Where to, Britain? is a 6-part documentary series created by Channel 4 and Uber, showcasing vignettes about the ride-hailing app’s drivers and riders – you may have seen one or two of them on All4 or YouTube.
These videos have shown up at the end of a contentious year for Uber.
It’s fair to say that the company has experienced many bumps in the road over the last few years, facing ample backlash particularly in the UK which is one of their biggest markets outside of the US.
Due to a number of concerns (around things like background checks and tracking software), the ride-hailing firm lost their licence to operate in London, York and Brighton. They are currently in the process of appealing this decision, and it’s clear that Uber have a long road to redemption ahead of them.
But while Uber’s operational decisions may leave something to be desired, from a brand & PR perspective they make for an interesting case study.
Uber’s surge in positive PR
Recent initiatives announced by Uber’s CEO paint a picture of a brand attempting to shine up a tarnished reputation.
In the past few months, the ride-hailing app have:
- Formed a partnership with Virgin Trains, giving customers travelling between London and Birmingham a discount on Uber journeys from those stations;
- Carried out a free drop-off of unused or unwanted goods to Cancer Research charity shops;
- Added an in-app 911 emergency button for all passengers in the US;
- Pledged to offer their 70,000 drivers free insurance and maternity benefits.
Yet for us at Hook Research, most fascinating is Uber’s partnership with Channel 4, and the creation of Where to, Britain?
Aiming for a 5-Star Human Experience
Branded content is something that we’ve been looking at closely over the past few months (particularly in the podcast space).
Companies like Gimlet Creative and Wondery (among many others) are helping brands create compelling content that showcases the human side of big brands.
From our own research, we’ve found that these sponsored podcasts are a powerful way of changing people’s impressions of brands. From one of our recent respondents:
“I thought of Grindr as just a dating app – not as a lifestyle brand. So the podcast made me think of Grindr as a business that is trying to get the conversation going about gay sexual health and culture – which can only be a good thing”
In a recent interview for Recode Media, Alex Blumberg and Matt Lieber talked about how brands succeed in this space when they show “emotional honesty” – and we’ve certainly seen in our own work that the best branded podcasts come across as sincere and genuine.
Although we’re shifting cross-platform into the video space, it feels like “emotional honesty” is a helpful metric when gauging the success of most kinds of branded content.
So with that in mind, does Where to, Britain? come across as “emotionally honest”? Does it feel like a genuine attempt to create interesting content, or just a blatant form of self-promotion?
Where to, Britain? and “emotional honesty”
Where to, Britain? claims to offer viewers a sneak peek into life behind the wheel of an Uber car. Episodes show ‘relatable moments and candid confessions from both the drivers and the passengers.’ According to a spokesperson for the show: “The shared ambition [of Uber and Channel 4] was to create compelling content, rather than advertising”.
The show does manage to capture some lovely, human moments: the shock on the face of a Bristolian mum-to-be when her partner describes doing parkour with their new-born; or the Glaswegian ballet dancer who had to keep his hobby secret from his mates growing up.
But it’s hard to escape the artifice of it all – a quartet of Man U players rarely rocks up unannounced in the back of an Uber, nor does an internationally recognised DJ (later on in the same episode).
We certainly feel the guiding hand of the ride-hailing conglomerate in each interaction between rider and driver – and this feels far-removed from the candid interactions we were promised (and which Channel 4 is so good at delivering in its normal fare).
But does this matter?
Reading through the overwhelmingly positive reviews of the show on All4’s YouTube channel, it seems like most viewers enjoyed episode 1 (although most other videos in this series failed to create as much of a buzz in their respective comments sections).
So will Where to, Britain? present Uber in the human light they are hoping for? Brand perceptions often take awhile to shift, so we’ll have to wait and see.
But Uber’s actions in the content space will be something to watch as the brand attempts to get back into good graces with consumers, and we’ll be certainly keeping a close eye on this going forward.