The controversy surrounding Airbnb’s new logo grabbed the marketing world’s attention, with what could be interpreted as female – or male – genitalia. It has provoked curiosity and a widespread investigation into the new logo and its new branding. For Airbnb, this is certainly mission accomplished.
While some logos inspire a split-second blink, Airbnb’s new logo has lured in a 30-second glare, if not more.
Launched into the universe on July 16 as part of Airbnb’s rebranding, the new symbol Bêlo has instantly soared as a global icon, a quasi-religious and slightly cult-like symbol that is largely empowered by its “people” – hosts and guests of Airbnb’s home-rental website.
Bêlo is the universal symbol for belonging; that we can belong anywhere in the world, thanks to Airbnb. As the company’s CEO Brian Chesky explains “’The bélo is a vehicle for rich, deep, emotional, human stories.”
So how does a logo become instantly iconic? For some brands, it can take decades. After all, it took McDonalds 20 years to create the golden arches. More oever, how did such a young brand pull it off?
In its christening moments, Twitter predictably went nuts, opening up a discussion about which part of the human anatomy it represented. The debate about whether or not the new Belo looks like a lady part or male organ, not only became a topic of conversation but also of participation, as users even designed infographics to provide explanations for how the logo came into existence. While on other sites, a simple broadcast of Bêlo with its imagery awarded swarms of free advertising to the home-rental website.
Although Airbnb was apparently stunned by the insinuations that Bêlo had anything perverse related to it, Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk’s wafty statement in response certainly leaves this unanswered: “It’s just like: Go ahead, laugh all you want, guys. We wouldn’t want to design a logo that caters to the lowest common denominator.” Not really sure what that means, at least it’s certainly unclear.
Here, controversy proves a brilliant segway for Airbnb to launch its new logo and messaging around Bêlo. The taboo about it triggered the media to call on the industry’s top designers, as well as acclaimed marketers for their opinion.
Their response was, in fact, a standing ovation to Bêlo.
Design wise, it’s a masterpiece. Reviewed by top designers worldwide, the logo scores high for its simplicity, strong and clean lines that can read well both large and small, and its clever intertwining of symbols.
According to a Ryan Arruda, a graphic designer for Monotype “Airbnb’s redesign feels more refined, more mature and more purposeful—but not in a manner that evokes a feeling of an artificially sleek or saccharine veneer. Featuring a new symbol named the Bêlo, this monoline mark is an entwined union of other symbols, among them a heart, a map marker, and an abstract “A” letterform.”
Complementing its design is a highly potent message.
Bêlo is the people’s symbol of belonging. It’s a symbol of rich storytelling, and it can be owned by anyone. Since everyone can draw the symbol and adapt it, it already induces a state of belonging by its user-friendly form. With “Create Airbnb” people can customize their own “Belo” symbol, and share it on Airbnb. The company then promises to create merchandise based on the popular people’s interpretation of the logo. They call it a shared brand identity, and it’s something that has never been done before.
Of course adopting a simple symbol, especially one that works well in a small square format, is also hugely helpful with mobile apps and social media.
So there we have it. The residual effects of spending more than a few seconds on a logo due to its initial taboo nature, has allowed people to notice the sheer genius of Bêlo. It’s a symbol that represents a whole new behavior about belonging to the world. As Airbnb’s co-founder Brian Chesky puts it, ‘It’s a symbol for going where the locals go—the cafe that doesn’t bother with a menu, the dance club hidden down a long alleyway, the art galleries that don’t show up in the guidebooks.”
This symbol is about content. It’s not just about the way it looks, but it’s about what it induces and the culture it creates. So whether it looks perverse or not, is hardly the point but exactly the first impression.