HotelTonight Brands the Booking Equivalent of FOMO: FOBO, the ‘Fear of Better Options’

Now owned by Airbnb, the service plays up its 'Daily Drop' deal

People who don't use HotelTonight's Daily Drop feature seem to make other regrettable decisions too. HotelTonight
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Whether you suffer from it or not, you’re likely familiar with FOMO, the fear of missing out. But how about FOBO? That’s the “fear of better options,” and the new HotelTonight campaign leans into the concept to show the consequences of making a poor choice in booking a room.

It could mean that you try to hide in your own suitcase or douse your coffee with condiments. Oh, the humiliation and disgust over paying top dollar.

For “A Hard Deal to Deal With,” HotelTonight taps into a consumer insight: Many of today’s shoppers, especially millennials, love a bargain. Publicly crowing about that lowball price tag just comes with the territory. So there’s a considerable amount of built-up anxiety over getting it right, says Ben Heller, creative director at the brand’s San Francisco-based agency, Mekanism.

FOBO is “a real emotion consumers experience when booking accommodations,” he says, leading Mekanism and HotelTonight’s in-house team to come up with “heightened yet relatable scenarios” that gently poke fun at a few unseasoned travelers who didn’t use the app’s Daily Drop.

That swipe-right feature, launched about a year ago, is time-sensitive and has limited quantities. It offers prices that are 30% or more below the brand’s discounted rates and, according to Beth Teague, head of HotelTonight brand marketing, “gamifies the experience.”

“It’s fun and competitive—it even becomes addictive—because everyone wants to get a great deal so they can tell their friends,” Teague says. “If you don’t jump on the Daily Drop right away, it’s gone. So that encourages people to be spontaneous and get out of their comfort zones.” 

HotelTonight has been nudging consumers to travel more often while keeping in mind that budgets may be strained. “Getting a deal is exciting and validating,” Teague says. “It’s something you should absolutely brag about. You look like a savvy, in-the-know traveler.”

A few characters in the spots, meanwhile, represent the regretful flip side of that equation via physical comedy and sight gags. The ads were shot in a day at the Kimpton Everly Hotel in Hollywood, with the whole campaign turned around in a swift two months, Teague says.

She describes the Daily Drop as “the icing on the cake” for HotelTonight, which counts about 30 million downloads. The booking service, originally launched for mobile-only with mostly same-day hotel reservations, now works on desktop as well and handles bookings up to 100 days in advance. It’s probably still best known as a spur-of-the-moment way to find lodging.

The campaign is the first marketing push for the brand since it was acquired by Airbnb in April (for north of $400 million, according to published reports). And “A Hard Deal to Deal With” is “more robust” in scope and spending than last summer’s cheeky “Let’s Have a Threeday.”

The current work will fan out over TV networks like AMC, Bravo, FX, Comedy Central and Travel Channel, streaming audio such as Pandora and Spotify, social and digital for the next several months.

@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.