Viacom and Airbnb Create the Hottest Fan Experience of the Summer
Being a fan of something goes well beyond simple appreciation—it’s a need to experience something on all levels. You want to see it, you want to touch it, and you want to live inside of it. And most importantly, you want to share that experience with other fans who get it. Couple that with the growing consumer mindset of wanting to do things instead of have things, and you get the beginning of the ultimate experiential project.
Viacom Labs had an idea. What if the fourth wall didn’t exist at all and fans could walk into their favorite movie or TV show? Not virtually—but literally sit down in a character’s living room, raid their fridge, or even crash in their bed overnight? Intrigued by the possibility, they began to dig further. Which franchise made the most sense? Which ones connected the most? With so many options to choose from, they narrowed their choice down to one brand that they knew appealed equally to kids and adults alike: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Enter Nickelodeon and Airbnb. With a big idea in mind, and 35 days to spare before the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, the teams began scouting for a space before finally choosing an undisclosed spot in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood to bring the turtles’ secret lair to life.
“The idea began with us thinking about the importance of location and how to find ways for fans to live inside [them],” says Susan Claxton, Executive Producer at Viacom Labs. The fact that the Turtles had a unique, signature home base—and an imminent movie release—made them the ideal subjects for this initial experiment. Those close to the project eventually realized that such an undertaking could function both as fan engagement and a creative multi-platform promotional initiative.
Viacom Labs enlisted the services of Amy Gavin, Special Events Coordinator, who combed the movie’s style guide (provided by Paramount) as well as consumer products from Nickelodeon (based on the animated series) to create a physical environment that would combine old and new elements in ways that felt true to the TMNT worlds that have existed in various forms over the years.
Part of making the Turtle Lair work was finding a likeminded partner in Airbnb, who had experimented with providing more than just home or apartment rentals for its users. After some initial success with fun, quirky, experiential rentals as part of their “A Night At” program (like putting a bedroom in Boston’s Fenway Park), Airbnb was game to help bring the TMNT experience to life. “These are meant to be the most extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime overnight experiences,” says Carol Cho, Experiential Marketing Campaign Manager at Airbnb. “Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was a kid.”
“We’re all about providing extraordinary experiences. It’s very personal, it’s very local, and we are always open to working with partners like Viacom who are interested in bringing those experiences to life.”
– Carol Cho, Experiential Campaign Manager at Airbnb”
With that in mind, Viacom Labs decided to offer a night’s stay as a prize to fans who could express their undying TMNT fandom most compellingly in 500 characters or less—something Cho said brought out the truly passionate. “With those three or four sentences, we got some really amazing stories.”
One of which came from a man named Jonathan Gill who brought his daughter and his niece to honor the memory of the girl’s late father (a member of the US Coast Guard who died in the line of duty). “The cartoons were something my brother and I looked forward to every Saturday morning,” says Gill. “The Turtles were ultimate heroes.” Gill introduced his niece to the Turtles, and found the shared love of the TMNT brand formed a unique connection between the girl and her father. “The contest was so important to me because my niece never got to meet her dad. She was born six months after he died,” explains Gill. “I wanted her to have a piece of his childhood that he wasn’t able to share himself.”
Essentially, the true “turtle power” that grew from this project was the discovery of how much more value fans placed on a brand when they had the ability to experience it firsthand, and that the value of that experience only increased when they were able to include their friends and family members in it. The Lair represented something much more significant than just a marketing tactic: it was an opportunity to literally break down walls and rebuild them with fans at the center of the construct.