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Explained: Why Zomato’s ad campaign with Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif led to backlash

In case you are wondering why the latest Zomato ads have landed in a controversy, here's the backstory and ongoing developments.

Written by Sampada Sharma , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 9, 2021 1:10:40 pm
zomato, zomato ad controversy, zomato ads, zomato controversy, katrina kaif, hrithik roshan, zomato har customer hai star, har customer hai star, watch new zomato adsHrithik Roshan in the Zomato advertisement (Source: Screengrab)

If you use YouTube or any other social media site, chances are you have come across the new Zomato advertisements featuring Katrina Kaif and Hrithik Roshan. The ‘Har customer hai Star’ advertisements, which were intended to promote the company’s ‘fast delivery and special customer service’ ethos, led to outrage as viewers pointed out the not-so-healthy working conditions that are imposed upon the Zomato delivery partners/valets.

To understand the entire controversy around the Zomato ad campaign, let’s first look at what the advertisements are about.

What is the new Zomato ad campaign?

A few days ago, Zomato rolled out two advertisements featuring Bollywood stars Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif under the campaign ‘Har customer hai star’.

The advertisement featuring Hrithik Roshan has him addressing the Zomato delivery valet as “Jadoo”, referencing the super-powerful alien from his film Koi Mil Gaya. He then proceeds to say that the delivery partners are no less than “Jadoo” as come rain or shine, they always deliver on time. Hrithik offers to take a selfie with the man and walks away from the door to get his phone. As he steps away, the valet’s phone starts buzzing. “Ab yahan selfie ke liye rukta, toh next order late ho jaata. Voh kya hai na, Hrithik Roshan ho ya aap, apne liye har customer hai star (If I would have stopped for a selfie here, the next order would have been delayed. For us, be it Hrithik Roshan or you, every customer is a star),” the partner says.

The advertisement featuring Katrina Kaif is along the same lines, the only difference being that instead of a selfie, Katrina offers some cake to the delivery valet.

Why are the new Zomato ads being criticised?

As soon as the new ads dropped online, there was a backlash from viewers over Zomato hiring big-ticket celebrities, when it has been criticised for the low pay structure of its delivery riders. Earlier, delivery workers had taken to social media to protest their lack of job security, low pay, poor treatment and working conditions. So, the act of a delivery valet being excited for his next order whilst championing the age-old mantra of ‘customer is king’ was seen as an exercise in whitewashing.

zomato, zomato ad controversy, zomato ads, zomato controversy, katrina kaif, hrithik roshan, zomato har customer hai star, har customer hai star, watch new zomato ads Katrina Kaif in the Zomato advertisement (Source: Screengrab)

Recently, soon after Zomato announced its IPO, the company dominated Twitter trends, but the subject of exploitation of delivery executives also started to gain steam. Since many of these gig-workers work under contracts, they do not enjoy the perks of being an employee. With the gig riders fighting for a raise in the income and their employment status, Zomato’s hiring of celebrities as big as Hrithik and Katrina was seen as tone-deaf. It was pointed out that if the company has such deep pockets, they should first pay their employees.

Another factor criticised in the ads was the high-pressure job of a delivery valet. The audience was quick to point out that working conditions don’t seem healthy if a worker is not allowed to take even a minute for themselves in between deliveries. In the context of the ad, the valets can’t stay for a selfie or a piece of cake because they are in such a hurry to get to the next place.

What is Zomato’s reply to the controversy?

Days after the advertisements received a ton of backlash, Zomato issued a statement on Twitter with the caption “The other side of the story…” with which they tried to explain their point of view and intention of the campaign. In the statement, Zomato acknowledged that they had been hearing about the criticism of the ads, mentioning that they were being called “tone-deaf” for hiring celebrities “to divert the conversation around gig worker payouts.”

In a long note, they proceeded to explain their point of view while designing the campaign. Their first argument said that these ads were conceptualised six months ago, “long before any social media chatter around gig worker payouts/working conditions,” which, in fact, is just partially true. The social media chatter might have gained steam just recently, but the conversation around unfair payment had lead Zomato workers to protest in cities like Bhubaneshwar back in 2019. The unfair treatment of workers has also been in the news — whether it be an altercation with a customer, or the religion of a valet/customer becoming a factor in the delivery of certain food items.

As per Zomato, they wanted to project their delivery partners as “heros” and wanted to encourage the practice that customers must talk respectfully to people delivering their food. They added, “Last but not the least, reiterate that every customer is a star for us and no less than Hrithik or Katrina.” Zomato also mentioned that though their ads were well-intentioned, they have been “unfortunately misinterpreted by some people.”

Their note closed with the statement that they have been “listening to all the chatter about gig workers” and they have been “actively working on this already”. Zomato also claimed that their “delivery partners are fairly compensated for the work/time that they put in.”

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