Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Going somewhere – Uber captures the moment at MAD//Fest 2024

Sitting in a cab is a little like going to the hairdresser. You’re either a chatter or a grunter. The former happily engage in banter over holiday destinations or celebrity gossip; the latter say little more than their destination at the start and ‘thank you’ at the end. Since the dawn of the smartphone, more and more of us are the latter. That, says Paul Wright, Head of Advertising International at Uber, is a golden opportunity. 

“We have a real opportunity to engage with consumers in the right way, at the right moment,” Wright says which, unsurprisingly, is something many heads of advertising say. But, he adds: “We believe in magic.”

Wright’s belief is that people sitting in an Uber are indeed ‘in a moment’, but it’s often a special one. Going to friends, going on holiday, getting foot via Uber Eats at a moment when it’s needed – “you’re doing lots of things that are very important to you”.

The Uber experience, he says, sits at the “cross-section” between digital and the real world. Physical things come through the process, you’re going to a concert or coming home to bed. There’s extra attention on what you’re doing and Uber believes this is an opportunity for advertisers. 

There are, Wright outlines, three core areas where advertisers can interact. There’s Uber Eats with selection and sponsored listings; then there’s the wider brand opportunities for CPG and FMCG brands; and then there’s the rides business. 

For those that still don’t think Uber could have the reach that, say, a CNN or a Tesco might have, check out the figures. There are 150 million active customers worldwide, in 10,000 cities making 28 million trips a day. That’s the starting point for Uber’s first-party data. What comes next is using it, and using it in the right way. 

“One of the key principles of Uber is do the right thing. We do a lot to make sure the user experience is not interrupted but enhanced by advertising. We do what we should do, not what we could do,” he insists. That includes using the data they have to be sensitive, such as never targeting people going to hospital. 

He also advises not to overcomplicate things. Uber has a lot of data about its users but some of the most powerful is the single destination data point. “Some of the best campaigns we’ve run is when advertisers have focused on that simple data point because it shows intent.” 

Wright also runs through various other insights – whether customers are eco-conscious, whether they have pets, do they attend a lot of sports events and so on. 

Which takes us back to the magic moments. Wright gives the scenario of taking an Uber to a picnic on a nice sunny day (suspend your disbelief for a moment). There’s an ad for a Magnum on the first screen while you’re waiting for cars to confirm. Then when the car is on the way, and then a third when you’re in the car. 

“It’s a good opportunity to target the right people going to a place where they might want to buy ice cream”. If you wanted to, he adds, you could add a link directly to Co-op or Uber Eats to have it delivered to wherever you are sitting on the grass. “That’s a very simple expression of what we do. It captures the attention in that moment and delivers from a complete transactional perspective.”