Six Key Takeaways from a Viral Stunt


To get the attention of the CMO of Airbnb after we heard the powerhouse brand was looking for a new advertising agency, we knew we needed something big and bold to make a statement and stand out in the crowd, especially as an agency in Phoenix.The big idea? #JonathanCallScott. We converted one of our corner offices at OH Partners into an Airbnb and for 24 hours our junior copywriter, Sam, was housed inside while we livestreamed the whole thing. Since he couldn’t leave – and since Airbnb is all about community and local experiences – we brought the best of Phoenix to him. There were local chefs, bands, comedians, flamenco dancers, radio personalities and everything from cowboy ropers to one really imposing owl.Soon #JonathanCallScott was trending online, people were watching and word was spreading. The ask: We gave 24 hours of Sam to get a one-minute chat between our agency president and Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall. But especially with Mildenhall traveling in Ireland, would he notice?

Exactly 22 hours into the livestream, Jonathan did call Scott, our president. They soon met at Airbnb in San Francisco, the talks continued, and frankly, the entire experience was surreal. In less than two weeks from idea to execution, we created an Airbnb room, planned more than 24 hours of live content, booked over 50 guests, installed a six-camera system to capture the action, created a #JonathanCallScott microsite, and developed a layered public relations, social media and digital media campaign.

The effort landed about $600,000 worth of earned media, reaching more than 30 million people. Social media added another 3 million people worldwide with 40 million impressions, and that number is still climbing as Adweek, the Clio Awards, and other international trendsetters spotlight our effort.

Someone asked me the other day what we learned from the whole effort, and now that I’ve caught up on some sleep, I would say these things stick out to me:

  • Don’t be afraid to walk a bit down the path. The original idea was to send Jonathan “a really cool email.” We knew we could do better and we let the ideas collide off each other to evolve and grow. A well-executed email idea then became a plan to send a link to a custom Airbnb-esque landing page – and then ultimately became the big idea we picked: Create the actual Airbnb experience to show our passion, our smarts for the brand, and our out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Broadcasting has forever been changed. We reached 40 million people with an investment of less than $10,000 in hard costs. The crazy stunt shows that the ability to communicate to a really large number of people has forever changed. We basically created a TV station and a 24-hour show in 10 days.
  • Really, really crazy projects that make people stay up together for 36 hours change your team forever. It brings them together. It’s bonding through joint suffering. Even those who didn’t directly take part were involved to some degree and rallied around the effort – and the whole experience raised the bar significantly on what we can accomplish together.
  • There really is a fine line between genius and insanity.  We didn’t stop and overanalyze it. We went for it and sometimes you just need to do that. You can’t all the time, of course, but when the time is right you just have to say, “Go!”
  • Fear truly is a great motivator. Three days before we launched this campaign, I remember thinking to myself, “Can we really pull this off?” Being scared makes you work even harder. You either charge harder or you cower and cry. We charged harder.
  • Not everything demands a RED camera. This experience was a great reminder for the entire creative team. We want every shoot to look like a Hollywood movie, but the everyday webcam and GoPros gave it a “real” look that made it more raw and approachable. It wasn’t overproduced; it was naked and authentic, and that worked.

Poor Sam probably won’t ever go back inside that office, and we’ve all gained a new appreciation for sleep, delivered breakfast burritos and good coffee. But the lasting impact is that hilariously big ideas are possible if executed properly – and you really can get Jonathan’s attention in Ireland and convince him he should make the call to the hungry advertising agency in Phoenix. It’s an experience and a set of lessons our team won’t ever forget.

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