Brand Supreme

Airbnb has begun publishing a lifestyle magazine, Pineapple, for the site’s hosts and guests. That is, for the site’s two types of paying customers: the people who pay the company to be able to rent through its site; and the ones who pay to rent the listed rooms. It joins a long tradition of travel magazines subsidized by major industry powers. Airline magazines were lifestyle publications with a loose connection to cities and countries served by the airline that published them. In 2011, Marriot launched JWM, a lifestyle magazine for its wealthier customers, intended to help customers “master the art of living,” at least in cities that contain flagship Marriott luxury hotels. Pineapple, then, is a luxury lifestyle magazine with a focus on travel, and with a particular focus on travel to cities and countries that have been most receptive to Airbnb’s sensitive legal situation. It’s a hotel-like move for a company that needs to be seen, by regulators at least, as something other than a hotel operator:

Bjorn Hanson, a professor at the Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University, said most hotel brands offer guests “a publication of some form,” and that Airbnb’s new magazine “continues to position Airbnb as a legitimate hotel brand.”

The new magazine, he said, “can create a membership-like feeling, which can contribute to brand loyalty.”

So Airbnb is becoming more like a hotel chain — the world’s biggest, at this rate, by a lot. But meanwhile, what are the hotel chains doing? Not two months ago:

“We’re saying we’re going to be the largest publishers of life style,” said David Beebe, who is running the new studio, and is now partnering up with producers on the first projects. “We’re going to be the Red Bull of this category. That’s where we want to get to.”

With 18 brands, Marriott is the world’s largest hotel company with over 4,000 hotels in 78 countries. Through its individual properties, in-room TVs, websites, mobile platforms and reward program, Marriott certainly has the network through which it can distribute entertainment.

“Everyone understands that all of us today are really media companies and content publishers,” Beebe said. “It’s more about how do we do it.”

You know that ancient internet maxim, the one that’s actually just four years old? “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold,” and all its variants? I would suggest it’s insufficiently broad, and its premises too optimistic. It’s the Newtonian model of marketing physics, unequipped to deal with a set of nonsensical but mathematically necessary realities. If you’re not paying, you’re the product; if you are paying, you’re probably still the product.