Airbnb Issues Apology After Tone-Deaf New Ads Debut in San Francisco

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After a series of ads posted throughout San Francisco this week sparked the ire of both city residents and the internet, Airbnb on Thursday issued a company-wide apology to its employees for what many have described as an over the top passive aggressive ad campaign.

CNET reports marketing chief Jonathan Mildenhall said in an email the ads were “fundamentally inconsistent” with the company’s ethos and told employees it would be working with the public organizations it “wronged to make this right.”

“Yesterday I heard from so many of you about how embarrassed and deeply disappointed you were in us,” CEO Brian Chesky also wrote. “You were right to feel this way.”

After aggressively engaging in a long legal battle to avoid paying the city’s 14 percent hotel tax, Airbnb was finally forced to shell out over $12 million in back taxes earlier this year. The ads, which debuted on Wednesday, featured messages directed towards various city agencies, including public libraries and the board of education, that offered suggestions for how each should use the money.

The messages immediately backfired:

The controversy comes two weeks before California voters will consider Proposition F, a ballot initiative that could significantly restrict the type of short-term rentals that Airbnb makes available in San Francisco.

In a Facebook post, an assistant professor at San Francisco University criticized the company for spending millions to fight the ballot measure. 

“I’m happy to hear that you paid your taxes this year. I did too! Isn’t it awesome?,” the post began. “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!”

The outrage also gave way to moments of levity, with internet users creating mock billboards to poke fun of Airbnb’s now-infamous marketing debacle:

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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