Blinded By Belonging: Response To Airbnb’s “Belo” Reveals Their Bubble
“I wonder if there was maybe a sense of insular thinking there,” said Jeff Snell, a guest at Airbnb’s dinner party in San Francisco last Friday, celebrating the reveal of its new logo and brand identity to some of its most important brand advocates. “It’s about these high-minded ideals, and when you believe in it, you see it as the ideals, you don’t see a scrotum or boobs, you see togetherness and belonging.”
This is but a sampling of the rather candid responses people have had to the new logo introduced by Airbnb late last week. From sophisticated branding and design critics to consumer advocates of the Airbnb experience, most people can’t help but see a vagina, boobs, or butt cheeks instead of the ideal of “belonging” the brand and their U.K. design firm The Design Studio had hoped to convey.
Although they have some business terms to work out to be a fully legitimate hotel alternative (and not be taken over by greedy landlords), I’m a fan of Airbnb’s brand vision. I love traveling and experiencing different cities and cultures like a local. And I was ready for a new logo, as their previous cloud-like logo seemed more appropriate for an air freshener. After being on the agency side of logo redesigns for some major brands I have a deep appreciation for how difficult it is to land on a mark that truly symbolizes a brand’s values. So I’m not laughing at Airbnb. In fact, I really feel for them.
“It’s just like: Go ahead, laugh all you want, guys,” Airbnb CTO Nathan Blecharczyk told Re/code. “We wouldn’t want to design a logo that caters to the lowest common denominator. This was a yearlong undertaking for dozens of people, it’s something meaningful, and no one pauses to really understand that.”
Even operating in a bubble, it’s hard to imagine that in 12 months Airbnb brand execs and their design firm partners didn’t also see what’s now not so much an inside joke. A logo is a symbol, an icon. It shouldn’t need a video or microsite with a manifesto for people to get the idea behind it. Consumer testing shouldn’t be used to define how everyone will respond, but it does offer some basic reads across diverse consumer groups. I am 100% sure consumers could have helped Airbnb avoid this brand blunder, if they had cared to ask for their input. Given their “community of individuals” positioning, you’d think they would have been more inclusive in their logo development efforts.