If you’re Uber, you may not want to use the word “Sucks” in your advertisements.
[Update: Uber reached out to me to deny that they purchased the "Lyft Sucks!" Facebook ad. See bottom of post for details.]
A humble suggestion. If you’re Uber, and you’ve been banking on an image of luxury and sophistication – black cars, leather seats, convenience at the touch of a button – this is perhaps not the best word choice when discussing your competitor:
Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but saying “[Competitor] Sucks!” makes you look desperate, angry, petulant, or some combination of all three.
Based on the numbers, it’s not necessarily wrong for Uber to feel desperate, angry, and petulant. I’m an empathetic person, and I don’t want to invalidate their feelings. Heck, if my competition was eating my lunch despite everything I tried (introducing and then lowering the price of UberX, launching lower priced services and a month of free rides in cities my competitor is new to, raising $258 million), I’d also be butthurt. And I’d be furious if they were also eating my dinner, brunch, and second breakfast:
Lyft, which started peer-to-peer ride-sharing after Uber’s black cars on demand, is seeing its revenues grow at a rate of about 6 percent every single week, according to raw data and revenue dashboards that Lyft co-founder John Zimmer shared exclusively with TechCrunch. That growth rate is more than double Uber’s growth pace, which averaged about 2.8 percent in the five weeks of data leaked to Gawker. Compounded over a year, Lyft is seeing 20X growth.*
If I ran a luxury brand, I would never, ever, ever allow my digital ads team to use the word “Sucks”. (Caveat: Unless I was working for Dyson.) It cheapens the brand – or – it makes you look like the incredibly spoiled and douchey kind of rich. I’m not sure which is worse for Uber, particularly when Silicon Valley execs are already overrun with accusations of extreme and unchecked privilege.
And luxury brand or not, if I were the dominant player in a space, I certainly wouldn’t run ads that made me look scared of my competition.
Uber is doing everything it can to drag race Lyft in public rhetoric as if they’re equals. Why is the clear market leader deigning to insult and continually include Lyft in their advertisements despite having enough money and power to make Solomon blush?
Maybe – despite their power and first mover advantage – they’re truly terrified of how rapidly Lyft is growing and what products they’re launching, and Uber simply can’t control their anger well enough to keep it out of their branding. Speaking of branding, up until now it’s been roughly as follows:
Uber is all about seriousness, decadence, and luxurious convenience you can afford. As the founders have put it countless times, it’s a way everyone can travel like “a baller.” Everything about the brand mimics that, from the Porsche-like logo to the comfy leather seats.
Lyft on the other hand, is all about community, casualness, and letting the good times ride. Witness the pink mustaches, fist bumps, and donation-based payment systems. In Ubers you sit in the back. Like a reverse-mullet, the party in a Lyft is in the front.
Between product offerings, payment systems, and expansion plans, the two are starting to resemble each other more and more. Perhaps Uber’s slide into bro talk is a purposeful acceleration of this – the plan is to look more casual and hip… more like Lyft. Blurring the lines to capture the same demographic, perhaps?
Should be a good 2014 for Lyft.
UPDATE 12/31/13 @ 2:41 pm PST:
Andrew Noyes, Communications & Public Policy at Uber, reached out to me via email:
Hi Kaitlin -
I saw your blog post and wanted to let you know that we’ve looked into
the Facebook ad that you cited and can confirm that it is not an
Thanks, Andrew. Do you know if this ad was purchased by a partner contracted by Uber to purchase Facebook ads? And if so, did this partner not run their copy by Uber’s team? If not an official partner, do you know who did purchase this?Happy to update the post.
We’re looking into it.
*Read the full article for the complete context. This quote is perhaps exaggerating the reality. “You could argue that because Lyft is growing from a smaller revenue base, its growth rate would naturally be higher…”
“Branding” Photo Credit: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/traveler-magazine/photo-contest/2011/entries/42354/view/