AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
The battle rages on.
WHINE ON

Sore loser Airbnb floods San Francisco with a passive-aggressive ad campaign

By Amy X. Wang

After losing a bitter fight with San Francisco’s government earlier this year and reluctantly shelling out millions of dollars in back-taxes, Airbnb wanted to tell the entire city about it.

The home-rental startup, which is valued at $25 billion, recently posted a series of advertisements on San Francisco bus shelters, offering the city cheery suggestions about how to spend the $12 million it’s being forced to pay in hotel tax. While the ads may have been meant to be playful and even elicit some gratitude, residents found them perhaps more than a little tone deaf.

One ad—in which Airbnb casually suggests that the city use the $12 million to keep public libraries open later—provoked particular ire. Martha Kenney, a San Francisco State assistant professor, responded with the following on Facebook:

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!

Facing public indignation, Airbnb is now pulling the ads down. ”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,” an Airbnb spokesman told Business Insider yesterday (Oct. 21). The company, which clarified that the ads weren’t run using the $8 million given to political groups to fight anti-Airbnb legislation, also apologized on Twitter.

Airbnb, of course, has a history of making self-important, passive-aggressive ads that miss their target.

While the company is seeing tremendous success around the world, it’s also engaged in legal battles with a number of city governments—including San Francisco, which is due to vote on a ballot measure to limit the company’s presence in two weeks—over its murky relationship with housing regulations and its impact on the travel and leisure economy. It makes sense, then, that the company would want to stay visible. But San Francisco residents, such as the one who made the Photoshopped ad below, are also keen on reminding Airbnb of its place.