In Home Buying Game Show, the House Always Wins

First ads from Arnold target millennials

In a complex and stressful housing market, you shouldn't go it alone. By engaging real estate professionals, prospective buyers can avoid potential pitfalls and emerge as winners when shopping for a home.

This week, the National Association of Realtors makes that pitch to millennials in the trade group's first campaign since hiring Arnold Worldwide for creative chores last summer. The Boston shop employs goofy physical-challenge game-show send-ups to illustrate the many ways Realtors can provide buyers with a competitive advantage.

In a series of online videos, young-adult couples — clad in skin-tight silver jumpsuits, of course — face off in a series of boisterous, overblown contests related to the home-buying process. Below, a tug-of-war becomes a manic metaphor for bidding on a house. One team is assisted by a Realtor — "he's been through this before, so he's a steady anchor out there," an announcer says. The other team gets help from "a friend, Trevor, who once borrowed an audio book on negotiation." It's no spoiler to reveal that the buyers who work with Realtors win every time.

"Certainly, breaking through the clutter is important to us," Arnold executive creative director Sean McBride told Adweek. "But, more than that, our research suggested that millennials don't know what they don't know. Their sense is that they can buy a first house on their own, no problem. So, how do you convey to your audience that buying a home is basically blood sport, without fear-mongering?" The self-consciously silly game-show platform allows the client to deliver that message without seeming heavy-handed or turning off prospects, he said.

Next up: home inspection, complete with an infestation of impressively large termites. Naturally, Realtors bravely beat back the bugs, portrayed by actors wearing insects costumes that wouldn't look out of place in a middle-school play:

"It's a mix of shows like American Gladiators, and Japanese game shows like Most Extreme Elimination Challenge," said McBride of the creative inspiration. "We wanted to make sure that we imagined 'House Off' with the right balance of intensity and humor."

Arnold sibling Havas Media handles buying chores for the campaign. NAR, with more than 1.1 million members, has spent about $50 million on ads in recent years, per Kantar Media.

The work constitutes a major shift from NAR's recent efforts from ad shop Most. That work, themed "Real People," targeted a range of consumers likely to be in the market to buy or sell a home, with its media buy heavily focused on TV and radio.

In contrast, the new "House Off" videos are part of a broader digital-first campaign dubbed "Get Realtor." The strategy sprang from the insight that millennials dislike reaching out to professionals for home-buying advice, fearing they will further complicating the process. The initiative seeks to disabuse its audience of such notions, pointing out that those who go the DIY route can face tough, unexpected challenges. And it targets them in the online and mobile environments where they live.

Of course, NAR's desire to reach millennials isn't purely altruistic. After all, the U.S. has roughly 75 million of them, and they comprise the nation's home-buying segment. Unlocking that demographic's spending power is an important campaign goal. (It's worth noting that young adults have been somewhat resistant to buying homes, owing to debt fears and other factors.)

Millennials are also a target of recently launched ads from online real estate database Zillow. Crafted by Deutsch, Zillow's campaign plays on emotions to explore what the concept of "Home" means to different people.

"Realtors provide a competitive advantage to a home buyer that Zillow simply can't," said McBride. "To me, that explains the difference between the approaches."

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