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Cannes 2015: At Coke, I was baby-sitting, at Airbnb, I feel like a parent: Jonathan Mildenhall

Cannes 2015: At Coke, I was baby-sitting, at Airbnb, I feel like a parent: Jonathan Mildenhall

Author | Srabana Lahiri | Wednesday, Jun 24,2015 8:36 AM

Cannes 2015: At Coke, I was baby-sitting, at Airbnb, I feel like a parent: Jonathan Mildenhall

Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO of home-rental site Airbnb Inc. and former creative chief at Coca Cola, was the centre of attraction at the first ‘Wake up with the Economist’ conversation at the Cannes Lions Beach Club, where he said his stint at Coke involved “baby-sitting” the brand, while at Airbnb, he is a “parent” spurring its fast growth.

Asked what is different now compared to his seven-year stint at Coke, Mildenhall said, “I was only baby-sitting Coke because the person before me had done a very good job! At Airbnb, it’s beautiful as we’re really defining the brand for the first time. I feel like a parent. It took us four years to grow from guest traveller Number 1 to 1 million. It then took two years from 1 million to 37 million. That’s phenomenal and exciting!”

On the move from Coke to Airbnb, he said, “It has been a huge, huge learning of moving to Airbnb from Coke. We are a digital company, a 21st century organization and within my ops, performance marketing and brand marketing fit together and are working more effectively together than ever before. Driving the story-telling agenda, driving the Airbnb platform agenda, those are two massively different agendas and we are a relatively small company with a relatively small leadership team, there are only 11 people on the effective team and so when we come into those areas of conflict, it just takes a few people to get together and figure that out. You wouldn’t be able to get that streamlined process at an organization like Coke. There is a great understanding of different job functions at Airbnb.”

On creativity in the brand’s communication, Mildenhall said there is “crazy potential” waiting to be unlocked from Airbnb’s 40 million strong community of guests and hosts. “It is about how to unlock this crazy potential of our community... We put out a word from the creative agency, or the marketing team, but in fact our best stories so far are real life consumer stories like the two German brothers who reunited with each other on the Airbnb platform. We have compelling content that comes from the community,” Mildenhall said.

The ‘Wake Up With The Economist’ event is part of The Economist’s effort to bring together leading marketers to explore and debate in depth the place of creativity in today's business world at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2015. The first panel of the series held at the Cannes Lions Beach Club on Monday had besides Mildenhall, Pete Blackshaw, global head of digital & social media of Nestle S.A. and Bruce McColl, chief marketing officer of Mars in conversation with Daniel Franklin, executive editor of The Economist.


Ajay Kakar, CMO of Aditya Birla Financial Services Group, posed a question to the panel at ‘Wake Up With The Economist’: “What is the role of a CMO? Do the roles of CMO and CTO clash sometimes?”

Pete Blackshaw of Nestle took up the question and said, “I won’t say that we are at war... the CTO has the potential to be our most important partner, there are some really important member decisions beyond our scope of expertise, i.e, what marketers understand – statistics, end results and algorithms and so on. Because technology is so central and a lot of us have been saying that creativity has to happen with technology... So it is essentially whether to have a creative CTO as a part of this or does the creativity come from outside?”


At the end of the session, Daniel Franklin posed a question to the three CMOs: For just 30 seconds, think of what’s your wake-up call for 2016? What is your prediction for the future?
Here’s what they said:

Pete Blackshaw: Consumer trust. In 2016, it could break, either in the good or bad way. We talk about big data, but the one fundamental that we have to embrace and bring to the head in 2016 is keeping the consumer at the centre of everything. That means full transparency in what we’re doing, giving them control to opt in, thinking about the role that mobile is playing in radically simplifying the way we communicate with consumers, even with the fine print we typically throw at them. We know there’s cynicism out there including with publications like yourselves (The Economist) and all for different reasons and we need to embrace it. It’s an incredible time to be in marketing and we could either go down in win-win with trust or we can go down the path where we have that scepticism, that cohort value which is very important and I do think it’s coming ahead.

Bruce McColl: The way the world shops today is changing at a pace that is unprecedented and for an FMCG player, we have to figure out that the blurring lines between marketing and sales is more blurred today. Our prediction is we’re going to have to look at much closer partnership with retail partners, whether they’re virtual or brick-and-mortar and figure out how to bring agency partners, media partners, Google and Facebook and retail together... how to service them and enrich those machines better.

Jonathan Mildenhall: What’s interesting is the community of people you can put together to ensure that larger brands are really dynamic and vital... For me, that’s the same, except my community is the travellers in the house. I’ve got almost two million houses on the platform and 27 million travellers and I talk about developing the world’s first community-driven superbrand but to be honest, I really don’t understand yet how I can really unlock the strategic potential for the community and do it at scale. So working with new partners, it will help us curate the very best of ideas for the community and push those ideas out into the world. I have to crack that code.

(Transcription credit: Saloni Dutta)

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