Welcome to Will It Stick? podcast, where hosts Melissa and Alexis cover creative advertising campaigns, PR stunts, and marketing activations that brands of all shapes and sizes pull, and dive into the research and data to understand if it worked and of course … Will It Stick?
Would you ever go on a vacation and stay inside of giant potato? Specifically, a private, 6-ton Idaho potato? Well you can, should you so desire. This potato “hotel” is surrounded by 400 acres of farm land, so you’ll really feel like you’re living the authentic Idaho potato experience. The inside of the rental is temperature-controlled and even comes with a fireplace. There’s also a queen bed, a mini-fridge, power outlets and a record player.
And so no, it’s not a real actual potato, but a replica of the giant veggie. It has a bathroom, a soaking tub that you can lay in while star gazing. The giant potato can only fit 2 people, but really – how romantic? And really, there is nothing I love more than a giant baked potato slathered in butter so why not stay in one? Well thanks to Airbnb, you can… and for just $200 bucks a night. SIGN ME UP. And you can stay in so many other crazy places too – the potato is just the tip of the iceberg. And Lex, the listing for this potato hotel has generated hundreds upon hundreds of media placements all touting the unique properties of the spud and of course, talking all about Airbnb.
Today, I wanted to tell you more about how Airbnb relies on PR stunts and creative marketing activations as its primary form of marketing. It’s rare that we see brands do this – often, they might pull a stunt as a one off, but Airbnb has them ongoing, ALL THE DAMN TIME. Some get more traction than others, but smartly, they are constnatly innovating and getting creative, and even smarter – they leverage other big brands as partnerships and position these stunts in a way that get coverage for Airbnb AND the partner brand. These partnerships are cosntatnly elevating the Airbnb’s brand equity and exposing the brand to new audiences.
And besides being a super effective way to generate millions upon millions of dollars of press coverage, this strategy also is very inexpensive when you really think about it. So lets get into it.
Airbnb was born in 2007 when two Hosts welcomed three guests to their San Francisco home, and has since grown to 4 million Hosts who have welcomed more than 1 billion guest arrivals in almost every country across the globe. Every day, Hosts offer unique stays and one-of-a-kind activities that make it possible for guests to experience the world in a more authentic, connected way.
After moving to San Francisco in October 2007, roommates and former schoolmates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the idea of putting an air mattress in their living room and turning it into a bed and breakfast of sorts. In February 2008, Nathan Blecharczyk, Chesky’s former roommate, joined as the Chief Technology Officer and the third co-founder of the new venture, which they named AirBed & Breakfast. They put together a website that offered short-term living quarters and breakfast for those who were unable to book a hotel in the saturated market. The site Airbedandbreakfast.com officially launched on August 11, 2008. Airbnb has roughly 5.6 million active listings in 220 countries, and 60% of its users are millennials.
But now, let’s get back to the potato, and that’s where we’ll start with Airbnb’s stunts.
Right now, Airbnb has a campaign going on called the $10 Million OMG Fund. Have you heard of this one Lex? Well by the time this podcast actually comes out, applications will just be closing. But currently, Airbnb is on the hunt for the world’s craziest spaces — and will help foot the bill to build them. Whether it’s the next boot, UFO house, or giant potato like we talked about, the $10,000,000 OMG! Fund is seeking ideas from existing and aspiring designers, architects, DIYers, and makers from around the globe. The fund’s $10 million will help finance 100 of the craziest ideas, giving 100 people an opportunity to turn them into actual Airbnb OMG! Category listings, which are Airbnb’s collection of the most unique homes.
Now anyone with a super wacky idea can submit an application at airbnb.com/omgfund. One hundred people with the 100 craziest ideas will receive US$100,000 each to make their creations possible (which really, that doesn’t seem like enough money but maybe???) and, ultimately, bookable. Ideas will be judged by an expert panel for their originality, feasibility, the experience the space will provide guests, and sustainability.
The reason Airbnb launched this? They say it was created as a part of a growing trend of flexible living that has emerged in the past two years, where guests are now craving more creative, wacky and unexpected spaces that become the destination themselves. But really, this is a freaking smart way to launch what they have named Airbnb Categories… a new way to search for weird rentals. Airbnb Categories launched just this past May and features more than 30,000 unique listings around the world…and the new OMG! Category showcases the craziest of all the listings…just like the Idaho Potato.
Kristie Wolfe is the owner of the Airbnb Superhost who rents her Idaho Potato out ofr $200 per night. She said that when the Idaho Potato Commission retired a six-ton prop potato, she happily took it off their hands and spent $32K transforming it into an Airbnb. Now she’s killing it in the OMG! Category and she said she went from making $13 an hour in her job to making over $200K in less than 3 years from from her creative idea. Now, she’s been invited to be a judge for the $10M OMG? Fund, along with a few other creative individuals.
And the contest, Lex, it has already generated SO MUCH DAMN PRESS for airbnb and it officially closes on July 22! You can’t not see in right now, every major media outlet has covered it… Forbes, Newsweek, Business Insider, the list goes on and on. And reports show that this brand new category that was just launched in May has been clicked more than 2.5 million times…..all due to this press!
SO let’s dive into a few more of the partnership stunts that Airbnb has been a part of. They have built this platform that makes brands of all shapes and sizes want to partner with, and that’s insanely valuable to the Airbnb brand.
