The Real Deal New York

Zillow’s ad campaign a multi-million dollar gamble in NYC: VIDEO

June 28, 2013 05:30PM
By Hayley Kaplan

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Zillow is making its strongest pitch to New Yorkers yet. As part of a multi-million dollar national advertising campaign, the real estate listings website began airing television commercials in New York-area markets earlier this month. But the Seattle-based company must improve its credibility as a listings source before it will gain traction in New York City, sources said.

“Most consumers, when you ask them to name a real estate website, can’t name one,” Jeremy Wacksman, vice president of consumer marketing and mobile at Zillow, told The Real Deal. “We are really getting our word out there that Zillow’s a great place to shop.”

This year, Zillow doubled its advertising budget to between $20 million and $30 million, with the bulk of the extra funds going toward television ads, Wacksman said.

To coincide with the busy summer real estate season, the public company began airing 30- and 60-second spots on HGTV, CNN, A&E, Lifetime, CNN and other cable networks — its first national TV campaign.

The two commercials feature a long-distance couple — separated by the man’s military service — and a family house-hunting on Zillow, both with the tagline, “Find Your Way Home.”

The campaign is not specifically focused on New York, and Wacksman said he was unsure what portion of the budget was directed toward the city, since the ads aired on national cable networks.

But Zillow, which claims to attract 55 million unique visitors to its website each month, has some unique challenges to overcome in the New York City market.

“Zillow does a great job nationally, but not a good job locally for New York City or many cities,” said Ilana Schwartz, the co-founder of real estate startup Urban Edge.

Doug Perlson, the CEO of online real estate brokerage RealDirect, said that Zillow’s data is often incomplete and “rarely accurate” in New York because of the distinctiveness of the real estate market. For one thing, New York lacks a comprehensive multiple-listing service, which is where Zillow typically pulls most of its information.

“Zillow has some challenges in New York City,” Perlson said. “While a mass market approach could work in a lot of other markets, it’s particularly challenging in New York because there’s potential frustrations based on how they [interact] with their customers in New York City.”

For his part, Wacksman said he was unsure how the website has been received in New York.

Don Tallerman, the co-founder of Urban Edge, acknowledged that the ads were “well executed” and created “an emotional connection,” but said he was unsure they would fly in New York because they are not geared to an urban audience and lacked diversity.

“It will help create that connection that [conveys], ‘It would be nice to buy a home,’” Schwartz said. “But I don’t think it will help create that connection, ‘I should go to Zillow to buy a home.’”

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