Meru Cabs: Riding on transparency

Advertising by a cab service provider would be different from that by any other brand. The reason has to do with consumer behaviour in the category. First, the passenger looking to go from point A to B doesn't want to wait for hours for his cab to arrive. Second, he also doesn't want to shell out a fortune for that trip. And since there is a lot of options to choose from - there are a large number of unorganised players in operation - communication is largely tactical in the segment.

Radio taxi service provider Meru Cabs has highlighted a key consumer concern in its new campaign, "True Rupees Per Km". The campaign picks on taxi aggregators Ola and Uber for pursuing "predatory pricing" and pitches Meru as the most transparent and reliable radio taxi service provider. The campaign presents consumers with a price comparison chart to highlight the discriminatory charges - such as ride time charge and surge pricing - levied by Ola and Uber. Meru Cabs says it does not levy such charges and offers consumers transparent pricing. In other words, "True Rupees Per Km".

The key challenge before Meru is to tackle the "lack of a level playing field" in the space. Siddhartha Pahwa, chief executive officer, Meru Cabs, laments that some operators with deep pockets are offering huge discounts to consumers and heavy incentives to drivers and the overall selling price is below the input costs. On top of that, there is no regulation for the cab industry which is leading to a "monopoly or duopoly situation".

"Apart from the 'per km' price, which comes with conditions, there are various other hidden charges the consumer is asked to pay by these cab aggregators," says Pahwa. "And when you consider all of these charges together, there is hardly any difference in the various taxi brands available in the market." Advertising unrealistically low "per km fare" for rides is just a gimmick on the part of taxi aggregators to lure customers. "These fares are like the proverbial tip of the iceberg as they hide more then they reveal," says Pahwa.

The campaign has been conceptualised by Enormous Brands. The brief to the creative agency was to bring out the overall lack of transparency in the radio cab industry.

"The brief translated into an issue with unregulated surge pricing, ride time charges and other hidden costs. This is a customer awareness campaign as much as it is a campaign for Meru," says Ashish Khazanchi, managing partner, Enormous brands.

The "True Rupees Per Km" campaign is focussed largely on print and digital media, supported by radio and outdoor. "The press advertisements, apart from riding on their reach, is a statement of intent - in a sense we were putting our foot down via the front page of a national daily," adds Khazanchi.

For radio, the creative agency has created characters "Asterisk" and "Conditions Apply" aimed to tickle curiosity and urge consumers to look into the fine print in the other players' pricing strategy.

What explains TV's absence in the media mix? Khazanchi says the taxi market is moving away from the conventional call centre-led business to the digital space, where bookings are done online or through the mobile app. "Our focus markets are nine cities in India, which contribute more than 80 per cent of the business, which explains the absence from TV."

The campaign is currently running in nine cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Pune.

According to industry estimates, the country's organised taxi-hailing market is pegged at Rs 7,900 crore and is estimated to reach Rs 1 lakh crore by 2022. Meru Cabs, with a fleet of more than 20,000 cabs and a consumer base of six million, undertakes 20,000 plus daily rides.

Meru recently raised funds to the tune of Rs 150 crore. It will be deploying these funds to increase brand salience and widen its customer base.

Going forward, technology and a move towards ride-sharing will disrupt the industry, says Pahwa. "Metro cities of India are already witnessing a spurt in the ride-sharing and carpooling services and this is only set to expand."

Brand: Meru Cabs

Budget: Rs 10-12 crore

Agency: Enormous Brands

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