Sunday, June 16, 2019

Marketing disasters- Airbnb edition

Airbnb in 2015 erected giant billboard ads showing the benefit of the company's tax payments in the San Francisco area. They also put such ads on bus shelters and many other places they could.
The intent was to show the contribution from the users of Airbnb which they pay as the hotel taxes. Rather than inspiring gratitude these advertisements pissed off some San Franciscans at what appears to be a passive aggressive stance towards funding public services. Finally, those ads were taken down by the company.
Interestingly, these ads popped just two weeks before an initiative to restrict short-term rentals, Proposition F (where San Franciscans could vote to severely restrict Airbnb), was on the ballot for voters in Sanfrancisco on Nov, 2015. Proposition F was sometimes referred to as the Airbnb Initiative. However, it was defeated.
This ad on a bus shelter near a library read:
Dear Public Library System,
 
 We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later.
 
 Love, 
 Airbnb
Annoyed with the ad, this person posted a pic on Facebook, quoting:
Dear Airbnb,
 
I'm happy to hear that you paid your taxes this year. I did too! Isn't it awesome? However, I've crunched some numbers and I have some bad news for you. Out of your $12 mil of hotel tax, only 1.4% percent goes to the SF Public Libraries. So that's $168,000. Divided by the 868 library staff, we have $193 per person. Assuming each employee works 5 days per week minus holidays, this is $0.78 per employee per day. Since that's significantly under San Francisco minimum wage ($12.25/hr), I doubt that your hotel tax can keep the libraries open more than a minute or two later.
 
 However, had you donated that $8 million you spent fighting Proposition F directly to the public libraries you love so much, that could have made a bigger difference. 
 
 Oh well. Hindsight is 20/20!

 
 Love,
 
 Martha Kenney (San Francisco resident)
After many such posts on social media Airbnb confirmed that it plans to take them down.
Here's Airbnb's statement:
“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. These ads are being taken down immediately.”

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