In Airbnb’s Super Bowl Ad, Implied Criticism of Trump’s Travel Ban

Katie Benner

A still from an Airbnb Super Bowl television ad.
Source: YouTube

Ever since President Trump moved to sharply limit immigration, Silicon Valley executives have tweeted, blogged and voiced their opposition.

Airbnb, one of the most aggressive corporate critics of Mr. Trump's policy, took its opposition to the Super Bowl.

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Airbnb created a Super Bowl advertisement showing a diverse group of people and text that read: "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."

The Airbnb ad came just nine days after Mr. Trump signed an executive order to temporarily close America's borders to all refugees and to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries. The ad referred to the ban only obliquely so as not to run afoul of guidelines that say commercial time is not "for viewpoint or advocacy of controversial issues."

Swisher: Issue around Trump's immigration ban upset Silicon Valley
Swisher: Issue around Trump's immigration ban upset Silicon Valley

The National Football League and Fox, the broadcaster of the game, maintain the right to approve ads, and some advertisers walked a tightrope to get ads with immigrants approved. Before the game started, Coca-Cola re-aired an ad from 2014 called "America the Beautiful," which depicts Americans of different races and religions singing the song in a variety of languages. The building supply company 84 Lumber had to change an ad that showed a Spanish-speaking mother and daughter in front of a border wall.

In a memo to employees after the executive order, Airbnb's chief executive, Brian Chesky, was more explicit about his opposition. "This is a policy I profoundly disagree with, and it is a direct obstacle to our mission at Airbnb," Mr. Chesky wrote on Jan. 29. That weekend, the company began to provide free and subsidized temporary housing for people who had been affected by the immigration restrictions.

Two Airbnb officials who were not permitted to speak on the record said the company had not planned to advertise during the Super Bowl until executives heard there was still ad space left.

Mr. Chesky and the company's two other founders, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, worked with Jonathan Mildenhall, the company's head of marketing, to put together the 30-second spot in three days, an effort that typically takes weeks or even months.

A cut of the ad was shown to a small group of employees on Thursday, and it was finished the next day and sent to the N.F.L. It aired right before the second quarter.

Trump's job push vs. Silicon Valley's needs
Trump's job push vs. Silicon Valley's needs

Airbnb was using the Super Bowl to highlight its commitment to provide short-term housing for 100,000 people in need over the next five years, including for refugees, victims of natural disasters and aid workers. The company has also committed to donate $4 million over the next four years to the International Rescue Committee, a group that helps displaced people around the world.

"Airbnb has been supporting refugees well before the current controversies," said David Miliband, the organization's president and chief executive.

In 2015, Airbnb provided travel credits to relief workers at Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee and gave matching donations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In 2016, the company was a partner in the White House's Call to Action to respond to the global refugee crisis.

"Airbnb's mission to bring strangers together who help each other in various ways is core to our mission as well," Mr. Miliband said. "So many Americans were refugees. It's core to the identity and success of the country."

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