The multibillion dollar lodging startup Airbnb has apologized for a series of forthright ads they placed on bus shelters throughout the Bay Area that tell municipal agencies in San Francisco what they can do with the millions in city hotel taxes their company is paying.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, one ad 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.”
The messages were strategically placed one week before San Francisco residents prepare to vote on Proposition F on November 3. The measure seeks to restrict short-term and vacation rentals in private homes to 74 days a year. Any company that violates that code will be faced with fines and even lawsuits.
Airbnb, which is worth more than $25 billion, had reportedly spent $8 million fighting Proposition F starting this past October. The ads inspired several parodies. One of the parody ads even suggests voters forgo showing up to vote for Prop F altogether. “Dear San Fran, Go ahead and take a spa day on November 3rd. Treat yourself. Nothing else is going on. Besides, you look tired. Love, Airbnb.
Yet, the Chronicle notes that after major backlash over social media to their ads, Airbnb has backed down and reportedly issued a statement of apology on Thursday. “The intent was to show the hotel tax contribution from our hosts and guests, which is roughly $1 million per month. It was wrong and we apologize. These ads are being taken down immediately.”
The San Francisco Public Library has a “good” relationship with Airbnb, and spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers told the Chronicle that she was alarmed by the ads, given that Airbnb helped fund the library’s city-wide book club and other programs.
Jeffers said someone from the company had called her to apologize Thursday morning, saying they had no knowledge of the ad campaign before it went up. “I don’t think it was perhaps a well thought-out advertising strategy,” Jeffers said.
Another parody ad says “Dear Librarians, Had lunch with Google today and we had a good laugh. Book, right? Love, Airbnb.”