Skift Take

Welcome to a lodging company, HomeAway, that is NOT targeting millennials but instead is going after "whole families." It has little to do with short-term rentals and it may turn out to be short-term thinking.

A day before it reveals its fourth quarter earnings, HomeAway announced it will launch an integrated marketing campaign next month that’s geared to show it is not Airbnb, and it is not targeting millennials.

“As we’ve gone through that soul searching about what the company is I’d say the general conclusion we’ve come up with is that we decided it’s more profitable for us to target being a better us than being a worse them,” HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples tells Skift.

HomeAway spent around $60 million in advertising in 2014 and plans to shell out $100 million in 2015. The company didn’t detail the exact cost of the new campaign, which will be part of its overall 2015 advertising spend.

“Which means certainly, there’s lots of temptation when you see the market cap around an Airbnb to think about, ‘Gee, should we jump into that space?’ But the reality is we have a really good thing going in the space we’re in,” Sharples says.

The new campaign will include two 30-second TV spots revolving around Emma, a young girl, who is bummed out because she can’t bring her dog, Biscuit, on vacation. [Stills from the unreleased ad are at the bottom of this post.]

With TV, print and social media, including using influencers, the advertising blitz will run in the U.S., the UK, France and Germany, and center on the them that HomeAway vacation rentals revolve around booking “whole houses” for “whole families,” although the definition of family is wide-ranging.

A Not Airbnb Campaign

“The campaign is centered around a tagline that has three components to it, which is: whole houses, whole families and last but not least, whole vacations,” Sharples says. “There’s a lot of meaning in those words because, first of all, the whole house piece is the first differentiator versus people like Airbnb in the category.”

Despite the thrust of the campaign, there is an increasing convergence between the Airbnb-like sharing-economy market and vacation rentals. While HomeAway’s vacation rental offerings skew toward resort destinations and Airbnb’s apartment offerings tend to be in cities, there is a ton of overlap and it is growing.

Sharples, however, believes that it is in HomeAway’s interest to double down on its core resort and “whole house” roots. HomeAway, which marked its 10th anniversary this month and could be an acquisition target, did not share an early look at the TV spots, although they are not expected to name Airbnb specifically.

The HomeAway announcement occurs as the Priceline Group, Expedia Inc. and TripAdvisor are ramping up their advertising spend in 2015.

Skift discussed the ad campaign with Sharples. Here’s an excerpt.

Skift: How did the new ad campaign come about?

Brian Sharples: I think also on the marketing front we used this 10-year anniversary as an opportunity to say, “It’s time for us to really start building a great travel brand and get back in the marketing game and get back in the branding game.” And so we made a series of moves at the end of last year to re-craft our cost structure to be able to spend a lot more money on marketing. And then in conjunction with that brought in a whole new, high-powered team to do it. A new CMO from Visa and then he, in turn, hired the head of brand advertising from Coca Cola and then both guys hired Landor to do some brand work and Saatchi & Saatchi to redo our whole ad strategy.

t’s going to be a multi-channel campaign. It’s going to run in the U.S., France, Germany and the U.K. there’s going to a print, digital component to it. Obviously, a performance- marketing component to it, as we’ve always done. As well as national TV spots that run in those various countries. I guess what’s different about what was done in the past, from a marketing perspective, is that we’re really trying with this campaign to do a couple things. One is to put a stake in the ground for the next four to five years about what we want to be as a company and use our ad platform as a way to really, clearly define what we do differently from other people and differentiate us as a company.

Skift: What’s the differentiation? There is so much convergence, actually.

Sharples: We’re not in the rooms business; we’re not in the sharing-my-apartment-that-I-live-in business. We’re in the whole house business and we want to make that really clear. That’s what we do as a company and we’re going to stick with that. The piece on whole families is really meant to define the kind of customer we have. We have done family business, group travel business and it goes along with the whole-house theme but we’re not, as a company, saying, “Hey, let’s go after the 20-somethings. Let’s go after the short stays in cities.” That’s not our thing; our thing is about togetherness and family travel. So, there’s going to be a ton of stuff that we start doing in P.R. and other activities to define what family is these days.

A lot of research we’ve done shows that families are changing. The traditional vacation rental customer 15 years ago was a husband and wife and two kids but now more and more this whole modern family includes groups of friends and a couple aunts. Maybe you take your niece on vacation. The kinds of people that are traveling with us are these really interesting families.

The campaign itself is going to highlight that. The print part of the campaign we’re actually using a really interesting style of photography that we’re going to try to associate with our brand. It’s a pano lens that photographers are using.┬áThat pano lens bends an image in a way that allows us to showcase a lot of people within a house setting. You see the house; you’ll see the landscape and then you’ll see this whole cast of characters that are a modern family.

They’re clearly not all one family. There’s some friends involved. There might be some friends’ kids that are there. There are different ethnic groups represented and it’s all really interesting because it’s fun and it’s happy and you get this sense that I don’t have to leave anybody behind. When I go on vacation I shouldn’t just think about, “Hey, it’s just the two people I’m closest to.” I can bring along a lot of people I like. Again, that sense of wholeness and family that’s going to be a big, big part of what we do. It’s going to be fun.

Skift: Can you say how much you’re spending on the campaign?

Sharples: We said publicly that just in total our budget this year for advertising has gone from roughly $60 million last year to about $100 million next year [2015]. In total. That’s all advertising so we haven’t talked about specifically how much we’re spending on each component of the campaign.



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Tags: advertising, airbnb, ceo interviews, homeaway, vacation rentals

Photo credit: One of HomeAway's new print spots, which emphasize the company's differentiation from Airbnb. HomeAway

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