About a year ago, accommodation-sharing online company Airbnb launched its first wide-reach advertising campaign in India. Over several glossy spots, celebrity couple Saif and Kareena wooed Indian travellers to sample a new kind of vacation.
In its latest campaign, the brand has released two films that look far more real and relatable featuring actual travellers who used the platform. One is about an Indian family vacationing in Goa ('Freedom in Goa') and the other is a about a young lesbian couple on a trip abroad ('Together in Berlin'). Interestingly, both films are celeb and dialogue-free. The life-like visuals are crafted to resemble a traveller's handy-cam footage and are accompanied by a background score of old Hindi movie songs.
Unlike films by OTA brands, the segment Airbnb is trying to get a share from (arguably), these ads don't include shots of the online booking app or make any mention of deals, discounts, ease of booking or cashback.
The campaign has been created by Wieden + Kennedy and produced by Park Pictures. Both spots are on TV.
The brand appears to be trying hard to break down the psychological barriers that prevent Indian families from using Airbnb, as opposed to staying at regular hotels. So, is the "family" a pain point Airbnb has struggled with in India?
"Family is one group Airbnb wants to reach out to and they are increasingly leveraging travel as a means to grow and bond. Parenting has evolved and couples now want to play an active role in the development of their children, rather than being passive facilitators. Travel becomes an important canvas for this means of development," answers Varun Raina, marketing manager, Airbnb. "We think a lot of Indian families can relate to the Govandes (protagonists of Goa film), especially those who want to play a part in their children's development...," he adds.
Raina, who has been with Airbnb for over two years now, has worked at marketing companies like RB (Harpic), Nestle (Nescafe) and PepsiCo (Lipton) in the past.
About the film featuring the lesbian couple, Raina states "Malvika and Karuna's (protagonists) story is one of the many non-conformist, independent-minded couples from the Airbnb community. Their outlook is compelling and authentic, which is why we felt this will resonate very well with our audience. Our intent was to simply focus on their relationship and travel experiences as a couple and not on their sexual identity."
Raina feels India has a progressive travel mind-set and that the existing travel market may not have evolved in tandem with people's needs and nuanced tastes. About the demographics of Airbnb's TG in India, he says, "We cater to people who aren't satisfied being just tourists and this mind-set prevails across demographics. We want to reach out to every type of group and appeal to their unique needs."
Some experts feel the Saifeena campaign positioned Airbnb as a brand for the affluent traveller. Today, the consumer knows a lot about the lifestyles of celebrities and while the 'Nawabi' couple might have brought the brand closer to many Indians, it could also have alienated some segments of the population. The new campaign looks like the brand's attempt to speak to a larger chunk of the consumer pool - the masses, if you will.
Raina clarifies, "Saif and Kareena's story was very much a part of the same thinking - giving people unprecedented access to travel, on their own terms. Despite having the means and access to the finest things in the world, there was still a gap when it came to spending time together, the way they wanted to. Their Airbnb in Windsor became a perfect sanctum and gave them time to live and roam the way they could not in their everyday lives."
Naren Kaushik, ECD, Happy mcgarrybowen, who feels Airbnb went off-track with its last campaign with Saifeena thinks these new films work perfectly. He finds them simple and true. Commenting on the brand's shift from celebrity endorsement to real life travellers' experiences, he goes as far as to say, "Thank God. They (Saif-Kareena) are big stars with a lot of pull and fan following. But personally, for me, Airbnb is a brand where the endorsement should be by the consumer and not celebrities charging money, who, in all probability, will never use Airbnb! If the brand is about experience, it's wise to show it through realistic ones."
About the 'no conversation format', he adds, "Eventually, the message needs to come through. This campaign is like an edit of all the video clips one might take on a trip. What can be more experiential than that?"
Ramanuj Shastry, former chief creative officer, Saatchi & Saatchi, and co-founder and director at Infectious Advertising, feels the films are successful in delivering the 'Airbnb is for everyone' message. Will it get people to bypass a MakeMyTrip - a heavy advertiser - and try a new kind of accommodation format? He responds, "Most online hotel booking ads are oppressive, not aggressive. Being loud is not necessarily being persuasive."
Appreciating the execution and treatment of both films, Shastry says, "Well, if an ad can say what it needs to without a conversation, more power to the ad."
Like Kaushik, Shastry is also of the opinion that the Saif-Kareena move by the brand was a mistake. "Thankfully good sense has prevailed..." he adds.
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