Lyft Travels Back to 1836 With Jeff Bridges in First Brand Work From Wieden + Kennedy

Period pieces herald the third transportation revolution

Man invents the wheel. Man walks on the moon. Man calls a car to the East Village on a Friday night, when you can’t flag a yellow cab to save your life.

These are some of the major developments in the history of human transportation, according to Lyft, whose big new brand campaign is set to debut during NFL games this Sunday.

It’s the first 360-degree, fully integrated campaign in the history of the 5-year-old company, which gained significant market share in recent months as its chief rival Uber suffered through a series of painful, largely self-inflicted crises. It’s also the first broadcast work for Lyft from Wieden + Kennedy New York, which won the business earlier this year.

W+K made a splash with a summer activation in which Lyft “took over” an Los Angeles car wash, but the new work is even more ambitious. In the first spot, “Riding West,” Jeff Bridges relays a few lessons about the importance of choice that are as relevant today as they were to the wagon trains of the early 19th century.

The purpose of the new effort is twofold, as Lyft aims to both expand its audience and encourage some customers to reconsider the service they thought they knew.

“We are reintroducing ourselves to people who may have only known us years ago as an early startup and new folks who have not tried ridesharing or Lyft,” said vp of marketing Melissa Waters, who joined Lyft from Pandora last year. “We started 2017 only operating in major U.S. markets, and now we have expanded to over 40 states; we currently cover 94 percent of the U.S. population.”

In explaining the campaign’s historic references, she described the ridesharing industry as “the third transportation revolution.” And while the act of following the Oregon Trail might at first seem unrelated to a decidedly modern business like Lyft, “we liked the creative device of the iconic ride,” she added. “It is really helpful to us because it speaks to the relationship between passenger and driver.” 

Additional spots in the campaign, which will be distributed via digital and social channels, elaborate on the theme.

One of the Bridges-free Western-themed ads continues in the same lighthearted vein with an 1830s take on texting.

Viewers may note that, unlike the “Undercover Lyft” series of viral spots, which the brand has been releasing for some time, this campaign doesn’t directly address the brand’s all-important customer experience.

“This is really about articulating our ethos,” said Waters. “We will have plenty of opportunities to communicate more about our product features and differentiation and reinforce our commitment to treating people better.”

In the meantime, future ads will add new historical touchpoints. A forthcoming follow-up to “Riding West” stars Tilda Swinton and Jordan Peele as astronauts aboard Apollo 14, orbiting the moon in 1971.

“We were trying to think about important moments in transportation … to contrast against your mundane ride to brunch or your trip to pick up a loofah,” said W+K creative director Stuart Jennings when asked how his team arrived at the underlying concept. “Whether you’re going to the moon, settling the West or just going to Target, it matters who you choose.”

Jennings added that the creatives chose “people who had a purpose and a goal that was big, ambitious and honorable” and cast actors known for both their dramatic and comedic roles in order to best “exude the personality of the brand.” He declined to name Uber as the target of some jabs in the copywriting (Bridges warns viewers not to “choose poorly” and “end up stranded”), instead describing this sort of casual messaging strategy as “something [Lyft] has always done, not in retort to what others have done.”