When an ad campaign is forced to make an emergency landing

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Lester.

AirbnbOpen mouth. Wider, please. Now, insert feet. Yes, both of them. When brands act like knuckleheads, it’s not just the brand that loses, their trusting customers can lose by association.

This is especially true in the case of Airbnb in San Francisco. I’m guessing they thought they’d win a head-nod from Joe Public by complaining, like we all occasionally do, about having to pay back taxes. They did it quite publicly with a slew of outdoor ads in San Francisco with statements like, “Dear Public Library System, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later. Love, Airbnb”.

Gosh, isn’t that amazing, a 25 billion dollar corporation paid some taxes. So did I, but I didn’t spend a tidy sum to whine about it in public while telling the city what to do with their money. And $12 million doesn’t add up to the king’s fortune like it used to. Martha Kenney, an assistant professor at San Francisco State University, pointed out that once you do the math on the portion that would actually go to libraries, then factor in salaries, etc., they stay open maybe another minute. Another billboard suggested the taxman not spend the entire $12 million in one place. On the next billboard; but if they did, spend it on burritos. Yes, they suggested burritos.

This is snarky arrogance on a whole new level. Snarky will not build trust. And Airbnb relies on a whole lot of trust for their system to work. Trust on both sides, from the folks offering their precious homes to strangers and those strangers who are sleeping in an unknown bed.

Advertising has always been a great tool to start a dialogue. Smart marketers need to think the conversation all the way through before blundering onto the city landscape. In this case, the public responded, through various social media, swiftly and most decidedly. Airbnb lost control of the script and it didn’t end well. The posters and billboards are coming down along with some hard earned trust and respect. Sure, push boundaries. But you must always mitigate risk.

Airbnb’s tag line is, Belong Anywhere. This ad campaign did not belong anywhere and should not have left TBWA/Chiat/Day L.A., full stop.

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