By now you will have probably seen Airbnb's latest ad which many people are calling 'creepy'. That seems to be a fairly strong consensus - three separate creatives, all at CD level or higher - have told me it reminds them of "Being John Malkovich".
I tend to agree. You're subletting rooms, AirBnb, not selling the solution to human empathy. As much as you might want it, you're not Atticus Finch, reminding us:"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." But I understand the sentiment and the desire to do so.
Here's the impression of one successful American Creative Director, talking anonymously to Adland:
It's very pretentious and for me it doesn't capture the real benefit of AirBnB - seeing a city like a local. It's skirting around it a bit, but doesn't hit the mark. It's trying to say that AirBnB will let you experience what it's like to live someone else's life. It doesn't, and I don't want that anyway. I just want to immerse myself in local culture by living like a local. This seems to be less about getting inside someone else's apartment, and more about getting inside their head. Which is creepy - a bit like that movie "Being John Malkovich".
I'm reminded of a term which I came across recently in an astoundingly good blog post by Asbury & Asbury - "Mission Escalation Trend". You can read the entire post here, but the bit which made a huge impact on me was the concept of increasingly abstract thinking.
First, there’s the mission escalation trend. This is the homeopathy of marketing. It involves taking the functional purpose of any given product, diluting it to a slightly more abstract level, then diluting it again and repeating the process until you reach a level of abstraction so remote that any sense of specific purpose has been lost entirely. So if your product is a bar of chocolate, it’s not about giving people something chocolatey to eat, it’s about giving them a tasty treat. And it’s not about giving them a tasty treat, it’s about giving them a treat in a wider sense. And it’s not about the treat as such, but the enjoyment you get from that treat. And it’s not about the physical enjoyment, but the emotional enjoyment. And it’s not about the emotional enjoyment, but joy itself. And it’s not about experiencing joy, it’s about believing in joy. And now your brand purpose is more closely aligned to Buddhism than it is to chocolate.
I think one might argue that we're seeing the mission escalation trend at work here. So you're not subletting a room in someone else's apartment to save money and live like a local, you're entering their world. And it not about entering their world as such, but understanding their point of view. And not about understanding their point as view, but truly experiencing a new life. And it's not about experiencing a new life, but about believing in life in general; believing in the collective goodness of humanity.
And how far removed has this become from the reality of why people use AirBnb: Because they want a cheap and convenient room without staying in a hotel (too expensive) or a backpacker (too slummy). I admire the sheer bravery of producing work like this, but it is homeopathy. It's abstraction at the highest level.
Such work is always going to be ripe for parody and digital studio Portal A, have created a brilliant film mocking what your AirBnb guest is more likely to get up to while you're away. As they say "It's His House Now." It goes without saying, top marks for finding and getting Sally from Oblivion (spoilers) to narrate. My only complaint is a pedantic one - don't have your main character take a drag on an unlit cigarette. That's just silly. I guess it was was a strict No Smoking house.