A set of Uber advertisements in Terminal 3 at the San Francisco International Airport has us alternating between bursting out in laughter and breaking out in hives.
The three ads in question beckon fresh arrivals to three San Francisco neighborhoods—in the clumsiest, stiffest way possible.
The first offender is “See you in Marina District.” You only need to be in San Francisco for a day to know no one says “Marina” without a “the” preceding it. And who uses “district” when they’re talking about any SF neighborhood?
But it doesn’t stop there. The image accompanying the ad isn’t even in the Marina—it’s houseboats in Sausalito. A marina, sure, but not the Marina. One of the most picturesque corners of the city, there would be so many options for depicting (and selling) the party-forward neighborhood: the bustling high-end stores along Chestnut Street, the spires of sailboats nestled in the harbor, the stately elegance of the Palace of Fine Arts with its mirror-like pond.
Next up, we have “See you at Embarcadero” and more problems with prepositions. While at least this time the image matches the place, we say “on the Embarcadero” and not at. Hello!
You would think the company behind the ads was not local—it is—or that maybe the ads were generated by AI—they weren’t. When local reporter Alex Mak tried generating similar copy through ChatGPT, it did a better job than the probably-working-from-home, definitely-not-San-Franciscan, human behind this campaign. (We can’t say for sure who wrote the ads, of course, and Uber could not be reached for comment.)
Eric Meyerson, the Reddit user who first posted the image, has a background in marketing and thinks that Uber’s ads are generally very good—and that it can be challenging to strike the right tone with localized ads.
"It's the responsibility of the brand and agency to get it right," Meyerson said, "especially with something meaningful like how you're representing people's hometown."
Perhaps that’s why the last image creates the strongest allergic reaction for me, because it’s the neighborhood I call home. “See you at the Mission,” the ad reads.
No, you won’t. Because I live in the Mission and not at it. And while the image here makes the most sense—it’s the beloved hangout Dolores Park—it’s from such a distance you can’t see a single person, and people are part of what make our city (and especially Dolores Park) so great. Where are the feather-bedecked jugglers? The Balkan brass musicians blowing their horns? The buskers doing robot dances?
The sanitized, people-free generic vistas of these Uber ads are not a place I’d want to live—they’re not even a place I’d want to visit.
There’s no doubt we need to sell our city—even with it being voted a top destination to visit in 2023 by National Geographic—so at the very least let's make sure we’re doing it accurately and authentically.
Uber, for its part, reached out to The Standard after we published this article.
"We’re glad people are paying attention to our ads!" the Uber spokesperson wrote. "And while we’re happy we didn’t refer to our home city as ‘Frisco’, we agree these ads, which have been removed, could have been better."
Julie Zigoris can be reached at email@example.com