Corporate leaders from Salesforce to Walmart are promoting purpose-driven initiatives to build a reputation as a responsible business. The wave of purposeful branding stems from consumer demand for companies to create both quality products and a positive social impact. While purpose is an essential component of cultivating consumer goodwill, it is also becoming increasingly competitive. This means that brands must find unique ways of showcasing their purpose to distinguish themselves from the competition. This is especially true when numerous companies are addressing the same issue – recycling, for example – and weaving their efforts into their advertising. It’s very easy for an individual brand and its initiative to get lost in a rising sea of sameness. One way to overcome this is to champion your brand purpose by joining and leading cultural conversations. These conversations are driven both by planned messaging by the company, but also by moments of opportunity when brands take a stand about issues impacting society at large.
Airbnb is an standout example of a company that aligns its advertising with pressing social issues. Not only does the company take a stand on cultural issues, but it also engages in cultural conversations relevant to its mission. Airbnb built its brand on the strength of creating a world in which people “belong anywhere.” It’s only natural, then, for the brand to wade into the national debate around a travel ban focused on several Muslim countries because it conflicts with the brand’s mission.
For example, in a recent ad, Airbnb protested the Supreme Court ruling to uphold the current administration’s travel ban. The ad prompts consumers to “imagine a world without travel, where everyone built walls and no one left home.” The television ad proceeds to conclude that “to limit travel is to turn back progress,” and that we must collectively “travel forward” to create a more open and accepting world. In addition to making social commentary with the ad, Airbnb pledged to match donations up to $150,000 to the International Refugee Assistance Project. By intertwining timely social issues with brand messaging and real world action, Airbnb is able to position itself as a key contributor to the conversation around immigration.
This isn’t the first time Airbnb has leveraged its advertising to comment on immigration. In 2017, the brand created a Superbowl ad in response to the immigration travel ban. It features faces of people from many different ethnicities and promotes the idea that the world is more beautiful with diversity and acceptance. Additionally, Airbnb released an ad in response to critical comments made by the president about certain countries by showing the welcoming smiles of hosts in Haiti, El Salvador and parts of Africa. The ad concludes with the statement, “Let’s open doors, not build walls.”
Airbnb is both standing up for its values and defending them through cultural flashpoints by addressing relevant issues and offering relief, and both strategies are part of a longer narrative around the need for acceptance, inclusive and unity across the human family. In this way, the company is able to demonstrate the integrity of its commitment and build its business and reputation through earned media as it serves as a loud voice in the public cultural debate.
Here are key lessons from Airbnb on how to align advertising with cultural conversations:
Define your brand mission: Your brand mission provides both clarity and guidance as to what to stand for and when to take a stand. By aligning your business decisions and company purpose, you will not only gain insight on how to craft your brand messaging, but also on how to shape your corporate culture, supply chain, marketing, impact initiatives and all other aspects of your business.
Take timely actions: There are windows of opportunity in which your brand can raise its voice in defense or support of its core values. Use these opportunity to lead cultural conversations that are authentic to your brand and that will drive awareness, reputation and consumer goodwill.
Be consistent: While being timely is important to gaining earned media from news outlets and consumers using social media, it is also important to maintain consistent messaging over time. By following the compass of your purpose, you can establish a strong brand narrative that is reflected in all areas of your company that will differentiate you from competitors and earn loyalty from your customers.
Ultimately, cultural focusing events are powerful opportunities to position your brand as a purpose-driven leader. By joining and leading cultural conversations that relate to your purpose, and supporting those statements with genuine contributions and actions, you can rise above the noise of competitors, and shape a more prosperous future for your company and the lives of others.