The Tube Strike! Even here in the US it’s big news. Never-ending queues at the train stations; gridlock in the streets, 1,000 of workers calling in “strike”–leaving those who live close by to man the battle stations alone.
If you must get to work, there’s always Uber. The hired car company will be happy to take you anywhere you want to go. They even sent out an email to everyone who uses the app, reminding them that there’s no such thing as a walkout in the sharing economy.
There is one, very tiny, hitch; Uber prices will be hirer than normal. The taxi companies, who are already upset with Uber say that the company is exploiting desperate Londoners, wringing every dime they can get out of them in their (24) hour (s) of need. Technically, this isn’t true. Uber routinely practices surge pricing which increases the price of a fare based on demand at that moment in time. That’s good, but controversial, business.
Uber isn’t the only company using the Tube strike to gain more customers. As PRWeek reports, money transfer app Payfriendz is offering free strike rides in return for a share on social media. A bike company is offering free bike checkups and you can get free coffee at Strada – but you have to show the Tweet or Facebook post to get it (which means a follow!)
Customers, like this Tweeter took offense when he saw the Uber email.
— Karl Eastham (@karleastham) August 5, 2015
Other Londoners were happy to accept free rides, coffee and coupons. Instead of seeing these brands as opportunistic, they see them as comrades doing what they can to salvage a very bad day.
Marketing on the back of bad news can be seen as opportunistic and as such could drive away more customers than it attracts. This is true even if you’re offering free rides and coffee. The one saving grace in this case is that the inciting event is an inconvenience, not a tragedy. If it was a terrorist attack, not a disgruntled union, that had shut down the Tube, all of these marketing messages would be highly inappropriate. Your company may have a solution but you don’t ever want to be seen as trying to profit in the face of a national tragedy.
In this case, Uber would have been better off advertising a lower fee for services during the strike. What they would have earned in good will, would have more than made up for what they lost in revenue.
Advertising in the face of adversity: opportunistic or smart business? What do you think?