On February 20,  2016  Kalamazoo, Michigan experienced one of the worst tragedies to ever occur in the city. Residents were terrified as the news began to spread that there was a killer on the loose.  The authorities finally detained the gunman and details started to leak out through the media that the gunman was an Uber driver, and he committed 6 murders in between picking up people who had arranged for a rides through the Uber app. Which probably sent Uber reeling.

I’ve personally been a big fan of Uber since it burst onto the transportation scene and completely disrupted the ancient taxi cab industry. I’ve been such a fan that I’ve noticed myself thinking, “this was totally random and  I couldn’t possibly allow myself to turn against a brand because of the behavior of one of their employees (or contractors).  I mean … would I turn against the legal industry because a lawyer went on a rampage?”

I believe, with terrible event (or any type of senseless tragedy) it’s human nature for us to want to point to “someone” or “something” to place blame as part of our grieving process.  It allows those of us that were uninvolved to put things in order within our minds, so we can move on without living in fear.  Unfortunately, the poor families of the victims may never experience this feeling of peace.

Yesterday as I opened up one of the  local news applications on my phone, I was greeted with the following story and associated image.


If you’ve read any of the content I’ve created for the MINDSCAPE blog, you already know I’m not a big fan of advertising.  Especially contextual advertising where it’s so easy to fall asleep at the wheel and not take steps to prevent missteps (like the one above) from occurring. This is one of the worst cases of contextual advertising gone wrong that I’ve ever seen. 

This type of blunder could have been prevented if the marketing department at Uber, or the agency managing their media, would have simply taken steps to prevent something like this from happening.  If nothing else, they could have simply turned off their contextual ad campaign in anticipating that this type of thing was surely going to occur.

There are probably some traditional cab companies and quite possibly Lyft, a close competitor of Uber, who may view this as an opportunity to capitalize on this horrific event by placing contextual ads focusing on Uber related keywords.  If any marketing professionals associated with Lyft or a traditional cab company are reading this, please steer clear of this type of tactic!  Although you may believe you  would be doing customers a service by offering a “safe” alternative to Uber, people will most certainly see through your weak attempts to capitalize on the darkest days of one of your competitors.

If you’re going to advertise, or if you’re a media agency responsible for managing the advertising of other companies … please don’t be lazy.  Pay attention to the details and do what you can to avoid this type of contextual advertising mistake for yourself, or for your clients.