Too big to be in bed with porn: Why Zomato should have thought their ad campaign through

by Rohit Bansal

Full disclosure: I know Deepinder Goyal, founder of Zomato, but faintly. He visited my wife’s tiny restaurant some three years back with Infoedge co-founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani. I wasn't familiar with what the site did. Nor did I know that it’ll end up being India's foodie bay, playing with $225 million in funding. And I work at RIL, which owns Burrp, Zomato’s competitor. RIL also owns the site on which you’re reading this piece.

 Too big to be in bed with porn: Why Zomato should have thought their ad campaign through

A screengrab of the ads by Zomato.

My respect for Bikhchandani and Goyal’s own aura made me do my two paisa stretch – an advisory retainer for Zomato to be our sounding board and a banner ad for deliveries.

A week later, a relationship manager from Zomato dropped the ad rates by 40 percent. "Deepinder didn’t remember the correct price," she said.

Money saved was money earned. More important was Zomato’s sense of morality – we would've paid what was agreed anyway.

The tie-up helped the restaurant. The Zomato consultant provided nice artwork for online promotions. She opened up Twitter and Facebook. The calls that customers made after clicking the banner could be heard again on an internet-based dashboard. This helped the restaurateur track quality of service in a smart way.

The system broke down once in a while. But Goyal was never too far away. Even as he climbed to the front pages, cutting deals in 20-something countries, he found time to revert. He even made a surprise visit with the relationship manager when Zomato discontinued the advisory business. The advertising continues.

So, I was worried when this “unicorn” ended up advertising — and thereby funding — pornography.

The idea was so yuck that I hoped that Goyal wasn't even in the loop when some smart alecks banged it in.

But Twitter is a merciless medium. The risqué artwork had the founder’s RTs.

Amidst praise and criticism, one Pramod Rao of Zomato has updated us that the campaign on porn sites has been junked. Bravo! Here's pro bono validation on four counts:

1. Kya Kool Hain Hum, Really?

Reputation isn’t just about being “cool” or generational. It’s about thinking simple, i.e. letting our brains have the upper hand. What if there was a simulation of the porn campaign on a common screen in the office with “ooh, aah” et al? Or what Bikhchandani, Temasek, Sequoia, and Vy would do if someone walked by while they were testing the latest banner!

2. Basics Apply To Gen-Next Too

Agreed that clicks and ROIs are the North Star in the new economy. Granted also that demographics are a useful driver to the morality of decision making. [Apparently, many below 30 thought (and still think) the idea of advertising on porn sites, at a fraction of the cost, is good to go.

Indeed, much wisdom lies within these really smart people. They are clever. They are the pride of Indian capitalism.
But smartness is scenting the ball before the 50-somethings need to tell you. Smartness includes thinking long term and asking the ultimate question: Does my idea have a soul? Damn the oldies, would I flunk the “village newspaper test.”

3. Nakal Needs Akal Too

It didn't surprise me that the topmost websites in the country took Zomato's move to porn at face value. Sex sells. And the media is our mirror, you see. (Even Zomato has had something called zomato.xxx, where the disclaimer states that they’d never ask to visit us alone in a hotel room!)

So, Rao’s original exertions were treated as path-breaking gyaan. His last sentence was a yorker: That the folks on a site called eat24 do the porn number too – and this is evidence of “great minds” thinking alike!

A rudimentary search on these fellow geniuses would have told Rao that eat24 isn’t backed by responsible capital. In fact, the site enjoys generous endorsements from porn stars. Is this where Zomato could’ve been headed if it wasn't for the social media outrage on Wednesday and Thursday?

4. Don’t Blame the VC

There’s wisdom in moving on. Rao has done well to do that within just two days. The porn idea was compelling. It should have been debated in a bar and then dumped with a sobering realisation: Zomato is too big to be in bed with porn. A lesser set might do that. But despite stiff sales targets investors set for them recently, Zomato will have to innovate in a cleaner zone.

Call it the weight of bearing the cross, give me the man who returned my 40 percent.

The author works for RIL which owns Burrp and Network18 Group of which Firstpost is a part.

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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2015 13:52:19 IST