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News + PoliticsThe political impact of the Airbnb ad fail

The political impact of the Airbnb ad fail

Tech firm spends $8 million on ads — and the latest (really stupid) one could cost the election

Jesse James (@loudgayamerica) created a Twitter meme that could impact the November election
Jesse James (@loudgayamerica) created a Twitter meme that could impact the November election

By Tim Redmond

OCTOBER 23, 2015 – I saw quite a few posts on Facebook today that read more or less like this:

“I wasn’t sure how I was voting on Prop. F, but now I know.”

The measure to more tightly regulate Airbnb and other similar short-term rental platforms has been more-or-less tied in the polls. The $8 million campaign, entirely funded by Airbnb, has flooded the airwaves and the mail with misleading, inaccurate ads seeking to shut down a measure that would have an international impact on the business plan of a company that makes money when its hosts break the law.

But the company made a major error this week, one that could have a significant political impact: It showed how utterly tone-deaf it is, and how the big “sharing economy” companies are run by people who think they are so entitled that they can brag about doing what everyone else in town does anyway: Pay taxes.

The minute Airbnb’s new campaign hit, it was mocked not just locally but all over the country.

As Sup. David Campos told the Examiner, “At some point you get so used to not following the rules, that when you follow the rules you think you’re doing society a favor.”

Here’s the thing about the ads: This was not a fluke. Airbnb can’t say some low-level functionary approved something that management didn’t see. There’s no way this campaign was launched without the support of senior management.

And senior management, as is the case with senior management at a lot of tech firms, is clueless (or worse) when it comes to how the companies are impacting the lives of the rest of us in San Francisco.

So now there’s a new meme out there, which is mocking Airbnb. And all those people who were getting all those mailers and seeing all those ads and thinking that Airbnb was all about helping poor San Franciscans stay in the city, and that Prop. F was going to make neighbors spy on neighbors?

They are getting a different message now. And there’s no way that will not resonate on Election Day.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Are you a personal therapist or otherwise personally acquainted with either of them? Speculating about what happens to a couple’s relationship is hazardous and usually resides in the realm of gossip. There is always a lot of information that we don’t have.

  2. HA! Ugh, I totally forgot about that but you’re right. Everything about him screams ‘sleaze ball’. I hope he’s not unopposed as the Democratic nominee for gov.

  3. That PR guy they had on KQED newsroom a couple weeks ago was terrible. They couldn’t find more capable people with all the billions of dollars they’re worth?

  4. IINAL, but owners who are residents are ‘interested parties’.

    I don’t know why they struck “owners” – musta been a Tenants Union kinda thingy. Of course, by striking owners, they force neighboring tenants into the ‘bad guy’ position; they’ll have to own their own complaints.

    Its still OK to allow HOAs to complain, just not absentee owners shackled with RC.

  5. You have a pt about checking before you hit Post. However, I’m amazed when I look back and see auto-correct replacing what I wrote with something else (not always what I meant either). I don’t think the spelling comment is ‘classist’. I just think its minor. But guess its the best you got.

  6. In another discussion thread (Nextdoor) there was an account about how Airbnb called in its partisans and apologized profusely as in “We F***ked Up.” My impression was that it was done internally. In any event, no PR firm is going to take responsibility for this one.

  7. Sexist? Andrea Dworkin only knows where that came from? The spelling flame is the lowest form of trolling, I thought.

  8. The word for someone like you is classest, my language skulls have and are improving over time but I do not need lessons from you in this context, you are using it to undermine and belittle. That is very ugly behaviour shame on you,l.

  9. Amazing. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Whoever dreamed up this ad campaign is going to be consultant-toast.

  10. Everything starts with words; the argument becomes far more powerful when someone takes the time to examine what they have written before they post. I have known many people who have had no access to education, but they are aware that if they improve their language skills, they win. Also, thanks for all of the sexist, just mean, comments: proof once again that women who comment on these posts are subjected to the very worst behavior of those they somehow threaten. The word for someone like me is: persistent. Another few words: lifelong learner and always curious. Have a good day and realize the mean sexism just makes my day.

  11. I think in the context it is quite funny. However I think Nancys comment is unjustified. Without knowing someones access to education or cultural background, I think it could easily be seen as racist or classest.

  12. I agree! I really want to like Gavin, but every now and then he does something really bone-headed like this.

  13. Really must be hard to suffer with the ignorant mass like me. Thank you for bothering to correct me, I am eternally greatful that someone so smart would even engage with such a poorly educated person as myself. “Parklife”

  14. Was watching the daily news show on TechTV and even THEY were dissing AirBnB over this – host Mike Elgin and his co-host both called this a “mistake” and couldn’t even begin to figure it out.

  15. Yep! I really want to like him. I try so hard. And then I saw his smug mug and greasy hair flogging it for the No on F campaign… When he said “it’s just too extreme” my skin crawled.

  16. Nice to see this getting national play. Unfortunately, this gain like most “progressive” gains are “achieved” by waiting until an over confident or cocky opponent overreaches or collapses from exhaustion.

  17. This is why grownups get hired to run start-ups. First head on the chopping block should be the idiot who approved this campaign, followed closely by the PR firm which dreamt up this dosshiness.

  18. A question for the lawyers: in the text of the proposed law, ‘[a]ny person’ may file a complaint, but the ‘Interested Party’ (which excludes owners) that filed the complaint may bring a lawsuit. Are courts likely to resolve this contradiction by allowing any party that has complained to sue, or will anyone be allowed to complain, but only non-owner neighbors be allowed to sue?

  19. The reaction has been overwhelmingly against AirBnB on this. It reminded me of WalMart’s press release that touted their giving employee’s raises, but it was because the minimum wage increased, an increase that they fought.

    As multiple cities across the world are struggling with tourist rentals, there needs to be a ‘convention’ so they can share what works and what doesn’t with regulating AirBnB and others.

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