Surbhi Dhawan

Contributing Writer |

8 min read

Reimagine Home: How Zillow’s using their $15.8M ad spend to dominate online real estate and fuel business growth.

Founded in 2006, Zillow is a real estate marketplace created by Spencer Rascoff (Cofounder of Hotwire),  and former Microsoft executives + founders of Expedia—Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink.

Apart from providing the estimated value of homes across the United States, the platform also offers several other features including price comparison of homes in and around a certain area; price change of a property within a given time frame (from one, to five, or even 10 years), a “Make Me Move” price information (which is an informal way to pre-market a house); aerial photographs as opposed to satellite imagery; credit check and eviction history report; and more.

In September’11, Zillow had over 24 million unique visitors, representing a year-on-year growth of 103 percent. Out of these users, the company claimed that more than three-quarters were looking to buy or sell real estate in the next two years.

Currently, 2 million real estate professionals are listed on Zillow, and 186 homes are viewed on mobile every second. In cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Boston, 90 percent of all the existing homes have been viewed.

In 2014, Zillow bought Trulia, a long-time competitor, for $3.5 billion.

The company reportedly generated a revenue of $1.3 billion in 2018 (Q1 2019: $454.1 million) and currently operates out of 10 office locations across 2 countries (Canada + United States).

Let’s take a look at some of their most prominent advertising campaigns over the years:

2013-2016: “Find Your Way Home”

For the first seven years, Zillow didn’t have a dedicated advertising budget, and relied primarily on the many USPs of their product to attract prospective customers. 

According to Rascoff—something that he also repeatedly told the company’s investors—Zillow, despite being the “largest web and mobile player in their category” had little to no brand awareness. “88 percent of Americans can’t come up with Zillow when asked to name a real-estate-related website,” he said. As a result, the company decided to double their advertising budget (a $10M to $15M increase) and started testing out some TV ads before announcing their Find Your Way Home campaign.

After raising $147 million in IPO (September’12), Zillow partnered up with Deutsch (an LA-based marketing agency that’s worked with the likes of Taco Bell, Volkswagen, and Dr. Pepper) to launch a nation-wide advertising campaign that’d showcase the diversity of homebuyers in the modern times and the unique set of challenges that they face on the daily. Featuring relatable use-cases like a millennial buying his first home, a young family turning over a new leaf, and a multi-generation household searching for a new living space, the company ran 60, 30 and 15-second TV segments across popular cable networks.


Find Your Way Home speaks directly to Zillow’s target audience (“You’re not just looking for a house. You’re looking for a place for your life to happen.”), and strategically incorporates advertising elements that they’re the most responsive to.

“We talk with hundreds of thousands of people each year to understand their needs, frustrations, and desires when it comes to finding a home so that we can build products to help them,” explained Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow’s CMO, “We hear so many incredible personal stories about the different paths people take to homeownership. We were inspired to bring the modern home shopping story to life with this campaign.


Sometimes finding home means starting a new chapter of homeownership, together.

Posted by Zillow on Thursday, April 27, 2017

Finally, the campaign also had a radio, print, and digital outreach that uses socially-driven brand storytelling to convey a simple message: With Zillow, you can overcome common real estate obstacles to find a home where you can truly thrive in.

Since the launch of Find Your Way Home, the company has seen their brand awareness increase from a measly 9 percent to a remarkable 40 percent—making Zillow the most widely known brand in real estate category.

2016: “Home”
Featuring real people—a single dad raising four daughters, a doting mother who considers the kitchen to be the focal point of her living space, a young man who’s the first person in his entire family to invest in real estate—the campaign highlights personal stories of “how home is uniquely individual to everyone”.

“As we develop features and tools for Zillow, we talk with hundreds of thousands of people every year to understand their challenges, frustrations, hopes, and dreams when it comes to finding a home,” explained Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow CMO. “What we ended up hearing were these deeply personal, yet universally relatable ways people turn a house into their home, and that’s what inspired this campaign.”

