Quiet Ukraine Campaign Starts Uber's Social Impact Push

A brand-building exercise positions the transportation company as a force for good

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Uber, the technology-led transportation business, has been supporting communities around the world in various ways, from anti-domestic violence initiatives to vaccine drives. But with its recent campaign highlighting the work of its drivers in Ukraine, it has begun to showcase these efforts.

In December, Uber released three ads featuring the stories of Ukrainian drivers still working during the war, with the goal of raising funds for the United24 foundation to buy new ambulances. Since the campaign began to run across 10 countries through Uber’s own media channels, it has raised $1.6 million, including an initial $1 million donated by Uber and an additional $300,000 match of donations from the public.

This response could become a typical example of how the organization improves its brand reputation by becoming a force for good in situations where it can make a difference. The effort goes back to the Covid-19 pandemic when it promised 10 million rides, meals and deliveries to healthcare workers, seniors and people around the world.

We understand that the brand isn’t loved yet, and that’s OK. That’s not why we’re telling these stories.

Danielle Trivisonno Hawley, global ECD, Uber

However, despite looking to overcome its widely publicized problems from the past, the business has, in the main, chosen not to widely advertise its initiatives until now.

“We understand that the brand isn’t loved yet, and that’s OK. That’s not why we’re telling these stories. They’re human truths. They’re human stories. They’re things that connect us. And we all understand why that’s important,” said Uber’s global executive creative director Danielle Trivisonno Hawley.

Social impact strategy

Julia Paige took up the role of global director of social impact at Uber in February 2020, charged with helping to build trust and value for the brand while supporting those in need.

One of the first campaigns was, not surprisingly, related to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Vaccinate the Block,” from R/GA, featured Spike Lee and offered 10 million free rides to vaccination appointments.

“Part of my remit is really being the personification of mission—reimagine the way the world moves for the better,” Paige said. “This [campaign] is really showing the power of movement and we knew that we had a role to play, we knew that we had the ability to do it.

“We’ve operated in conflict, but there are very few places that are war-torn where Uber operates, so this was a unique situation,” she added.

The making of an Uber ad

With the invasion underway, Uber began to support Ukrainians by collaborating with the United Nations and the World Food Program (WFP) to transport emergency assistance to people in need in urban areas across the country. This involved opening its tech platform to allow WFP to coordinate, dispatch and track a fleet of vehicles delivering relief items from warehouses to people in need in densely populated areas.

“We were hearing a lot of these stories anecdotally about drivers who had done things or a courier who had done that. Then I would talk to different groups and be told, ‘No one knows you’re doing any of this,’” explained Paige, who relayed that insight to Hawley, which spurred the campaign.

Working with creative agency Banda to devise a way to tell some of the stories in a “sensitive” manner, Paige also highlighted that “this wasn’t an Uber story” but a chance to show how the brand was playing its part as everyone else in Ukraine was playing theirs. “This was the story of courage.”

The five-month process to develop the campaign that would become “Keep Ukraine Moving” was not without disruption. Meetings were halted due to shelling taking place on the city while others involved in the planning couldn’t attend as they were moving to a new country.

Hawley, who is based in California, said there were expected challenges around time zones and language barriers, as well as “a tension” around developing something seen as “a sympathy piece” that may not be welcomed by the Ukrainians involved.

This meant allowing Uber’s team in Ukraine and Banda to be “the guide” for the creative development and set the milestones, rather than Hawley’s creative team setting expectations externally.

The aim was for the campaign to be released on Giving Tuesday (Nov. 28) to drive donations, but as it is a “constantly changing situation,” the launch was delayed to just before the winter holidays.

Hawley said the pandemic was “a crash course” in how to respond in emergency situations.

While she said the campaign “is not about us,” Hawley explained the need for it to resonate with the Uber brand, to show it as a company about movement and connection.

“There’s nothing worse than a brand trying to have a voice in a conversation they don’t belong in. And there’s nothing worse than a brand talking about a cause with no real substance behind it,” Hawley said. “That isn’t the case here. I would never be the kind of storyteller that was talking about these drivers in this way if I didn’t know that Uber was playing a significant role.”

If you would like to contribute to Uber’s campaign, visit the Keep Ukraine Moving website.

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