Airbnb has prioritized expansion in China as one of its four core business sectors, adopting a Chinese name (Aibiying, literally “welcome each other with love”), building a Chinese management team and paying close attention to local cultural trends and tastes. Recent marketing efforts have emphasized Airbnb’s edge over homegrown Chinese rivals in the quality of its property listings and the upscale experiences it offers, whether through the celebrity travel series “Adventure Life” (奇遇人生), museum exhibitions, or a documentary film on China’s intangible cultural heritage.
Creating short films for the Lunar New Year is a tried and tested method for brands to celebrate China’s biggest holiday, often using heartwarming themes of family relationships and reunions to create compelling emotional bonds with viewers. This year, Airbnb is seeking broad appeal with its first foray into animation, tapping the renowned Taiko Studios to create a set of characters that can represent the brand in China. Taiko was founded in 2017 by a group of former Walt Disney artists led by Shaofu Zhang, and its first major project, “One Small Step” (2018), was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated short film.
The three-and-a-half minute film opens with a young girl playing at turning a character poster for the word “fortune” ((福, fu) right side up, even as her father repeatedly attempts to keep it upside down, in keeping with a Chinese holiday tradition that relies on wordplay — the phrase “fortune is upside down” is a homophone for “fortune has arrived.” The girl grows up and leaves home, turning into a hardworking but lonely city dweller. She becomes homesick as the holiday approaches, but gets a surprise when her parents rent out the Airbnb next door — the “home” is different but the “family” is the same (the word for “home” and “family” is the same in Chinese).
The story is told entirely without dialogue, using music and facial expressions to convey emotion. The experience of using the Airbnb app is depicted to highlight ease of use and convenience, suggesting the relatively new option offered by the home-sharing firm: rather than going back home for the holidays as dictated by tradition, Airbnb users can make a home anywhere with their families.
The film was released on Airbnb’s Weibo along with a promotional coupon and also posted to the youth-oriented video platform Bilibili, which is popular among China’s anime. comics and games (ACG) subcultures. The high quality of the animation and detail to cultural nuances have brought it overwhelmingly positive reviews on Bilibili, scoring another victory for Airbnb’s Chinese marketing as it reaches out to new customers.