Airbnb Backs Down in Its Passive-Aggressive San Francisco Ad Campaign

Complaining about taxes clearly didn't work

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It didn't take long for Airbnb to take down its tax-hating ads around San Francisco after many people criticized the short-term housing rental startup for publicly complaining about fulfilling its civic duty. The digital-based company told SF Weekly late on Wednesday that it was taking the promos down because of the backlash.

Yesterday, ads started popping up on bus stops and billboards around the city, offering not-so-subtle hints that the company was unhappy having to pay $12 million in hotel taxes. Earlier this year, the company paid millions of dollars in back taxes to the city after failing to pay the 14 percent hotel tax.

The ads, created by Airbnb's agency of record, TBWA\Chiat\Day L.A., came in the form of several letters with very little love. Here are samples of the copy:

"Dear SF Tax Collector,

You know the $12 million in hotel taxes?

Don't spend it all in one place.

Love, Airbnb"

"Dear Public Works,

Please use the $12 million in hotel taxes to build more bike lanes, like this one.

Love, Airbnb"

"Dear Board of Education,

Please use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep art in schools.

Love, Airbnb"

"Dear Public Library System,

We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later.

Love, Airbnb"

A librarian in Vermont even chimed in from across the country.

San Francisco State University professor Martha Kenney was one of the first to protest the ads, using a Facebook post to criticize the company's reluctance to pay.

"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," Kenney wrote. "Oh well. Hindsight is 20/20!"

Airbnb did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.