Airbnb’s Incredible, Failed Ad Campaign

by Ryan Laffler, Account Manager

San Francisco is currently experiencing one of the worst housing crises in the nation, with skyrocketing rent and home prices in part caused by short-term renting services like Airbnb and HomeAway. Here is how it works: a landlord offers short-term renting through Airbnb which in turn removes the property from the long-term renting market. Removing these types of listings reduces market supply, driving up prices for everyone. So, Airbnb tried to combat some of this negativity, but their recent ad campaign was a big failure.

How bad has the housing marketing gotten in San Fran? Well to give you an idea, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco currently stands a $3,512. This places San Francisco at a higher median rent rate than the New York City metropolitan area.

San Francisco’s local government has responded by attempting to pass an initiative to restrict short-term rentals, A.K.A. “Proposition F” which will be on the ballot for voters on November 3rd. The proposition would impose restrictions on private, short-term housing rentals to 75 nights per year and also impose provisions to ensure that private rentals pay hotel taxes and follow city code. Without getting too complicated, let me just go ahead and show you how Airbnb responded to this…

Negative Campaign

It reads:

Dear Public Library System,

We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later.

Love, Airbnb

This is just ad out of an entire $8 million campaign aimed at turning the public against Proposition F. Airbnb takes shots at the Public Works Department, Board of Education, Parking Enforcement, and other government entities by passive aggressively suggesting that Airbnb’s $12 million in hotel taxes is helping the city more than hurting it. $12 million in taxes is a lot of money, though…right? Wrong.

Martha Kenney, a San Francisco resident, posted this scathing response to Airbnb’s attack on the Public Library System:

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)

That has to sting. Facing a tsunami of social media backlash, Airbnb has since ended their ad campaign and removed the posters. In the advertising world, most risky, provocative ad campaigns never see the light of day. Sometimes, risky campaigns prevail and connect with consumers in a deep, meaningful way. Other times, you alienate an entire community. You can read more about this failed campaign here.

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