"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
It's been 25 years since the collapse of the iconic barrier between East and West Berlin, and 27 since then-President Reagan issued his famous proclamation against the division between the Communist and non-Communist world. But the Berlin Wall has continued to serve as a haunting reminder of the scars of the Cold War, and one that is still deeply personal for people on both side of the divide.
Out of that darkness, a new creative campaign appeared over the weekend that caught our eye. The short "Wall and Chain" video, spearheaded by Dennis Goedegebuure, Head of SEO at Airbnb, beautifully captures a true story of suffering and redemption around the wall. The stunning animation combines the emotionally complex story of Jorg and Kai with the company's mission of connecting people as a backdrop.
We caught up with Dennis to learn more about the campaign, and about Airbnb's content strategy.
The story of Airbnb's "Wall and Chain" film
Explain your role at Airbnb.
I joined Airbnb in October 2012 to lead SEO for the company globally. Prior to this, I spent 10 years at eBay, where from 2005 I coordinated all of their global SEO efforts. At Airbnb, my role is about technical implementations of daily search engine optimization, and about long term strategy including content projects such as the "Wall and Chain" film.
Why is content marketing important to Airbnb?
From the beautiful photography of our listings to neighborhood guides and interactive economic impact studies, content has always been at the heart of our marketing activities. We strongly believe in the power of good storytelling, and in recent months we have evolved our strategy to place the focus on our community. As our CMO Jonathan Mildenhall recently said, "as a community-driven company, we don't want to just talk about our product, but instead put our community front and center of any campaign." "Wall and Chain" is a great example of this.
If you had to choose your three favorite content campaigns that Airbnb executed, which ones would they be and why?
1) "Wall and Chain," the Berlin Wall film. It's an incredibly powerful story of how travel and exposure to a local culture can change your perception of others and bring people closer together.
2) Airbnb's Economic Impact studies. It tells how much economic impact Airbnb has in local neighborhoods.
3) Airbnb's hospitality index. I love data inspired stories where unexpected, or expected, results are brought to life in a visually compelling manner.
Explain the motivations behind the Wall and Chain Film
In May 2012, we received an email from an Airbnb guest, Catherine, about a life changing experience for her father, Jorg, using Airbnb in Berlin.
Jorg had been a border guard on the West German side of the border during the Cold War, but moved to Denmark before German reunification. He never had closure on his experience as a guard, and had many barriers in his head towards Germany. At their Airbnb in Berlin they met Kai, who had also been a border guard, but on the East side of the Wall. Meeting Kai and hearing that he had such similar experiences helped Jorg overcome his demons towards Germany and break down the barriers and preconceptions in his mind.
We've always believed that Airbnb is about more than booking a place to stay; that by opening up homes, we are helping people feel like they can belong anywhere. This story from our community captured that essence perfectly, and with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall imminent, we felt it was the perfect way to bring our brand mission to life.
How did you make it happen?
We worked with VCCP in Berlin and New York-based animation studio, Psyop to make this idea a reality. The animated film was the center point of a wider campaign to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, which also included an event in Berlin for our host community and a microsite with the film, interviews with the protagonists, and content about Berlin. We supported the film with TV advertising in the US and online media buying globally.
What were the main challenges?
The biggest challenge was the timeline and having a totally fixed deadline. It was a complex project involving many different parts of the business and agency partners across multiple timezones. We used this to our advantage so that we could work on the project 24 hours a day by using teams on different sides of the world.
How did you make this content relevant across markets and across generations?
Although the Berlin Wall is culturally and generationally specific, the film tells a deeper story that resonates more broadly--that of a man carrying a psychological wall with him that holds him back in life, and how he was able to break the wall down. Whether or not you know the history of the Wall, the concept of physical, emotional, or cultural walls has wider resonance.
What have been the results?
We're really happy with the reaction to the film online and the extent to which people are sharing it. In four days, it has already broken through the 2 million viewers milestone on YouTube, which is simply incredible. And the comments we've received have been united about the beauty of the film and the power of the story.