From Food To Flak: Industry Reacts To Zomato’s Latest Controversy

Looks like the recent ad from Zomato missed the mark in impressing its audience. Experts deliberate on the recent controversy

Who would have thought that the two powerhouses of talent, Hrithik Roshan & Katrina Kaif, would invite obloquy for the foodtech start, Zomato, rather than building on greater influence. We saw numerous conversations amongst the netizens doing rounds around Zomato’s recent campaign- ‘Har Customer Hai Star’, mostly frowning at the ideation and messaging part of it.

Though the concerns raised by the netizens around the poor work conditions of the gig-workers seemed genuine, especially because past reports claimed these workers to be underpaid and overworked.

Zomato, however, took to social media and defended its turf. It said that the ads have been well-intentioned but misinterpreted. “The goal was to make our delivery partners the hero of the ad, raise the level of dignity associated with a delivery partner’s job and demonstrate the pride,” they informed.

“Our deliver partner Net Promoter Score (NPS) has increased from -10% to 28% and continues to rise,” further claimed Zomato and promised to publish a post explaining why they think their delivery partners are fairly compensated.

To this, Asparsh Sinha, Managing Partner & Strategy Lead, Open Strategy & Design says, “Zomato can use this as an opportunity, to be honest (rather than defensive, like the statement it issued makes it sound). It has an opportunity to stand up and say that it is going to focus on fixing something that is broken and allow itself to be judged for its actions, rather than words.”

Boycott Culture Not New

Perhaps, this is not the first time that Zomato has landed itself in trouble. Very recently, Zomato’s video with comedian Danish Sait was accused of being tone-deaf, which eventually had to be taken down. Even three years ago, the company was accused of creating obscenity when it used MC & BC for Mac n’ Cheese and Butter Chicken on billboards.

Other brands, such as Tanishq, Amul, and Surf Excel, too have been a prey of the trolling cobweb before. They have been a victim of the backlash over their advertisements. Witnessing a hashtag demanding to boycott a product or company trending every other day on social media is again nothing new.

Jana Colaco, Associate Creative Director, Blink Digital believes that ad-bashing itself has become a trend. “Last year’s Tanishq ad is a case in point. That being said, the two videos speak for themselves. While they seem well-intentioned, the watcher is left with the image of the delivery boy’s beaten expression as his moment is ruined by the ping of his phone. Is the moment later validated by the parting line - Katrina Kaif ho ya aap, apne liye har customer hai star? Not really. However, it does highlight the creative intention behind the scripting that unfortunately got lost in the star value that was meant to lift the idea in the first place. The one thing we do learn in this industry is that everything is subjective,” she says.

However, for Suchita Agarwal, Head Operations, Blogchatter, the messaging is definitely confusing. “It's sad because they had the best celebrity ambassadors to work with. Though the idea of heroing the delivery partner was good, the message ended up being classist.”

Call For Caution 

How does such trolling affect a brand and its image? Do they need to be more cautious?

“You win some; you get trolled for some. While Zomato won respect for embracing diversity and saying ‘Food doesn't have a religion,' it lost hearts with #BoycottZomato. Brands can only ride the tide and ride it out with conviction,” says Colaco.

Though Aggarwal agrees trolling brands is second nature to the internet, she further adds, “In the case of Zomato for this particular issue, the flak is more damaging because it is piling on the negativity around the condition of delivery partners across online platforms. So, what could have been a simple campaign has gone haywire and is now fuelling a larger debate around delivery partner and employee conditions.”

But how can a brand lessen the impact of such crisis situations...

“Like Zomato, brands that broach subjects that could potentially incite the troll patrol should not be afraid to stand by their creative call. Writing lengthy follow-up apologies or taking down posts might not always be the best approach; it reads more as an admittance of guilt than an honest appeal to netizens. Brands need to be cognisant of the times we live in and steer away from debatable topics unless they strongly and unwaveringly believe in the message they are putting out,” answers Colaco.

“They have to use digital advocates to quell such negativity. The role of influencers or active people behind the brand is critical in such scenarios. Also, not waiting for it to die on its own, proactively building a conversation with the consumers, putting their points across – empathetically – will lead to better impact,” explains Agarwal.

While this controversy gathered mixed responses from the industry experts, one thing is for sure- any publicity is good publicity. And just like any other boycott trend, this one is going to melt away soon too, we anticipate.