Monthly Archives: June 2015

airbnb: changing the world with a word

June 9, 2015

Last week I went to the School of Life‘s Business Wise conference: a day where some scarily brainy speakers explored how business can help us to lead more fulfilling lives.

It was just brilliant. We heard how startups like BlaBlaCar and TransferWise are contributing to a Sharing Economy, where customers are responsible for delivering the brand experience to others. We explored the idea that great new businesses offer the highest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – instead of things like shelter and transport, which are already well catered-for, new brands such as airbnb offer friendship and connection.

I’m particularly fascinated by this airbnb example. On the surface of it, going on holiday and staying in a stranger’s house is, well, kind of insane. (Although perhaps not so crazy as letting a bunch of strangers come and sleep in your spare bedroom.) And if the airbnb pitch had been about all the functional stuff – the house you visit, the bed you sleep in – maybe the idea would have sounded crazy too.

But, obviously, that’s not the airbnb pitch. The pitch is about feeling at home, anywhere in the world.  It’s about being part of a community.

In fact, airbnb sum it up in one word: belonging.

I really, really admire the single-mindedness of airbnb’s thinking. They’ve hit on something that all of us, wherever we are in the world, truly yearn for. And, crucially, they’ve focused their comms on this one idea. They don’t constantly muddy the waters with other messages about quality accommodation or easy booking – even though these things are very much a part of their brand experience. They use the idea of belonging as the golden thread running through everything they say. Just have a look at the Belong Anywhere video on their homepage.

It reminds me of something I read in Made to Stick, a ridiculously useful book about comms by Chip and Dan Heath. The book talks about ‘finding the core’ of a brand – as well as guiding your comms, this core acts as a filter for all the decisions you make day-to-day. For example, Southwest Airlines has decided to be ‘THE low-fare airline’ – and so they don’t offer extra-cost things like mid-flight snacks, even if some customers say they’d like them. This might seem extreme. But it means that customers are absolutely clear about the offering, and therefore more likely to remember it.

Lots of brands try to say too much about their offering – and, as a result, people remember nothing. Airbnb have filtered their thoughts down to a single word. And that’s something we won’t forget in a hurry.


Comment comment  |  Share Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

Ice bucket campaign lands charity in hot water

June 1, 2015

The people of Twitter are disgruntled again. No, it’s not Katie Hopkins this time. In fact it’s an unlikely villain: the charity Motor Neurone Disease Association. It seems that the public don’t find the charity’s latest campaign touching or inspiring – they find it ‘highly inappropriate’ and even ‘revolting’.

The campaign in question is called Last Summer. It has its own hashtag, natch. And it looks back to a time when we all, decked in our swimming costumes and dressing gowns, took to our gardens and hilariously risked cardiac arrest as part of the ice bucket challenge. The campaign idea is fair enough. But as Brian Whelan, Channel 4’s deputy digital editor, pointed out in his tweet, the execution is somewhat lacking:

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 13.54.27

The copy seems to imply that Michael’s motor neurone disease diagnosis has something to do with him skipping the ice bucket challenge last year. Which is obviously absurd. And Twitter responded to say as much:


Last year, I didn’t take a no make-up selfie. Now, I have leprosy.

And my personal favourite:



Of course, the ad is terrible. The logic is so clearly screwy, and I’m surprised nobody picked up on the sinister karmic overtones before it went to print. I certainly wouldn’t have signed it off, and nor would any of the creatives I’ve worked with. But is all the righteous indignation doing more harm than good?

First, I don’t for a minute believe that anyone at the MNDA really intended to say: DONATE OR ELSE. It’s just a clumsy, ill-though line that shouldn’t have made it onto the campaign posters (and it’s certainly not the only one of those you’ll see today as you squash yourself into the next Northern line carriage). But many Twitter comments suggest that it’s not just a piece of bad creative, but that it came from bad people – or at least a bad impulse:

Appalling guilt baiting charity advertising.

I don’t give to charities which guilt-trip people. Fuck off.

That’s the first time I’ve ever wanted to say fuck off to a charity fighting an awful disease

I mean, these guys aren’t Protein World. And in some ways, the ad is almost right – for instance, imagine it said something like:

“Last summer, I never thought about motor neurone disease – I didn’t even do the ice bucket challenge. This year I was diagnosed.”

Second, the furore could damage more than MNDA’s donations. OK, maybe the charity will be more careful next time. And that’s good – but only to a point. It’s not good when brands start playing safe with their campaigns, creating work that’s designed to dodge bullets rather than win plaudits. Fear of making mistakes is the death of creativity – and that fear is only accentuated in these days when social media can serve up some of the roughest justice, deserved or otherwise. Critical analysis is one thing – but sweary rage is bruising, demoralising and not constructive.

To anyone who called MNDA out on Twitter today: I totally agree with you that the ad is rubbish. It’s your right to flag it in public, and I actually think you’re right to do so. But, when you do, please show a little compassion. At the end of the day, we all want better work – not bland stuff that leaves us cold.

Comment comment  |  Share Twitter Facebook LinkedIn