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The Gloves Are Off… But the Leggings Stay On

30th March 2017


One brand's misfortune can be another's opportunity. Peggy Carlton grabs the popcorn...

We’ve seen quite a lot of self-inflicted PR wounds recently and my heart goes out to the poor comms people who have to clear up the mess. I mean, the team at Uber just can’t catch a break. First, the company’s attempt to get one over on New York taxi drivers led to the #deleteUber campaign and a mass exodus of customers. And just as they were trying to recover from that, allegations of a sexist, bullying culture emerged, followed by a damaging video of CEO, Travis Kalanick abusing an Uber driver. And then the high-profile President, Jeff Jones resigns. As far as the crisis management playbook goes, the folks at Uber are doing (or trying to do) all the right things – but boy, what a mess! 

What is interesting is these situations is not just how the company involved responds, but also how their competitors respond.  

The Gloves Are Off…

I actually enjoy it when rival brands go at each other - it's fun to see. (My current favorite is Verizon versus Sprint.) So when Uber shot itself in the foot (repeatedly) I was keen to see how its main US competitor, Lyft, would respond. Special incentives for disaffected Uber riders? Sly digs in their advertising or social media content? No. Lyft remained above it all, just quietly going about their business.

I have no doubt that the people at Lyft made the calculation that there was nowhere else for the #deleteUber crowd to go, and all they had to do was sit back and take the extra business. (I’m also pretty sure they went on a frantic driver recruitment drive.) But a conversation undoubtedly also took place about the Lyft brand. Its value proposition. Its tone of voice. Lyft’s brand proposition is ‘your friend with a car’ (versus Uber’s ‘Everyone’s private driver’). And this idea of Lyft as your friend, as the nice guys, flows right through the user experience, even down to the drivers they recruit. So I guess it’s not surprising that they stayed out of the Uber implosion. That’s just who they are. And in that case, a non-response is more appropriate – and powerful – than any proactive response.

 …But the leggings stay on

Another brand that has suffered by its own hand is United, which has been roasted over #LeggingsGate. My colleague, Danica Ross has written a post about the lessons to be learned from the episode, but I was impressed by the rapid response of arch-rival, Delta.

Nicely done.

But even more impressive were those brands who used United’s newfound notoriety to their advantage. I especially liked Puma’s offer of a discount on leggings to any customer producing a United boarding pass. This is a great example of what my colleague, Will Kunkel described recently – turning on a dime to capitalize on moments in time through creative content. As Puma showed on this occasion, and other brands are beginning to on a regular basis, this can be a very effective means of inserting your brand into conversations. And in sectors where the competition is as fierce as it is for Sprint and Verizon, Lyft and Uber, or United and Delta, the turn of speed required to make this happen will be a deciding factor in future brand wars. 


Peggy Carlton

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