Airbnb made serious waves on social media after its new advertisement #weaccept was screened before the US Super Bowl. It had gone viral by halftime.
The slickly produced advert showed people of different ethnic backgrounds and genders splicing into each other, with the timely politically pointed message: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”
On the face of it, the ad was a call for acceptance for all in the era of Trump. Along with Coca-Cola’s multi-lingual version of America The Beautiful that also screened, many have read these as political marketing and a sign that corporate America is biting back against Trump’s controversial immigrant ban.
It seems Airbnb is willing to put its money where its mouth is.
On top of the $US5 million advertising slot, Airbnb has pledged to donate $US4 million to the refugee assistance project, and invited its users to share their homes with displaced persons through their travel portal website. The campaign was inspired by the positive response it received to its pledge to provide free housing to people affected by Trump’s travel ban.
Brian Chesky, an Airbnb co-founder, even took to Twitter to pledge that his company would seek to “provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need”. But there was surely more than just global goodwill on display from the $US30 billion company, now the second biggest tech start-up in the US.
While these efforts are certainly admirable and timely, what also seems pretty clear is that the company’s bold new viral advertising campaign also suits Airbnb’s own corporate ambitions to win over the hearts and minds of people impacted by its global incursion into the urban housing market.
At a time when state and city governments around the world are struggling to keep up with the staggering growth of short stay accommodation providers, Airbnb (as the undisputed leader of the pack) has been directing a lot of energy and dollars toward positive branding.
The Super Bowl ad was accompanied by a slick new website with a statement from the company reading: “The painful truth is that guests on Airbnb have experienced discrimination, something that is the very opposite of our values. We know we have work to do and are dedicated to achieving greater acceptance in our community.”
The same could be said for Airbnb itself.
As its market penetration grows, Airbnb has generated community resistance all over the world for raising property values and pricing local people out of high pressure rental markets.
In Australia Airbnb has enjoyed one of the highest market penetrations in the world, with a 200 per cent rise in usage reported in the 12 months between, according to the company’s own figures. It has subsequently amassed 3.5 million users here since its launch in 2008. One in sixAustralians has an Airbnb account.
But in stark contrast to cities like San Francisco, Barcelona and Berlin that have imposed strict limits on Airbnb in an effort to try to stem a rising tide of property investors seeing an easy way to double or triple their rental intake while local people are squeezed out of the rental market – here, Airbnb has been allowed to flourish in a relatively benign regulatory environment.
We should naturally applaud genuine efforts to provide emergency housing and support for the displaced and those affected by draconian border policies – and the corporate world can play an important role in doing so.
But at a time when serious regulatory and policy questions remain unresolved about the true impact sites like Airbnb have on our cities’ scarce property markets, we are entitled to question what else Airbnb’s #weaccept campaign is really asking us to accept.