Airbnb yesterday launched a short animated film aligned with two things: the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and a traveler-inspired story of “belonging anywhere.”
“Wall and Chain” tells the story of a woman named Cathrine who in 2012 brought her father back to Berlin for the first time since he’d left decades prior, before the fall of the Wall. Cathrine’s father, Jörg, had been a guard in West Germany.
In Berlin, through Airbnb, Cathrine and her father booked a place with a friend of Kai, once a guard on the opposite side of the wall, in East Germany. See the result in this short but powerful film:
Wow, right? So how did Airbnb hear Cathrine’s story? Why did it select this story? How much did this cost, anyway? And what are the broader lessons content marketers take from belonganywhere?
I asked Dennis Goedegebuure, who led the effort for Airbnb and headed up a team that included Willow Hill (who Dennis calls “simply amazing!”) along with a long-list of in-house video and sound design people. Here is our conversation, along with my takeaways for content marketers:
Me: First of all, this is a crazy-good story – most brands dream of finding something so rich! How did you find it?
Dennis: Cathrine sent us the story by email all by herself in May 2012. We get a large number of great stories sent to us, from heartwarming to funny to EPIC. This particular one I would call EPIC.
My takeaway: Find a mechanism to allow you to collect customer stories at scale. For example, Airbnb recently launched a platform where people can submit their own stories at http://create.airbnb.com.
Q: Why this story? There must be a thousand Airbnb stories. What about it did you think would resonate?
A: This particular story goes very deep. There are so many walls in this world, but the toughest ones to break down… you don’t see. Those are psychological walls people carry with them. The narrative of the story is focused on how travel can break down walls through staying in people’s homes, getting in touch with the local culture.
The Berlin Wall has made such an impact on generations of people in Germany, and in Europe. November 9th, 1989, was an important moment in history, when people were, for the first time in 28 years, able to freely travel across the border in Berlin.
This year we celebrate the 25th year anniversary of the Wall coming down, and hopefully we can inspire people to open up their homes and break down more walls in the world.
My takeaway: Tease those bigger stories out of your own organization. Airbnb sells an alternative to hotels, of course. But its marketing aligns it with a richer story than simply “lodging and location.”
Q: How long did it take you? What kind of timeline did you have?
A: I got the realization of the 25-year anniversary back in February. It took me months to get buy-in we needed to do something with this story. It wasn’t until I showed it to our new CMO [and former Coca-Cola CMO] Jonathan Mildenhall in June that it got traction. His creative experience instantly saw the value of the plan, and he gave me all the creative freedom to pursue this. So I’ve been working on this since June.
My takeaway: You need a champion in the C-suite to support an idea you believe strongly in.
Q: Why is the film animated? Wouldn’t it be more powerful to feature the people themselves?
A: This was coming from Jonathan, who came to Airbnb from Coca-Cola. Obviously, he has a lot of experience telling stories through animations. [Animation] brings the story to life in a way that is universal and timeless, as this story is universal and timeless.
My takeaway: The best stories are specific enough to be believable, but universal enough to be relevant. That’s a gem from my journalism school days.
Q: From a business/content marketing perspective, what’s the goal?
A: Short-term, the business goals are around brand awareness, Berlin as a travel destination, and content engagement.
As Jonathan said already somewhere else: “As a community-driven company, we don’t want to just talk about our product, but instead put our community front and centre of any campaign.”
Long-term, this story is so much more powerful, where it can help us in the long term vision for Airbnb, make all 7 billion people around the world feel they can Belong Anywhere.
My takeaway: Have a goal; align your metrics around that goal. Sounds obvious, right? But many companies still produce random acts of content.
Q: Can you give me a sense of budget?
A: I cannot go into specifics. Our partners VCCP in Berlin and Psyop.tv have worked with us on this, and we are putting some smart marketing behind this with our partner Aimclear.
My takeaway: Always share numbers with me when I ask. It makes a blog post stronger if we know budget. (I kid.) (Or do I?) But given that awareness was a key goal, I’d say the ROI on this one was off the charts:
I want to belong…do you? http://t.co/leX59Z3mCX
— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 7, 2014
Q: What are the plans going forward, to keep this story alive/give it legs?
A: We are putting the marketing into this piece of content marketing!
We have a smart media plan for the coming three weeks, where we do multilayer segment audience retargeting on all social platforms.
Across the world, we have built 80 sub-segments of audiences, grouped into five main segments. Through managing the cookie pools, we will be able to retarget those audiences who have shown interest in the topic of travel, the Berlin Wall, content marketing, and many others.
My takeaway: Market your marketing, as Jay Baer says. I also love how the timing of this story will help extend the shelf life, as it coincides with the November 9th 25th anniversary.
Q: Will you be releasing other stories?
A: For the 2015 core creative idea, the team is working hard to get the plans ready. Stay tuned, as this is just the start of something special you will see coming out of Airbnb…