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Zomato’s expletive-laden ad: Is all publicity good publicity?

The online restaurant guide and food ordering brand replaced its controversial ad with Hindi expletives after a social media outrage. analyses if Zomato attracted eyeballs and got some mileage or if the brand’s image took a beating

A quirky outdoor advertisement of online restaurant guide and food ordering app Zomato, which contained letters indicating at Hindi language expletives, started going viral three days ago with people calling it cheap and sexiest. While the original campaign put up on November 28 had about five to seven creatives, this one particular ad caught everybody’s eye and for all the wrong reasons.

The company had to pull down the ad that was intended to be cool but ended up being crass. Is it a case of the creative team getting the humour wrong or did the brand do it intentionally knowing that it will ring well with the north Indian audience where such slangs are common in the daily dialect?

The company apologised in a tweet for the ad that was done by its in-house team. Pankaj Chaddah, Co-Founder,, tweeted: “Hey, while we didn't mean to, we can see why it can be offensive to people, and we apologize for it. We will take this ad down with immediate effect.”

On December 1, Zomato launched a new ad to replace the ‘controversial’ one. The new ad read ‘tenu fruit suit karda?’

The company also launched a discount coupon code, ‘Outrage’, offering a 10 per cent discount as ‘an acknowledgement that it learnt a lesson.’

Though the creative community criticised the ad, analysed how much it hurt the image of Zomato, primarily a youth brand. Or, is any publicity good publicity?

We approached Zomato for comments on what was the idea behind the ad and why did the company replace it after launching the discount coupon code 'Outrage' but it did not respond.

Damage or benefit

While the team had to go through a whole rollercoaster and pull down the ad too quickly, it did serve the purpose that it was meant to be – grabbing eyeballs. “Negative publicity is not always bad publicity,” said a brand expert who didn’t want to be quoted. “For services like Zomato’s, I don’t think people will stop ordering on the app if the brand does something like this. Also, a lot of their customers are youngsters who are possibly very comfortable with the pun on such words,” he added.

The other opinion is that smaller or not, such an ad will not have a positive impact on the brand and firefighting will still be needed. “That’s what they did by bringing a replacement.”

Jagdeep Kapoor

Jagdeep Kapoor, Managing Director, Samsika Marketing Consultants said, “Advertising should be to attract, and not to distract. The focus should be on the brand and its benefits and the effort should be to keep away from any kind of controversies. This distracts the audience. Anything that is done in a clever manner should be done equally done in a sensitive manner. When so much money is being spent, there is a lot of good story to be told in its original form. There is a lot of benefit in attracting.”

What does Zomato stand for?

Zomato as a brand has been a strong player in its segment. It had also become one of the very few e-commerce startups to have broken even last year and in September this year, the company reported profits. The brand has a strong positioning and connects with its TG. Will it need too much firefighting?

“Zomato has done good service and has so many good points to highlight and talk about. These kinds of things should be best avoided. There is no question of whether it will hurt the brand image or not. The question should be whether it will benefit, and if it doesn’t, then why take chances? A great brand like Zomato deserves great communication. If the brand has a lot of to say, then it doesn't need to use other crutches. It can stand all on its own feet,” said Kapoor.

The new ad released by the company is yet to become talk of the town. Though Zomato has expressed guilt and launched the new ad, does the brand look apologetic in the new ad?

“It is a bold, unapologetic, yet strong brand. Moreover, I don’t think the ads have hurt me, or, for that matter, I think it shouldn’t have hurt anyone. The ad was a good innovation. Zomato had successfully broken the clutter with that ad. It tried to create something out of the box and I commend them for taking that leap.”

Cajetan Vaz

Vaz is quick to point out, “Zomato is very strong in the North India. Even the replaced ad has a Delhi flavour to it and so did the earlier ad. Zomato as a brand doesn’t advertise too frequently and hence, whatever opportunity it has for advertising, should be utilised for national advertising by the brand.”

Other ads of the campaign

While that one creative was judged and spoken about by everyone, there was no analysis or feedback on the other ads of the same campaign. A brand expert pointed out, “The ads are quirky, light and effective – just to suit the brand. They have picked on one of the most popular aspects – Bollywood songs. The memorability of songs is much higher than a newly created jingle or phrase and they have played well, on that front.”

Kapoor too added, “Everyone gets distracted with that one ad and the other poor things are getting ignored. There might be another segment of people who talk about the other ads, but that’s a small segment. That’s what a ‘negatively popular ad’ does to the brand. It distracts.”

Tags: Zomato
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