Chill billboard, @airbnb pic.twitter.com/4QuRJSaG0N— ｊｄｅｎ (@jden415) October 22, 2015
As a couple of images circulated late Wednesday, like this one, of ads in San Francisco purporting to be for Airbnb with an obvious and highly passive aggressive political tinge to them, we at SFist tended to think they were some kind of prank. You know, given how much Airbnb has been spending here (reportedly upwards of $8 million) to campaign against Prop F, the tone of these ads would seem to undermine that in a pretty amateurish way.
But, as it turns out, they're real! And there are a bunch of them even a billboard or two like the one above and no sooner did they go up all over town did a social media firestorm erupt, and an Airbnb spokesperson has apologized and promised they're coming down immediately. Way to go, guys.
The ads all refer to the estimated $12 million in hotel taxes that the company has paid to the city in the last year, suggesting ways that various departments could spend the money with a fairly smug, "You're welcome" message to them. Some ideas that were meant to be funny: escalators for the hills, burritos, more bike lanes.
Here are a few of examples, via Twitter, TechCrunch, SF Weekly, Facebook, and elsewhere.
@sarahjeong There's one about planting trees at Masonic & Haight. pic.twitter.com/9n8NDfsCvh— Chris Arvin (@meinhyperspeed) October 22, 2015
Dear Airbnb: if it's worth $8m to you to beat Prop F, please contribute as much to help build SF affordable housing. pic.twitter.com/hEoWDVQ0er— Martha Bridegam (@MBridegam) October 21, 2015
How the who what I can't why pic.twitter.com/LgR4qYNbuG— Sarah Fine (@fineplanner) October 21, 2015
@kimmaicutler @gamoid @ashleymayer pic.twitter.com/Wl7bEtHtIH— Kyle Huey (@khuey_) October 22, 2015
@juliacarriew @khuey_ @njudah Wonder if they're going to take down these giant billboards above Union Sq. too pic.twitter.com/cr79pdbDgm— Adam N. Mayer (@AdamNMayer) October 22, 2015
Translation: we don't understand allocations and gonna pretend like the library gets all of it, not 1.4 %. #airbnb pic.twitter.com/twxhPDDU8M— Scout Calvert (@windloochie) October 21, 2015
Says company spokesperson Christopher Nulty in a statement, "It was the wrong tone and we apologize to anyone who was offended. These ads are being taken down immediately."
So, despite their intent to highlight their financial boon to the city, they played directly into the hands of the Yes on F campaign, who want to portray the company as smug and greedy especially given the fact that they were not collecting/paying hotel taxes for the first several years of the company's existence they only began in October of 2014.
Not to mention the fact that many have seized on the fact that $8 million or more is being spent to fight the ballot measure, and this obviously large cost of this ad campaign may be on top of that. SFist has reached out to the company about how much was spent on this campaign, now that it is being immediately rescinded, and I'll update this post if we hear.
SF Weekly points to the fact that the ads might have been in support of the No on F campaign, but they don't reference it directly because SFMTA rules prohibit political ads on bus shelters.
Martha Kenney, an assistant professor at San Francisco State, was one of the first to respond to the ads via Facebook, specifically the one about keeping libraries open later. She points to the fact that, of course, only a small part of the city's budget is allocated to libraries.
Dear Airbnb,I'm happy to hear that you paid your taxes this year. I did too! Isn't it awesome? However, I've...Posted by Martha Kenney on Wednesday, October 21, 2015
After the story blew up overnight, picked up by Consumerist, The Verge, the LA Times (who call the campaign "a fool-proof way to tick off San Francisco voters"), and elsewhere, Airbnb is clearly doing damage control this morning.
Meanwhile, there's already a growing response meme.
@Airbnb pic.twitter.com/mamefqEw9C— Jesse James (@loudgayamerica) October 22, 2015
@Airbnb pic.twitter.com/1K3Amcunsv— Jesse James (@loudgayamerica) October 22, 2015
@Airbnb pic.twitter.com/73i1bHl0M1— Jesse James (@loudgayamerica) October 22, 2015
More on this when we hear back from the company's PR team about how the gaffe came to be.
Update: Business Insider confirms that the cost of the ad campaign was not a part of the $8 million spent to fight Prop F.
Update 2: AdWeek says the ads were created by the company's agency of record, TBWA\Chiat\Day L.A.
Previously: Day Around The Bay: Is This An Actual Airbnb Ad?
Airbnb's $8 Million And More: SF Campaign Fundraising, By The Numbers