Publicis to Sit Out Global Airbnb Media Review Due to Client’s Budget

By Patrick Coffee 

Airbnb, one of the best-known not-really-tech “unicorns” at a value of has placed its global media account in review. Campaign U.S. first reported the news last week.

Missing from that competition, according to two parties with direct knowledge of the matter, will be incumbent Starcom—and all other Publicis media agencies.

Why? Money. Or the lack thereof.

These individuals told AgencySpy that the cost of pitching and maintaining the account simply wasn’t worth the retention, because, despite the fact that Airbnb is a super-trendy company with name brand recognition, it’s not a particularly lucrative client. Does this sound familiar?

For a better understanding of this seeming contradiction, check out this Reuters exclusive that ran the same day as the Campaign story. It’s all about how Airbnb wants to use original entertainment, not advertising, to promote its brand. As in real TV shows.

The strategy is to maximize awareness and, therefore, value ahead of the company’s highly publicized IPO later this year.

For example, Wieden + Kennedy is Airbnb’s creative AOR, but can you name a major campaign by the agency? Neither can we. Of course that’s not to say W+K can’t do good work for the client. For Adweek’s Agency of the Year piece in December, ECE Eric Baldwin said, “We’re getting embedded into their business [to] help shape the path of the company,” which is in keeping with the strategy described in the Reuters piece.

Creative content led by the company’s in-house studio will lead those efforts, sources told Reuters, “even if the business case is not always clear.” One example is “Home,” an original series on Apple’s new streaming service that will feature unique living spaces around the world. The brand also hired the Kim Kingsley, co-founder of website Politico, to launch its first magazine and lead content strategy.

Kantar Media estimated Airbnb’s U.S. paid media spend at $54 million for 2018, but we’re told the overall number may be lower next year as the company takes more work like that described above in-house.

Spokespeople for Starcom and W+K declined to comment. Airbnb and Publicis Media have not yet responded to related requests. At this time it is not clear which agencies received the RFP.