Festival of Marketing 2014: why Airbnb’s rebrand was no disaster

The head of Airbnb’s art department discussed reactions to the company’s recent rebrand at the Festival of Marketing today, describing the public response to its logo as a “pleasant surprise”.

Image via DesignStudio, which redesigned Airbnb’s visual identity and created a new logo for the brand

The head of Airbnb’s art department discussed reactions to the company’s recent rebrand at the Festival of Marketing today, describing the public response to its logo as a “pleasant surprise”.

Speaking to Design Week editor Angus Montgomery, Schapiro explained the reasons for the company’s rebrand, the impact of the new identity on the company’s communications and his surprise that it became one of the most talked about design stories of this year.

The lettings website launched its new look designed by London team DesignStudio in July (read our blog post on it here), which saw its original blue and white word marque replaced with the ‘belo’, a universal symbol of belonging inspired by the idea of people, pleaces, love and community.

On social media, however, the logo was immediately likened to various body parts – from buttocks to male and female genitals. Within hours, the internet was awash with tumblr sites and memes pointing this out; the subject had trended on Twitter and was featured on mainstream news outlets from CNN to the Guardian and BBC.

Speaking to Montgomery, Schapiro described the social media response as incredible. “We expected it to be relevant and interesting to creatives and marketers,” he said.

Asked why the rebrand caused such a fuss, aside from the obvious reasons, Schapiro said: “Most brands are very protective about what you can do with [their assets], so to challenge that notion and create something that’s intended to be used and individualised across our community [Airbnb set up a site allowing people to create, download and share their own versions of the belo]… it was very disruptive.”

While some media were quick to label the incident as a “disaster”, Schapiro says the company was largely unphased by the public’s response.

“Surprisingly, it wasn’t difficult to deal with,” said Schapiro. “[After working on it] for so many months, you’d expect it to be disheartening, but we all felt 100 percent confident that this was the right direction for the brand in the long term. We had to contextualise that [as an] immediate response,” he added.

He also said the brand was used to controversy. “That’s the nature of Airbnb – the concept of staying in someone’s home, opening up yours is such a novel and new idea … controversy isn’t new to us,” he explained.

Rather than ignoring the criticism online, Airbnb actively engaged with conversations surrounding the marque, with a social media team creating their own content in response and acknowledging the joke on Twitter.

“The [initial] conversation went on for about two or three days, and we continued with that strategy of responding to the situation,” said Schapiro.

Four months on, he didn’t mention whether the rebrand has had a significant impact on visits to the site, or transactions made on it, but Schapiro did say it has enabled the company’s creative teams to create more engaging content and better share stories about Airbnb members.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall last week, for example, it released an animated film and website telling the story of two former border guards on opposing sides of the wall who were re-united after a chance meeting through Airbnb in 2012:

“It started out as a design project, but I have seen it elevate the entire company,” he added. “Telling stories, for us, has always been a challenge … this shift lets us share the message of our community globally.”

The Festival of Marketing is a two-day conference organised by Centaur media brands, including Design Week, Econsultancy, Marketing Week, Celebrity Intelligence and CR. For details, see festivalofmarketing.com

More from CR

Gothic: the stuff of nightmares

The Gothic still retains a powerful influence on visual culture, as an eerie show at the British Library reveals. Rick Poynor ventures inside

Altered States

The age of virtual reality has finally arrived. From gaming to education, architecture to health, it looks set to alter every aspect of our lives

Animation at Aesthetica Short Film Festival

Aesthetica Short Film Festival takes place in York this weekend, with over 300 films screening in venues around the city. As well as new dramas, comedy, documentaries and music videos, the line-up includes some beautiful, funny and thought-provoking animation. Here’s a look at five of our favourites…

Graphic Designer

Fushi Wellbeing

Creative Designer

Monddi Design Agency