Airbnb & San Francisco Are Just the Beginning

Some advertising campaigns just don’t go as planned. Marketing teams can come up with something brilliant and excitedly put it together to get it out as fast as possible. However, sometimes we may not have our audience completely figured out or maybe you fail to reach your target audience by the way you’re advertising. These are just some of the things that have gone wrong in Airbnb’s latest advertising campaign that they launched in San Francisco.

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Airbnb appears to be telling the city how it should be spending its money on public projects using platforms like billboards and bus stops throughout San Francisco. Instead of people feeling intrigued and motivated to make a change in their community, viewers took the advertisements as whiny and passive aggressive.

Airbnb has responded to the backlash, admitting that they “displayed poor judgment and do not live up to the values and humanity of our global community.” Airbnb has confirmed that the ads will be taken down immediately.

“The intent was to show the hotel tax contribution from our hosts and guests, which is roughly $1 million per month. It was the wrong tone and we apologize to anyone who was offended.”

However, when you take a closer look at Airbnb’s relationship with San Francisco, it doesn’t appear to be all blue skies. Airbnb had been avoiding paying for taxes over the last few years and finally agreed to pay several millions of dollars. Here is where it makes sense – before February, Airbnb had refused to pay San Francisco’s 14 percent hotel tax. Airbnb probably owed as much as $25 million.

Recently, Airbnb had been feeling pressure from San Francisco’s proposed ballot initiative, Proposition F. What is Proposition F? The most important thing is that it wants to restrict unregistered short-term rentals just like Airbnb.

Now, Airbnb is spending more than $8 million to fight the initiative. Their biggest argument is that the city will not be able to collect as many tax dollars from its services if the ballot is approved.

So even though Airbnb agreed to pay the back-tax in February, Airbnb is still arguing that San Francisco is unfairly trying to double-tax their hosts while accessing users’ personal data. In a sign of mounting pressure, back in August Airbnb agreed to collect taxes on rentals in Paris – which is now its biggest market worldwide.

This advertising campaign was probably not the wisest way to aid their crusade. What do you guys think?