Jun 6, 2024 - Business

Airbnb's "Icons" is its latest communications bet

Illustration of a lightbulb with the filament in the shape of Airbnb's logo.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Airbnb's newest product, Icons, was created, managed and launched by the communications team.

Why it matters: It is an example of how communications can drive revenue by engaging with new audiences and piggybacking on cultural moments.

Driving the news: Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky recently announced the Icons category, which gives users the opportunity to have unique experiences — like spending the night in the Ferrari Museum, the home of Bollywood star Janhvi Kapoor in a house modeled on the one featured in Pixar's "Up.".

Flashback: The concept of Icons has already been tested, says Airbnb global head of policy and communications Jay Carney, and was inspired by previous viral Airbnb activations like the Barbie's Malibu DreamHouse, Shrek's Swamp and the "Home Alone" house.

  • Of note, the Barbie DreamHouse received more press coverage last summer than the company's IPO in 2020.

By the numbers: Since being introduced in May, Icons has garnered over 10,500 media stories and generated 15 million page views, a big success, according to Carney.

  • "We look at the return on investment here as embedding brand awareness, and extending to target audiences. A very important piece of Icons for us is reaching audiences where we see growth potential, both inside the United States and in newer markets where we have a lot of potential in general for the business," he added.

Zoom in: By hijacking the interest of dedicated fan bases, the company is able to target and attract new customers based on age and location.

  • For example, the Kapoor activation is a way for Airbnb to play in India — a key growth market for the rental platform — while Prince's "Purple Rain" house attracts Gen X and a game night experience with TikTok star Khaby Lame reaches Gen-Z, says Carney.

The big picture: Brands are increasingly looking for ways to authentically embed themselves into the cultural moments.

Yes, but: Traditionally, major branding moments and partnerships have been spearheaded by marketing, with comms helping amplify them once campaigns were in place.

  • However, in the instance of Icons, the strategy was created and led by communications.
  • And Chesky has long been bullish on the power of earned media, with Airbnb's marketing spend being lower than other travel companies.

What they're saying: "This is a way of showing how we're expanding beyond our core. Everyone knows we can offer a place to stay, but we also offer incredible, one-of-a-kind experiences," Carney added.

  • When asked how he would describe Airbnb now, Carney said "a design-driven experiential company."

The bottom line: By owning brand campaigns and narratives, communicators can prove their value and show how their efforts impact the bottom line.

Go deeper: Airbnb adds "Icon" stays with celebs, museums and more.

Go deeper