I'm often called upon to think of parade examples for great campaigns, and top-notch examples of brand positioning, and the more I read about Airbnb, the more I think I'm going to be including this one as a brand that's doing rather a lot right.
It's very much a brand of its time, tapping into several of the megatrends for the early 21st century, with a degree of healthy tension - between belonging and individuality, between exploration and feeling at home. The slogan 'Live like a local, not a tourist' taps into something many can identify with. And it's all made possible by connection via technology, such that the digital and real worlds are seamlessly linked.
Airbnb is the world's 3rd most valuable privately-held start-up, operating in 190 countries, 34,000 cities with over 1m hosts. And they've only been going since 2008.
Those 1m+ hosts are the core of the brand, and Airbnb is completely dependent on them. This is what makes Airbnb so different, and potentially brilliant or disastrous. 1m+ human beings in all their diversity and irrationality. There can be no 'consistency guidelines' here.
It's interesting that the brand positioning or purpose, 'Belong Anywhere' taps mainly into the guest mode or point of view. Is it a weakness that the hosts (or people in host mode rather than guest mode, as I am sure there is plenty of overlap) have entirely different motivations (and a far greater risk) than the guests, yet they are not addressed in the core positioning?
It's certainly a brand to watch, but I have one other reservation (if you'll pardon the pun) before I use this an example. I haven't even tried Airbnb as a guest, let alone offered myself as a host.
Maybe one resolution for 2016 should be to give it a go.
If I could pick what has been the biggest change in the way marketing and advertising people work over the last twenty-five years or so, I'd have to say that it's the rampant rise of the workshop. Since I've been freelance, the majority of requests that come in are for designing and running workshops.
I looked at my trusty Oxford Dictionary (published in the 1980s), and at this point, the main definition of 'Workshop' referred to 'a room or building in which manufacture is carried out'. Maybe that's why I have always associated the word with the grim connotations of 'Workhouse'. There's a secondary definition, which does suggest a 'meeting of several persons for intensive discussions, seminars, learning' but the emphasis here is on something extra, for educational purposes.
These days, workshops seem ubiquitous. I have even heard 'workshop' used as a verb - 'let's workshop it.' What did we do before workshops? Well, we did have plenty of brainstorms, but I notice these have gone rather out of favour. The post-its, the flip charts, the marker pens are now the weapons of choice of the workshop facilitator.
With colleagues working on a project often dispersed geographically, one reason that workshops have gained popularity must be the need to use the limited time that people are together, face to face, wisely and effectively. There's a worry that a free-flowing discussion, or a simple meeting won't be productive, therefore the need for more planning and structure.
While this makes sense in a lot of cases, and a well-conceived, designed and run workshop should yield results, I'm sure we've all experienced so-called workshops that have over-run, gone off on another tangent, provided reams of indecipherable post-its, or have simply confirmed one or two lowest common denominators, aka 'alignment'.
Often these workshops are ineffective and focus on consensus rather than brilliance due to a lack of clarity at the outset of what the purpose is. For me, brainstorms are about ideas, while workshops are about specific solutions to specific questions. It's a bit like qualitative and quantitative research.
Before we go into automatic pilot and 'workshop it' - we should ask ourselves: what is 'it'? What is the question we want to find a solution to? Is a workshop the best way of doing this?
Or should we have a brainstorming session, or simply a good old-fashioned meeting?
The connection between ad people and novels is one that continues to fascinate me, not least because of my own rather feeble attempts to be the next J.K.Rowling, ha ha. And I've blogged about ad people that write, most recently here.
There's an interesting article about copywriters and novelists, by Lisa Friedman, here, which looks at 10 reasons that great copywriters (should) make great novelists. There's knowing your audience, there's the killer work ethic, the ability to tell a story, the economical use of language, and more besides. Summing up, it boils down to having an innate feeling for people and what makes them tick, combined with excellent skills of expression. In other words, the ability to tell a great story, well.
And talking of novels, and ad-land, I can most heartily recommend the new book above, Spin My Little World, by Abigail Cocks. Less about ad-land as set in ad-land. The main character, Bo Simpson, crashes and blunders her way through life armed with high fashion, low-life connections, a refreshingly un-PC attitude and lashings of foul-mouthed humour. I'm sure I worked with her once. I also worry that I was her once.
The great Christmas-Ads-Who's-Going-To-Boost-Kleenex-Sales-The-Most race has revved up a gear or two with a recent entry from Germany. Like the John Lewis ad, the heartstrings being pulled in the Edeka ad are those guilty ones associated with elderly relatives and neighbours. Is there anything much more heartbreaking than thinking about an old person alone with their turkey leg and tinsel?
But much as these ads may play on our guilt and tickle our tear ducts, I wonder how many viewers will actually do anything to warm up Christmastime for a senior citizen. I always love to see promotions that are 'actions rather than ads' and I've found a great one, called 'Sunday Rides: Together for a brighter winter.' It's a co-operation between Avis and The Norwegian Organisation of Volunteers.
The idea comes from putting two problems together - a business problem (Avis don't have many car rentals at weekends) - and a societal problem (elderly people are lonely because they are housebound, and in the dark Norwegian winter, this is particularly so. So the PR company Good Morning came up with the nifty idea of free car rentals on Sunday (with one of the better models on offer, no less) to anyone who comes along with an elderly passenger. The renter gets to drive a great car for free, the passenger gets to see somewhere they'd never see under their own steam and Avis gets great publicity. And that's just for starters.
I particularly like the quote from Good Morning's Markus Lind about this promotion: In a time where everyone talks (too much) about retargeting, programmatic and algorithms, it is liberating to create a concept that speaks to the hearts of people and is shareable enough by itself. We have still not used a penny on ad buys.
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I got off to a good start, studying Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge but somehow got side-tracked into the wonderful world of advertising and marketing.
My children's books: