Uber, Uber - Über Alles [UPDATED]

First published on Beyond Bridges on February 5th, 2016.

Updated February 23rd, 2016 More on ‘Uber’s Atomic Meltdown’

In general, it is not a great idea to put the brand of a company valued in the tens of billions of dollars in the hands of people who readily admit they don’t know what their own intentions are.

(To remind you they are talking about Travis ….

Kalanick is not a designer. He’s an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. Yet he refused to entrust the rebranding process to someone else…he studied up on concepts ranging from kerning to color palettes. “I didn’t know any of this stuff,” says Kalanick. “I just knew it was important, and so I wanted it to be good.”

I knooooow - you just read a couple of books and you are good to go - who needs training, experience, capability … or the bill for that matter !

The Original Piece Follows


It is a toilet seat. In case you aren’t following, the image to the left is one of two new Uber logos - but more of that later.

I write about Uber from time to time. This is one of those. Prompted by a set of different articles that popped into my feed today.

Read on if you have any interest in some of the stuff that I think could eventually cause a flip on Uber, which is arguably not only ethically challenged, but has a CEO who has spent the last two years redesigning the company logo (not Brand - as some keep calling it - that is a LOT bigger)

First, this is a good starting point - a personal piece on this web site (Heimans’ Ted Talk video is well worth a watch ) that highlights at a high level the issues that I think people are not yet recognizing, at least not generally.

Then - moving over to L2 ( in the form of Scott Galloway). Scott is arguably one of the best brand analysts out there, This is this week’s ’Friday piece’ (just in today). His videos are always a fun watch, but the specific part that caught my eye and ears starts around 50 seconds in. Turns out that the promises made and expectations being set with Uber drivers aren’t being kept. Or matched. Go figure !!

We actually don’t hear much about the woes of Uber in mainstream media, we are too busy being wowed by Travis and his growth story. But, outside of the USA there is much more attention being paid. But it’s not all bad news, there are some watching (and acing) in the USA. For example Business Insider last April  details the places around the world where Uber was banned. I particularly like the classification ‘Banned But Operating’. That is one of the reasons why Travis needs his war chest, to fight his court cases, and grease the wheels of government acceptance. You might also want to check out Sarah Lucy at PandoDaily who does a great job of pointing out the ever present issues of the company.

And then, there’s that logo. As Paul Carr at Pando wrote;

Another remarkable aspect of the rebranding (sic) is it came at a time when Uber is dealing with driver strikes, serious problems in China, not to mention all of its usual legal and ethical problems.

But rather than focussing on making drivers happy(ish) or escaping from subsidy hell in foreign markets, the company apparently decided the best use of its money and its CEO’s time is on designing and launching a warmer and cuddlier logo. Exactly how damaged is your brand for your to decide that changing it – at this precise moment in your company’s development – is worth the risk of confusing millions of existing users?

But I think there is something even more telling in that article. It was written by Jesse Hempel at Wired. In the ‘credit’ above the title ‘The Inside Story of Uber’s Radical Rebranding’ the piece is indexed as ‘Design’. A quick search of the article reveals 34 mentions of the name Kalanick, 4 mentions of the name ‘Travis’, and zero mentions of the name ‘Andrew’ or ‘Crow’. To her credit, photos and credits were made to Bryant Jow and Catherine Ray - amongst others on the design team.

But Andrew Crow ? Turn out he was the Head of Design and Brand at Uber. He left the day after the Brand (and the Wired article) went public - posting this ‘farewell’ on Medium. I wonder why ?

Over in the UK, The Guardian also writes about the pressing issues that maybe Travis should be thinking about. The Guradian has a lot of focus on the Press and legal ramifications of what they are doing. It is also one of the reasons why they recruit people like David Plouffe. Turns out even he wasn’t good enough, so has been replaced by Google’s ex ‘crisis manager’ - specifically for her knowledge of how to ‘work Europe’ - a region that Google continues to have problems with because the Commission tend to think about the impact of what Google has on people - something that we gave up in the USA a long time ago.

So What ?

Because, with all that said, for years now people have been complaining about how workers are treated ‘off shore’ in the garment manufacturing business. And some get very vocal and hyper critical … but we still continue to buy massively underpriced clothes that can only have been manufactured in those sweat shops - because it suits are pocket.

Maybe attitudes will change when the affected people are a little closer to home.

February 23, 2016