Uber Is Targeting China’s White Collar Workers With Charity Campaigns

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Uber is packing this year with charity campaigns aimed at winning over China’s white collar workers.

“In our more established cities, we plan on doing charity campaigns pretty much every month,” says Zhiyuan Meng, a marketing manager at Uber. Incorporating charity into its campaigns is partly an appeal to Uber’s existing user base, which is mostly white collar, says Mr. Meng. If a campaign is too commercial, it will be “challenged.”

In particular, the company will focus its campaigns on the app’s carpooling feature, or People’s Uber, which was launched last August in Beijing. Carpooling can be considered a kind of “charity” or non-profit activity, and campaigns around carpooling are more likely to be approved by Uber management, says Mr. Meng.

For example, Uber will launch a charity campaign around carpooling and books later this week in Hangzhou. The company is partnering with Seed, a Shanghai-based startup that encourages Chinese users to read and discover English content through its app. The campaign will incentivize Uber users to exchange books while they carpool by offering them a chance to win a book recommended by a celebrity, like Chinese actress Song Jia, as well as a signed bookmark, if they upload a photo of their book exchange to Weibo. At the end of the campaign, users can also donate secondhand books to the Shanghai United Foundation.

Seed was able to seal a co-marketing campaign with Uber because of the ridesharing aspect, says Zoe Zhou, the COO of Seed. “Uber wanted to focus more on ridesharing, which clicked with our proposal,” she says.

This isn’t Uber’s first charity campaign around books. In April 2015, the company put “moveable libraries” in Uber  cars in Shenzhen, Wuhan, Chongqing, and other cities for World Book Day, in partnership with reading app Green Tomato (our translation of 青番茄).

“We want to do this type of library project every year,” says Mr. Meng. “We want our cars to become ‘cultural spaces.’ ”

It’s a different tactic from the “money-burning” campaigns by Uber’s Chinese competitors, like Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行 ) and Yidao Yongche (易到用车). Last year, billions of dollars poured into the ride-hailing sector in China, as different companies used ride subsidies to try to dominate the market. In 2015, Uber faced a number of setbacks as it battled its domestic competitors, like having all of its Wechat accounts blocked by Tencent last December.

Leveraging more charitable or “cultural” marketing campaigns might be a way for Uber to differentiate itself in a crowded market while digging into China’s white collar and younger demographic. According to Mr. Meng, Uber’s users are typically between 18 and 40 years old. By targeting its marketing towards this younger group, Uber also hopes to gradually reach parents and grandparents via word of mouth.

2016 is set to be an ambitious one for Uber. Yesterday, the company announced its plans to expand to 15 new cities in the Sichuan province before Chinese New Year, which is part of a larger goal of reaching 100 cities in China by the end of 2016.