Despite Ban, TaxiForSure TV Spots Stay Put

By Satrajit Sen , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | December 12, 2014
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The brand's ad campaign that hit TV screens on December 5, stays on air despite the ban on its service. A look at the pros and cons of a media plan that stays put even in the absence of the product being advertised.

Taxi companies, especially those that operate as web-based/app-based booking services, have had a rough ride these past few days, owing to the mess their segment-mate Uber has found itself in.

TaxiForSure TVC

TaxiForSure App

According to reports, while the Delhi Transport Department is allowing Mega Cabs, Meru Cabs, Easy Cabs, Chanson, Yo Cabs and Air Cabs to continue operating their radio taxi service in Delhi, brands like Ola and TaxiForSure, that rely entirely on their respective mobile apps, are not permitted to do so, until they get a go-ahead from the authorities. What's more, Maharashtra Government has also banned all web-based taxi services in the state.

Here's the part that made us stop and take notice: Despite the ban on its service, TaxiForSure continues to run its multi-media brand campaign; both, the film on primetime television, and city-wide billboards, are hard to miss, in Delhi. Sure, the brand's film hit TV screens on December 5, well before Uber hit the headlines. One might assume that TaxiForSure would instantly discontinue its campaign post the ban on its service. However, it turns out, that is but a knee-jerk assumption; the ads are still visible.

Lowe Lintas + Partners is the creative agency and Mindshare, the media agency behind this campaign.

The media plan includes Hindi movie, music, lifestyle, business and news channels, including Star, Zee, Viacom, Sun and UTV. Print, radio, outdoor and digital communication has been crafted too. In fact, this is the first time a radio taxi brand has launched a mass media brand campaign.

We tried reaching Aprameya Radhakrishna, co-founder, TaxiForSure, yesterday. Though he was unavailable to comment on the matter, we learnt, from a senior member of his brand team, that they're currently in the midst of taking a realistic call on the way forward, as far the media plan goes.

A Double-Edged Media Sword

From a media planning and buying perspective, 'recanting' an entire campaign, once it's been set in motion, is a challenge. Another theory goes: since the ad spots had been planned and paid for before the ban on the service, pulling them out is a colossal waste of marketing funds. A social media user tweets, "Hey TaxiForSure, an advice: it would be smart for you to stop spending crores on TV ads while serving a nationwide ban from operating, ok?"
But in reality, is it really that easy to simply 'stop spending crores' that have already left the wallet? Say the brand, at the last moment, vacates the spots it has booked, and even takes the funds back from media owner, there's still no denying the time and effort involved in doing so.

"If the brand is continuing to run the campaign in order to prevent wasting its media investment, then that is unfortunate. The situation is complex. But there is no point in carrying on with the campaign as planned if consumers' confidence in the category is at an all time low," says a media buyer from a leading media agency.

TaxiForSure's campaign, would have worked wonders if Uber were the only banned player in the segment, he adds, painting a hypothetical case of opportunistic advertising on part of Uber's competition. But since the entire web-based taxi booking segment is banned from operating until further notice, the situation here is quite different.

Nano Taxi Launch Event

However, there exist contrasting opinions. Some feel that since there's a fair chance the service will be up and running, sooner or later, why not keep investing in the intangible 'brand building' side of things? Never mind that the tangible product is temporarily taken off the proverbial shelf.

Saurabh Uboweja

Saurabh Uboweja, CEO, Brands of Desire, a brand consultancy, points out, that by keeping the campaign up and running, TaxiForSure might well be looking to address people who're from Delhi but are likely to find themselves in need of a cab when they travel to cities that are outside the ban-radius. After all, the service is present across 18 cities, nationwide. The company launched its new category of Nano taxis in Bengaluru on December 4, by the way.

Of course, even if call-to-action is off the table, most experts feel, given the circumstance, now is the least favourable time for TaxiForSure to run an ad campaign aimed at "brand building."

On a tangent, Uboweja opines that since most, if not all, of the banned firms are VC-backed, they "should have invested more in a strong communications team."

Interestingly, TaxiForSure's official statement on the matter renders this entire discussion around the media plan moot. The company's note to afaqs! reads: "​​In light of the unfortunate ​incident, we are ​in the process of evaluating our ​campaign roll out. ​​W​e have made swift decisions to ​make the necessary changes ​to ​the ​media plan​​ in order to ensure that there is minimum inconvenience to all the parties involved."

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