Victorian Taxi Association shows claws to Uber with wildlife rescue donation

Association lashes out at the UberKittens promotion this week with its own donation to Wildlife Victoria

The Victorian Taxi Association (VTA) has pounced on Uber’s ‘UberKittens’ promotion earlier this week with its own donation – this time, to Wildlife Victoria.

The association announced it had made a contribution today to Wildlife Victoria in support of their efforts to rescue and assist injured, orphaned or distressed native animals.

In its initial statement, the VTA said the donation was a direct response to the ‘UberKittens’ promotion, which it labelled the “latest in a string of glib marketing campaigns from a company more interested in finding ways to promote their own brand than providing a safe and legal transport service”.

The group had initially said the donation was aimed at helping Wildlife Victoria control "feral" wildlife. This has since been amended and clarified as a donation to assisting Wildlife Victoria's emergency response services in helping injured, orphaned, sick and distressed native animals.

The VTA criticised the timing of Uber’s feline stunt, pointing to hearings for 11 UberX drivers in the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court yesterday following prosecution by the Taxi Services Commission. The hearing has since been delayed.

“Uber’s efforts should focus more on preventing alleged incidents like those that happened on New Year’s Day and complying with Victorian law,” the association stated.

“Our contribution to Wildlife Victoria will support efforts to combat the impact of introduced species on the Australian landscape.”

The VTA also pointed people to a petition on Change.org against Uber using rescue animals for a PR stunt: https://www.change.org/p/uber-please-end-using-rescue-animals-for-a-pr-stunt-cute-for-us-but-terrifying-for-these-babies. At time of press, more than 900 people had signed the petition online.

For the Uber Kitten promotion yesterday, the shared car services company has partnered with animals shelters across six Australian cities to bring kittens to its customers while they’re in the office for a 15-minute cuddle.

The initiative was aimed at encouraging Australians to put their disposable income into caring for neglected animals and asked consumers to donate $40 for the privilege.

While it was successful when it first debuted in the US last year, the Australian promotion has provoked some concerns for the welfare of these furry friends.

The rather controversial PR stunt also comes after Uber was forced to recognise a number of high-profile issues with its service, such as a surge in pricing during the Sydney Siege, and allegations of rape against one of its drivers in Sydney on New Year's Day.

Director of CP communications and author of From Unknown to Expert, Catriona Pollard, said the one thing Uber’s kittens stunt did successfully was grab attention.

“It used two things almost everyone loves - baby animals and cute cat photos - and combined them with the virility of social media. On the surface, the adorable factor was through the roof. It was also clever in highlighting Uber’s offering,” she commented.

“But we stop there. With any public stunt of this nature, careful thought needs to be put into considering the potential negative fallout.”

In this case, Uber and/or its agency partner didn’t cater for animal lover backlash or subsequent petition, Pollard said.

The VTA’s response to the Uber stunt, meanwhile, is unnecessary, reactionary and also potentially risky, Pollard said.

“There’s no authenticity there,” she claimed. “When a brand goes head-to-head with its competitors in a marketing sense, it’s very risky and very rarely results in a positive outcome. This is a perfect example of that.

“VTA needs to stick to its own strategy, its own messages, rather than get lured into public mud-slinging matches with rivals. This is not the road to social media or business success.”

Editor's note: This article has been amended following clarification from Wildlife Victoria that its efforts are around rescuing distressed native animals, not feral cats, as previously stated.

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