Rolling hotel Cabin gets fresh branding treatment from Brooklyn’s Red Antler

Sleeping while traveling isn’t a new concept, but a company that has introduced what they’re calling a rolling hotel is hoping to change the way we view getting from point A to point B in comfort and style. With it, smart branding from agency Red Antler is helping get the company, Cabin, recognition as it ramps up its business.

Cabin transports people overnight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, an oft-traveled route for business people and those seeking a quick in-state vacation. The company estimates that over 48,000 people travel that route every day, and the usual transport time is between 6-8 hours depending on traffic.

“The inception of the idea really was my co-founder (Tom Currier) and I talking about what autonomous cars would do to real estate and where people spent their time,” said Gaetano Crupi, co-founder, president and chief operating officer at Cabin. “We were really interested in developing, originally, a weekend retreat, 300, 400 miles from San Francisco, and then transporting people there and back on a weekly basis. That's where the bus came to play.”

The bus became the catalyst for the realization of an idea of “the first hospitality transportation company on a mission to make the most of every waking and sleeping moment. Cabin addresses America’s 500-mile problem; in which regional travel up to 500 miles from home requires sacrificing an entire day, forcing people to take fewer trips without even knowing it. By consolidating both transportation and accommodation into one simple and delightful experience, Cabin’s one-of- a-kind moving hotel experience enables people to travel without travel time,” says the company’s website.

The founders realized they wanted to use a bus, but there were plenty of preconceptions about bus travel, especially that it was uncomfortable and not very classy. Their first iteration of the idea was SleepBus, where they rented a team bus and started selling tickets to gauge interest in the concept.

“At the end of the day, what a bus is, is just the largest amount of space you can transport from one place to the other without the need of really expensive infrastructure like trains and airport,” said Crupi.

The initial offering garnered a huge wait list for tickets so they knew they had something to work with. But SleepBus wasn’t the brand they wanted.

“We're creating a category, so we have to visually communicate with people that they will be able to fall asleep in this place, that it is a safe place to travel and that it is not a bus, because bus has all these preconceptions,” said Crupi.

“We very quickly arrived to the conclusion that the first thing we needed to do with capital that we raised is invest in creating a brand that defined a new concept of travel, and simultaneously redefined a piece of full infrastructure. That's when we started verbalizing the strategy to our investors, saying to them, ‘Guys, we are definitely not going to be SleepBus because the way we view this in the future is not only about sleep and it's not only about buses. The concept is really about being transported in the most comfortable way possible. It's about this more aspirational view of how you want to spend your time. That's what we're getting at. We need to rebrand.’"

Creating a new brand

Two separate investors told the founders they needed to speak with Red Antler, because the Brooklyn agency is about branding at its core.

“When they first came to us, I think everyone had the same reaction to the concept in its very initial state. It sounds almost too good to be true, but also crazy at the same time, and that's exactly why we liked it, because we saw this company that had potential to change behavior and bring people a better experience, and at the same time, create a new category, and the same time redefine an existing one,” said Jonah Fay-Hurvitz, head of strategy at Red Antler.

Fay-Hurvitz and the team saw the role that brand could play to first help and overcome some of the obstacles for the company, one being that people don't necessarily associate good sleep with travel. They wanted to capture the unique experience of what it's like to be on a Cabin, which he says was a challenge “but we were so inspired by Gaetano and Tom's passion and belief in this idea that we immediately were incredibly on board with being involved.”

One of the things Red Antler was conscious of was that they didn't want to create a transportation brand. Rather they looked to build something that felt more like a hospitality brand – a high-touch experience where the passenger is taken care of, where it's cozy, welcoming and warm, including the tag line, “arrive and shine”.

“We began with developing a strategy that really was inspired by their mission, which was really all around making the most of every sleeping and waking moment. And we had this idea that was our concept that was ‘live the dream.’ That was our creative springboard that spoke to both the incredible sleep you would get, but also what happens in your waking time when you're on Cabin, that also feels like a dream,” said Fay-Hurvitz.

He added that a lot of what the category had traditionally done was talk about the benefits of travel, or what happens when you get to your destination. Red Antler wanted the brand to celebrate that journey of being on Cabin rather than what happens once you get to your destination.

It’s all in the wave

When looking for a cohesive branding mark, Red Antler wanted something with a sense of movement, but one that didn’t feel like speed. That’s when they came to wavy lines that moved in a way that was calming, like a breeze through a palm tree. They also wanted to ensure that it felt digital, modern and rooted in technology.

“From an icon system, thinking about how we can make this feel really digital and clean and clear, and then with the mark itself, with the smooth Cabin lines, again, we're finding ways to talk about transportation or movement, but doing it in a way that's not about speed of efficiency, but rather about experience and pleasure, even,” said Fay-Hurwitz.

“One thing that I really liked when we had our initial meeting with Red Antler is they arrived to a very similar conclusion to us that what the branding needed to completely redefine the mode of transportation, so when they see a picture, they [say], ‘I don't know what that's on. It could be a train. It could be a spaceship. It could be a Zeppelin, I don't know what this is,’ to really create a relationship with the product at the personal space level, not at the vehicle level. That coziness of it,” added Crupi.

The Red Antler branding can be seen in everything from the marks on the bus to iconography on the materials and website.

Still rolling it out

The Cabin concept is quite new, but the response has been great from those who have ridden. But not everyone wants to try an overnight bus, even if it does have private bunks, an on-bus attendant, a lounge, wifi and other hotel-like amenities.

While many of the travelers so far have been millennials, the Cabin crew sees it less as a demographic that is attracted to their service and more about people who value their time, who don’t want to be stuck in a car for a bunch of hours. And while there is only one route so far, Cabin is looking to find high-traffic routes on the east coast, between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

They’re initially starting with no marketing push – just word of mouth. With a view of hospitality over transportation. “Red Antler basically set us up with this amazing branding that screams quality and oozes this romantic view of what travel can be in the future. But we have to deliver on all that branding at the experiential level. That's really what we're concentrating on is to make the product's experience match the branding that we've put out there,” said Crupi.

“Our focus right now is definitely on guest experience. But the future that we envision is creating a highway train system that doesn't need airports and doesn't need train tracks in order to make regional travel so frictionless that people think about their zip code in a 500-mile radius. My dream as a founder, when I really get excited about this product is the day when someone lives in Los Angeles says, ‘I'm going to spend Saturday surfing Big Sur. I'm going to spend Sunday skiing Tahoe. I'm going to make it to my 9am Monday meeting back home.’"

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Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

All by Kyle