The health of Uber’s brand has taken a knock since the publication of the Uber files, a global investigation into the aggressive expansion tactics employed by the taxi-hailing business between 2013 and 2017.
According to the more than 124,000 confidential documents leaked to the Guardian by the company’s former chief lobbyist in Europe, Mark MacGann, Uber broke laws, secretly lobbied governments, and offered shares to media barons to swing favourable coverage as it pursued the disruption of the global taxi market.
Prior to the news breaking on 10 July, Uber claimed a buzz score of -0.7 in the UK, according to YouGov’s BrandIndex. Buzz is a measure of how much positive or negative noise consumers are hearing about a brand.
Buzz around the brand has been on a downward slide ever since, reaching a low of -12.1 on 16 July – by far its lowest buzz score over the past 24 months.
At the same time, Uber’s index score – a measure of overall brand health, using an average of impression, value, quality, reputation, satisfaction and recommend scores – has also fallen to its lowest score in more than two years. The measure fell from 1.9 on 9 July to a score of -2.6 by 12 July, and has since dropped as far as -3.
The decline brings Uber’s index score below those of UK rivals Bolt and FreeNow. As of 17 July, Bolt leads the trio with a score of 1.1, while FreeNow claims a score of 0.6.
Uber’s value perception also took a significant hit, down from a score of -0.5 on 9 July to -6.9 by 12 July. While this recovered slightly as of 17 July (-6.7), it marks the brand’s lowest value score in more than three years by a considerable margin.
Consumer impression of the brand has also declined, down from 2.5 to -4.6 by 17 July. Similarly, its recommend score has dropped from 5.5 to 0.4, and quality has dropped from 2.7 to -2.6.
Yet purchase intent has already rebounded from a small initial decline. The measure tumbled by 1.3 points to a low of 4.1 on 12 July, but as of 17 July claims an even higher score of 6.4. While the data suggests consumers currently feel less positively towards Uber in light of the accusations levelled against it, it also indicates they have little intention of changing their behaviour as a result.
Indeed, beer company BrewDog experienced a similar trend last year when faced with allegations of a toxic work culture. While brand health measures were down almost universally, purchase intent and consideration were considerably less effected – and the business has since reported revenue growth of 31% for 2021.
The Uber files explained
The Uber files include 83,000 emails and 1,000 other files spanning 2013 to 2017. They unveil a $90m-a-year lobbying and public relations effort to enlist the help of politicians, including now French president Emmanuel Macron and former EU digital commissioner Neelie Kroes.
Macron told Uber’s co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick he would reform taxi laws to the benefit of the business, even as more than 2,100 French taxi drivers protested against the firm in 2016. According to the files, Kalanick saw an opportunity to leverage violence towards Uber drivers during the protests to pressure governments to rewrite laws that limited Uber’s expansion plans, with little regard for the safety of the drivers at the time.
‘Lies, hypocrisy and deceit’: BrewDog’s brand health takes hit from allegations
Meanwhile, Kroes is believed to have secretly lobbied top Dutch politicians for Uber before her term in the EU ended, in potential breach of the union’s ethics rules.
Uber also offered shares to media barons in the UK, across Europe and in India to help it swing favourable coverage and influence governments, including the owners of the Daily Mail, Les Echos in France, Italy’s Le Repubblica and L’Espresso, Die Welt and Bild in Germany and the Times of India.
Kalanick met with Daily Mail group’s owner Lord Rothermere on a trip to Germany in 2015. He reportedly outlined the difficulties Uber was facing in London with then-mayor Boris Johnson and Transport for London. As an Uber investor, he suggested the company would like Rothermere to use his political influence to help smooth out the situation.
Amid other practices revealed in the files, Kalanick is said to have ordered the use of a “kill switch” in case of police raids on company computers. The former CEO was forced to step down in 2017 as a result of shareholder pressure and was replaced by Dara Khosrowshahi.
In response to the investigation, Uber said it had not and would not make “excuses for past behaviour” that is “clearly not in line with our present values”.
“Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come,” the company said.