Why Bar­bie, a blimp and a Wiener­mo­bile are on Airbnb

Dayton Daily News - - BUSINESS - Jacey Fortin and Der­rick Bryson Tay­lor ©2019 The New York Times

It was a warm Au­gust evening in Evanston, Illi­nois, just north of Chicago, when the Wiener­mo­bile rolled out the red carpet for a sleepover.

Ac­tu­ally, the carpet was green, and not so much carpet as ar­ti­fi­cial turf. In­side the Wiener­mo­bile, the meat brand Os­car Mayer’s sig­na­ture mar­ket­ing ma­chine, there was a pull­out bed and a minifridge. There were hot dog sun­glasses, hot dog one­sies and ac­tual hot dogs with all the ac­cou­ter­ments. (But no ketchup: Chicago doesn’t re­ally do hot dogs with ketchup. It’s a thing.)

It was the first time a Wiener­mo­bile had been re­pur­posed for paid lodg­ing, the re­sult of a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Os­car Mayer and Airbnb, the home-sharing plat­form that has in­creas­ingly tried to woo cus­tomers by promis­ing ad­ven­ture as well as accommodat­ion.

If the Wiener­mo­bile stunt sounds fa­mil­iar, it may be be­cause Airbnb has en­tered into sim­i­lar collaborat­ions since then. The Goodyear blimp wel­comed Airbnb guests last month. A life­size ver­sion of Bar­bie’s Mal­ibu Dreamhouse opened its doors last week. And Down­ton Abbey — that is, High­clere Cas­tle in Hamp­shire, Eng­land — will take two lodgers this month.

All of those of­fers were part of a mar­ket­ing cam­paign at Airbnb, and all of them made news head­lines. That was no ac­ci­dent.

“I think a lot of brands, in the future, they need to be in the busi­ness of mak­ing news, not just ad­ver­tis­ing,” said Brian Ch­esky, Airbnb’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. “And to make news you have to do some­thing that is worth some­body re­port­ing about.”

The first of those collaborat­ions was with Os­car Mayer, a brand owned by Kraft Heinz. Bon­nie Rosen­berg, 32, a Chicago res­i­dent, stayed in the Wiener­mo­bile on Aug. 1, its first night as a ho­tel. She knew the whole thing was a mar­ket­ing ploy for Os­car Mayer and Airbnb. But it all seemed so campy, nos­tal­gic and fun.

“I saw an ar­ti­cle on Twit­ter from The Chicago Tri­bune cov­er­ing it, and I was like, jack­pot,” she said. “I def­i­nitely want to do this.”

Rosen­berg said she and her hus­band, Bill We­lense, 36, had a good time lean­ing into the ab­sur­dity of it all. “It was re­ally sur­real, I have to say, be­cause it was set up like a movie set would be,” she added.

The Wiener­mo­bile and sim­i­lar lodg­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties were avail­able on a first­come-first-served ba­sis, and only for a few nights. So while mil­lions of peo­ple read about them, not many were able to book them.

That scarcity can be ef­fec­tive for com­pa­nies seek­ing news cov­er­age, ac­cord­ing to Ron Ber­man, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at the Whar­ton School. “It needs to be more of an in­ter­est­ing story — let’s call it an as­pi­ra­tional ex­pe­ri­ence — than an ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

While get­ting the right kind of at­ten­tion is dif­fi­cult, news re­ports that link brands with in­ter­est­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties can make for ex­cel­lent mar­ket­ing, Ber­man said. And New York Times re­porters who write about those mar­ket­ing tactics could be help­ing the brands even more.

But Airbnb, which has been val­ued at about $30 bil­lion, is worth watch­ing as it ex­pands be­yond lodg­ing and into the more neb­u­lous realm of ex­pe­ri­ences. The plat­form has al­ready as­serted it­self as a dis­rup­tive force in the ho­tel and real es­tate in­dus­tries — clash­ing with cities, neigh­bor­hoods and res­i­dents in pitched le­gal bat­tles at al­most ev­ery step of the way. And last week, after a shoot­ing at a rental prop­erty that killed five peo­ple at a Hal­loween party, Ch­esky said on Twit­ter that Airbnb planned to crack down on “party houses.”

In Mal­ibu, Cal­i­for­nia, the Bar­bie man­sion didn’t re­ally ex­ist as such un­til Mat­tel teamed up with Airbnb to pro­mote the Bar­bie brand’s 60th an­niver­sary. Adorned with pops of pink specif­i­cally for last week’s book­ing, the prop­erty was open to four peo­ple for just two nights. Still, it earned news me­dia cov­er­age from CNBC, The New York Post and Fox News.

“We felt that this part­ner­ship with Airbnb would be a re­ally fun and rel­e­vant way” to re­in­force Bar­bie’s place in pop­u­lar cul­ture, said Lisa McKnight, the global head of Bar­bie and dolls for Mat­tel.

The stay in a Goodyear blimp, which was sta­tioned in a hangar in Ohio, also gave peo­ple some­thing to talk about; it was cov­ered by CNN, USA Today and Maxim. A list­ing for a Novem­ber reser­va­tion at High­clere Cas­tle, a film­ing lo­ca­tion for “Down­ton Abbey,” tar­geted fans of the tele­vi­sion se­ries and the movie re­leased in Septem­ber. It was cov­ered in The Los Angeles Times, Town & Coun­try and Forbes.The com­pany also of­fers Ex­pe­ri­ences — ac­tiv­i­ties with Airbnb hosts — and Ad­ven­tures, like surf­ing, sail­ing and for­ag­ing.

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