The War Over Airbnb in New York Gets Personal
J Thoendell stashed this in Tech
One morning a few months ago, New Yorkers opened their eyes to a city that, seemingly overnight, had been blanketed in advertisements for a company called Airbnb. Bright white and crisp as newly fallen snow, each ad featured a smiling New Yorker and a short blurb about how the website, which brokers deals between travelers and people with a spare room or home to rent, had transformed his or her life, spiritually or financially. “New Yorkers agree,” read the tagline on each. “Airbnb is great for New York City.” The ads were cheerfully combative, as though this company with the puffy-lettered name were defending itself against some kind of enemy. Though it was unclear who or what that enemy was, or what they wanted MTA riders to do about it.
But like the snow in New York City, subway ads do not remain unsullied for long. By day’s end, someone had scrawled a retort on a poster of Carol, a dashiki-wearing mom, at the Canal Street station: “The dumbest person in your building is passing out a set of keys to your front door!” Over at West 4th Street, a message in similar handwriting appeared under Bob from Astoria: “Airbnb accepts NO Liability,” it read. By 42nd Street, the mystery scribe or scribes had settled on a catchphrase of their own, “Airbnb is great”—and here they crossed out “for New York” and substituted “for Airbnb.” As the graffiti spread upward to Harlem and outward to Brooklyn and Queens, it started to become clear that this was no run-of-the-mill ad defacement; it was a countercampaign, the latest battle in a full-scale war over Airbnb, one pitting analog against digital, old school versus new school, East Coast against West Coast, rich versus poor. At stake was nothing less than the Spirit of New York.
Airbnb founders come across as glib in this article.
“Picasso said that, like, creativity comes from constraints,” says Chesky. He has developed the start-up founder’s tic of sprinkling one’s speech with quotes and anecdotes from great men that subtly imply belonging in the same class of genius. (In fact, Picasso said no such thing. While the website startupquote.com attributes the line to Twitter founder Biz Stone, it’s most likely from a psychology book called Creativity From Constraint, which discusses how Picasso and Braque created Cubism by imposing restrictions on their painting. But hey, the man is designing the world around him.)