Branded Airbnb Homes Are Becoming a Lucrative Way to Get Exposure

Jim Beam, Barbie and Downton Abbey all see success with unique rentals

For the average price of a bottle of bourbon, whiskey drinkers could spend the night on the grounds of the famed Jim Beam distillery on Kentucky’s famed Bourbon Trail. The home, built in 1919, comes with a tour of the stillhouse, a barbecue dinner and a bourbon tasting session with host Fred Noe, the spirit’s master distiller.

The catch? This package was only available on Airbnb, for two weekends. The lucky guests who managed to book the ultra exclusive stay will spend the night next weekend and the first weekend of December, and the brand doesn’t currently have any plans to make the listing available again.

Within the last six months, brands from Jim Beam to Barbie have partnered with Airbnb for the ease of getting on the platform and the resulting media attention, finding Airbnb to be a low-cost alternative to traditional advertising with, in some cases, even greater reach.

“I can safely say this is by far the highest generating, most reached PR program Jim Beam has ever executed,” said Dan Cohen, a spokesman for Beam Suntory, Jim Beam’s parent company. The idea for the collaboration came from Jim Beam’s public relations team as well as an outside agency, ICF Next.

A week after the Jim Beam distillery stay was announced on the platform, toymaker Mattel listed Barbie’s Malibu Dream House, a property redecorated in the iconic doll’s signature hot pink to mark her 60th anniversary. In September, Highclere Castle from the BBC period drama Downton Abbey landed on the platform in connection with the premiere of the Downton Abbey film.

Airbnb has long included brand opportunities on its platform with its “At Night” campaign, which makes limited nights available at interesting places like Boston’s Fenway Park, or a night in a house made of LEGOs. has also worked alongside movie studios to create special nights in branded properties, most recently turning a walk-up in Brooklyn into the Addams Family mansion for Halloween weekend.

Of course, from an ROI standpoint, the fact that Jim Beam already owned the home onsite helped. It had previously only been made available to family and friends of the company. Highclere Castle, the home where Downton Abbey was filmed, was already taking tour groups.

According to Jim Beam, the stunt cost less than $50,000 (including agency fees) and garnered 650 million impressions in publications like the New York Times, USA Today, Thrillist and Business Insider, to name a few.

In comparison, Jim Beam’s “Make History” campaign, which introduced the actress Mila Kunis as the brand’s spokeswoman, received only 275 million impressions.

Cohen describes the Airbnb campaign as less of a partnership and more of an “unofficial collaboration.” Along with the description of the distillery’s stillhouse on Airbnb was a small disclaimer: “This listing is not sponsored, or offered in collaboration with, Airbnb.”

The spirit company went through the same avenues as any host to list the property on Airbnb, but did not solicit a press release from the home-sharing site unlike the Malibu Dreamhouse or Highclere Castle.

“We reached out to Airbnb,” Cohen said. “They fulled supported this, as long as we followed the proper guardrails.”

According to Vinayak Hegde, Airbnb’s chief marketing officer of homes and vice president of growth, the collaboration with Jim Beam wasn’t new for the platform, but “there was a concerted effort this year” to make such offerings part of a the company’s marketing plan.

Unlike with Jim Beam, Hegde said that previously, Airbnb had been the one reaching out to brands, but that now it was more a mix.

“Brands often give us a heads up, as they still need to meet our hosting criteria, and in some cases it’s more of a joint effort,” Hegde explained. “We have brands reaching out with their 2020 plans.”

It’s a smart approach, according to Thomas Ellingson, a marketing expert at Landor who focuses on brand partnerships.

Today’s consumer seems less and less interested in engaging with advertising, Ellingson said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s less incumbent on brands to engage with audiences. What’s more intimate than bringing someone into your home and allowing them to experience your brand? There’s a lot of responsibility there.”

four photos of Jim Beam's bourbon cottage listing on Airbnb

Airbnb also said that branded opportunities would extend to its Experiences business, which has greatly expanded from 500 experiences in 2017 to more than 4,000 today. This year, Airbnb invested in offbeat travel site Atlas Obscura, which offers branded trips and tours on Airbnb’s platform, as well as Tiqets, a museum and attraction platform popular in Europe.

While Airbnb wouldn’t provide metrics, Hegde said the branded homes on Airbnb’s platform performed “exceptionally well,” and that the Barbie and Downton Abbey Stays had “millions of people” visiting the listing.

From a liability standpoint, Cohen said Jim Beam went to great lengths to ensure the historic home wouldn’t be damaged and that visitors wouldn’t be put at risk, including ensuring that there wasn’t an “irresponsible amount of alcohol.”

While there are (several) bottles of Jim Beam bourbon in the listing’s photos, guests staying onsite won’t be given a bottle. Instead, they’ll get a cocktail and take part in a bourbon tasting as part of their distillery tour.

And like any property on Airbnb’s platform, the house will be covered by Airbnb’s insurance.

There was “some risk” to the stunt, Cohen admitted. “We’ve never ever opened our doors for a consumer to stay with us,” he said.

Given the encouraging reaction, however, “we could open an ongoing bed and breakfast if we wanted to,” he said. “There are enough people out there that would want to stay in our home.”

@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.