Uber Eats is now as well-known as Macca's and Woolworths — but faces serious reputation risk from its ridesharing parent company

Image: supplied
  • Uber Eats has reached brand awareness of between 92% and 95% in Sydney and between 94% and 97% in Melbourne, according to market researcher YouGov.
  • The food delivery app has aggressively marketed itself via sponsorship of the Australian Open tennis and stunts including the ‘Shark Bait’ campaign in Auckland.
  • Uber Eats regional general manager Jodie Auster says the brand is not “immune” from scandals involving its ridesharing parent company Uber.

Uber Eats wasn’t the first food delivery platform to enter the Australian market. In fact, as its Australia and New Zealand general manager Jodie Auster readily admits, it was actually the last.

All three of its main competitors — Menulog, Foodora and Deliveroo — preceded the Australian launch of Uber Eats in April 2016. But despite being a latecomer, Auster is pretty satisfied with the Aussie reception.

“We really did strike a chord with consumers,” Auster told an audience at the Vivid Ideas Exchange at the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney on Wednesday. “Online food delivery took off in a huge way [in Australia] when Uber Eats arrived. We very quickly grew to become a household name.”

In fact, Uber Eats seems to have reached almost saturation when it comes to brand awareness in Australia. A chart with YouGov data presented by Auster suggested the company had reached 95% brand awareness, on par with major players McDonald’s and Woolworths.

London-headquartered market researcher YouGov confirmed to Business Insider Australia that according to its BrandIndex, the awareness score for Uber Eats in Sydney has fluctuated between 92% and 95% in Sydney and between 94% and 97% in Melbourne in the period of 22 February and 23 May 2019.

According to Auster, just 18 months ago that number was around 45%. So what changed?

Uber Eats’ marketing grand slam

In January of this year, Uber Eats loudly proclaimed its national presence with its marquee sponsorship of the Australian Open and a shockingly realistic ad that showed Rafael Nadal picking up Uber Eats mid-match.

The much-hyped and presumably super expensive campaign — Auster declined to name the dollar-figure spent on the Australian Open campaign when probed by Vivid event panelist and Four Pillars Gin co-founder Stuart Gregor — had serious return on investment for the food delivery business.

Melbourne Business School professor and marketing guru Mark Ritson described the campaign as the company’s “tennis victory”.

The Australian Open sponsorship hasn’t been Uber Eats’ only marketing grand slam. When McDelivery became available on the app in New Zealand, Uber Eats and its creative agency Special Group punked Auckland’s iconic Shark Bus by driving a filet-o-fish vehicle in front of it, in a stunt that went viral.

(Uber Eats — Shark Bait from Special Group on Vimeo)

But awareness is one thing, affection is quite another.

Auster said Uber Eats hopes to convert its customers into “passionate fans” in line with what she said was an internal company culture where “passion for the brand is alive”.

“The team is full of people who are genuinely inspired by the company’s vision,” Auster said. “When you walk around and talk to people at Uber, you think ‘gosh, they’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid.”

Aggressive marketing campaigns and a Kool-Aid-drinking culture may help with penetration, but they may not be enough to stem the flow of negative sentiment increasingly circling its parent company, Uber.

Uber’s family dynamics

While Uber Eats has been steadily increasing its brand awareness Down Under and “ambushing” the Aussie Open, its ridesharing parent has been having a particularly rocky time.

Earlier in May, Uber drivers took part in at least 14 protests around the world complaining of unfair pay and work conditions. In April, safety concerns were raised again after a university student in South Carolina was allegedly murdered after getting into a car she mistakenly thought was her Uber.

And on the commercial front, the news hasn’t been any rosier, with Uber suffering the biggest first day dollar loss in US IPO history after listing on the New York Stock Exchange. That was after it lodged an IPO prospectus which the Financial Times of London called an “outrage”.

Asked by Business Insider Australia whether the string of setbacks will have a flow-on effect for the Uber Eats brand, Auster said it’s something she is acutely aware of.

“That dynamic is quite particular to the Australian market because both businesses are really big and ubiquitous [here] and its not like that everywhere,” she said during a Q&A session following her presentation at the Vivid Ideas Exchange.

“In a lot of markets the rides business is a lot bigger than the eats business, and somewhere like Japan it’s the other way around.”

Politicians and the media increasingly see the two brands as “together”, Auster conceded.

That perception of togetherness is fair, given Uber Eats is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Uber Technologies. But it also presents a particular brand challenge for Auster and her colleagues.

“It is very hard to separate ourselves,” she said. “So we need to be very aware of what is going on in the other business and not think that we can be immune and inoculate ourselves from it because … if you receive a message from one of the brands that you don’t like it, it may subconsciously, if not consciously, influence your perception of the other brand.”

Not that Uber Eats will be losing too much sleep over it. As Auster tells it, the strategy is very much one in compliance with the old marketing adage that ‘all publicity is good publicity’.

“It is better to have 100% of people talking about us even if they don’t like it,” she said.

“It’s OK if not everyone loves you.”

With drivers protesting around the globe, and traders ramping up bets against the company’s stock performance, it’s an attitude that Uber may have to get used to.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.