Read the Room, Airbnb.

Marketing principles are no substitute for basic empathy.

Sophie Sharp
2 min readMar 16, 2021
Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

When I first caught a glimpse of the TV ad, I guessed it was for MADD*. A slideshow of images against a stark black background, soft-focus family and friends frolicking together, accompanied by an achingly slow acoustic version of a song you used to like.

But this is not a hastily assembled Powerpoint at a remembrance service for a guy you vaguely knew in high school. It’s the latest marketing campaign for Silicon Valley unicorn and king of ‘disruptors’, Airbnb.

We know what they’re up to, of course. And as a travel marketer in my day job, I tried to sympathize. Covid-era communications are tough territory. You’ve got to try and stay engaged with a bunch of people who are really not supposed to go anywhere for the foreseeable future. The minute it’s safe to do so, you want them to flood in your direction instead of your competitors’. But with ever-changing restrictions, no clear timelines and a broad range of opinions on what counts as appropriate travel behaviour… your 2019 strategies are useless in the current minefield.

So, the marketing playbook tells us, it’s time to get emotional.

It’s what brands do when there’s a crisis. When the bottom has fallen out of the market and they desperately need us to still remember them by the time it recovers. When logic keeps our wallets firmly shut, they reach for our heartstrings. Sadly, the decision makers at Airbnb decided a gentle tug wouldn’t cut it. After a year of trauma, loss and isolation, they’re ready to rip our hearts right out with a televised funeral for carefree togetherness.

When we’re all just hanging on by our last thread, it’s a shameless attempt to make us cry and then go look up an overpriced shepherd hut with a strict no parties policy. Which begs the question; can capitalism not give it a rest for five minutes?

These under-regulated platforms erode our tax bases, drive up rents and house prices, undermine communities and replace steady jobs with precarious gigs. They leave many of us walking on a knife edge, only one shock from disaster. And what a disaster it has been, not least for the hosts that this crime against ad creative claims to be celebrating.

So, read the room, Airbnb. Don’t dangle an escape before our eyes, when for most non-Kardashians a trip with loved ones is still so far out of reach. Don’t come at us with your sad songs when we are already in mourning.

Have some goddamn respect.

*If you’re not North American, that’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving.



Sophie Sharp

Writer, Marketer, Skier, Worrier, Former Londoner, New Canadian.