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Zomato rolls out ad blitz amid spotlight on gig workers’ woes

To be sure, in the last few weeks, several anonymous handles surfaced on social media platform Twitter to highlight the daily ordeals endured by food delivery executives. (Bloomberg)Premium
To be sure, in the last few weeks, several anonymous handles surfaced on social media platform Twitter to highlight the daily ordeals endured by food delivery executives. (Bloomberg)

  • Zomato has released a series of films as part of the ‘har customer hai star’ campaign featuring Bollywood actors Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif. More such films are in the pipeline for the southern market with local stars.

New Delhi: Food delivery platform Zomato has released a star-studded advertising campaign, honouring its delivery executives, at a time their wages and work hours are gaining public attention. The ‘Har customer hai star’ campaign, made by advertising agency McCann India, shows Zomato staff delivering orders at the homes of top Bollywood actors.

The stars request delivery partners to stay for a moment, for a selfie in Hrithik Roshan’s case, and for a piece of her birthday cake in Katrina Kaif’s case; however, the riders leave since they want to serve the next order. More films on the same lines featuring southern stars are on the way.

“While our delivery partners are excited about spending those few extra minutes at the doorstep with their beloved stars, they instead choose to honour their duty and head out to fulfil the next customer’s order. This campaign is a tribute to all our delivery partners and their commitment towards their service," Zomato said in a note on the new campaign.

The ads come in the wake of recent criticism that riders had to work long hours, with declining incentives, for low pay. In the past few months, several anonymous Twitter handles have cropped up to highlight the daily ordeals of food delivery staff.

Interestingly, delivery personnel see the campaign as a white-washing exercise to please the customer. “In real life, a rider is not exactly excited to do the next order. He’s in a rush because his daily earnings depend on it and not because he’s looking forward to it. We get penalized for being late and lose income," a delivery person said on condition of anonymity. “Imagine the budgets going into this (the campaign)…but never addressing payout issues," the person added.

Advertising and branding experts feel the campaign may benefit Zomato’s image but is unlikely to impact the lives of gig workers.

“Delivery boys being glorified is an old story. Films like these don’t alter consumer behaviour. Unreal portrayals such as these only make the brand look good and don’t really change the life of the delivery boy," said Sandeep Goyal, chairman of Mogae Media, a marketing and communication agency. Goyal said the only “fair" way to treat gig workers is to pay them more. “Neither company nor customer wants to do that. Such advertising is just make-believe," he added.

Zomato, which made a blockbuster stock market listing last month, had 169,802 active delivery partners in March 2021.

The aggregator-gig worker discord isn’t new. Gig workers across digital platforms have rallied for better payouts and incentives for years. In food delivery, workers have complained that performance-linked incentives push them to work longer, and the rush to fulfil orders on time is a big challenge.

In an emailed response to queries sent by Mint, Zomato said that in a city like Bengaluru, the top 20% of its delivery partners who deliver on bikes and put in more than 40 hours a week receive a payout of more than 27,000 per month. Minus the fuel costs, they take home about 20,000 per month.

In its IPO documents filed earlier this year, Zomato stated that it remits 100% of the tips and delivery charges provided by the customer to the delivery partner. Zomato also offers several benefits, such as providing insurance for hospitalization and assistance in two-wheeler financing.

Criticized on Twitter, Zomato may be flexing its advertising muscle to reclaim image, but not always successfully. Last week, Zomato got comedian Danish Sait to spend a day serving orders as a delivery executive and made a video of over eight minutes. The video received flak for the unrealistic portrayal of the lives of delivery executives, and Sait eventually issued an apology.

Karthik Srinivasan, a Bengaluru-based communications strategy consultant, said that Zomato had a choice to address the problem or address the company’s perception that arises from the problem. “They chose the latter," he said. Srinivasan sees the ads as a “classic" public relations response.

Alluding to the recent concerns raised by delivery executives against food platforms, Srinivasan said the messaging of these workers is a broad look at the challenges and working conditions of workers at large and less about Zomato.

“Zomato is trying to isolate its response to the larger situation and doing so through advertising. There’s a disparity here—the allegation is happening in a ragtag manner because that’s what (delivery executives) can afford. But the response from a larger corporation is happening in an organized fashion via paid advertising where they can get away with any kind of messaging from their side," he said.

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