Uber’s Most Effective Marketing Strategy of All Time Was One You Didn’t Even Notice

Feb 12, 2015 · 3 min read
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Silver Prius, take me away || photo credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/zinarcotics/9527240

Many people are enthralled with the cleverness of Uber’s marketing tactics (despite recent troubles). And for good reason: they’re great at sensational, entertaining and original marketing. You’ve probably read about (or sent countless requests into the Uber ether for) on-demand kittens, Uber ice cream, and even Uber weddings.

But my favorite Uber marketing campaign to date isn’t a particularly flashy one. In fact, despite some launch-day coverage, most people didn’t pay it much mind. It’s both an exceedingly effective tactic at spreading the Good News of Uber and simultaneously solves a real, everyday problem for users. I might get some blowback on this, but I would dare say it’s even more useful than kittens on demand <ducks>.

You’re standing at a bus stop one evening. You are on your way to a concert across town — a second date with someone you’re really excited about. You’ve managed to get home from work, quickly shower and change into an outfit you surmise to be cool (is trying to look good back in?). You smell nice. You’ve arranged to meet your date in the lobby of the theater in 25 minutes. You estimate that the bus ride should take about 20 minutes, so with a 5 minute cushion and a little luck on your side, you’ll be right on time.

As you arrive at the bus stop, you produce your trusty phone from your pocket to check arrival times on Google Maps. And the prediction is: 40 minutes.

Forty minutes?! You scroll down to look at alternate routes. The alternatives are even more dire: fifty-one minutes, fifty-seven minutes and a convenient 1 hour 37 minute walk.

Your heart rate starts to rise as you picture your date standing in the lobby of the theater, scanning the doors for your arrival. They’re looking disappointed and increasingly annoyed as the other concert-goers file into the auditorium to see the show. Now your sweetie is standing alone in the lobby, rage-texting their friends about how much you suck. The doors swing open dramatically. It’s not you entering though, but rather a former flame (with a cooler outfit than the one your date will now never see). They notice your intended standing all alone. ‘Your date blew you off? What a jerk! You should come sit with me….’

As this image fills your increasingly distraught mind, you continue to scroll down the Google Maps menu, as if, by some miracle, there might be another bus line which could magically fold space-time to get you to the venue in under half an hour.

And then your thumb pauses in its upward swipe when you see this:

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Nine minutes.

Everything’s fine.

Everything is fine! Hoorah!

The day is saved, you can calm down now and stop sweating like a panicked monkey. You’ll get there early (!), looking cool and calm: stroll in, lay a double-cheek kiss on your date, and go on to have a long beautiful marriage and 2.3 gorgeous children.

And for only $9.

While I’m the first to admit the absurdity of this story (showing up to a date on time is so 2014), this really is marketing at its most elegant. Good marketing is about the customer. It’s being where your customers are, right when they need you, ready with a coat over the puddle and a hand to guide them.

These small, perfect pas de deux that Uber has set up are more effective than any advertising, gimmicky (yet adorable) on-demand animals, or loosely-targeted Facebook ads.

By employing empathy-based Marketing, Uber is able to not just increase their bottom line, but mastermind the exact circumstance in which their product’s value shines. All this, on top of saving the day of a very grateful (and likely to return) customer.

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