The Big Idea Behind Uber's Christmas Tree Deliveries
Uber may not be able to bring your daughter a pony this Christmas, but it is getting into the holiday spirit. The company plans to bring Christmas trees to the masses--at least to the masses who live within 10 major U.S. cities and who are willing to shell out $135 Thursday for a 7-foot-tall fir tree and a tree stand.
The company, most known for its car-hailing app, innovative in-app payment system, and insanely fast growth, is partnering for the tree delivery with Home Depot. It makes sense: Home Depot sells more Christmas trees than any other retailer.
You could view it as just another Uber publicity stunt (the company calls them "surprise-and-delight campaigns"). Previous stunts include letting Uber users order up kittens on demand for cuddle time (a comparatively meager $20), or, instead of ordering a car, hailing an ice cream truck, stocked with cones to share with friends ($25 for six cones). But I think the tree delivery is better seen as a creative experiment into the broader realm of urban logistics.
On social media #UberTree is sparking the most interest from an oh-cool-I-don't-have-to-heave-an-enormous-prickly-tree-down-the-street perspective. But step back, and it's truly most curious as a brand partnership. Sure, Uber partnered with the Humane Society and Cheezburger Network for the cat day, but this is on a different level. And it's a level at which we should get used to seeing Uber operate.
"These are all aligning our brand with complimentary brands," said Andrew Noyes, Uber's San Francisco spokesman. "I think you'll see many new innovative business partnerships in the future."
And that'll be the very near future. Uber this month is partnering with not only Home Depot, but also Banana Republic, Benefit Cosmetics, and Piperlime. I've heard that behind the big branding push is Uber's big September hire--senior vice president of business Emil Michael, who formerly served as Klout's COO.
Michael has had a diverse and interesting career; he's worked in the White House, at Goldman Sachs, and currently both invests in and advises startups. He's also apparently a brand-whisperer.
This season's retail partnerships are fairly straightforward: They mostly entail the retail companies giving customers in particular cities discounts off their first Uber rides, or handing out Uber gift cards. Piperlime, Benefit, and Uber will be cross-promoting the partnerships on social media, and will be sending dedicated emails to their sizeable distribution lists, too.
But back to the trees. This particular campaign didn't come from new VP Michael exclusively. Instead, Noyes tells me, it was the brainchild of Keith Radford, a rising star at Uber who's currently the general manager for Atlanta.
Noyes couldn't predict numbers of anticipated tree-deliveries for Thursday, but a Home Depot spokeswoman told the Chicago Tribune that she didn’t expect the day to significantly affect the company's tree sales, which are in the millions every year.
And don't expect Uber to be shuffling around 7-to-8-foot-tall fir trees wedged into the back of its glossy SUVs. Home Depot is providing the truck transport for Thursday's nine hours of tree delivery. An Uber rep will be riding along to answer customer questions and hand out a special gift--which, I'm told, is a black, "cozy--very cozy"--scarf embroidered with the Uber logo.
Home Depot may be just the beginning of the brand-partnership binge for Uber. But there are a few slightly-less-commercial promotions it's running this holiday season, too. In Seattle, Uber's got another partnership coming up: an on-demand Santa photo shoot. And in at least 10 cities, the Uber Sleigh concept is back. Still no pony delivery. Not yet at least.
CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.