-house team, this campaign’s creative is simple and distinct: an animated album of still ‘vacation photos’, set on a plain background and accompanied by a music track — all working together to infer a story.

Having no script/voiceover, these ads can be used worldwide with minimal localization required, meaning they can be used time and again; and they are relatively cheap to create, using photography that any of us can capture, without the need for an expensive film crew. Not only that but the campaign can work across analog platforms like billboards, too (albeit using a single photo).

All of this means Airbnb could create lots of different versions of the ad quickly and affordably, so there’s little chance of them becoming repetitive and irritating; while consistency is key, consistency and repetition are not the same thing.

Baecation

Perhaps the best example of the template is ‘Baecation’, which struck a chord with younger viewers and inspired many to recreate it on TikTok with their own snaps.

It’s enormously effective, largely (we believe) because of the outstanding choice of soundtrack. The use of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s ’03 Bonnie & Clyde creates a dichotomy between the on-screen visuals and the track’s lyrics and style. It does this while celebrating older consumers — something that’s all too rare — and subtly implying that pets are welcome in some properties, too.

The latest Airbnb campaign — Categories — repeats the trick. This campaign showcases how this unusual feature helps travellers find the most unique and unusual properties, and that Airbnb caters to more than just couples visiting popular city-break destinations.

It’s unusual for a brand to retain the same creative idea across multiple campaigns like this, and signifies Airbnb creating their own ‘signature style’, akin to the iconic Volkswagen print commercials created by DDB in the 1960s.

Flexing the convention

With the convention established, further versions can begin to play with expectations, keeping the campaign fresh. Some versions play with intertextuality to summarize the trip in song:

These versions rely on the audience’s existing cultural knowledge to ‘connect the dots’; the first ad features a Coolio song that shares its name with the category: Amazing Pools. The second, as you’ve probably already worked out, borrows the theme song from the classic stone-age cartoon family The Flintstones.

Once a convention becomes highly established, you can move further away from it:

This edition swaps a music track for an answerphone message; it’s an arresting and unexpected departure, and will attract screen-ward glances from those who’ve become distracted by phones or other activities during the commercial break.

Will future versions go completely wordless? We can imagine a version featuring nothing more than the sound of a crackling fireplace to promote the Cabins category, or crashing waves to promote the Beachfront category — all while hinting at the calm and solitude some people crave from their vacation.

Use color to infer subtle differences

Have you noticed yet how the two campaigns use different background colors? We might be reading too much into it, but we think this may be deliberate.

Color is often used to differentiate product lines; here, it’s doing a similar job. Nothing about Airbnb’s brand presentation is accidental, and it’s possible that they’ll carry this distinction on in future campaigns using other colors from their brand palette.

This would theoretically enable Airbnb to have several campaigns running simultaneously, communicating different messages to different audiences: perhaps one promoting the work it’s doing to mitigate its supposed role in some cities’ housing crisis, and another introducing its little-known Airbnb.org nonprofit.

Opportunities for growth

We’ve explored how Airbnb is using audio smartly in its broadcast ads, but we believe there’s still scope to grow its use of audio.

Whether it’s a distinctive sonic logo to tie together every iteration of its campaigns, or a wanderlust-inspiring official podcast (we like the idea of a destination-per-episode series offering money-can’t-buy advice from local ambassadors), there are loads of ways we could support Airbnb through audio.

In fact, we’re full of great ideas like this for every business. To learn how we could support your business, speak to an expert today for a no-obligation demo.

Read about other brands making outstanding use of audio:

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