The 15 and 30-second formats were created by Academy Award-winning documentary director Errol Morris, who spoke to hundreds of people from across the country and selected the final twelve stories that aired on TV.


2019: “Finding Home in America” in collaboration with ATTN:
Zillow teamed up with ATTN:, the California-based media company, to create a docu-series that uses live-action footage to explore how social causes such as domestic violence, LGBTQ discrimination, and poverty can lead to housing insecurity. Hosted by Carri Twigg, former Associate Director (Office of Public Engagement) at the White House, Finding Home in America sheds light on the challenges faced by a certain subsection of the society while house-hunting.

“[The campaign] was driven a lot by our employees wanting us, the company, to get more engaged in the community,” clarified Racquel Russell, Zillow’s VP of Government Relations and Public Affairs.


The episodic nature of the content—that’s known to “help brands shorten sales cycles, build visibility, and stay resource-effective”—is both entertaining and educational, thereby, establishing Zillow as a “thought leader” in the real estate space. For example, the campaign’s very first chapter sheds light on the LGBTQ housing discrimination that’s rampant across the country, through the eyes of a same-sex couple who were prohibited from purchasing a house in Colorado. The compelling eight-minute segment outlines the legal shortcomings of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and emphasizes the necessity for new federal legislation, like the Equality Act, to prevent housing discrimination on gender and sexual identity.

“Breaking through with video content today requires making a real connection with your audience,” explained Brad Haugen, ATTN:’s President. “Together with Zillow, we have created a moving, solutions-oriented narrative about how fundamental having a home is to the human experience.”

With Finding Home in America, Zillow strategically demonstrated its commitment to corporate social responsibility by subsequently forming alliances with local non-profits, and employee-led volunteer projects to impress their target demographic.

As an add-on, the company also introduced an easily accessible, deeply informative, original economic research section for their tough-to-impress target demographic—the millennials. From illustrating how student loan debt can influence an individual’s home buying prospects to how much a single dollar bill will get you in the current real estate market, Zillow created easy-to-follow graphics that are an excellent resource for the GenY-ers who’re ready-to-invest in a home.

Source: Zillow

Ad spend and networks:
In the last 6 months, Zillow has spent a whopping $15.8M on online promotion of their brand, with the majority being dedicated to Google ($11.6M), Direct Buy ($1.9M), and TribalFusion ($1.4M). Additionally, they’ve dedicated a reasonable chunk of their budget to YouTube ($940.1K) and TheTradeDesk ($190.9K), as well.

By comparison,—with a relatively modest ad spend of $3.1M, also invests prominently in Direct Buy ($1.8M) and Google ($522.4K), however, they prefer Taboola ($728.2K) as opposed to TribalFusion, for their targeted content distribution needs.

Source: Adbeat

Out of their total ad spend, 82 percent of their ads are programmatic—most of which run on desktop, 12 percent are direct and 6 percent are video.

Considering that 80 percent of the advertising process is expected to be automated by 2022, more and more companies are scaling their in-house capabilities to buy or sell advertising programmatically. As a result, US advertisers will be spending approximately $60 billion on programmatic advertising.

Marketers everywhere are relying more and more on programmatic buying to run highly-effective, customer-centric, and actionable ad campaigns at a large scale. 


Programmatic offers several data-driven features to connect with their target demographic to ensure that you only pay for user impressions that match your customer persona. As a result, brands have access to a wider ad inventory and contextual placement options that demonstrate a greater potential for measurable ROI. Not to mention, programmatic ad-buying can be 30% less-time consuming for publishers and nearly 60% for publishers, a BCG’s study found

By using programmatic, Zillow no longer has to create insertion orders, re-enter data manually, generate confirmation reports, chase down payments or wait around for documents to be handed from one team to another. From an online advertising standpoint, they’re able to deliver the right message, at the right time, to the right audience—which ultimately, eliminates the possibility of their money going towards any campaign that doesn’t yield significant results.

