Festival of Marketing 2015: Hostelworld CMO, Ottokar Rosenberger on emotional storytelling, street casting backpackers and moving away from showing the product in ads

To stand out amongst the big “gorilla” brands, you have to communicate the emotional story of travel – real experiences, with real people – according to Hostelworld, speaking at FoM 2015

Hostelworld is fast growing brand, and still relatively small it is surrounded by, as Rosenberger sees it, the “big brand gorillas” – Tripadvisor, Expedia, Airbnb – with the multimillion pound-deep pockets. But operating in 170 countries, in 20 languages, and across a variety of apps, Hostelworld is catching up, currently offering over 33,000 properties across the world.

“[Hostelworld] is not a booking agent, I also don’t think it is an online travel agent, and I certainly don’t feel it is an ecommerce platform – it’s the beginning of the journey if you want to meet the world”, Rosenberger says. Quoting the company’s tagline perhaps, but Hostelworld’s alternative travel approach is indicative of current trends: we no longer want to buy souvenirs we want to buy experiences, live as locals, with unfamiliar cultures, and take unpredictable journeys.

Within the new logo, a red and white H, there are two arrows, or two faces looking at one another, or two hostels.
Within the new logo, a red and white H, there are two arrows, or two faces looking at one another, or two hostels

Hostelworld looked at the “gorilla brands” and asked, “how come, in such an emotional category that is travel – you work all year to go and have that unforgettable moment when you go on a journey – how come all the advertising is about the product?”

“Emotionally differentiating your brand” is the only thing you can do to compete in the industry, Rosenberg says. Moving away from functional product demonstration – showing the accommodation – and towards emotional storytelling.

With 90% of their demographic being under 35, Hostelworld knew they needed to appeal to young travellers who are different to tourists, whilst helping to reinvent the hostelling experience, offering a vast array of properties, many of which combine the comfort of a hotel, with the community aspect and the social hub of a hostel.

CMO of Hostelworld, Ottokar Rosenberger at FoM 2015
CMO of Hostelworld, Ottokar Rosenberger at FoM 2015

They carried out research and spoke to millennials, who told them that yes decisions were still partly based on price, location and reviews but that it was also about new ways of living, new cultures, meeting locals, along with issues of safety and cleanliness, and top of the list being the sociable aspect.

In response, Hostelworld took away any “brochure-like” imagery from their marketing material, and the new imagery, along with the recent ad shown on TV and online, was created through street casting with an open call for “backpacking lifestyle subscribers”.

The recent ad features a group of real travellers who had just met at a local hostel (where they were cast), who jump into a lagoon from a high cliff, laughing and chatting. After some issues with ASA guidelines being supposedly broken due to safety concerns over the ‘tombstoning’ activity, a new edit has seen high engagement, with over 7 million views on Youtube and a Guardian piece with hundreds of positive comments.

Recent ad from Hostelworld
Recent ad from Hostelworld

There may be some alignment with the alternative accommodation offerings of Airbnb and their emotional link to travelling, but it is just another example in a sector that is very brand aware. Airbnb’s demographic is also older, and the element of the social is not as much a part of the story they are telling, which is so crucial to Hostelworld’s message – offering places with communal spaces, where travellers meet new people and are “invited to connect”.

hostelworld.com

festivalofmarketing.com

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