Something Positive For a Change: Coldwell Banker Hits A Home Run

Things have been so weird and so negative in real estate for so long that I feel like Notorious has become some sort of a gloomy doom-porn blog, which isn’t exactly my intent. So it makes me happy to report some sunshine and happy stuff for once.

The new Coldwell Banker TV advertising campaign absolutely hits it out of the park. Here’s the best example:

This is the kind of message that the consumer needs, and has needed for a few years now. In a now-deleted post (cowardly decision by former employer), I talked about how the Talking Heads of Colbert Coldwell and Benjamin Banker was a terrible idea, and that Coldwell Banker in particular had a 100 year history of being customer-focused. In 2008, I wrote about the need for real estate brands to rediscover their brand souls in a time of recession. In 2009, CB took a big step forward with their now-pulled from YouTube (why?) ads, and I wrote about that as well.

This campaign takes that message to the next level. Let’s explore it a little bit, with help from the New York Times of all companies. Well, I suppose there’s still some objective journalism that goes on there from time to time.

The Campaign

As you saw in the YouTube video above, the campaign emphasizes the emotional value of “home”. Jeff Turner has been doing an excellent series on the meaning of “home” that you can start reading here. Well, CB more or less hit that nail right on the head.

Here’s Jeff in the second post in the series:

House as mother is about what we wish were true. We fantasize that our homes love us as much as we love them. We want it. We need it. To get it, we’ll make it up if we have to. “There’s no place like home.” “Home is where the heart is.” These are statements that speak to the concept of home as one of our universal core values.

“Woman” and “house” are tangible and “mother” and “home” are ideals. The word woman is a physical description, just as the word house is a physical description. The word mother has more power, because it is tied to the abstract concepts of what everything about being a mother entails. The same is true of the word home. Home is also an idealistic concept.

If Home is an ideal, rather than a reality, then CB hits the perfect pitch of expressing that ideal.

The New York Times:

The values are brought to life in a television commercial that cranks the emotional dial to 11, or maybe 12. The vignettes, photographed with a gauzy, well-lit look, celebrate “about 50,000 memories and a hundred thousand smiles,” which are generated, according to the campaign, by living in a home of one’s own.

Another way the emotional approach is intensified is through the use of the actor Tom Selleck to supply the voice-over narration in the commercial. It is no coincidence that Mr. Selleck is currently playing the paterfamilias of a clan of New York City police officers in the CBS series “Blue Bloods.”

“How to put a value on a home,” Mr. Selleck begins, then cites intangibles that include “the smell of pancakes made on a Sunday morning,” “the taste of a good cabernet with family at Thanksgiving” and “the power of a bedtime story.”

He also urges those listening to his voice to “subtract the stress of work” as well as “the struggles of the outside world” when considering “the value of a home.”

Now, granted, you can almost see the sneer on the face of the NYTimes scribe as he talks about cranking the emotional dial to 11, or maybe 12, but you’ll have to forgive and understand, since he lives in Manhattan on a NY Times salary, cheek to jowl with hedge fund managers half his age making ten times his salary.

But CB isn’t targeting journalists living in New York City, possibly the single most home-inhospitable place in the United States. CB is targeting actual consumers who still believe, in their heart of hearts, that home means something more than the mortgage, the interest rate, and the constantly fluctuating bad news about how much housing is suffering. Home is an ideal, as Jeff Turner pointed out, and advertising and branding in real estate has been lacking an emotional appeal to that ideal for the longest time.

I also love their new tagline: “Where Home Begins”. It is an improvement over their past taglines, like “Your Perfect Partner”, which tended to put the emotional focus on the transaction itself… which is not something anybody wants to go through.

Why I Love This Campaign

Okay, so maybe you’re more of a hipster, maybe you gaze upon the world with the jaundiced skeptical eye of the modern consumer, and that ad seems like oh-so-much blatant manipulation. I understand that critique, I do.

But I still love this campaign because for once, it speaks not to the how, the when, the what, and the who that makes up 99% of real estate advertising out there, but it speaks to the all-important WHY.

Think about all of the ads and blogposts by realtors and the thousands of broker websites that go on and on about the ten things you need to know as a first-time homebuyer, or how to price your home in a down market, or whatever. All of those speak to how someone should approach this complex, expensive transaction.

Think about all those market reports and the “now is the best time to buy” ads and blogposts and Facebook updates of Warren “Tax Me More, But I Still Hire Accountants” Buffet. All of those speak to when someone should buy or sell.

Of course all of the obsession about listings, about promoting them far and wide, or not at all, or who gets to use the property information for what purpose… and the millions of real estate websites that are centered around SEARCH SEARCH and more SEARCH… all of those are about what someone should buy.

Need we talk about how obsessed the real estate industry is on who it is that you should have help you buy or sell that house?

