In recent months, Airbnb has come to resemble a political operator that happens to run a hotel network. As politicians and governments on both coasts turn the screws on the $10 billion startup, the startup continued its astroturfing campaign against San Francisco's so-called "home sharing" legislation and blanketed New York's subway system with ads. But their latest political promo is their most cynical yet.
Their new television ad implores New Yorkers to remember the outpouring of generosity Airbnb users had for Hurricane Sandy's victims and to "get involved" with the company's lobbying campaign. As Gothamist put it:
Over the weekend, the company premiered a new advertisement that pairs images of the disaster with the kindness of Airbnb hosts who offered their homes out for free to victims of the storm. The advertisement, which asks New Yorkers to visit airbnbnyc.com, a website that touts the beneficial impacts of NYC on the city, banks on the goodwill earned during a time of desperation.
Airbnb did create a tool for Sandy's victims to find free or cheap housing, and they should be applauded for that. But internet-fueled housing charity wasn't limited to Airbnb: users of Facebook and Twitter similarly opened up their homes to strangers in the hurricane's aftermath. There's a big difference between that, what we usually call "altruism," and this, which is marketing.
It would be one thing if their business was designed to share homes with disaster victims, but it's not. Specifically, Airbnb is a company that pushes rooms for rent and facilitates a financial transaction between strangers. At its worst, it's a company that leads to tenant evictions and the removal of thousands of apartments from the market across the country.
That's business. But it's not noble.