Airbnb ad flop in San Francisco

When Airbnb ran ads suggesting different ways San Francisco could use the company’s tax payments, it was undoubtedly a matter of instilling goodwill.

“Dear Parking Law Enforcement”, one of the announcements read: “Please use the $ 12 million hotel taxes to fund all expired parking meters.” Love, Airbnb.

Another ordered the city not to spend the money “all in one place,” but then said if it did, “we suggest burritos. “

But instead of showing goodwill, the casual tone of the ads, which were posted on billboards and bus stops across town on Wednesday, sparked a torrent of sarcasm and anger on social media. .

“I’m happy to hear you paid your taxes this year,” Martha Kenney, assistant professor at San Francisco State University, wrote on Facebook. “I did that too! Isn’t that great?”

On Twitter, the ads were called “Your deaf & ignorant” and “passive aggressive.”

The attacks became powerful enough that Airbnb apologized on Wednesday night, acknowledging the announcements had struck “the wrong tone.” The company also said all ads will be removed.

The criticism is inappropriate for Airbnb, which faces a ballot measure in San Francisco that would restrict Airbnb-type rentals. (Some social media users pointed out that Airbnb spent more than $ 8 million to fight the measure, called Proposition F.) The initiative will be up for ballot on November 3.

“The intention was to show the hotel tax contribution of our hosts and guests, which is approximately $ 1 million per month,” said Christopher Nulty, a spokesperson for the company, in a statement. “It was the wrong tone and we apologize to anyone who was offended. These advertisements are removed immediately.

Airbnb also posted a Twitter post on Thursday that read, “We apologize for Wednesday’s SF ads. They have shown lack of judgment and fall short of the values ​​and humanity of our global community. “


This isn’t the first time Airbnb has come under scrutiny for its marketing strategy, especially as the company seeks to appeal to adventurous millennial consumers.

In July, Airbnb released a series of posts on Twitter with lines of a new ad meant to address human kindness. “Sleep in their bed to know their dreams,” the company posted. “Go look out their windows to understand their point of view. “

But the reaction to these messages ranged from confusion to contempt. One person wrote on Twitter that they sounded “like instructions that an ax murderer would write himself.”

Airbnb’s marketing strategy underscores the boldness shown by a number of fast-growing tech startups, many of which have business models that depend on circumventing traditional rules and regulations.

One of the most notable pioneers is Uber, the ride-sharing startup, having run numerous aggressive ads against local regulators across the United States. In July, Uber ran a big ad on the New York Times homepage criticizing Blasio’s administration, which at the time was looking for ways to limit Uber’s growth in Manhattan. The city eventually abandoned this plan.

Emerging companies like Uber and Airbnb are also very likely to engage in social and political issues to attract young consumers, who want their brands to be more than their products, said Allen Adamson, brand expert and former president for the North America from Landor Associates, a global brand company.

“More and more today, brands need to express themselves well beyond the product they are selling,” said Adamson. “But by definition, you’re going to become more polarizing because you can’t make everyone happy all the time.”

Airbnb’s ads in San Francisco, for example, show the company has a personality and a point of view, he said. And the fact that Airbnb is highlighting its substantial tax payments could also show consumers that it is in competition with larger hotel companies.

Even though it continues to prey on millennials, Airbnb is trying to expand its brand. He recently introduced an option for business travelers, for example, a different type of consumer than the young free traveler he previously targeted.

Airbnb Marketing Director Jonathan Mildenhall, who previously worked as Marketing Director at Coca-Cola, said in a recent interview that Airbnb wanted to become a global supermarket, like Starbucks and Nike. To get there, he said, the company must be accessible and transparent and recognize its mistakes.

Airbnb did not make any executives available for comment on Thursday.

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