Know your customer. Know your audience.

Airbnb wildly miscalculated this week when they ran an ad campaign designed to shame the city of San Francisco for collecting the standard 14% hotel tax from the peer-to-peer vacation rental service. The company, which launched in San Francisco in 2008, erected posters and billboards around the city with smug suggestions as to how the tax money might be spent, including keeping the library open later, feeding expired parking meters, cleaning public parks, and installing escalators on all the city’s hills.

San Franciscans weren’t amused and quickly took to social media to respond. With a ballot measure on the horizon, which, if passed, would limit the number of days Airbnb hosts could rent their home within a given year, the timing couldn’t be worse.

Airbnb Tweet
Airbnb Tweet

6 things airbnb got wrong:

1. They made incorrect assumptions about their customers and their community.

2. They failed to understand market sentiment.

3. They were condescending and smug. Even people who like you, don’t like you when behave like that.

4. They made their own customers look bad by association.

5. They overvalued their own reputation.

6. They didn’t think about context.

Running a bold and daring campaign is risky. When it works, it pays off hugely. When it fails, at best, it’s simply forgotten. At worst, it can seriously damage your brand.

Airbnb took a risk. They are a young, disruptive company, a pioneer in the sharing economy. When you’re innovating on this level and changing the way business gets done, you’re bound to make mistakes.

As author and entrepreneur Seth Godin said, “if failure is not an option, then neither is success.” So we can give Airbnb credit for taking a risk. And for recognizing they got it wrong. (They promptly apologized and are removing the offending campaign.)

How much damage was done? We may get an idea when voters go to the polls in November to decide the ballot initiative that Airbnb has spent $8 million fighting.

About The Author

Usman Sheikh

Founder and CEO

xiQ, Inc.

Usman Sheikh is the visionary founder and CEO of xiQ, an award-winning B2B sales and marketing platform. Through the fusion of generative AI, behavioral science, and ChatGPT, xiQ is revolutionizing the industry with its personality-driven sales approach.
As a futurist and design thinker, Usman aims to humanize B2B sales and marketing by leveraging generative AI and psychology. With xiQ, sellers can understand the mindset of prospective buyers and hyper-personalize engagement at every stage of the sales cycle.
Before xiQ, Usman held various global roles at SAP, including Vice President of Corporate Development, Product Management, Sales Enablement, and Digital Commerce.
Usman frequently serves as a guest lecturer on AI and B2B sales and marketing at renowned business schools such as the University of Texas, University of Wisconsin, University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, and Clemson University.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Usman’s diverse passions extend beyond business. He enjoys Squash, architecture, design, cooking, and hiking.