Quantum Brief

Why doesn’t controversy go off the menu for Zomato ads?

Even as netizens trolled Zomato for its Mahakal reference in a new campaign, experts sympathize with the brand.

By  Tasmayee Laha RoyAug 24, 2022 10:26 AM
Why doesn’t controversy go off the menu for Zomato ads?
Zomato has landed in multiple controversies over its advertising. The latest is a hyperlocal ad featuring actor Hrithik Roshan.

Zomato has done it again. The online food delivery company has yet again managed to start a boycott trend with its new campaign featuring Hrithik Roshan. This was the brand’s first attempt at using deepfake technology. What won Cadbury's Cannes Lions-winning campaign applause, clearly didn’t work for Zomato. Angry priests and hurt netizens pushed the brand to withdraw the ad.

However, domain experts do not blame the brand. According to them, Zomato was just trying to promote local businesses with the help of technology.

“Every word is scrutinized these days and people somehow have become over sensitive. Zomato has been successful with their tongue-in-cheek content and the campaign was an extension of the overall messaging. They didn’t deserve the trolling,” says N Chandramouli, chief executive officer (CEO) of Mumbai-based brand intelligence and advisory firm TRA Research.

This is not the first time the brand has found itself in a boycott saga.


It is, in fact, the third time in a row that a campaign from the brand has received backlash. One of the first campaigns that didn’t go down well was the brand’s outdoor campaign where the letters "MC.BC." (mac n’ cheese, butter chicken) were used in a creative way. Even though they were used as abbreviations of food item names, there was no fooling the crowd. People called out Zomato for pushing "sexist" and "cheap" messaging.

Then there was the 'Har Customer Hai star' campaign last year. When the campaign went live across TV and digital, people took offence because the spot showed how the delivery executive did not even have the time to take a selfie with Hrithik Roshan who also ended up calling the delivery executive 'Jadoo' (the alien character from Roshan’s film Koi Mil Gaya).

While the focus of the brand was to portray how every customer is important and calling the valet Jadoo was more about his super power of quickness, that was not how the ad was perceived.

There were questions on the gig economy, treatment of delivery agents, the impact of celebrity endorsements and, of course, brand culture.

Advertising in sensitive times

Talking of brand culture, Rutu Mody-Kamdar Founder of Jigsaw Brand Consultants, says Zomato’s content is reflective of their brand ethos which is fun, impulsive and tongue in cheek and off the traditional path.

“Unfortunately hypersensitivity has been dominating the way we respond to situations. Zomato is an iconoclastic brand and brands like this have no option but to face the reactions to their actions and wait for the controversy to fizzle out” she said.

"Sensitivity" is a very thin line in the world of advertising, and creators often find themselves on the wrong side of it, unintentionally says another industry expert who didn't want to be named. "Brands definitely need to be more careful and avoid any prejudice or stereotyping. Brands should be cautious not to rub religious sentiments the wrong way.”

Never too late to apologise

Looks like Zomato didn’t want to earn further ire of the Ujjain priests who were offended by the mention of Malakal in the brand's hyperlocal ad. They not only took down the ad but also issued a clarification that said, “The Hrithik Roshan-starrer ad that ran in certain pincodes of Ujjain referenced ‘thalis’ at ‘Mahakal Restaurant’, and not the revered Shree Mahakaleshwar Temple. Mahakal Restaurant is one of our high order-volume restaurant partners in Ujjain, and thali is a recommended item on its menu.”

The note further said, “The video is part of a pan-India campaign for which we identified top local restaurants and their top dishes based on popularity in each city. Mahakal Restaurant (simplified as ‘Mahakal’) was one of the restaurants chosen for the campaign in Ujjain. We deeply respect the sentiments of the people of Ujjain, and the ad in question is no longer running. We offer our sincerest apologies, for the intent here was never to hurt anyone's beliefs and sentiments.”

First Published on Aug 24, 2022 10:26 AM