Is Uber being Uber Silly in China?


Uber, the global ride-hailing hero, is now battling to extend the halo to China.  But the brand is facing super savvy competitors and consumers for whom “Uber’s wow factor” is considerably less.

From a branding perspective it is fascinating to see brands battle it out for “new categories” in China – whether it is supermarket brands, cars, luxury, or .. ride hailers –  we hope to be “the secret weapon” to ensure success in of our client in the battle.

From our observations, it seems Uber may be a little ‘under the pump’, as we are noticing some things that do not seem ‘quite right’ and not particularly ‘uber’ in China – let’s take a look, one-by-one

Uber is using traditional advertising in China

Walking around Shanghai, Uber has bus shelters ads, asking locals “how they expect to arrive in an elegant state?” with two suitably fashionable young ladies sitting in the back seat of a car.

Nothing wrong with the copy per se, but the medium seems particularly off-code for an online-offline business model.  It makes Uber seem quite traditional compared to their arguably more nimble local competitor, Didi.

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Uber’s outdoor advertising in Shanghai

Public discussion of being ‘more expensive’ in China

On China’s largest micro-blog site Weibio the hashtag  “Would you still take Uber?” (#你还会用Uber打车吗#) started to go viral last week.

The discussion centred on Uber’s plans to charge additionally for “time that drivers have to wait”, in a super-competitive category, that is most definitely ‘bad e-press’.

Many netizens say the proposed rules – focussed on being charged for “making the driver wait” or “cancelling more than two minutes after hailing”  are likely to cause ‘inaccurate charging’ as many drivers are not familiar with the area they are picking up clients.

Either way, the fact the news has become viral on Weibo means it could become a major sensitivity for users deciding between Uber and Didi Kuaidi.

Facing some very smart local nuance

On top of this Uber is facing some very smart competition from Didi Kuaidi.  Far from a foreign copy-cat, Didi Kuaidi, a merger of China’s previously two most popular ride hailing apps, is now developing a sophisticated brand – that is, its messaging is moving well beyond service provision.

Last month, we discussed Didi’s animated GIF campaign focussed on the interesting idea of how couples met through ride hailing.   The animated online images told the stories of how romance developed through the unique scenarios created by contemporary transport needs and Didi’s role in solving them.

For us, this was extremely strategic as it highlighted the spontaneity of ride hailing, instead of focussing on ‘unrealistic promises’ of the service in imperfect situations.

The battle is just beginning for ride hailing supremacy in China.  For Uber it will be essential to follow Sun Tzu’s essential advice; “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”.

About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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