Why Airbnb’s Digital Campaigns Are Such A Success

The rentals company knows the power of good timing


Creating digital marketing campaigns that capture the imagination of not only customers but the wider public is the holy grail for brands. All too often, publicity stunts are either unimaginative or far too left-field. Either they don’t offer enough excitement and are forgettable, or they stray so far from the brand’s core product that the association between brand and stunt isn’t properly built. This is why the best digital campaigns exploit what makes the brand special, its key strength.

At the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit in London, Holly Clarke, EMEA Marketing Manager at Airbnb revealed that its key strength is the notion that ‘anything is bookable.’ The experiences it provides its customers include nights in castles, in train carriages, on remote islands, and in the centre of cities. This key strength then informed its approach to digital marketing campaigns. Often, companies will perform a stunt for media attention, to raise the profile of the brand. What Airbnb realized is that its own stunts could be directly related to its product - offering nights in ever more whacky places for effect.

The ‘Night At’ campaigns were born when IKEA contacted Airbnb to offer up the opportunity for some of its users to stay in one of its stores overnight. The stunt caught Airbnb’s attention, going hand in hand with the notion that ‘anything is bookable’, and the collaboration proved successful for both parties. Not only are both big names, not necessarily with a very high crossover, but they both had to give very little and Clarke explains how its marketing departments across the world began coming up with ideas to proliferate the campaign.

‘Be flexible. Have a flexible concept that can stretch to any part of the world,’ Clarke said. ‘And also make sure this stretches to different passions - so, we had something that could work for a celebration of a new law at the same time as ski season, at the same time as jumping on the back of a current trend. We had this flexible construct… being able to say that its part of this campaign series was really helpful for us to get a speedy sign off.’ Having a campaign so universal and flexible gives the company the opportunity to be agile, to create new elements of the campaign under one already approved banner.

This nimble position allowed Airbnb to capitalize on social trends to great effect. When a Waterstones customer tweeted the company to tell them he’d been locked in a central London store for two hours, it immediately went viral. The very next day, Airbnb tweeted Waterstones to suggest they become a host, to which the book store replied positively. Within 24 hours, Airbnb had a competition set up to win an overnight stay in the very store in which the unfortunate Twitter user found himself.

This willingness to jump on a social trend, seeing an opportunity to offer the only service it can, is what makes Airbnb so great at digital campaigns. ‘We managed to get the listing up in 24 hours so that it was capitalizing on the already waning trend of the guy gets locked in book store… If we’d have done this at another time of year, this would not have been interesting. It was the fact that this was on the back of an already trending topic.’ Because it was trending, other brands jumped on board to offer their services - breakfast, slippers, you name it - which gave the campaign a reach far beyond that of Airbnb’s own social following.

Then, once Airbnb had the campaign, it spread it. ‘PR were poised with every angle,’ Clarke said. ‘Social were poised to promote with every angle. Paid social with niche target audiences and custom audiences worked very well for us.’ Sharing a campaign made up of many different, very unique iterations - not everyone will find a night in a catacomb more appealing than one in a floating house - means that the campaign can target groups without losing its message or straying too far from its inception.

At Airbnb, the marketing areas of social and experiential have been grouped together in what Clarke calls ‘one big happy family’. ‘This means for me as social marketing manager,’ she goes on, ‘that I’m really focused on how to make real moments that people care about so they talk about it on social media.’ Connecting real world campaigns with social is something brands have struggled with for since digital integration and social media became priorities. The floating house, a physical stunt on the river thames, brought in 200 million social impressions, numbers other companies could only dream of.

Crucially, though, Airbnb’s construct helped drive online sign ups. To be eligible for any competition, a user had to be signed up to the site, which requires the user to go as far as providing ID among other things. Despite a sign up being quite a big thing for Airbnb, one competition alone - the wildly successful floating house - drew in 10,000 new users. Given that the vast majority of Airbnb customers are repeat users, user acquisition is a priority it was able to further with the competitions.

Of course, not every company has either the reach or the product to offer this type of campaign to its customers. The message of flexibility and agility is something brands should take on board, though. Be it jumping on social trends where appropriate, developing a campaign that can mould itself to different parts of the world or different consumer groups, or collaborating with other brands when they gain traction, every digital marketing department can learn from Airbnb’s example. 

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What Makes Airbnb's Night At Campaigns So Successful