Airbnb, the online marketplace for short-term renters and hosts around the world, has placed its global creative advertising business in review. Incumbent TBWA\Chiat\Day will not participate.
TBWA became the company’s first global agency of record after a 2014 pitch led by its Los Angeles office. The spark for that review was the arrival of chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall, an agency veteran and former svp of marketing communications at Coca-Cola, who had also previously served as managing director of TBWA’s own London office.
“We are proud of the marketing programs we have developed together with Chiat over the last three years, including the global Live There brand platform,” said Mildenhall. “This platform helped Airbnb reach even more people and bring them into the Airbnb community.”
Regarding the review, he said, “As a global hospitality company at a pivotal moment in our trajectory, we are seeking a partner agency that takes us closer to unlocking the creativity of our community, in which content and product are inextricably linked. We are engaged in a global pitch, inviting the participation of a handful of diverse agencies to identify this new partner that will help us achieve our next phase of phenomenal growth.”
In the years since it won the account, the TBWA network has produced a wide variety of work ranging from the anthem spot “Is Man Kind?” and the aforementioned “Live There” to a stunt in which the agency and client floated a literal houseboat down the River Thames and a 2015 campaign weighing in against San Francisco’s proposed Proposition F that CEO Brian Chesky later called “very ill-advised.”
Agency and client also won several industry awards during their relationship, including 9 Lions at last year’s Cannes Festival of Creativity.
“Our partnership with Airbnb has been transformative,” said an agency spokesperson in a statement. “We’re proud of the body of work we’ve created over the past three years, especially the ‘Live There’ global campaign, adding another iconic brand platform to an illustrious list that includes Apple’s ‘Think Different,’ Gatorade’s ‘Win From Within,’ and Adidas’ ‘Impossible Is Nothing.’ We’re also proud to have helped drive Airbnb’s evolution from a remarkable challenger business to a leading global brand during our partnership. We wish them continued success.”
Airbnb expanded dramatically during its partnership with TBWA and became profitable for the first time during the second half of 2016. While the agency will continue working on Airbnb’s business in some capacity for much of the calendar year, recent signs pointed to the company taking more marketing efforts in house—for example, TBWA did not work on the brand’s recent Super Bowl ad.
Much like Uber and other so-called “disruptive” businesses, Airbnb’s ambitions have frequently been at odds with the international hospitality industry and cities from Berlin to New York, which recently issued its first fines for illegal rentals. The always-active company’s newest initiatives include a print-only magazine produced in partnership with Hearst, a series of “work-friendly tools” for business travelers and a plan to expand in China and Japan.
There is little doubt that Airbnb has, in fact, changed the travel industry—Mildenhall was Adweek’s 2016 Brand Genius in the hospitality category, and Chesky was 2017 Digital Executive of the Year. But despite the company’s many highly publicized funding rounds, its marketing budget is not as big as those of more established businesses.
According to Kantar Media, Airbnb spent approximately $65 million on paid media in the U.S. in 2016. The fact that the total was nearly 50 percent higher than its 2015 spend, however, points yet again to a company in rapid expansion mode.