Why the Lyft-Justin Bieber Deal Is Not Just Another Gimmick

November 11, 2015, 1:36 AM UTC

Ride-hailing company Lyft has partnered with Justin Bieber in a deal that will give riders a chance to buy the pop star’s upcoming album Purpose for $5.

The catch? Riders just have to slide into a “Bieber Mode”—yes, it’s a real thing—in the Lyft app between 9 p.m. on Thursday and midnight a week later, and hit the “buy and ride” button. When the ride is over, the passenger will receive a link to download the album and a $5 credit for a future ride. Bieber’s album will be released Friday.

On its face, this looks like just another gimmick or ploy to attract more riders. But this deal is more than that. The partnership with Bieber —as well as a multi-year deal announced this summer with Starbucks—shows how Lyft is experimenting with how its platform can be integrated with other brands or products. In other words, the Lyft app can be used for more than connecting riders and drivers. It can introduce a range of products—coffee and Bieber is just the beginning—to a captured audience.

Don’t expect this to turn into a marketing free-for-all, however. Lyft will likely only partner with companies and organizations that tie back to its own brand. The Bieber deal makes sense not because all Lyft passengers are Beliebers, but because the company has tried to make music part of its culture. For example, users can tell drivers about their music preferences in advance through its personal profiles feature. Drivers can have the rider’s favorite music queued up before they get into the car.

Lyft has introduced a number of new programs, promotions, and products to compete against Uber in a battle over drivers and passengers. For instance, Lyft announced in October separate partnerships with Hertz and Shell as well as a new tool that lets drivers collect their pay more quickly. Under the Shell deal, drivers will get discounts on gas. Hertz is offering lower daily, weekly, or monthly car rental rates in an effort to attract drivers who don’t own a car or whose vehicle doesn’t meet Lyft’s standards.

In general, Lyft’s promotions tend to be fun and whimsical and centered around an event or holiday. Lyft delivered zombies to offices and homes in San Francisco and New York for the Halloween holiday. The company also celebrated October 21—the day Marty McFly in the movie Back to the Future traveled to the future —by offering rides in DeLoreans. Earlier this summer, the company partnered with the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco and provided tricked-out music-themed vans to shuttle passengers to and from the event.

Uber has offered its own promotions including delivering kittens for National Cat Day.

Both companies have also rolled out VIP-type services. Lyft Nation, a club for the top 10% of its passengers in each city, rolled out in June. Customers who qualify get invited to secret parties and receive exclusive partnerships. Uber quietly rolled out an UberVIP service in 2015 in cities like New York, Denver, and Washington D.C, which gives qualifying customers access to drivers who have at least a 4.8 rating (out of 5) and “high quality cars only.”


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