Indian foodtech company Zomato has defended two recent commercials after they were heavily criticised online for appearing to glorify the gruelling working conditions for its drivers.
The first advert, which has been viewed more than 16 million times on YouTube alone, features Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan who opens the door to a soaking wet delivery agent.
In the advert, Roshan asks his Zomato driver for a selfie in return for delivering the actor’s food despite the pouring rain. At that moment the driver receives another job, to which he rushes away leaving the Bollywood star selfie-less. A second advert starring the actor Katrina Kaif follows a similar premise, and has more than 24 million views.
The tag-line? “Every customer is a star”, and Zomato drivers are committed to making on-time deliveries — in the face of rain, shine, and even a Bollywood celebrity.
That was the idea behind the adverts, at least, but they they ended up leaving customers with a bitter taste. Many commentators online have called the adverts tone-deaf, especially given Zomato, Swiggy and other Indian food delivery services have been ranked among the worst companies for worker conditions, according to 2020 Fairwork India.
Then in a first-of-its-kind social media protest that began at the end of July, delivery executives took to Twitter to anonymously document the dismal conditions under which they were allegedly being made to work.
Allegations against Zomato included a lack of compensation for record-high petrol prices, absence of first-mile pay, lack of long-distance return bonus, and daily earning caps, even as the number of orders skyrocketed during the ongoing Covid pandemic.
Zomato on 30 August released a Twitter statement in response to the criticism against these ads. The statement clarified that the goal of the ads was not to “divert the conversation around gig worker payouts or working conditions” but “make delivery partners the hero of the ad”.
The recently-listed foodtech giant said it believed the ads were well-intentioned but ultimately misrepresented. It added that the company’s delivery partner Net Promoter Score – an indicator of whether they would be likely to recommend Zomato to others – has risen from -10 per cent to 28 per cent, and that Zomato would publish a blog explaining why it believes its riders are compensated fairly “very soon”.
Online, the statement was slammed as a “classic non-apology”. Twitter user Shoeb Khan wrote: “Your ad was insensitive and in poor taste and you need to pull them back asap if you really care about feedback.”
Journalist Sohini Chattopadhyay wrote that the Zomato statement was itself “confirmation that those ads were stinkers”. Sucharita Tyagi called the Kaif advert “bafflingly tone deaf”, and Ankur Pathak said it was “romanticising exploitative labour policies”.
Some asked the Deepinder Goyal-led company to re-evaluate top executives’ salaries, while others accused the company of wasting money on ads with Bollywood celebrities instead of fairly paying its employees.
Goyal has not yet publicly commented on the backlash.