Airbnb CMO on campaigns, new demographics, trust and milliennial cool

Marketing spoke with Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall about the brand’s new segmented and destination marketing campaigns, and how it will maintain millennial cool while adding families to its list of target demographics.

Airbnb has launched its latest campaign, which encourages travellers not to ‘go to’ their desired location, but to live there, like a local. The campaign also sees the addition of young families and LGBT couples to the company’s segmented target demographics. The 30 second spots – ‘LA,’ ‘Tokyo,’ and ‘Paris,’ are also the first time Airbnb has utilised destination marketing. Another new technique to be employed for the campaign, and tested for the first time in the Australian market, is addressable TV marketing.

Continuing to promote Airbnb accommodation as giving travellers the opportunity to live like a local was an important factor for Mildenhall, who believes that the traditional way of travelling, with its queuing for tourist attractions and eating in packed-out restaurants, is “quite sick, and is not creating a sense of personal experience and personal transformation that you can get when you travel more like a local.”

The campaign’s launch in Australia is a brilliant opportunity, for, as Mildenhall recognises, Australians are avid travellers, and actually form Airbnb’s most successful market in terms of brand awareness and consumer penetration – based on percentage of population who’ve heard of Airbnb and have used Airbnb.


Marketing: How will the segmented marketing and destination marketing differ from previous campaigns?

jonathan mildenhall headshot 180 Jonathan Mildenhall: In the spots, you’ll see that Airbnb, for the first time, is actually adding families, and family content, to its main interest marketing.

What was challenging about that, was the question ‘can we do family spots, that are as cool as the millennial spots?’ Because one thing that we can’t lose is the millennial cool. You’ll be the judge of whether or not we’ve been successful at that.

We’ve still got millennial content where you only see millennials, but the other segment that we’re going after is the LGBT community. So, in the LA spot, you’ll see that there’s a same sex family, and a heterosexual family. At AirBnB, we really do believe in diversity and inclusion, and we want the LGBT community to see themselves being portrayed in the advertising.

That’s how we’re segmenting; we’re going families, LGBT and milliennials, in this body of work.

This is the first time that Airbnb has done destination marketing. Particularly in Australia, we see trips to Tokyo being such a key driver of our business. Lots of Australians travel to and from Tokyo, and stay in Airbnb’s.
So, we’re using Tokyo, Paris and LA, as great destination spots to inspire Australians to travel to those particular cities.

Here’s the 65 second ‘Don’t Go There. Live There’ master spot

The third piece we’ve never done before is testing addressable TV. We’ve now got a body of content that we can use. So, Australia is the first market that we’re working with Fox network on addressable TV.

This basically means we’ll be able to read the profile of a household, and then serve up specific content out of this body of content, so that it best matches with the consumer profile, or the consumer needs, in a particular house.

Fox and networks have got quite advanced technology on this. I’ve been involved in marketing now for nearly a quarter of a century, and it’s the first time that I’ve actually tested addressable TV, so from a personal perspective, and from a partnership perspective with Fox, and from a company perspective for AirBnB, to really test addressable, and what we can learn from addressable in Australia is something that I’m very excited about.


M: How might this work in practice?

JM: It’s as sophisticated as ‘we know that this is an LGBT household, it watches LGBT programming,’ and our ability to serve up content that is specific to that.

It can also connect your online behaviour with your TV behaviour, so, we could, in the future, be able to tell if you actually travel back and forth to Tokyo quite often, but you’ve never done it with Airbnb, so therefore, rather than serve up the LA or Paris spot to you, I’ll serve the Tokyo spot. Being able to bespoke the content to the profile of the household, so that the content is more relevant, and in so doing, hoping the ROI of that content will be much richer.


M: How long until you’re able to measure the success of something like that?

JM: We’ll be able to test brand sentiment very quickly after serving up bespoke content to different households in Australia. I’m going to be able to test that on a weekly basis, because, we’re doing our brand tracking on a weekly basis in Australia. But in actual impact to business, I’ll need to go through a whole travel season cycle, really, to be able to extrapolate the incremental gains that we’ve made through addressable, as opposed to just regular gains for the overall campaign.


M: One of the big issues for companies with similar models to that of Airbnb is building trust with consumers. Now you’ve started to aim campaigns at new demographics, will the building of trust make its way into your marketing push? How hard is it to build and maintain trust?

JM: Trust is the number one consideration for all travel brands. Airlines, hotels, etc. Trust, quality and safety, they’re the number one, two and three considerations of all travel brands.

Now, like most brands, we don’t market the trust and safety credentials. I always say, if I tell you that I’m a funny guy: ‘hey! I’m Jonathan, I’m really, really funny!’ Then you’ll think, ‘well you’re not really funny.’

But if I just make you laugh in conversation, you might turn around and say ‘hey, Jonathan, you’re a funny guy.’

That’s the same with brands. I’m very, very dubious about brands that say ‘you can trust us!’ Because I believe that the product itself should do that, should evidence that. Not the way you market the brand.’

Related: Don Peppers on ‘extreme trust,’ between brands and consumers, and why today, the customer is the biggest disruptor of all »

We do so much to build a sense of trust, and safety on the platform, through verified ID, through simultaneous review systems, we have an incredibly sophisticated machine technology that reads all sorts of different behaviours on the platform. Trust and safety we design into the actual technology and product itself. The most valuable aspect of the platform itself is the reviews, and, we encourage everybody to pay a lot of attention to the reviews, as hosts and as guests.


M: When developing this campaign, and those for the future, are there any overarching plans you adhere to?

JM: We make sure the marketing is tied to the product, and the product is evolving all the time. In November we’ll be announcing a huge product evolution and even more services. You’ll start to see that being reflected in the marketing that we put out. I’m tied to the product, and what the product delivers, the marketing has to represent. So, the marketing will continue to be as innovative as the product it serves.


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Ben Ice
BY Ben Ice ON 17 May 2016