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Brand Rebrand: The Airbnb Story

The Airbnb Story

Founded in 2008, Airbnb is now a household name among backpackers across the world. In 2009 just a year later, the company was close to shutting shop. To cut a long story short, the founders realised, most of the listings on their website back then, had crappy photographs of the places which discouraged most customers from booking on the website. A ‘non-scalable’ solution of actually going door-to-door with a professional camera and taking good quality pictures helped them almost double their revenue.

During 2010-2011, the company saw phenomenal growth and successfully raised $112m at a one billion plus valuation.

This is what the Airbnb platform looked like back then.

The Process

The agency in its blog post, mentions a great year long process, where teams from both the US and UK offices immersed themselves in the brand. This was in its true sense, the first major project for the agency, which was sure to take them to the next level.

The agency sent out four team members to visit 13 cities across four continents to stay with Airbnb hosts and experience it first hand. Hours of footage, photographs and interviews were eventually boiled down to a four-minute film which gave a brief insight into the Airbnb Community. The entire process so far, resulted in a manifesto, titled ‘Open’ which was used as a ‘brand compass’. At this point, the agency also hired Sign Salad – a semiotics and cultural insight agency based in London to study how the Airbnb name resonates globally.

Semiotics - "The science of communication studied through the interpretation of signs and symbols as they operate in various fields, esp. language", Oxford English Dictionary (2003)

The agency also carried out its own consumer research to understand the perceptions the brand has among its users.


The Result

The new logo was not received very kindly by the Internet. If tweets are any indication, the whole year-long exercise seemed to have backfired.

Even the BBC did a story on it. Oh, also, the logo turned out to be ‘coincidentally’ similar to Automation Anywhere’s logo.

In a joint statement released by the two companies, Automation Anywhere acknowledged the coincidence and were in the process of ‘transitioning to a new design that is not similar to the Airbnb logo’. Here is what they transitioned to:


Our Take

We loved the entire process and the approach adopted by DesignStudio. The agency definitely immersed themselves completely into the brand.

You guys had got so deep into the work – you literally unlocked and inspired us about what was possible. Brian Chesky – CEO

So then what went wrong? Or did it really?

It sounds hard to believe that throughout the entire journey, even after involving the semiotics behind the brand, the agency never once realised the sexual imagery behind the logo. Ben Wright, founder of DesignStudio told BBC, ‘We weren’t aware to be honest.’


Going by the number of retweets, mentions, likes and shares the campaign did generate a lot of interest and got people talking about the brand. Love it or hate it, the Belo is here to stay!