|HomeAway, a Home Rental Service, Mocks the Competition
By: New York Times
Guests cringe on a couch while a bathrobe-clad homeowner clips his toenails. A couple wakes to find that another homeowner has been watching them sleep. A woman at the bathroom sink gags when she spies a bar of soap riddled with strange hairs.
With “It’s Your Vacation, Why Share It?” as its tag line, a new advertising campaign by the online home-rental service HomeAway depicts some of the many awkward, gross or annoying ways this kind of shared-lodging arrangement can go wrong.
The name of HomeAway’s chief rival, Airbnb, is never mentioned, but the implication is clear.
Airbnb, in addition to aiding the rental of vacant homes or apartments, also gives hosts and guests the option of renting or staying in a home — in a spare room, for instance — with the homeowner present. With HomeAway, renters get the place to themselves.
“Definitely, we’re using a different kind of tone,” said HomeAway’s chief marketing officer, Mariano Dima. “We want to continue with the same positioning, but it was very important to us to be clear how we’re different.”
Airbnb declined to comment.
The campaign, developed with Saatchi & Saatchi in London, includes broadcast and digital videos, with a voice-over by the actor Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation” fame.
It also takes a swipe at hotels, depicting a family having lunch poolside caught in the crossfire of a water-gun fight and a woman trying to relax on a chaise longue while a wild-haired fellow guest plays air guitar and loudly jams to the music playing in his earbuds.
“I think the idea of not sharing your holiday is a simple kind of thing,” said Kate Stanners, the chief creative officer of Saatchi & Saatchi.
“It’s louder. It’s funny rather than emotional,” Ms. Stanners said of the new campaign, acknowledging that it takes a more pointed approach to distinguishing HomeAway from its competitors. “Our competition would be Airbnb, and it’s also hotels, so we almost wanted to start behaving almost like a challenger of the challenger.”
The private rental segment of the lodging industry is growing quickly, analysts say, raising the stakes as companies jockey for market share.
“The surveys show them in single digits as far as penetration, but they’re catching up fast,” said Chekitan Dev, a professor who teaches marketing and branding at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration (and who owns a vacation home that he sometimes lists on HomeAway).
Airbnb has two million listings worldwide, according to its website, compared with HomeAway’s one million-plus. Several smaller companies around the world also compete in this market. In a November research note, Morningstar analysts estimated that HomeAway had about 40 percent of the online vacation rental bookings market.
“What used to be called the alternative accommodations category is coming into its own,” Mr. Dev said. “The ‘other’ category is becoming more mainstream. It’s becoming more competitive.”
Last year, the online travel behemoth Expedia, which previously acquired competitors like Orbitz and Travelocity, paid nearly $4 billion for HomeAway. The purchase was completed in December.
Now that HomeAway has big corporate backing, expectations are high. “Expedia’s technology, marketing and conversion expertise should be able to leverage HomeAway’s leading share of online vacation rental bookings,” Morningstar analysts said.
With this in mind, “it’s important for HomeAway to elevate consumer awareness that they exist,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst, said. The timing is good, he said, because people are probably thinking about booking vacations for spring break and for summer.
“The level of awareness of the category is still low,” Mr. Dima said. “There’s still a lot of space for growth.” He declined to specify how much the campaign cost, although he said it was in the tens of millions of dollars and was the biggest marketing investment in the company’s 10-year history.
Aside from 15- and 30-second television ads, and a 60-second version online, the campaign is being promoted through email and social media initiatives, including a Facebook contest last month that generated more than 1,400 comments.
“The majority of our investment has gone digitally,” Mr. Dima said. Since the HomeAway app was upgraded last year, more people have been using it to navigate and book stays, he said, adding, “We’re an e-commerce business — 55 percent of our profit comes from mobile.”
Although a strategy of knocking the competition has its limits, analysts said, the edgier creative content HomeAway has embraced could succeed at introducing more people to the brand.
Mr. Dima said depicting moments like the “hairy soap” encounter was worth the risk because of the buzz it generates. Ms. Stanners concurred.
“What we’ll be doing over the coming weeks is use of more social media platforms, then slightly more tactical stuff,” she said. “We’re delighted that it hits a nerve.”
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