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I Cannot Stop Laughing at These Tone-Deaf Airbnb Ads

The company is pulling down its campaign against Proposition F in San Francisco.

by Sarah Jeong
Oct 22 2015, 1:48pm

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. Image: Shutterstock

Step foot in San Francisco, and you'll likely catch a glimpse of an ad—a billboard, a poster on a wall, a flyer taped up in a window—urging you to vote one way or another on Proposition F. Residents of the city tell me they've also been receiving a barrage of mailings, each one even weirder than the next:

And when they turn on their television, they're confronted with sinister TV spots like this one, in which a gravelly-voiced narrator asks with great seriousness, "What if the government required you to report when you're sleeping in your own home… or even in your own bed?" What if, indeed.

Prop F is a controversial ballot measure that San Francisco residents will be voting on in November. The measure specifically targets Airbnb by restricting short-term rentals to 75 nights a year and creating a civil cause of action for anyone living within 100 feet of a violating party.

It's a hotly contested measure in a city wracked with what seems like a never-ending housing crisis. Some say Airbnb rentals are exacerbating the housing shortage—and there's good evidence to back that claim. Here's one depressing statistic: the Mission has both the highest number of Airbnb hosts and the highest number of evictions!

On the other hand, correlation isn't causation, housing is scarce for many reasons, and Airbnb is just one drop in a big, dismal bucket of confounding factors. Besides, some Airbnb hosts are just San Francisco residents who can't afford to live in the city without the extra money. And even if Airbnb is the problem, maybe this proposed law is no good anyway?

But enough of this very serious, depressing talk! Let's look at some hilarious ads!

Look at this! What is this? Why would you even say that? Who was in charge of this advertisement?

What does your $12 million tax bill have to do with anything?

Are the Yes Men viciously parodying Airbnb? This reads like something an entitled, clueless San Francisco startup would say, but then would be prevented from actually saying by the sole adult in the room charged by the board of directors to stop all the babies in hoodies from having an accident all over themselves.

Why are there so many of these?

Is this real? How is this real?

Who let this happen?

Oh my GOD.

It reads like a joke because—little-known scientific fact—San Francisco exists in a special magnetic field where Poe's Law applies to everyone and everything at all times. No one will ever mock Airbnb more effectively than Airbnb, simply because Airbnb lacks the capacity to understand how hilarious it's being.

When Julia Carrie Wong at SF Weekly contacted Airbnb to confirm whether or not the ads were a hoax, she got this response:

We emailed Airbnb spokesman Christopher Nulty to ask whether the library ad was "real." He responded by email, "as opposed to a fake one :)"

A follow up email, explaining that we were in fact seeking confirmation as to whether the ads are actually from Airbnb received the following response: "Are you seriously writing on this?"
Nulty did not respond to another follow up email.

But by the end of Wednesday, Airbnb apologized for the ads and promised to take them down "immediately."

In the future we will live in a hypercapitalist Gibsonian corporate dystopia where the crumbling walls of our cities are plastered with oddly snide propaganda.

The best part about this is that although Airbnb is spending 8 million freaking dollars to campaign against Proposition F, few if any of these white-text-on-orange-background ads are part of that staggering sum. Wong reports that city buses and bus shelters can't feature ads about political candidates or measures on San Francisco ballots—which is probably why none of these ads even mention Prop F in the first place, thus lending to the incredibly weird tone.

Here's one Airbnb ad that went viral, thanks to a resident's numbers-driven response:

Martha Kenney replied 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!
Love,
Martha Kenney (San Francisco resident)

The ads are all coming down, but don't worry, there's plenty of "No on F" fun to go around—at least, until November 3. Check out these weird Simpsons-themed tweets that were targeted at San Francisco residents.

No, I don't know what they were trying to do with that, either.