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Uber v. Lyft - How Covid affected digital spend & consumer and driver app downloads

August 04 2021 by Matthew Bozin

It's been a year for ride-share advertisers, and the drivers that keep them on the road. With quarantine in full force, the customer base dried up, with few, if any, willing to catch a ride with a stranger, mask or no mask. However, it didn't only affect the consumer, but the drivers too, as the contract employees shed their chauffeur status for whatever job was available. Flash forward to 2021 - the pandemic is in a new phase as the country is flush with vaccines - and with renewed demand, drivers are getting back in gear.

We analyzed the two top ride-share brands to find out how they advertised for new drivers and customers on Facebook and Instagram, while also commandeering some app download info from our new mothership, Sensor Tower.

Backseat (and front seat) driver & consumer spend

As 2020 began, Uber and Lyft's spend rates were a continuation of 2019, with nothing out of the ordinary. However, with the shutdowns in March, and as demand waned, Uber began cutting spend on ads targeted at driver recruitment, steadily dropping 98% to its lowest point in January, 2021.

Lyft, on the other hand, increased its targeted ads, perhaps trying to draw on Uber's missed opportunities, and an economy where the unemployment rate was plummeting daily, increasing their driver-creative spend by nearly the same margin, peaking in July, 2020.

Both brands did however make a concerted effort to increase their consumer-targeted ad spend, with Uber jumping nearly 700% between March and July, and Lyft cresting with a 3700% increase in the same time period. And while each brand steadily decreased spend through the remainder of the year, January, 2021 did see moderate increases as the country began opening up.

Screen Shot 2021-07-30 at 5.35.00 PMComparing apples to oranges 

There is one problem with this comparison - total budget. While Uber and Lyft are the #1 and #2 brands, respectively, in the category, the spend gap is monstrous. Uber was able to rely on it's towering 68% marketshare, spending more than $54MM in consumer-targeted creatives vs. Lyft's $4.9 MM. On the contrary, Lyft more than doubled Uber's driver-targeted ad spend. With that kind of war chest, and brand recognition, Lyft seems to be fighting with one tire tied behind its back, and its parking break on (please forgive the double pun - we couldn't decide which we liked better).


Screen Shot 2021-07-30 at 8.39.00 PM


App Downloads: Drivers (and consumers) wanted

According to Sensor Tower's Q2 Store Intelligence Data Digest report, the combined app downloads, of the two brands, dropped to an all-time low in mid-March, 2020, not surprisingly coinciding with the nationwide shutdowns. Similarly user downloads dipped at the same rate, though both driver and consumer downloads appeared to level out around 60% of normal in September, 2020.

Interestingly, as Sensor Tower points out, the vaccine rollout wasn't enough to kick-start driver adoption, but rather the stimulus funds, used by Uber to increase driver pay, pushed driver app downloads even above pre-pandemic levels in May '21. And while consumer app downloads made strides, demand for ride-sharing still hasn't recovered fully.

ST graphic


Drivers Ed - what have we learned?

Does digital spend translate to driver and consumer app adoption? Traditionally, yes - but these are very untraditional times, and covid appears to have had a larger impact than ad dollars. In fact, as the pandemic progressed through 2020, increased digital advertising seems to have had little effect on app downloads. However, in 2021, as spend for driver-creatives ticked up, driver app adoption followed suit. Conversely, as consumer-targeted ads dropped, the country was already beginning its accent to normalcy, spurring growth in the economy, so digital marketing didn't have as high an impact as users simply returning to their usual ride-share habits. 

The only thing we can say for sure, is what we said at the beginning: it's been a year for ride-share brands. And with the vaccine, covid variants, and an economy still trying to stabilize, the next year could be one hell of a ride.

If you're looking for more road ahead, and want additional insights, you can drive on over for a DEMO!


About Author
Matthew Bozin

After earning his BS in Communications, Matt cut his teeth in the entertainment industry, spending fifteen years writing everything from feature screenplays for A-List directors, to celebrity bios for some of Hollywood’s top actors. That creative drive made it an easy transition to Marketing, bringing his eye for storytelling to the digital advertising ecosystem.

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