Malick Ba

Uber Ethics

January 6, 2016

“Don’t drink and drive”, “find a safe way home”, “plan your route in advance”, are just a few of the phrases that are brought up a multitude of times over the holidays, and I’m totally on board. This New Year’s Eve, I knew that the smartest and most efficient thing that I could do to plan a safe way home would be to do what myself and millions of others do: catch an Uber.  Long after the countdown, I decided to split the fare three ways with a couple of friends to reduce the cost and save some cash. When we arranged for us to get picked up, we were bombarded with messages saying that between 12am-4am were “surge” periods and prices would be heavily inflated from their usual, more affordable ones because so many people were using it. Without giving much notice to that, we bypassed that screen and were on our way home only to notice that what is a normally about a $15-20 ride was about $50. While you can bring up the argument that we consented to having these prices be higher due to their surging periods, Uber has received some hefty criticism about this from people all around North America.

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An angry Uber user takes to Instagram to express his frustrations with surge pricing.

This is the first year that I’ve really become engaged using Uber and I’ve been nothing but a brand advocate. I love it and use it all the time. But In my opinion, this was not the most ethical thing that Uber could have done. After seeing so many Mothers Against Drunk Driving commercials on TV and Government PSAs about avoiding driving drunk on New Year’s Eve, in my opinion it doesn’t make sense to me that Uber would charge more during times when people need them the most. After doing some research, some users of the app have been charged up to 10x more than their normal fare that night. Is this not taking advantage of an inebriated target audience?

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To me, this is the first real negative experience that I’ve had with the company, and I’m really not impressed. I get that New Years is a busy time and I understand that at the end of the day the company is trying to maximize profits. However, the company could have done a few things to avoid having such negative publicity in the last few days. Building a brand isn’t always about making money and capitalizing off of people’s fortune. It’s about creating positive experiences, meaningful interactions, and generating awareness so that people will want to keep coming back. Those are also three things that Uber has been put in the negative spotlight for. Ethics and marketing can be tricky, but to me this one was a no brainer. So would I fix this? These are three things that I would have done if I were the head of marketing for Uber before New Year’s Eve:

  1. Partnering with M.A.D.D.

Partnering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving would be a great idea. By building a connection with a recognized anti-drinking and driving organization, it shows that as a brand you care about people avoiding potential harmful collisions under the influence. The two brands could work together to try and find a “ridesharing” program for people leaving towards the same area of the city ultimately making the ride cheaper.

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  1. Provide users with fare estimations before consenting surge prices.

The convenience of Uber is outstanding. It never seemed like an issue to me but after checking that my bill was 3x higher than it normally was on NYE, I was concerned. If the app showed an estimate (based on where my destination was) of how much my actual bill would be on the same page as the surge price consenting page, I may have reconsidered and avoided this situation entirely.

 

  1. Make rides free.

Hear me out. Uber has basically been built on positive brand awareness, so why stop when people need it the most? If Uber had made their rides free between let’s say between 12am-4am, I guarantee the same amount of people would have used it, if not more. Instead, the company actively chose to capitalize off of drunk people. If rides were free, they would have shown that they are serious about avoiding drunk driving and wanted to keep safety in society as their number one priority. This in turn would have further boosted their public image and most likely would have positioned them better against their competition. Of course they would lose out on a lot of extra cash in their pockets in the short term, but in the long term they may have seen more people using the app because of this good deed.

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Agree? Disagree? What do you think Uber could have done to avoid this situation?

Malick Ba is currently an aspiring marketing professional living in Toronto, Canada. His academic background includes a Bachelor’s of Arts in Communications with a minor in Sociology from the University of Ottawa. Currently, Malick is a senior at Humber College and is looking forward to what he can provide to the marketing world upon graduation. Follow him onTwitterInstagram, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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