Kittens and zombies: When Uber and Lyft compete using gimmicks, everyone wins

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on October 31, 2013

From The News Desk

It's no secret that Lyft and Uber are sworn mortal enemies. Travis Kalanick ensured that when he ran a "shave the 'stache" campaign and rolled out free UberX services for September in all the new cities Lyft moved into. If the rideshare market is only so big, these two are battling for dominance.

Fortunately for customers, when two startups are fighting to win your heart it's a bit like being the child in a messy divorce. There are a lot of perks.

This week in startup perk smack-down, Uber and Lyft are going head to head on gimmicks. In one corner, we've got kittens, counterintuitively representing the take-no-prisoners Uber. In the other corner, zombies, repping Lyft on Halloween. Customers, get excited.

If you missed the news, Tuesday was National Cat Day. Apparently that's a thing. Uber planned in advance and teamed up with humane societies and Cheezburger -- of I can has cheezburger meme fame. Uber customers in New York City, Seattle, and SF could pay $20 for an Uber car to deliver a kitten from a local rescue shelter for 15 minutes of cuddling. The kittens came equipped with their very own handler. Kittens? Awesome. Stranger in your house watching you hold the kitten and making sure you don't accidentally kill it? Awkward.

But the awesomeness of kittens trumps the awkwardness of strangers, and plenty of people tapped the service on National Cat Day. Uber actually sold out of kittens in some cities. All the money went to local animal shelters.

I would guess customers invariably associated their warm fuzzy feelings with the kittens back to Uber, all part of Travis Kalanick's evil master plan to rule the world. Using kittens to manipulate people, Kalanick. Shameful, but genius.

Lyft zombie driver Lyft zombie driver

Not to be one-upped by adorable fuzzy animals, today Lyft is sending out zombie drivers in SF to celebrate Halloween. How will you know if you're getting a zombie? When the driver accepts the job you'll see his or her picture and they will be a zombie. No really. Their makeup will be done by special effects artist and Lyft driver Markus Dark.

If you get a zombie driver, rejoice. They'll have free candy for you, letting you regress back to childhood when Halloween meant really awesome trick-or-treating instead of barely clad women in fuzzy ears. They'll also be passing out discounts for rides.

It's probably no accident that the two leaders in ridesharing are also the most gimmicky. Lyft's pink mustaches and Uber's behemoth black cars seem to lurk around every street corner.

All shenanigans aside, for ridesharing companies such branding and marketing efforts have become integral to on boarding both new passengers and new drivers. The company that can make the most noise, and thus gets the most attention, can capture the market most effectively.

Themed ride days, like zombies and kittens, add spice to what is otherwise a pretty boring industry, transportation. They also give Lyft and Uber more exposure, because press have an excuse to write about them. Hell, even The New York Times covered Uber's kitten stunt.

After regulation, awareness is perhaps the biggest obstacle that ridesharing companies have to overcome as they expand to new markets. They need customers to understand what ridesharing is all about. It's a weird cultural shift for the average person to make without such kitten and zombie branding tactics paving the way.

But kittens and zombies -- and pink mustaches, and big comfy leather seats and and Hip Hop themed rides -- make the value add of ridesharing apparent. It's like an amusement park. You're spending a little time in Disneyland on your way home from work.

I guess at heart we all just want to be little kids again. And ridesharing companies are tapping into that.

[Images via Sweet Carolina Photography and danhollisterduck]