Airbnb is looking to expand its user base. However, it's competing for just 12 percent of the American population who stay in vacation rentals. And it has the challenge of needing to appeal to both sides of the exchange: Those rentals don't materialize out of nowhere.
Airbnb wants a bigger piece of the hospitality pie in 2014, and it’s hoping that a brand-marketing push will help.
The San Francisco-based company acts as an online go-between for travelers and local residents, charging 6% to 12% fees on bookings and 3% of what people earn from renting out their homes for short-term stays. In its five years, Airbnb has become a global phenomenon, largely thanks to word of mouth, but it’s teeing up marketing campaigns for the fourth quarter and into next year to become known beyond its core younger demographic.
Airbnb tapped Pereira & O’Dell as its agency of record in July, and two short films that could potentially be used as TV spots are already in development, according to CMO Amy Curtis-McIntyre.
Up until now, Airbnb’s marketing efforts have been mainly direct response, such as search and Facebook ads aimed at people who are likely candidates to visit a given destination. But brand awareness has become more of an imperative, according to Ms. Curtis-McIntyre, a former JetBlue and Hyatt marketer who joined Airbnb in March.
It’s becoming tougher to stand out in a vacation-rentals market that research firm PhoCusWright valued at $23 billion last year.
The researcher found 12% of U.S. adults stayed in a vacation rental — either the type rented by an owner or occupant, made possible by companies like Airbnb, HomeAway or VRBO, or booked through a management company — between 2010 and 2012.
Airbnb’s first TV advertising was a whimsical four-and-a-half-minute short film made up of user-submitted Vines showing paper airplanes zipping around the world. It aired on Sundance Channel earlier this month and was done on a project basis by Mullen.
Privately-held Airbnb won’t disclose its financials, but Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter estimated to Forbes that Airbnb had taken in $150 million in revenue in 2012. Airbnb says 4.5 million guests have used its service this year, compared to 4 million who had used it up until January 2013.
The work it plans to release this fall focuses on the U.S., but Airbnb is also looking at Brazil as a target market because of the World Cup. The idea is for the messaging to focus on Brazilians who plan to travel among the 12 host cities next June and July.
Like Uber and others in the so-called sharing economy composed of marketplaces for people who aren’t necessarily licensed professionals to sell goods and services, Airbnb is getting regulatory blowback. Renting out an apartment through it is often prohibited by local law, not to mention leases.
This story originally appeared on AdAge, a Skift content partner.
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Photo credit: Airbnb pins sit on a table at a meetup event in Tallin. Airbnb Community / Flickr