Tech Industry

Uber gets Lakers' Lonzo Ball to rescue its image

Commentary: In a new campaign, the ridesharing service gets an NBA rookie in the back of a car to be interrogated by an Uber driver.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


He looks excited to be in the ads.

Uber/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

What can Uber say about itself that hasn't already been said by others?

For those in the know, the brand has been tainted by at least as many scandals as, well, at least one government I could mention.

Recently, the company has seen its first drop in business passengers, too. Perhaps the tawdriness of the Uber corporate image is, after all, having an effect.

Still, Uber's first chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John has just released a new campaign to make you feel good about the ridesharing service again.

It features Los Angeles Lakers' rookie point guard Lonzo Ball riding in a car and answering fascinating questions posed by ESPN's Sportscenter co-anchor Cari Champion. 

Champion has become, Ad Age reports, an Uber driver for the very privilege of having sports stars riding in the back of her car to be interviewed.

This truly becomes a ride-share when Champion picks up another passenger. Thankfully, it's not Ball's infamously verbose dad LaVar. Instead, it's his teammate Kyle Kuzma.

The whole thing will either delight or dull, depending on your preference for the NBA and its stars. 

Wisely, Saint John hasn't chosen to address Uber's image problems at all in the ad, instead plumping for an attempt to be cool. Or, rather, "cool."

Perhaps less wisely, she's followed the very same playbook she used when she was an executive with Apple Music: get lots of stars in your ads and you'll be fine.

Just as those ads didn't seem to help Apple Music break Spotify's dominance, it's hard to see this pleasant frippery suddenly reversing Uber's current difficulties. 

Its main rival Lyft is tossing thinly veiled insults its way and, with its continual boardroom and legal turmoil, it's not as if Uber can easily fight back.

Uber didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Then again, I'm not sure how much many everyday riders really care about what happens inside Uber. The company has become a verb that stands for ridesharing -- which is an achievement when, to many, you've also become a byword for sexual discrimination and even privacy incursion.

Saint John isn't the only new face, though, trying to make Uber more socially acceptable. 

New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has also tried to present a pleasing countenance as a counterpoint to the previous bro boorishness of former CEO Travis Kalanick.

Remember the last time you saw Kalanick in the back of an Uber? I fear he may not be the next famous person to be in the back of Champion's car for one of these ads.