Airbnb Apologizes for Ad Campaign


Airbnb Apologizes for Ad Campaign

A little bad attitude goes a long way, especially when it gets turned into print ads and billboards. Airbnb recently lashed out at the city of San Francisco for enforcing its tax laws and requiring the company to pay back taxes on the thousands of short-term rental agreements made through its website during the past several years. reports that Airbnb paid the $12 million it owed the city and then made its displeasure known with a passive aggressive ad campaign that included statements pointed directly at parking enforcement.

One of Airbnb’s ads read, “Dear Public Library System, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later.” Another said: “Dear Parking Enforcement, Please use the $12 million in hotel taxes to feed all expired parking meters.”

The ads are being withdrawn and Airbnb apologized to the city and to its own employees.

On Thursday, CEO Brian Chesky acknowledged the company’s failure to Airbnb employees, according to internal emails seen by CNET. “Yesterday I heard from so many of you about how embarrassed and deeply disappointed you were in us,” Chesky wrote. “You were right to feel this way.”

Intention matters when you put things in print. When you speak, people attach your words to your body language, to the context and to what they know of you personally. But when you put words on a page and publish those words, people only have your words. Airbnb made trouble for itself because it wanted to exact a little public relations-style revenge by redirecting attention from its failure to pay hotel taxes to the state of public services in San Francisco. The company was legally in the wrong and didn’t want to be gracious about it. The ads were intended to be snarky, and they were perceived as such.

Sometimes people get away with snarky, but it’s only when they are irrefutably correct. Social media has given many of us a disease I call “diarrhea of the mouth,” a condition that includes a misguided idea that we can say all of the things we are thinking. A Facebook post is not the same as a tweet, which is not the same as a blog, which is not the same as a print ad, which is not the same as a press release. It’s more important than ever for businesses to edit their advertising and media relations offerings for content and tone and to consider carefully the platform where they will be shared. Exercising a little extra caution is less painful than making apologies.

Read the article here.

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John Van Horn

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