Cannes Lions

The Last Blockbuster

WEBER SHANDWICK, San Francisco / AIRBNB / 2021

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Overview

Background

Airbnb entered 2020 ready to build upon its legacy of connecting communities through travel. But as we all know, the year did not go as planned.

When the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency in March, Airbnb prioritized the safety and well-being of their community, turning off all proactive communication and marketing efforts.

In June 2020, Airbnb data showed an uptick in bookings, consistent with easing restrictions on local travel.

The brief was to activate the existing Only On Airbnb campaign in a completely new landscape, with an emphasis on discovering and supporting local gems.

The objectives were to drive brand favorability and visitation, and specifically to drive an association between Airbnb and safe, local, community-centric travel.

Idea

“You up @blockbuster?”

On August 11, 2020, Airbnb set off a social media firestorm with a series of cryptic tweets tagging the long-dormant Blockbuster account.

Founded in 1985, Blockbuster grew to 9,000 stores globally before streaming video drove it into bankruptcy. Dish Networks purchased the brand in 2011 as the stores shuttered — save for one.

The small town of Bend, Oregon is home to the last Blockbuster standing. Catering to locals, store manager Sandi Harding takes pains to preserve the vibe of the chain in its heyday.

When @blockbuster finally responded to Airbnb’s missives, we announced that a few lucky guests would be able to book a sleepover at the world’s last Blockbuster, only on Airbnb.

Though only available to locals, the premise of an overnight at the last Blockbuster for the price of a movie rental ($4) was enough to set hearts on fire regardless of location.

Strategy

The Blockbuster campaign was part of a larger program, “Only on Airbnb,” which has been running since 2019.

As Airbnb’s first pandemic activation, this promotion demanded we revisit our playbook — ensuring the experience and messaging promoted responsible travel. And importantly, it needed to offer a bright spot in 2020’s gloomy news cycle.

In June 2020, Airbnb data showed an uptick in bookings, consistent with easing restrictions on local travel.

To keep Airbnb top of mind, we needed to prove that going near could be just as eye-opening as traveling far. So we sought out local gems that would remind travelers of the platform’s unique inventory.

The world’s last Blockbuster stood out in our search, offering a sentimental counter-narrative to the Netflix malaise overtaking the globe.

With an eye on COVID-19, we confirmed an August launch in hopes that spotlighting this local treasure could inspire travelers to “go near.”

Execution

The world’s last Blockbuster was already a charming time capsule. In order to make the space sleepover-ready, we dreamed up a 90’s-inspired living room among the DVD racks.

Guests could lounge on the pull-out couch or don scrunchies from the in-store “closet.” Airbnb engaged partners to incorporate era-appropriate easter eggs like Pepsi Crystal, “new” VHS releases from Sony Pictures and a snack rack piled high with Doritos, Nerds and Raisinets, courtesy of Ferrara.

Of course, it’s not an Airbnb stay without a host. Store manager Sandi Harding was a natural choice, who listed the stay to thank her community for their ongoing support.

Airbnb consulted health experts on the stay, geo-fencing the experience to local residents who were required to complete a health screening upon check-in.

We partnered with Dish Network to resurrect @Blockbuster’s Twitter handle to announce the one-night-only stay, adhering to the campaign’s organic and nostalgic feel.

Outcome

News of the sleepover traveled far and wide, earning over 4,700 pieces of coverage globally. For the first time ever, Airbnb appeared on all three U.S. national networks the morning after launch.

Consumer excitement fueled 8 million organic social impressions and a whopping 21% engagement rate.

The collaboration became a trending topic on Twitter and was named one of the best tweets of 2020. The news spiked organic search volume for Blockbuster by 407%, and even made its way onto Blockbuster’s official Wikipedia page.

Aside from making an impact in culture, the experience helped Airbnb’s business rebound, contributing to the recovery of 95% of Airbnb’s site traffic compared to 2019.

With all paid marketing turned off during the pandemic, CEO Brian Chesky attributed the comeback to PR in Airbnb’s first post-IPO earnings call — and as a result, announced that performance marketing spending would never return to pre-pandemic levels.

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