In a time of now-obvious-recession to anyone not working in the Obama White House or Campaign (one and the same thing?), what the consumers really needed to rediscover was why anyone in his right mind would want to buy a house at all. Consider all of the dire doom and gloom on sites like ZeroHedge and Calculated Risk, and all the media reports about homes underwater, and strategic defaults, and foreclosure crisis. Consider the media narrative on housing over the past few years.

It’s a wonder that anyone still wants to buy a house.

The new CB campaign reminds people why they still want to own a home, even if that might be an unwise decision if one regards the house as the equivalent of a bond fund. Look, does my family sit around like the white family drinking cabernets at Thanksgiving? No. But the ideal of family, and the connection to the ideal of home, remains true for all people.

What a powerful appeal! Time will tell if the advertising campaign has any real impact on CB’s business (the only real measure of advertising’s success or failure), but from a creative and messaging standpoint, it’s a total home run. Great job to the team at CB.

Further Topics to Consider

There is something more to consider here, however. I’ve been noodling this over after Jeff Turner’s posts, but this ad sort of solidifies my thoughts. At least the beginning of some thoughts.

The connection between the ideals of “home” and the ideals of “family” are made explicit in the CB ads in a way that we haven’t seen much of recently. I didn’t do an exact count, but there had to have been enough footage of happy babies and children at play to make a Disney ad seem depopulated by comparison. Yet, that connection is absolutely real, no? I frankly don’t understand people who buy condos and such as a single, unmarried person. I don’t even understand married couples without children who buy houses — what if you have to move to Shanghai to take advantage of a great promotion?

But once you have a child? Or multiple children? Well, then there is some mysterious emotional need to have a permanent place, a piece of the earth, that anchors the whole thing: home. My wife calls it the “nesting instinct”; I find I also have some variant of it myself, wanting a home for my family.

What I’ve been wondering is whether Americans are dividing culturally along reproductive lines. It’s roughly a red vs. blue divide:

Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility (just as he did in 2000), and 25 out of the top 26, with highly unionized Michigan being the one blue exception to the rule…

In sharp contrast, Kerry won the 16 states at the bottom of the list, with the Democrats’ anchor states of California (1.65) and New York (1.72) having quite infertile whites.

Among the fifty states plus Washington D.C., white total fertility correlates at a remarkably strong 0.86 level with Bush’s percentage of the 2004 vote. (In 2000, the correlation was 0.85). In the social sciences, a correlation of 0.2 is considered “low,” 0.4 “medium,” and 0.6 “high.”

Remarkable. But I don’t think it’s just a political thing; I feel like there’s a cultural divide between those who have kids, especially multiple kids, and those who do not. They live in different places, vote differently, have different leisure activities, and have different values.

I’ve been talking about the Millennials and the troubles they are facing, and the implications for real estate, for a while now. The Atlantic recently noticed the same phenomenon:

Consider the declining appeal of homeownership. The idea that a couple should participate in an ownership society by buying a home has dissolved. Just 12% of whites between 18 and 34 told Pew that owning a home was “one of the most important things” in their life. In a nation where homeownership rates peaked at 67% just seven years ago, that’s a remarkable shift in expectations. And what is the declining appeal of a massive mortgage if not the natural result of an economy that has stiff-armed millions of young students, stuck them with thousands in debt, and forced up to one-third of them into living with their parents when they expected to be cultivating a career?

And Forbes noticed that marriage doesn’t seem to excite the Millennials quite as much as it did previous generations:

The facts are in but they offer so many twists and inferences that it’s difficult to bring the entire picture into HD focus. No matter how you hold the lens of personal bias Millennials seem to be determined to divorce themselves from marriage.

Here are the facts:

  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau there has been a significant increase in the number of women who have never been married, particularly in the 20-34 age bracket (Millennial women.)
  • A survey of Gen Y women revealed that 59% feel that “living together” is a legitimate lifestyle and a majority said it is okay to remain unmarried even if they have children.

I happen to think the two phenomenon are related.

What I wonder about the CB ad — and anything like it that seeks to remind Americans of the reasons why they might want to own a house — is whether it falls on deaf ears amongst the “who needs marriage” young urban professional crowd. In other words, if the ideal of “family” doesn’t mean cabernets at Thanksgiving dinner, or two kids and a dog, but something else instead, something new, something as yet undefined (note that 60% of Millennial women think living together unmarried is a legitimate lifestyle, even with children), then I wonder if the ideal of “home” would also undergo a dramatic shift.

So this is the question I suppose I’ll leave you all with.

Is the ideal of “home” separable from the ideal of “family”? In defending the home, in promoting homeownership, must CB and NAR and the real estate industry in general also promote a particular vision/ideal of the family?

If the concept/ideal of family changes, does that change the concept/ideal of home?

There are all sorts of social, cultural, and indeed political ramifications to that intertwining.

Or another way to look at it, could CB actually sell the “why” of homeownership to hipster graphic designers in New York City? How might CB go about doing that?


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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