Sreekant Khandekar

Google Maps and Amitabh Bachchan: A lethal combination?

There have been widespread media reports that the star might possibly become the voice for this popular app, guiding us around the streets of India. Would users like that?

I have been vastly amused and intrigued over the last few days by wild media speculation about whether or not Amitabh Bachchan will be the new voice for Google Maps.

It all began with a tentative piece in the daily Mid-Day quoting unnamed ‘sources’ that talks were on between the two. The item was unsubstantiated and yet so delicious that many other media brands promptly rewrote the piece, desperately trying to create a spin to it.

True or not, that got me thinking. As an avid user of Google Maps, would I like to be directed by the authoritative voice of Amitabh Bachchan – or would I prefer to have an anonymous female to guide me, as she has for years, even if her pronounciation can baffle?

I put this question to my network on LinkedIn. Would Bachchan for Google Maps be a good idea? And as users, would they like to be guided by him? I got the most interesting answers.

Rishabh Rastogi of tech firm Yellow Messenger wondered why Google Maps would do it. “One, the product dominates with a 67 per cent market share (2019 data). Two, consumers have absolutely no problem with the voice experience. I love it. I can't think of any 'need', in that sense.”

At a marketing level Sanjeev Shukla, Group CMO at Muthoot Pappachan, thought, “It would be a master stroke to turn Google Maps (GM) into a brand, from a sort of a social service and/or service commodity - something that's taken for granted.” It would nudge even more people to sample the experience, he felt, and once there is a proper structure, “Google Maps may start monetizing it in a big way.”

Several people didn’t take to the idea for various reasons. Intekhab Aslam said he might like it for a day or two. It could be used only as a marketing promotion “in a very specific context, supported by other media and that's about it. Surely not a 'default' feature.”

Kunal Sinha of Kantar Advisory was disappointed: “Bachchan for everything? Give others some employment too Google (and other advertisers). #celebrityfatigue

And Vinita Bhatia of Times Group was thinking of the star rather than users when she said, “Anonymous voice definitely! Amitabh Bachchan’s voice is exclusive and should be kept that way.”

Several people were wistful: couldn’t Google Maps allow voice personalisation? Vinita Pandya Shah of TAM Axis wanted choice so that she could customise the voice depending on her mood.

Puja Mahaldar wished that in an ideal world Google Maps would allow users to record and play the voice of one’s close family and friends – maybe one’s mother, father or child perhaps?

Some pitched for regional language options while others felt that the voice did not matter as long as it was comprehensible.

And it was for this very reason that Venu Gopal Nair of the Chennai-based Ideascape Comms said, "I'm not sure I want his baritone guiding me around the city. And his famed modulation may be completely inappropriate for some of the areas in Chennai - Tiruvottriyur, eg."

Varun Oberoi of Indo Nissin Foods pitched for his wife’s voice on the app saying, “Seedhey ghar ka raasta bataayegi!”

I had to save the very best for the very last. This comment came from business marketing consultant Jermina Menon: “Personally, the gentle coaxing of SRK would work for me. Imagine being seduced by him at each turn Sigh.”

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