'Transkind' Airbnb Spot to Air After Caitlyn Jenner ESPY Win

Prepared for Haters, Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall Talks About Leaning in to the LGBT Community

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Airbnb will debut a spot with a trans-friendly message timed to Caitlyn Jenner's appearance during tonight's ESPY Awards on ABC.

Airing after Ms. Jenner wins the ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage Award, the spot will launch Airbnb's "Is Mankind?" campaign, and specifically ask viewers to "find out how kind the women, men and trans of our mankind can be."

The ad will be a variation of an ad released online earlier this week, featuring voice-over by Angela Bassett and a baby walking toward a door. That ad -- which challenges viewers to go look through other people's "windows so you can understand their views, sit at their tables so you can share their tastes" -- will start running on TV in the U.S., Australia and the U.K. Both ads were created by TBWA/Chiat/Day.

Caitlyn Jenner receives the Arthur Ashe Award
Caitlyn Jenner receives the Arthur Ashe Award Credit: ABC/Image Group LA

Last month Ms. Jenner came out on the cover of Vanity Fair. After gaining a million followers in four hours, she posted on Twitter and Instagram about her ESPY win and upcoming TV show. Brands remained silent during the moment, maybe to avoid being seen as opportunistic, or maybe because of concern they might alienate audiences who don't approve of pro-transgender messaging.

Airbnb, however, seized the opportunity to support Ms. Jenner.

"Transgender personalities are kind of the next group who the media needs to shine a very warm, welcoming and celebrated light on," said Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall.

The "Is Mankind?" campaign, focusing on inclusion and universal human kindness, wasn't going to pivot off of Ms. Jenner originally; it was going to focus on racial harmony. But with Airbnb's history of LGBT support, the moment was right for a tailored, one-off special spot, Mr. Mildenhall said.

Released a few weeks ago, a video featuring a trans person with his partner and two same-sex couples called "Love is Welcome Here: Our #HostWithPride Film," is an example of the company's LGBT-inclusive efforts.

"I just wish there were more brands out there who were doing active work and pushing people," said Mr. Mildenhall.

Campaigns taking a stand including Honeymaid's "This is Wholesome" and Cheerio's ads featuring a multiracial family. Some reactions were supportive, and others were scathing.

Does Airbnb fear backlash from people who aren't ready for pro-trans messaging?

"We're not worried about that at all," Mr. Mildenhall said. Take Coke's "Hilltop" ad for example, he said. The ad featured people of different ethnicities singing together, and without the Internet or much international travel, people didn't see as much diversity as they do today. The ad was powerful at the time, and Mr. Mildenhall's mother was shocked by it.

"If you lean into groups of people who are being ignored by marketers, the halo effect on your brand can be phenomenal," Mr. Mildenhall said, adding that the effect can last for years. Still, the Internet isn't always a kind place, and Mr. Mildenhall is bracing himself. "I am prepared for my inbox to be flooded with haters who are challenging the position of inclusion... It's not going to be accepted by everyone."

The ESPYs, a sports-centered award show created by ESPN, will air on sibling network ABC at 8 p.m. ET. tonight.