It’s not everyday that you stop to do a double take at a billboard hoarding. Amidst the clutter in our skyline, Zomato managed to make you do just that in a controversial outdoor advertising campaigns. It was released across multiple cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata in November – December 2017. The campaign was designed with a clever use of wordplay and capitalizing on the national obsession with film (and all things related to it!) and politics. The brain-child of Zomato’s Art Director, Akshar Pathak, it came up with a series of simple but highly engaging and viral lines to direct viewers to order food on their online food ordering app.
Some of them are:
What worked well for Zomato India
Let’s give credit where it is due. Urban India loved the humour and the billboards captured the imagination of all who saw it. Zomato had done it again! They had changed the rules of the game and managed to go viral. They chose to do something different from the advertising strategy generally adopted by food companies. ie. Use visually attractive food images to appeal to viewer sensibilities. With the use of only words and not food images to advertise, Zomato managed to differentiate itself from its competitors. Asking the public to spot and post pictures of the giant 30 feet tall red-white billboards on the streets was clever. It also made sure there was chatter on social media about the same. The reach of their advertising campaign flowed effortlessly from outdoor to digital media in no time. With nearly 1.4 million subscribers on Twitter and more than 1.3 million followers on Facebook, you can imagine the might and reach of their words!
An Unexpected Twist
But all did not go as planned for Zomato. One advertisement in particular struck a wrong nerve and It faced severe backlash online from different quarters. Making references to hindi expletives by the same initials, Zomato drew the wrath of many social media users. The most notably of them being author-columnist Mr. Suhel Seth, who tagged Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and Advertising Standards Council of India on his reaction tweet.
Brand experts opined it was rather unnecessary for a market leader like Zomato to wade into a controversy. Especially surrounding a sensitive topic like respect for women. Some believed Zomato was being deliberately provocative. With most brands seeking to align themselves to women empowerment themes, Zomato had done the exact opposite. They had sought to crack a rather lewd joke, at the risk of crossing the thin line between class and crass.
Damage – Control Mode
While the choice of words in advertising is a prerogative of a brand, Zomato’s ability to bounce back from an unexpected setback showed their strength. Recognising the slip-up, the company was quick to offer an apology. They released an official statement about replacing the offensive advertisement quickly. Using their signature tongue-in-cheek humour, the replacement advertisement spoke about availing a 10% cashback on the next order using promo code : OUTRAGE
But would a brand which supports home delivery of food deliberately do anything to offend the bigger group of decision-makers as far as food consumption is concerned (i.e. women)?
There is enough hate, misery and sorrow in our lives that we witness on a day-to-day basis. The opportunities that we get to share some joy or make a person smile are fewer. For me, the Zomato billboards did just that. Made me smile – sometimes with nostalgia and other times with its sheer creativity.
By using references to current affairs and events around the country, Zomato is able to tap into the pulse of the aam admi, making for great conversation starters. Their creative lines are not limited to just marketing their services, but also towards attracting new talent. Take a look at their advertisement for a Product Manager role. Brilliant!
The Social Media success formula can get tricky at times. It’s amazing when you may bask in the adulation of genuine fans of your work. But you could also invite the wrath of those who seek to dissect the meaning of every word. Writing responsibly is the duty of every person who writes anything for public consumption. But not at the cost of always sounding right/ preachy which makes you predictable and boring. While I’m not a fan of the MC.BC reference in particular, I enjoyed the creative use of words in all their other outdoor advertising campaigns.
The Changing Rules of Advertising
The ability to laugh at oneself is a fast disappearing trait and one worth preserving. To be able to see the humour in everyday life is a great antidote to beat stress and anxiety. The youth of India today demand a change from the traditional ways of advertising. What may have worked well in the past, are not guaranteed to do so in future. With easy access to internet, youngsters are well-travelled digitally (soaking in experiences and interacting digitally with people from all corners of the world). To speak their tongue requires a carefully designed strategy, which is engaging and relevant to them.
In the digital world, a small slip-up may cause a lasting impact. It requires agility and temerity to take damage control measures. But with risk, comes rewards! Intentionally or unintentionally, Zomato’s advertisements managed to grab eyeballs. It enhanced their brand recognition to a large extent, thanks to the surrounding controversies. But one thing remains constant: Good content never goes out of fashion.
In the end, You can’t win them all – stands all the more relevant in a world governed by social media rules.