How flaunting your weakness can be good business.


Hi everyone,

We often tell our clients that great work is scalable. A great idea should connect with audiences with a $100,000 campaign AND a $1,000,000 campaign.

An Airbnb spot caught my eye recently that proves this theory. Composed simply of stills, voice over and music, the ad is very minimal in its execution.

Watch it here: "The First Law of Travel" by Airbnb.

The unique message and tone spoke to me unlike anything I’ve seen recently. I felt very inspired to go on an adventure.

I asked my business partner Kurt Ravenwood to break down exactly why it works so well.

Take it away, Kurt!

Thanks, Matt!

There are two layers of brilliance in Airbnb’s "The First Law of Travel" spot.

On the surface level, the creative execution is masterfully done. The powerful language of travel writer Pico Iyer is voiced by an engaging narrator who sounds sophisticated, wise and worldly. User-generated photos feel like they could have been found in anyone’s photo album. This sleight of hand is accomplished through the lo-fi nature of polaroid and disposable cameras.

If you go deeper into strategy and insight, that’s where this spot really sings.

I don’t have the data to back this up, but I’m going to guess that a lot of people avoid Airbnb because they’d rather have the predictability and comfort of other options.

With hotels, you get consistency.

With Vrbo, you get high-end vacation rentals.

With Airbnb, you could be sleeping in a hut without running water.

And their recent PR hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.

So why the heck would they have a line like, “Venture into uncertainty, ambiguity, even fear”?

Not the first three words you’d think a travel company would associate with their brand!

But that’s why it works. It’s unexpected.

It’s a natural instinct to run away from weaknesses in marketing, flaunting features and benefits instead. Whoever made this ad was strong enough to ignore those instincts. They were brave enough to flaunt their weakness.

Turning weakness into strength

Let’s dig even deeper. What is the weakness they are flaunting?

Airbnb doesn’t give you comfort; it pushes you out of your comfort zone.

That’s the beginning of a good insight. But owning up is only half of the battle. You have to reframe your weakness as a strength, as a positive.

How do you do that? You find a way your weakness serves a deeper need for your customer.

We see this strategy in action in the final line of the commercial:

“We’re reminded of the first law of travel, and therefore of life: You’re only as strong as your readiness to surrender.”

So the weakness is reframed: Airbnb pushes you out of your comfort zone — and discomfort makes you a stronger person.

Now that’s an insight a creative team can sink their teeth into.

Personally, I’m planning my getaway to a hut without running water right now. Preferably somewhere sunny.

Until next time,
Matt Sabljak
President, Partner