Some advertising and propaganda campaigns are so bad that they look fake, as if they were made up by a competitor or just a hoax. That is the case of this passive-aggressive street ad campaign by Airbnb in San Francisco to protest against hotel taxes that might be paid if new regulation is approved.

The ads are just text on an orange background, and they target different public institutions, by making suggestions about what they should do with the hotel tax revenue. For example an ad addressed to the Parking Enforcement reads “Please use the $12 million in hotel taxes to feed all expired parking meters“. Another one, this time for Public Works, says “We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to put escalators on all the hills“. The one for the Public Library System says “We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later”.

There are lots of variants, asking “to keep art in schools”, “to plant more trees”, to build more bike lanes” and so on. There are even terrible ones for the SF Tax Collector that say “Don’t spend it all in one place. But… if you spend all $12 million in one place, we suggest burritos”. 

By using street ads, Airbnb targeted only San Francisco citizens, but the power of the online press and social media gave it international and negative impact. Airbnb confirmed the campaign is theirs and apologised: “The intent was to show the hotel tax contribution from our hosts and guests, which is roughly $1m per month. It was the wrong tone and we apologise to anyone who was offended. These ads are being taken down immediately.”

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