In 2016, Airbnb launched what they originally called Airbnb Trips. Instead of just asking people to share their homes, they asked regular people to share their own expertise via publicly offered “expereinces”…and Airbnb of course took a cut..20% to get be exact. Fast forward 2 years and Airbnb rebranded it to Airbnb Experiences and they did something fun to promote it. They partnered with Vice Media Group, which is known for its edgy style of journalism and content, and they decided to send 100 people on one of of four custom made tours in four places…South Africa, Paris, New York or Tokoyo. These tours were super unique. You could be emersed in the electronic music scene in Cape Town in South Africa, or you could be taken on a immersive tour of Tokyo’s LGBTQ culture, explore the underground vogue movement in NYC or my fave one…take a sex tour of Paris. The partnership was perfect because Vice reporters travel all over the world to find the craziest stories just like these experiences and Airbnb could provide accommodations for these things through hosts. This contest/promotion gained an insane amount of media attention and drove so much awareness around the newly rebranded Experiences. Then, during the pandemic, they launched virtual experiences and those took off like crazy and got all the press attention. This partnership with Vice helped both brands accelerate their message big time, and it paid off.
Art Institute of Chicago, Leo Burnett & Airbnb
In 2016, Airbnb had a new listing, for Van Gogh’s bedroom. Van Gogh’s 1888 iconic painting was recreated and brought to life in Chicago, and you could rent the room for $10…and it was just the perfect size for 2 people. Within 1 week, the story was covered in over 100 countries. It was EVERYWHERE. And through that media coverage, it told the world that Van Gogh’s bedroom painting had come to the Art Institue of Chicago, so it promoted that exhibit, it promoted Airbnb, and the agency Leo Burnett even got lots of press and won awards for this campaign. They spent $31,000 to execute this campaign and they earned $6 million in press coverage! 200,000 visitors flocked into the Art Institue of Chicago for this exhibit because of the press, and that made it the highest attendant exhibit at the museum in 15 years. CRAZY.
Disney+, Home Alone & Airbnb
In 2021, Airbnb partnered with Disney Plus to promote the brand new Home Alone franchise movie…Home Sweet Home Alone. And they did this by, you probably guessed it, inviting guests to book an experience for one day only at the Home Alone house in a Chicago superb. The listing claimed to be posted by Kevin McCallister’s big brother bully Buzz McCallister, and invited guests to get in touch with their inner 8-year old and indulge in all the antics that Kevin did in the ove…eating junkfood, watching rubbish, setting up booby traps and of course, slappng on aftershave and yelling in the mirror.
Rather being a traditional booking, this was a contest where one lucky person with three friends would be able to get to stay in the residence on Dec. 12 for just $25. This promotion was covered, once again, but every media outlet you could dream up. New York Times, Rolling Stone, Deadline and EVERYONE ELSE. So the press coverage was great, but unfortunately, the movie was NOT. So Disney Plus, the new title and Airbnb got a ton of great coverage beecause everyone loved the nostalgia but the movie didn’t do so hot.
Airbnb Lists the Entire Country of Sweden
In 2017, Airbnb partnered with Visit Sweden to list the entire country of Sweden on Airbrb.This one is so rad Lex. Because it wasn’t a BOOKING campaign, it was a BRANDING campaign.
See, what they promoted is a law or morie principle they have in Sweden called “freedeom to roam”. This gives people the right to freely explore all public spaces across the country. The idea is that people don’t NEED to book accommodation to visit the country, they can just grab a tent and freely access any of the publicly owned land.
Visit Sweden was more interested in getting more travelers to perceive the country a place of rich, natural landscapes than they were in increasing the number of Airbnb bookings in the country. And the specifically wanted to attract more U.S. visitors.
The listing read “it’s a home with all the necessities and amenities that any great home should have. It’s a place where you can eat berries from the ground, sleep under the stars, swim in lakes and roam freely.” The listing suggests specific locations for visitors to explore, but doesn’t actually allow you to BOOK any of those spacs since they are public. It says the country is available 365 days a year, accmodates everyone, had unlimited beds and check in of “whenever.”
So basically how it worked is this the listing for the entire country was promoted, and it was covered once again but ALL the best media outlets. That drove traffic to the listing and then people could check out the already 13,000 Airbnb listings in the country of Sweden that were already available to book on the platform… there was a special microsite just for this campaign and of course, a huge social media campaign.
And the results were pretty insane. The campaign more than doubled the searches about Airbnb in Sweden. Comparing year over year, if we look at May 2017 when the campaign launched to September 2017, and we compared that to the same months in 2016, searches increased by 146%. Then in 2019, a study was done about the economic impact of Airbnb on Sweden and get these numbers…travel on Airbnb in Sweden generated an estimated direct economic impact of more than $380 million in 2018 alone….or just over $1 million per day that year. That was made up of $296 million of guest spending and $86 million of host earnings.
And this was clearly great for Airbnb too, as it was heavily focused on being more than a booking site at this time, it was playing in experiences and the press coverage that Airbnb got made that all worth it. Plus, since Airbnb couldn’t really generate $$ from bookings on this specific campaign, I am confident they charged a partnership fee that generated revenue, although that isn’t listed anywhere that I can find.
Airbnb is the ideal example of how to utilize partnerships and PR stunts to drive insane awareness and revenue. In 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic that nearly killed travel, Airbnb had a valuation of $86.5 billion at the time it went public, selling at $146 per share on opening day. Just 12 years after it was started in a San Francisco apartment.