Why Zillow’s CMO Is Leaning Into Advertising, Even As The Real Estate Market Dries Up


It’s difficult to buy or sell homes when everyone is stuck inside.

But instead of staying quiet during the coronavirus pandemic, the online real estate resource Zillow wanted its brand to show up.

In a situation “where the market is not moving,” at least at the outset of shelter-in-place orders, Zillow’s CMO Aimee Johnson wanted Zillow to be even more relevant after the crisis.

“Our brand is about giving people information,” she said. “It felt more appropriate to lean in than to go silent, even though everyone is in a challenging situation.”

In three weeks, Zillow and its agency FIG created a new ad campaign, replacing one that was already running, based on sheltering-in-place. Using time-lapse photography set to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From The Storm,” the ad shows a family’s new routine while stuck at home. The message: “It’s times like these that we understand the real value of a home.”

The ad started running late last week on linear TV and online, in 30-second, 15-second and 6-second versions.

FIG’s research showed people wanted to hear from brands during a time of crisis. And Zillow knew from looking at the behavior of people on its site that people were still interested in many housing topics, from escapist house tours to researching a mortgage.

Finding the right message was important. Johnson wanted an ad that would take an empathetic approach that acknowledged what people are going through as they shelter in place.

“It’s not how much you say, it’s what you say,” Johnson said. “You could spend a ton in marketing and still not show up as a partner.”

While many “times like these” ads have been less polished, such as iPhone videos filmed by CEOs, FIG wanted Zillow’s creative to stand out.

FIG found a cinematographer based in Long Island, New York, who shot the video over three days. Editors stitched together the footage remotely.

“On a normal production you have time to obsess over every tiny little thing to get perfect,” said Brian Eden, creative director at FIG. As luck would have it, the accelerated timeline didn’t hit any production snags, like bad weather.

Zillow’s new ad is part of a greater content strategy aimed at keeping people informed and entertained during the time of crisis. Zillow created a resource center with common coronavirus-related questions. On social media, Zillow chimed in on the pets-themed #MyHumansAreHome hashtag. And content about mortgage rates and homes and pets have also been featured, since these topics are in high demand right now.

“People always think of Zillow as a place to find the value of a home,” Eden said. “Right now, we are all realizing the value of home in a much different way.”

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