Zillow & Trulia offer contrasting approaches to engaging customers (or not engaging them)

Zillow and Trulia offer nearly identical services to consumers searching for real estate. In fact, Zillow is the parent company to Trulia.

But their approaches to engaging customers (or not engaging them) couldn’t be more different, as seen in each company’s most recent marketing campaigns.

Trulia: Hammerfy Your Home

MC Hammer, the 90s hip-hop recording artist best known for “U Can’t Touch This” and baggy pants, now wants you to “Hammerfy” your house with Trulia.

It’s hard to say what’s worse: how badly this campaign misses the mark, or seeing a former superstar reduced to making cheap web videos.

The campaign is designed to allow users to create their own videos featuring Hammer and his backup singers/dancers. On the campaign’s microsite, users are taken through a series of questions about why they’d move, what kind of dwelling they’d want, and the features that are most desirable to them.

The questionnaire includes a few humorous reasons for home buying — ghosts, a lack of quality lemonade stands — giving users a clue that the campaign is purely a time-wasting distraction.

The end product is a personalized (sort of) music video and song based on the user’s choices from the questionnaire. The campaign is designed to be fun, humorous, and sharable. It doesn’t engage home-seekers on a deeper level, and that’s the problem.

Focus on the Superficial

Creatively and strategically, there are a number of flaws with this campaign. Chief among them is the missed opportunity to form connections with consumers, which could have set Trulia apart from competitors.

“Home” is a deeply personal concept. There are many, emotionally charged reasons for buying a new home, only a few of which are touched on by the Hammerfy campaign — a new job, a growing family, moving to a good school district.

By getting people to identify what is important to them about a new home, Trulia had an opportunity engage consumers on a personal level. They could have learned valuable insights about home buyers and offered content to provide home-search advice within an emotional context.

This would have positioned Trulia as a brand that empathizes with home buyers and as a resource to help them through what can be a stressful process.

Instead, the microsite spits out a video that focuses on only the most superficial aspects of a home: kitchens, patios, location, and a few others. It’s Real Estate 101, and offers nothing remotely new or compelling.

Forgettable Attempt at UGC

This might be forgiven if the videos were truly funny, entertaining, or even slightly catchy. But they’re not. With the cartoonish microsite interface and juvenile creative approach in the videos, we can’t imagine they will appeal to a sophisticated home-buying consumer.

What’s more, it’s difficult to see who the 90s hip hop sensibility is intended to appeal to. Certainly the Generation Xers who grew up with MC Hammer have, well, grown up. Baby Boomers were never really enamoured with him in the first place, and Millennials are not likely to even know who he is (or more accurately, who he was).

Creating content that gets noticed and shared among a wide consumer audience is a monumental challenge for brands. Trulia should be given credit for trying to be different and funny. Unfortunately, their attempt hit all the wrong notes.

Maybe there will be a wave of people creating and sharing their Hammerfied Home videos through Trulia, but we suspect it will be as memorable as every Hammer album released after 1991.

Zillow: Obsessed

Contrast Trulia’s approach with Zillow’s “Obsessed” campaign, a series of short videos featuring a young couple who can’t stop looking a Zillow to find their dream home.

Each of the videos shows the couple in different situations at their home, looking at homes on Zillow using their iPad and talking about what they see. They do a great job of capturing “real” situations and reflecting the way people really use the site to find homes.

One video features the pair watching a football game when a notification beeps on their iPad. The woman picks it up, looks at it, and engages the man in a fun discussion about how much they like the home.

Another shows the two sleeping at night. Unable to sleep, the woman reaches for the iPad, waking her companion. Pulling up the Zillow app, she begins looking at homes. “Don’t look at the price, look at the door,” she says.

“That’s a million-dollar door right there,” he responds, groggily.

Authentic ‘Mini Stories’

This campaign does not score a perfect 10 on the authenticity scale. We doubt many men would be thrilled at having their sleep or their football interrupted by their wives or girlfriends wanting to look at houses for the umpteenth time.

Once you get past that, however, the interactions feel very real. The couple in the video are clearly actors and not a “real” couple, but the way they talk to each other about the houses they see on Zillow is indicative of how people actually interact when home shopping.

Also, the videos are simple and minimalist. They offer a glimpse into this (albeit fictional) couple’s lives as they look for a home. The videos serve as authentic ‘mini stories’ that show small portions of their journey together.

The videos do not make promises of “finding a dream home,” or overtly display all the features and benefits Zillow offers.

Instead, they tell a story of dreaming, togetherness and embracing the journey. They capture the emotions and excitement that come with the early stages of home shopping, before the realities of the process hit you.

We think this will resonate well with home shoppers, especially younger consumers who may not have been through the process before.

Authentic Storytelling Wins

To be clear, this is not Zillow’s best work, in our opinion. Their “Home” campaign, which we reviewed, refreshingly captured the complex emotions associated with home ownership, and acknowledged that people want more than walk-in closets and updated kitchens.

The “Home” campaign featured real people in their real situations. While they were most certainly more difficult to capture than the “Obsessed” couple, their authenticity was off the charts, making the campaigns exceptionally powerful.

Still, Zillow’s “Obsessed” stands in stark contrast to Trulia’s very shallow “Hammerfy” campaign, which is actually hard to watch. While the “Obsessed” campaign feels a little too cute in some ways, it does make an emotional connection to the audience by telling stories about home shopping, and keeps the brand in the background.

We see that as a winning formula.