Four of Zillow’s top publishers have remained the same for the past year —Youtube ($939.9K), City-Data ($531.3K), Cool Math Games ($525.7K) and Topix ($319.7K). In the last 6 months, they’ve moved away from Wikia and currently advertise with ($324.4K) instead.

On City-Data, a social networking and information platform that presents data (such as, real estate, crime stats, weather, sex offenders, schools, etc.) pertaining to U.S. cities, Zillow advertises on landing pages specific to a certain neighborhood or town. For example, they spent $3.2K to advertise on a page about Amity Fields (North Carolina). By advertising on City-Data, the company is successfully tapping into the publisher’s audience—which, in this case, happens to be heavily-interested in real-estate. It’s clear that Zillow is relying on contextual targeting—where your ads are shown only to users that are relevant to your business—to drive low-cost conversions.

Source: Adbeat

On Youtube, their ads appear on videos that are either trending or belong to channels that have a large subscriber base. For example, they spent $45.9K advertising on this video with 593,076,989 views on a channel that primarily posts nursery rhymes for kids. While the video and the channel are not directly relevant to Zillow as a brand, the channel’s 60M subscribers guarantee that the video will be watched by a substantial number of people—including the ones who might be interested in what Zillow has to offer.

Similarly, another video posted by the same channel that Zillow spent $41.2K has been viewed 1,356,240,737 times.

Overall, Zillow’s choice in publishers comes across as both calculated (in the case of City-Data) and experimental (in the case of Youtube). In short, they seem to be focussed on targeting users across the entirety of their sales funnel—a strategy that most brands we’ve covered in the past tend to overlook. For example, their advertisements on City-Data are most likely viewed by people in the consideration or the decision-making stage, whereas, on Youtube, their primary audience is expected to be in the awareness stage.

Fifty percent of Zillow’s ads are HTML5, whereas, 41 percent are images, 5 percent are videos, 4 percent are text/image and less than 1 percent are text-only.

Source: Adbeat

Since we’ve already discussed in great detail how Zillow appeals to customers in their videos, let’s quickly evaluate their standard ad creatives, as well.

Unlike Zillow, most brands tend to include product USPs, and/or ongoing lucrative discounts in their creatives, which brings us to the obvious question: What could possibly be Zillow’s end-game here? What exactly are they trying to achieve by designing creatives with a one-sentence copy and a CTA?

Source: Adbeat

Research shows that people make up their minds about brands (or even people) within the first 90 seconds of their initial interaction. Interestingly, nearly 60 to 90 percent of their assessment is influenced by color alone. In fact, people are more likely to recall the visual identity (as opposed to the name) of your brand, according to a University of Iowa study.

Coming back, what’s the first thing that stands out to you in Zillow’s ad creatives? The vibrant blue background, perhaps? Or the company logo that’s simple in form, but, most importantly, very distinctive?

Eventually, the Z in a blue setting becomes a signature visual identity that an average user starts associating with Zillow—which is exactly what we think the company is going for. By creating ads that focus less on content and more on the visual identity of the brand, Zillow has chosen to eliminate all distractions and draw attention to what’s important.

Landing pages:
Most, if not all, of Zillow’s ads, redirect the users to the company’s homepage with a singular search box that prompts the user to enter the general location (neighborhood, city, area, wtc.) of where they want to buy a house in. With just one click, you get access to all the information you need about the houses available for sale/rent in your selected location: price, type, maps, on-site images, and more—all without having to sign up. In fact, you’re only prompted to provide your contact information if you want to save your search criteria, and/or want to contact a real estate agent regarding a property you’re interested in.

The straightforward approach of providing only one search box to present additional content (sources, formats, and other logical differentiators) to your users is clearly working out for Zillow.

Source: Zillow

Maintaining the continuity from their ad creatives, Zillow’s homepage has a similar tagline (“Reimagine Home”) and visual identity (different shades of blue).

Source: Zillow

Surbhi Dhawan

Contributing Writer |