- Uber is in a tough reputation management spot in attempting to combat the trending #DeleteUber hashtag and consumer movement, as reported by Mashable and Recode.
- The ride-hailing startup found itself under fire after it continued picking up passengers at New York’s JFK airport while taxi companies protested the Trump administration’s executive order banning people traveling from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. The taxis were expressing solidarity with protests at JFK and other major airports across the U.S. while Uber continued operations and actually promoted the elimination of its surge pricing in what was deemed by some critics as "strike breaking." The company's CEO Travis Kalanick also earned ire for being on Trump's economic advisory council.
- In response to the immediate backlash against Uber, including the negative hashtag, the company has taken brand reputation steps including Facebook posts from CEO Kalanick and a social media ad campaign targeting consumers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter who recently visited pages like the ACLU. The email notification that users receive when canceling the Uber app has also been re-worded to include the company's thoughts on the immigration ban being "unjust" and "wrong."
Brands typically try to steer clear of points of contention, protests among them. In this case, Uber mistook a major controversy for a market opportunity and is paying a brand reputation price as a result. The attempt to win back consumers using targeted ads on social would come off as savvy and potentially convincing in less extreme cases, but former Uber riders have made it clear that much of the damage is done.
Lyft, one of Uber's top competitors in the ride-hailing space, has also co-opted the entire #DeleteUber movement into its own form of aggressive and apparently successful brand marketing. As Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey pointed out, Lyft jumped up to a top spot in Apple's app store, ahead of Uber, who usually holds a lead, per Mashable.
The fiasco also shows how Trump remains a touchy subject for brands to associate themselves with, even if that association is relatively tangential to their actual business. Kalanick's place on Trump's economic advisory board doesn't necessarily reflect Uber's independent vision or politics, but brands can't make the assumption that consumers will make that distinction.
Just after the election, New Balance faced a similar issue after a positive statement about Trump's approach to getting rid of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was perceived by many as an endorsement of the president. A single statement then set off a social media phenomenon not dissimilar to #DeleteUber, with people posting photos burning their New Balance sneakers.