Ola aligns with millennials, adopts their causes to market services

A new campaign positions the cab’s share service as an antidote to urban traffic woes and a way to improve long-term air quality
After a few missteps, Ola is hoping to have struck the right note with its latest campaign. Tagged #farakpadtahai, (it makes a difference) the app-based cab aggregator is taking up causes it believes are close to the young. But even as it commits to the environment and celebrates diversity in thought and attitude in its current campaign, the company seems to be talking not just to the community of millennial riders, but also to future employees.

Homegrown Ola has long claimed that it knows the young, city dwelling Indian better than anyone, especially rival Uber. However, with Uber having slipped into the popular lexicon as a generic term for everything from travel to a way of doing business, Ola has had a bit of an uphill struggle building its identity. Its past attempts at courting the young have landed in controversy, especially a campaign that raised a storm on social media for saying that Ola riders could now book a cab for less than what it would cost to take their girlfriend on a date. The sexist tone was roundly criticised and the company was compelled to pull back the ad.

This time around, the brand is being more careful. While it does not shy away from controversy, the campaign focuses on issues that are gender neutral and, going by the chatter on social media, common concern among the young. The ads take on the moral police who dictate what the people should wear, eat and say while denouncing those who speak against same sex love. The campaign says that these are not the issues that make a difference to the young, but what does worry India’s discerning millennials the most is climate change, the perils of too many cars on the road and the impact on public health.

“Our country today is being driven by millennials who by nature are more considerate about the environment and understand the concept of sustainable development. By 2025, India will have 42 per cent of its population living in cities, so it is imperative that a large number of people start adopting a collaborative economy,” says Mudit Shekhawat, senior director of marketing at Ola.

While Shekhawat says he has the young rider in his sights, the ads seem also to speak to young job hunters, positioning the company as an employer brand in tune with their concerns. 

Is the new ad likely to raise the hackles of many? Perhaps, since it talks about restrictions on dress, food and sex-pet concerns among a vocal online majority today. However, the campaign cleverly handles this by pitching these concerns against what truly matters (or ought to) to the young: the future of the planet. 

The company’s focus on climate change and attempts to link it to the ‘Ola Share’ service is not new. A few months back, it took cricketer Virender Sehwag on board as an influencer and had him strike up an incendiary note on Twitter by dismissing fears of climate change as exaggerated. When a spate of disparaging tweets from some leading members of the Twitter fraternity blew up Sehwag’s timeline, he cheekily announced that for all their concerns, the people should try the new share service being offered by Ola. The message hit home and perhaps set the stage for the larger campaign around the issue that is currently on air.

“Conforming to dated social norms, prejudices around sexuality or food preferences are issues that don’t matter, while societal well-being and the environment do. That has been the thought and spirit behind the campaigns and it has certainly hit a chord with millennials,” said Shekhawat. 

While brand experts have pointed out that the possibility of such a campaign backfiring are high, they give credit to Ola for having pulled it off. The one thing that Ola has nailed on the head, they say, has been the understanding of who the target audience is. Ola knows that its brand has to speak to young millennials who are more in tune with global trends than ones close to home.

Karthik Srinivasan, national lead for social at Ogilvy & Mather, draws a comparison between Ola and hip restaurants in Bengaluru that use cutlery similar to what one would expect in a hospital or jail. While the older generation might not approve (of such gimmicky cutlery), the young love it as long as the food and beer is good. It’s the same with Ola’s service, he said. “They are trying to appeal to a segment that doesn’t believe what the earlier generation did. Like owning a car, house, etc. The attitude is when it’s available in a second via an app, why to own it,” said Srinivasan. 

The Ola campaign also stands in stark contrast to that of Uber, which recently launched its first TVC in India. Uber plays the tradition-meets-modernity card in its campaign while trying to drive home how much at home the American brand is on Indian roads. 

Srinivasan noted that while this message by Uber might seem disconnected from what the young user base associates with the brand, it is impactful nonetheless. Rather than targeting a group which is already in line with ride-sharing, it is reaching out to families who don’t understand the concept.

“Sharing comes naturally to the younger generation, so you’re not trying to change habits you’re just inculcating the use of Ola. But Uber is trying to change a habit, similar to what Flipkart did when they said you can return products, you don’t need to pay upfront, etc,” added Srinivasan.

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