With all the drama Uber has had, should it change its name to move forward?
Uber has done a lot to transform transportation for millions of riders, and create flexible job options for drivers. It has been such a success story and driver of change in a stagnant industry that “the Uber of [fill in the industry name]” has become a common phrase to describe startups that are trying to disrupt their space with lofty expectations of success–like the Uber of Dog Walking (yes, that is a thing).
It has also been at the center of a lot of controversy. From gender biases and sexual harassment, to a law suit by Google, to law suits from drivers, to unflattering videos of Uber’s founder and former-CEO, Travis Kalanick, mistreating drivers, to a very dramatic board fight and ousting of Kalanick, to a very public CEO search, to meddling by Kalanick to the most recent drama around the covered-up data breach of 57 million accounts–a long list that probably does not even cover it all–they have had a lot of drama.
A lot. And while Uber has still grown during all of this, several competitors like Lyft have seized on the opportunity, for example making a very public statement around immigration policy at a time when Uber was being roasted in the press for its silence on the matter.
New CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has had a lot to deal with, and has made a lot of progress on several fronts despite alleged continued attempts by Kalanick’s to control the company. With the most recent drama, he has been pulled in since he was aware of the breach for several weeks before it was reported.
Despite everything Khosrowshahi is doing to right the ship and repair the brand damage, could it be too much to fix? Perhaps the time has come for the Uber of ride sharing to be called something else.
Many companies have changed their name for positive reasons, like Apple dropping “Computer” from its name when it was clearly not primarily a computer company. Tesla dropped “Motors” when it acquired fellow-Musk-startup Solar City.
Some companies have done it to distance themselves from a more negative past. Philip Morris became Altria in 2003 to try to separate the overall company from its cigarette-making division so there would be no “second-hand smoke” on other brands it owned, like Kraft. The branding consultant they hired said that the name change, “…offers the possibility of masking the negatives associated with the tobacco business.”
Accenture used to be Andersen Consulting until its former parent-company, accounting firm Arthur Andersen, went down in flames in the wake of the Enron scandal with a lot of public backlash.
This is the situation Uber may be facing–too much negative attention to be able to truly move forward.
On the other side of the coin, several companies that went through major scandals retained their names (some only to face another scandal later), like Audi with the sudden acceleration scandal in the 1980s, Toyota with its sudden acceleration mess in 2009 and 2010, VW and Audi with their “dieselgate” scandal, or Chipotle with their E. coli debacle in 2015. Even Dow Chemical’s and Monsanto’s names survived Agent Orange.
Russ Findlay, Chief Marketing Officer of small business insurer Hiscox USA, thinks Uber should stick with their name. He said,
“Brand awareness is hard to build–once you have it, it’s far easier to maintain it than grow it. Rebranding is choice of last resort–you’re saying to the market is the perception of your brand is so despised that consumers will not do business with you.
Uber’s brand is dented not broken.”
So what do you think? Should Uber rebrand itself? Or should it keep working to fix their image and hang onto the brand equity they have built–even if it is negative equity right now?
If I was in Khosrowshahi’s shoes, I would be thinking hard about a new name.
This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats. It originally appeared in my Inc.com column on December 6th, 2017.