Though CBS has emerged as a contender for the top position, it has not dethroned Uber as the most infamous “bro culture” company in the world. Created in the likeness of Travis Kalanick, its co-founder and dramatically deposed CEO, Uber’s brand has been defined by its systemic degrading of women, wage gaps, harassment, misogyny, career sabotage, sexual assault, boycotts, and its bro-enabling, gas-lighting leadership.
Women won’t soon forget that Kalanick himself bragged that Uber’s success increased his personal ability to hookup. “Yeah,” he told GQ, “we call that Boob-er.”
The company is not even ten years old, but this week, Uber unveiled its fourth attempt to reinvent its brand. Fulfilling CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s promise to move Uber in a new direction–that is, as far away from its creepy-dude DNA as possible–the company scrapped its most recent radical rebranding and challenged its design agency to create something that reflects its new brand values like “doing the right thing” and “celebrating differences.”
Reportedly, it took a team of brand professionals nearly a year of global market research to figure out that Uber’s branding remained imposing, confusing, and overly masculine. “A lot of drivers and riders didn’t understand what the symbol was,” said Forest Young, creative director at Wolff Olins, designers of the new look. “We tried to kick out all micro moments where trust was eroded.”
“Done well, logos can powerfully telegraph the values and promise of a company,” says Sandy Sabean, chief creative officer and my partner at Womenkind, noting that Uber has a steep mountain to climb to earn back the trust of women. “A friendly new custom-made typeface just isn’t enough to change a brand women know was created in the image of a dysfunctional, immature, ego-centric jerk.”
She applauds the design team for taking a page from Massimo Vignelli’s playbook. Vignelli was an advocate for simple, elegant, and democratic design. “Gone is the sense that Uber is a slick tech company in dramatic bold black letters and a favicon that seemed like an inside joke created by the dudes running the show,” Sabean says. “Uber is clearly trying to reveal some humanity and soften the edge.”
Sabean notes that new Uber logo looks very much like the iconic “big brown bag” logo Vignelli created for Bloomingdale’s– a graphic with a timeless personality that has charmed women for decades.
Sabean admits to being one of the hundreds of thousands of women who supported #deleteUber, and has followed the changes enacted by the new CEO. She hopes the hiring of Rebecca Messina as CMO will bring more balance and nuance to the brand, and that she will foster more respect and empathy in its brand communications, too. But in Sabean’s mind, the brand has a lot more work to do to convince women.
“Great design will engage and attract, but truth and authenticity win every time” she says, “and women need to be convinced of a new truth at Uber. ” So what’s the truth about Uber?
According to data collected by my colleagues at Gender Fair, Uber has three women on its board of twelve, and only three of its 12-member executive team are women. Lyft, by contrast, has significantly more women in leadership–50% by one measure–plus far more robust socially-minded corporate policies that support women, diversity, and equality. Moreover, Lyft partnered with Michelle Obama to create Let Girls Learn, and they offer new parents 18 weeks of paid leave. Perhaps that’s why Lyft employees more women drivers than anyone else in the ridesharing industry and attracts substantially more women than men to its service.
It’s too soon to know if Uber has successfully transformed its culture and practices, or if this brand evolution is just its latest attempt to convince consumers Uber is new and improved.
As Tim Cook famously admonished Kalanick, “Stop the trickery.” Let’s hope this new logo signals to women that Uber is embracing his advice.
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