Commentary

Airbnb's Home Videos Overplay The Family Card

I pity mobile-era brands like Airbnb. Or maybe I should say that I pity the people tasked with marketing them.

On one hand, these brands have an inordinate number of hard-core fans. Have you ever been stationed next to an Airbnb zealot on a plane? They share photos of the houses in which they’ve stayed as if they were sharing documentation of out-swimming Katie Ledecky. People who like Airbnb really, really, really like Airbnb, often to the point of mania. In some cases, restraining orders are warranted.

So you’ve got your brand advocates, enthusiasts and ambassadors on the case. Useful! Cost-effective, too! Now, how do you start to begin to think about piecing together a plan to hit everyone else?

With a brand like Oreos, it’s pretty easy. Everybody knows what Oreos are (cookies), how they are administered (via facehole) and the risks associated with them (tummy-wummy aches, pant-splitting/belt-negation). You say, “Hey, this new Oreo is octuple-stuffed, to the point where most consumers will need to unhinge their jaws to accommodate it” or “the people demanded Vegan Tiramisu Oreos and we heard them loud and effin’ clear,” and you call it an afternoon. If somebody demands more information about Oreos beyond this, chances are that particular somebody will choose a different breakfast option.

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Airbnb has a far more daunting challenge on its hands. Does it target newbies thinking about staying in an Airbnb rental or homeowners contemplating opening their doors to renters? Does it bother educating older users? Does it take Millennial interest for granted? Does it acknowledge the room elephants (safety/habitability)? Pricing, policies, schedules, liability… Airbnb is an easy elevator pitch but a tough sell to non-disciples.

I don’t have any constructive solutions here, but I can sure as hell eliminate the way Airbnb approaches the task of marketing itself in a recent pair of “Brought to You By…” clips. In both, parents and kids share the story of their family’s recent Airbnb stay. Stunningly, neither visit involves a cameo appearance by a plumber, cop, zookeeper, seer, martial artist, process server or exorcist. No, really, the participants have a peachy time and interact without incident and don’t raise their voices, save for the occasional mid-cannonball WHEEEEEEE! on the way into the pool.

As a result, the two videos are as interesting as a stranger’s home movies. Worse, they don’t pass the smell test. “Staying in an Airbnb rental makes for a more special family vacation experience” is akin to saying “having a Spanish/English dictionary on hand makes for a more fruitful stay at the La Quinta in Paramus.” In both cases it feels like relevant information has been omitted.

We get to see the homes, which are lovely. We get to see the people staying in those homes, who seem pleasant enough. What we don’t get is anything that begins to address questions a potential user might have about the service. Sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU is an effective evasive maneuver when dealing with toddlers and crossing guards, but it seems self-defeating for a non-household brand with some PR problems to overcome.

The two families in the videos? Both are loving, functional and thoroughly uninteresting. The clan in “Kauai, Hawaii: Brought to You By the Dwyer-Boulden Family” plays up how its Airbnb stay could well present “the last opportunity to have family vacations when kids are kids” (cue choked-back sob). The gang in “Palm Springs: Brought to You By the Bryman Family” is twice as precious - look, artwork and Polaroids for the fridge! - and twice as grating, thanks to the unfortunate decision to arm the younger of the two kids with a camera. Fans of “Blair Witch”-caliber cinematography might disagree.

Airbnb clearly wants to deliver a message here: “Airbnb rentals are your family’s home away from the family home family family family” (as opposed to “Airbnb is Camelot for drifters,” which is the current perception). That said, the next iteration of this series, if there is one, should center around slightly off-center types rather than super-functional families. “We might not be perfect, but our away-from-home experience sure was thanks to Airbnb. Yes, that’s a glue gun in my hand. Why do you ask?” Etc. Personality still counts for something.
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