Uber sold decongestion vision, not brand, to win Virat Kohli as ambassador

When ride hailing giant Uber approached Virat Kohli to be its brand ambassador, rather than trying to win over the cricketing superstar with how big and how global the company was, it pitched a simple idea. How Uber could help decongest India’s roads by replacing car ownership and create economic opportunities. “This is what excited us and what excited him,” says Sanjay Gupta, Head of Marketing at Uber India. “He’s a Delhi boy, he’s seen the traffic and the pollution. Virat wants to really do bigger things and things that really impact the country and the economy.”

Believe it or not, signing a brand ambassador is new to Uber, the $70 billion global ride hailing service. While the company has in the past employed celebrities to endorse it, those campaigns have largely been on social media. The firm has never had famous faces promoting the platform across media.

The first big celebrity signing was in Egypt earlier this year, when footballer Mohamed Salah agreed to be the face of the brand. The company also signed on two other players Ahmed Fathy and Saad Samir from the Al Ahly local football team. In India, the firm knew that it should stick to cricket for the biggest impact. The endorsements that will follow will largely revolve around promoting the use of ride sharing to reduce traffic and pollution and allowing people to earn their living by driving for Uber.

Virat Kohli. Photo: PTI
“I think it is a must to create a narrative that gets people to adopt ride sharing over private car ownership and the onus is on us to create a proposition that helps decongest our cities. A lot of our work with Virat is going to be around that theme,” adds Gupta.

Uber believes it is at the right stage of maturity in India to begin focusing on plugging its service as a way to combat several of the issues that exist in the country’s transport sector. Moreover, it says in a country as vast and job starved as India, it can create a paradigm shift by allowing people to become entrepreneurs and earn money on their own terms.

While several industry murmurs have suggested that Uber might be on its way out of the country thanks to investor Softbank forcing it to forfeit to rival Ola, the company says it believes its association with Kohli is a long term one. “Because of the kind of a vision we have it will require a lot of investments over the years and our belief is that Virat is with us for the long term,” said Gupta. 

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