Uber’s New Logo: Wrong turn?

Posted by: Eric Asch
  • February 5, 2016

Uber Blog Image

Let’s get this out of the way first. I’m an Uber guy. Been one for years. I use Uber to get to the airport from my home in Los Angeles. I use Uber in the evenings when I prefer not to test the state’s DUI laws. And I use Uber in cities both domestic and foreign when traveling on business and pleasure. I admire Uber for beating the taxis at their own game. By placing the dispatch function into the hands of drivers and passengers, control has been shifted to those who experience Uber firsthand. Bottom-line: Uber built a better mousetrap. Let’s hear it for innovation!

But, like many others, I’m left scratching my head about Uber’s re-branding strategy and in particular, the new logo (above, right) recently unveiled to an unsuspecting public. What once appeared on my smartphone as a clearly identifiable “U” is now an abstraction that baffled me when the updated app hit my iPhone screen. Is the new design a “U” that’s been rotated 90 degrees? Is it a riff on PacMan, gobbling his way through the streets of the 65 countries where Uber operates? Something else? It’s a good thing apps have text labels; otherwise, I’d have no idea this app is Uber’s.

To help explain the re-branding strategy, Uber published a somewhat pretentious video entitled “Bits and Atoms.” It explains that “until a few short years ago, bits and atoms existed in entirely different worlds. But then, something happened. What if we brought these two worlds together?” Evidently, the new logo represents this fusion of bits and atoms – i.e., the bringing together of technology with everything else in the world. That everything else includes passengers and drivers, as well as all manner of food, animals, and other substances that Uber transports. That little square in the center is a bit, and everything else are atoms. OK, got it.

After seeing the video, I remembered reading a blog from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick some time ago about the bits and atoms concept. At that time, Uber’s “bits” were represented by Google’s technology and Google Venture, while the “atoms” were the private equity firm infusing Uber with capital. Not so much about passengers. Or drivers. Or the experience. But, the concept has been dusted off and re-purposed for today. And a video is needed to explain it, even though it stops short of explaining the logo itself.

Bottom-line, the new logo feels impersonal in what is, arguably, a very personal business. Passengers entrust drivers to transport them efficiently and safely. Should the logo not connect with people in some understandable way? Must consumers learn of the current “bits and atoms” concept in order to understand or relate to the brand?  Should the new logo not embody at least some of the visual equity that’s recognizable to the market? Uber’s new logo is hardly the only controversial re-design unveiled in recent years. But, the more I dig into its meaning, the less I like the brand. And that can’t be what Uber was seeking.

Categories: Advertising, Marketing

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