Another Rebranding Apology; Another Marketing Misfire

 Uber joined the corporate rebranding apology tour with a new 60-second TV spot. While striking a sincere tone, the ad still falls short on specifics and direct outreach to the customers and stakeholders most affected by the scandals that provoked the need for rebranding.

Uber joined the corporate rebranding apology tour with a new 60-second TV spot. While striking a sincere tone, the ad still falls short on specifics and direct outreach to the customers and stakeholders most affected by the scandals that provoked the need for rebranding.

Like Wells Fargo, Uber faced a tough 2017. Unlike Wells Fargo, Uber has launched an ad campaign that offers a more sincere-sounding plan on how it plans to clean up its act.

In a 60-second TV spot called “Moving Forward,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowhahi, who was hired in the middle of a series of scandals, walks through the actions the car-hailing company is taking. Keeping in mind it is a TV ad, not a consumer bill of rights, Uber says it will enable in-ride reviews of drivers and promises to improve the culture at Uber headquarters.

“Moving forward, it’s time to move in a new direction,” Khosrowhahi says in the ad.

Advertising observers have panned the Uber ad as “vague” and another corporate entry on the “apology tour.” That criticism is not invalid, but the Uber “apology” strikes a notably different tone than Wells Fargo’s ad that says the iconic company that began in 1852 is re-establishing itself in 2018.

The Wells Fargo ad started with historical footage and references to its gloried past before getting around to the one specific it announced – eliminating sales quotas for brand managers and instead emphasizing customer satisfaction.

The Uber ad comes across as less flashy and a bit more on point. Instead of a narrator, the voice you hear is the CEO who promises continuous improvement to make things better for riders, drivers and, presumably, Uber staff.  The ad also shows Uber riders and drivers.

Organizations that face rebranding challenges following scandals or product failures should study and learn from the Wells Fargo and Uber ad campaigns. Drawing on history and letting the CEO do the talking are just tactics. But rebranding strategy should center on specific action steps. If the digital age has done nothing else, it has made promises less important than actual improvements. Flash and CEO sincerity aren’t substitutes for on-the-ground change.

It isn’t a knock on advertising to observe that it may not be the best medium to convey the substance of a rebranding effort, as both the Wells Fargo and Uber ad campaigns demonstrate. Often, direct outreach to affected customers or stakeholders is the best path to successful rebranding. Convince them your change is real and meaningful, then let them talk about the change in unscripted ways on social media and, eventually, in an ad campaign featuring consumer reaction to your change.

We talk a lot about customer engagement and building trust. TV ads, regardless of their quality, push a message, but don’t engage. That can have the unintended effect of deepening cynicism and mistrust.

Wells Fargo and Uber deserve credit for undertaking rebranding. They both would have been better served by launching their rebranding in a less splashy – and possibly a lot less expensive – way by reaching out to their customers and telling them directly about the changes being made and asking for their reaction. That kind of engagement may not fit in a 60-second TV spot, but it is likely to provide a more satisfying and durable outcome.