Uber’s new ad: a fatally flawed fantasy

Uber launched its first UK TV ad campaign this week called ‘Effortless night’. The film is supposed to represent the ‘endless possibilities’ of using the taxi-hailing app, according to Campaign here. The ad shows a young couple (Grace & Miles) on a date moving unfeasibly quickly from location to location, taking a total of six cars. To me, it’s a frothy, frivolous, fantasy that is a classic example of ‘sponsored entertainment’: high on production values but low on brand values.

Below I suggest why I think the new campaign misses the mark by a mile.

1. Lack of HUMAN truth

A fundamental issue with the ad is the lack of human truth, as described in a hilarious take-down of the film by the New Statesman’s Anna Leskiwicz here. As Anna says, “The couple in an unspecified city get no less than SIX Ubers. SIX. Who has ever left the house and thought, ‘Hope tonight goes well and I manage to spend £75 on half a dozen painfully slow car trips across town’?” No-one is the answer of course.

Not only does the fundamental story lack credibility, the individual steps of the journey do too, as Anna points out. Her piece is so funny, I share the highlights below:

  • Grace and Miles meet at a gig but before you can say “Hip Hop Trio” they hop in a car to head to a street food stall. Yes, a cart that sells food to pedestrians on the street, probably in the neighbouring streets of a venue like the one they’re at. But Grace and Miles are mavericks, and decide to pay someone to drive them halfway across town to this specific street-side stall.
  • They buy two tacos which Miles promptly drops, squirting ketchup everywhere. They decide that what their night really needs is more travel sickness, and promptly jump in yet another Uber.
  • They arrive at a jazz club. Barely five seconds pass before Grace is calling another fucking Uber – surely to go home, I hear you scream? But no!
  • They get Uber four to some steps. Some steps! Big stone steps! They stand for a bit, do absolutely fuck all and get in another Uber! Why!? Why is this happening to these people!? Who are they running from!?
  • They ball themselves – sweating, frantic – into Uber five. Presumably, finally, this is the car taking them to the safe house. But no, they go where people hope to end up after a four-hour date involving five car journeys, two gigs, and absolutely no food or booze – bowling! Is Grace crying? Is this man holding her hostage? We can never truly know.
  • Because they are absolute wankers, Grace and Miles end their five-Uber date by simply strolling out into the road. It was at this point that I felt my confused, melted brain sliding out of my ears. Off they trot, hand-in-hand, just two sweethearts on the most normal date in the world and not exploring a dystopian hellscape populated by cardboard bystanders and driverless cars.
  • It starts to rain, and “Grace” calls Uber number six faster than you can say “weather-related surge pricing”.

2. Lack of BRAND truth

Not only does the ad lack relevance owing the to a lack of human truth, it also fails to communicate a brand truth. First, the brand itself appears only in a brief bit of ‘logo slapping’ at the end. Yes, there is some product in the ad, in the shape of the weird, driver-less cars that transport the couple. But these could be any cars hailed with any app; there is nothing to give a clue that the couple are using Uber. The focus seems to have been on figuring out the executional challenge of showing six imaginary Uber rides in 60 seconds, rather than on uncovering and dramatising a brand truth in a compelling way. “We rehearsed for days, and the challenge was how to get our dancers from one end of the set to the other in 60 seconds,” explained the director, Kim Gehrig. “Every action and movement needed to be efficient, getting us through cars as quickly as possible.”

Second, the actual product experience portrayed bears no resemblance to the reality of using Uber. Cars in the ad appear instantly at the touch of a phone, with each tap accompanied by a weird sound you never hear when using the app. Of course, you have creative licence in advertising to show your product in the best light and even exaggerate it to create emotional impact. But here, the gap between reality and what is portrayed seems too big to me.


3. Lack of CULTURAL truth

A final issue with the new ad is the disconnect between the external portrayal of the brand and internal culture of the company. The manically happy film aired in the same week that Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, announced  an indefinite leave of absence to get his s**t together, following a damning report into the company’s toxic culture. The report called on Uber to “reformulate” the company’s values, eliminating “those values which have been identified as redundant or as having been used to justify poor behavior, including ‘Always Be Hustlin’, ‘Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping’, and ‘Principled Confrontation’”.

The poor press received by Uber on their cultural issues and also on disputes around pay for their drivers is reflected in brand equity scores that are nose-diving. The brand’s ‘reputation’ score dropped 6.7 points to -15.9 in the past year in a  YouGov survey, making it the lowest rated transport brand, according to this report. Would Uber not have been better off fixing the fundamental issues with the corporate brand first, then communicating about itself?

Net, I get the feeling that Uber is in fact growing in spite of the brand, rather than because of it. I use Uber all the time, and like the product, as I posted on here. The company needs a serious ‘corporate detox’ first. Then I suggest they go back to the drawing board with their communication.