Airstream Inc., the 80-year-old recreational vehicle company known for its iconic -- and patented -- silver-bullet designs has been stealthily turning up the flame on efforts to reach younger, creative affluents with partnerships, celebrity efforts and media programs.
The company, whose products are about three times the cost of the average RV and whose sales represent about 1% of the total market, is nonetheless the most easily identified brand in the segment.
This month, the Jackson Center, Ohio-based company is partnering with Bloomingdale's for its fall "Hot" campaign wherein an Airstream trailer will appear on the cover of the home catalogue, and across Bloomingdale's marketing platforms in stores nationwide.
In the travel-themed campaign, Airstream vehicles will be in the Men's, Women's, and Home catalogues, and on store signage. Bloomingdale's is also hosting lifestyle events where Airstream dealers will show their best-selling travel trailers and touring coaches.
Bloomingdale's is also conducting a consumer sweepstakes with a grand prize being a 2010 16' Sport -- Airstream's premium compact travel trailer.
Airstream's VP of marketing, Sue Dooley, says there are three groups of buyers: retirees -- people with time and money to travel; outdoor enthusiasts, the largest buyer segment; and the newest buyer demographic, younger creative types who are attracted to the Airstream design elements.
"It is the fastest-growing segment," she says. "We are attracting people who appreciate the design, and are typically using it for alternative, often stationary, purposes: guest house, home office or studio."
Ironically, much of the press on Airstream has been not in RV magazines but design and fashion books. Antenna Magazine did a feature on Airstream this fall. This summer, Sunset, a West Coast lifestyle book, ran a spread on Airstream and put one of the trailers on its cover. Modernism also ran a piece.
There is also a long queue of celebrities who own the silver live-in lozenges. "Someone's agent will call and occasionally we create a deal for them, but we don't undermine our dealers," says Dooley. The list is long: Johnny Depp reportedly has one as a pool house; Steve Carrell bought one he wanted on the set of "The Office" as an ... office. Dooley says Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock have them. "Guitar Aficionado" reported on Lenny Kravitz's Airstream slash recording studio on a private beach in the Caribbean. Sean Penn -- as is probably well known -- lived in one up in the hills above L.A. for a while.
The company also has a trailer on loan to Academy-award winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, who wrote the "United States of Tara" series, and has been using it as a setting for a celebrity interview show called "Red Band Trailer."
"As a marketing person, I know these people are influential; they are trend setters so we need to be top of mind with those folks," she says. But she concedes it is something of a delicate balance to promote Airstream as an alternative-lifestyle vehicle without alienating her core outdoors and travel buyers. She says Bloomingdale's actually approached Airstream.
"They loved Airstream, and they wanted to put it on the cover of their catalogues. And we do a ton of PR; since our design is patented and nobody can replicate it, we have huge demand in the PR world among people who want to use the vehicles in magazines and fashion spreads. There's a ton of editorial coverage, and we have lots of requests in film and TV."
And a roster of boutique hotels has grabbed the silver bullets for promotional activity and as outré hotel rooms, accessories for bars, rooftop lounges and the like. In Cape Town, South Africa, the Grand Daddy hotel has a "penthouse trailer park" on the roof, and sibling Old Mac Daddy's, a "luxury trailer park" uses them for guests.
In the States, Ace Hotels is doing a tour in an Airstream to promote its properties. The tour, visiting Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Calif., ended in the last city with at an annual celebration of modernism around mid-century design, per Dooley. "There was a special installment of vintage Airstreams," she says. "People are attracted to them. We did an event with Sunset in Palo Alto this spring. People waited for 30 minutes outside in sweltering heat to sit inside an Airstream."
Dooley says the company sparked a rediscovery of the brand among a wider, design-centric audience three or four years ago, when the company partnered with Design Within Reach. "Around that time, we also worked with [industrial designer] Christopher Deam, who helped us create the International series of Airstream trailers. It had almost a Soho loft interior with dark cabinetry and accent pieces, great fabrics, a very cool statement for us."