Airbnb introduces a new symbol for ‘belonging’


The revolution will not be televised. It will however be broadcast online at a special hyped-up press event with a running commentary on twitter. The new airbnb brand that was revealed via a live broadcast at 6pm gmt yesterday is essentially all about revolution and the power of the people. It’s a service that empowers and enables its users by cutting out the need for an ‘agent’ or a middle man and at the heart of the brand identity by DesignStudio is the idea of democracy.

Airbnb embraces all those things that represent an antidote to global capitalism: it’s local, individual and personal, and not institutionalised, austere or regimented. It’s the equivalent of wonky organic fruit at the farmer’s market and it celebrates difference and personality.

Brand positioning can be likened to political positioning, and there is a history of progressive people-centred brands. It’s a clear and familiar brand position. Think of Apple versus Microsoft. Think of Habitat when it revolutionised homewares in the 1980s. Think of Innocent when it revolutionised the drinks market in the 2000s. Both Habitat and Innocent bear symbols not dissimilar to the new airbnb marque and that’s no coincidence.

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People-centred brands can feel quasi-religious and slightly cult-like with their emphasis on wellbeing and sermons on philosophy. They know how to rally a crowd with compelling speeches and tone of voice. The new symbol is not unlike the universal Christian fish symbol. It stands for belonging and has it’s own name, Bélo, which feels terribly earnest to the cynical British ear.

Adopting a simple symbol, especially one that works well in a small square format, is of course hugely helpful with mobile apps and social media being such important touch-points. We’re seeing more and more symbols replacing unwieldy typographic marks. And like the Nike swoosh, we should expect recognition of the this symbol with any need for the name at all. We’re seeing a global language of pictograms more and more that borrows as much from the East as the West.

This is a brand focused not on selling but on celebrating friendship, and making friends. The photography and video imagery goes straight to the heart, but I’m not sure the symbol has charmed me. This is a people brand yes, but airbnb has grown up and the brand identity is actually cleverly contrived, commercial and fit for purpose.