Last weekend, more than 200,000 people deleted their Uber accounts. #DeleteUber became a trending hashtag, and for the first time in the history of the two companies, Uber’s chief competitor, Lyft, surpassed it in Apple’s App Store. In the days that followed, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from his role on Donald Trump’s economic advisory panel (a group that also includes Elon Musk and GE chairman Jack Welch).
Uber found itself in the crosshairs after protests erupted surrounding Trump’s executive order restricting refugees and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance announced an hour-long strike during which they wouldn’t be serving JFK airport–the flashpoint of the city’s protests–between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday. Uber, meanwhile, sent out a tweet from its official New York City account announcing that it would not be enforcing surge pricing at the airport. Critics saw it as an attempt to cross a picket line, and people hungry for a way to show their opposition to the immigration ban and companies that appear to support the Trump administration took to Twitter–and the “delete” button on their phones–to express their frustration to Uber.
Lyft, meanwhile, remained quiet as it continued serving the airport during the strike, and as #DeleteUber began trending, CEO Logan Green tweeted that “Trump’s immigration ban is antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values,” and pledged $1 million over the next four years to the ACLU. (Lyft investors Peter Thiel and Carl Icahn are both prominent Trump supporters.)
Kalanick, quickly realizing that the moment called for action, made an offer of his own: Because some of the people affected by the immigration ban could well be Uber drivers who travel to their home countries, his company would pledge to help those drivers out financially during the three-month initial ban period “to help mitigate some of the financial stress and complications with supporting their families and putting food on the table.” Days later, he added that Uber would also be creating a $3 million legal defense fund for Uber drivers affected by the executive order.
Ridehailing services aren’t the only companies looking for ways to express their values in the age of Trump. But statements that your company is for everybody, or that your brand is inclusive, may have been enough in earlier eras–but in the wake of the immigration executive order, which runs contrary to longheld American values of inclusion, brands who want to make their values known have to put their money where their mouths are.
Airbnb recognized that the product it offers–a comfortable place to stay–is relevant not just to vacationers and business travelers, it’s important to people who are displaced by the immigration ban, too. To that end, over the weekend, the company offered free housing to anyone displaced by the ban, either by finding them a volunteer who’s willing to put them up or by subsidizing rentals in places where there aren’t enough volunteers. It also pledged to match up to $1 million in donation to the UN Refugee Agency.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz–Hillary Clinton’s reported pick for Secretary of Labor, had she won, and no stranger to using his company as a social force–responded by promising to hire 10,000 refugees in its stores around the world. (A conservative backlash, in which supporters of the ban argued that Starbucks should hire 10,000 veterans instead, fell flat after the company reminded critics that it announced that exact policy in November 2013.)
It’s not just the billion-dollar enterprises that are expressing their values through their donations, either. Independent music hosting service Bandcamp, which sells digital downloads to music fans, declared that on February 3, it would donate 100% of its share of each purchase made on the site to the ACLU. They were joined by over 400 record labels and artists, including Anti-, Merge, Rhymesayers, Saddle Creek, Sub Pop, and more. (Some artists, inspired, vowed longer-term donations: Indie rock band Xiu Xiu promised to donate 100% of its Bandcamp revenue to the ACLU for the next four years, while Seattle-based label Further Records pledged 50% of its physical album sales on Friday to the ACLU, as well as 100% of its digital revenue.)
Image Comics, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017, announced the same day that it would be releasing variant covers in March for Women’s History Month that featured female character front and center, and that 100% of the profits from those variants would benefit Planned Parenthood–a bold, explicitly political choice for a beneficiary.
All of this reflects a new reality for brands that want to espouse their values–it’s no longer enough to say “inclusion” and hope that the message reaches the right ears while avoiding triggering protests from people who are offended by expressions of support for a pluralistic society. Rather, if American values aren’t being expressed by the White House, people who are looking to see them affirmed in public are asking more of brands that want to place themselves on their side of the cultural divide. What we’re seeing now is something that resembles the branding of compassion–especially for people whose industries are backed by money from Trump supporters, or whose labor policies make it easy for them to (intentionally or unintentionally) undermine actions like strikes, statements may not be good enough anymore. These days demand action.