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Politically Incorrect: How President Trump’s Ban led to a PR Nightmare for Uber?

By Tushar Gupta 6th February 2017


As the CEO of the largest private company on Earth, your worst nightmare is about getting caught between the conscience of your consumers and the whims of the politicians you need to trade your enterprise’s freedom with. When President Trump dropped the Immigrant ban bomb last month, banning immigrants and refugees from seven countries in the Middle East, chaos followed around the JFK Airport. There was a call for a strike by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance which largely represents the Yellow Taxi Drivers from the city of New York. The strike was in solidarity with the immigrants who were stuck in an excruciating situation at the JFK. The terminals wore a deserted look, and Uber’s CEO was quick to announce a compensation for its drivers who were stuck outside America due to this ban. However, it all went rogue went Uber decided to cancel ‘surge pricing’ for rides from JFK.

Ideally, it was a commendable on the part of Uber to cancel their ‘surge pricing’ mechanism during the one-hour strike at the JFK as the company wasn’t willing to come across as a profit-making entity in an hour of acute taxi shortage. However, what consumers and the people protesting there took away from it was a way for Uber to break the strike. Within minutes, the hashtag ‘DeleteUber’ was trending not just in the US, but worldwide. Clearly, this entire fiasco was unprecedented and the folks at Uber were out of extinguishers to put out this PR fire. The professional relationship of Uber’s CEO and President Donald Trump was discussed online, and yes, Uber did lose a small fraction of its customers that evening. The question is; was it really their fault?


In recent times, Uber is not the first On-Demand enterprise to face the music when it came to being politically incorrect (or correct). Snapdeal, a leading online shopping portal in India saw a large number of users deleting its app when its brand ambassador ended up making an embarrassing statement pertaining to the PM of India. Eventually, Snapdeal had to hurriedly get rid of him to put down the fire that engulfed their online reviews and sales.

Uber has an extensive resume when it comes to being in news for the wrong reasons. However, this one was not entirely their fault. While its CEO’s professional relations with President Trump can’t be a reason enough for Uber to cancel their surge pricing, it wasn’t enough to convince their users. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance saw this an opportunity to resume their prolonged verbal battle with the company, while Airbnb offered free service to customers affected by the ban, thus making hay under the shining sun, which brings us to a $69bn question.

Have politics/politicians and enterprises become entangled in a vicious trap from which there is no escaping?


Clearly, Uber wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of the US President, but it does realize that a single PR nightmare can amplify into a significant loss of users worldwide, given how the US elections were closely followed. After the usual compensation announcements, Facebook and Twitter justifications, and the usual PR stunts later, it’s upon enterprises like Uber, Lyft, and much more to work on a contingency plan for scenarios like these. Clearly, this wasn’t the last strike, and this wasn’t the last time when Uber was in news for the wrong reason. Historically, capitalism and politics have been closely linked, but it wasn’t until recent times that their entanglement led to consumer backlash. This can be attributed to the options that are available in a single market for the same service and the growing conscience amongst consumers, especially when it’s about the environment or their preferred presidential candidate.

The ideal contingency plan would be for an enterprise to remain clear of every political wave, good or bad. Given how social media can come back to haunt one with its facts, it is advisable for enterprises to keep a low profile and keep their primary focus on satisfying their consumers.

Dear Uber, let’s leave politics to the folks in D.C. For now, you have some profits to run for.

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