'Chota ho safar, chahe lambe faasle. Ab rukna nahi, duniya badle chahe' is the message from Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli in Uber’s new TVC #MoveForward. The global ride-sharing and transportation company signed up the superstar cricketer as the new face of the brand in March this year. Earlier this week, Uber rolled out its first ad featuring Virat Kohli.
Created by advertising agency Ogilvy India, the new ad spot features the youth icon Kohli highlighting how millions of Indians beat the odds and push hard to progress in life. The 90-second spot is a montage of stories of different people trying to make the most of their lives. Among these Uber users are a visually-impaired rider, an expectant woman, a young female doctor commuting to work and an independent mother taking her daughter to an early morning judo class. The ad, is just what I described above, a montage of vignettes, no more no less. Predictable, and somewhat boring.
Last year in August, Uber, to increase the adoption of its cab-hailing service, had launched its first television campaign, 'Isse apni hi gaadi samjho'. The intent of this new campaign is to make Uber perhaps more aspirational, more relevant and more meaningful to the public at large. The new commercial, however, falls far short of that objective. Most importantly, the Indian captain is completely wasted in the new campaign. He mouths some lofty, philosophical lines in the beginning, and then really has no role to play in either the ad or the characters that people the new ad. It is almost as if Ogilvy thought up and shot the sequences in the ad, then remembered they had forgotten to use Kohli. So, some bright alec creative director just inserted him in the beginning of the ad espousing the brand’s newly thought-up brand-positioning so that the crores paid to him could be justified. And then to make sure Virat was not forgotten, every sequence is separated by him continuing to speak some not-so-easy to understand philosophy.
This Badhte Chalein (move forward) campaign aims to position Uber as a brand beyond transportation, and reinforces Uber’s role as an enabler of opportunities. Considering that India is home to a fourth of the world’s 100 fastest growing cities, #MoveForward as a creative idea endeavour to portray Uber as an aspirational alternative to private vehicle ownership in India. But all it ends up doing is to convey a ‘feel-good’ about the brand, no more.
Back to Virat. I am sure he must have been handsomely paid to be Uber’s brand ambassador. I am equally sure Virat never rides an Uber in India (though the brand owners have many times emphasized that Virat does use Uber when abroad). Hence, he is nothing more than a brand commentator in the campaign. It looks quite apparent that Kohli had perhaps just a couple of hours to spare from his ever-busy schedule for the shoot. So, the ad agency shot him in the hotel lobby for the opening. Then quickly took him for a ride somewhere around to have some ‘product-related’ shots with him so that they could be used as connectors. Virat has no real role to play. The ad would have been equally forgettable with or without him.
Uber’s messaging with over half a million cabs on the road in 30+ cities across India should have been about reliability, comfort and trust. The ad agency has tried to expand the message to a higher altitude by taking this to a larger canvas of mobility, change and self-dependability. But what has been lost completely are issues of passenger safety and customer service issues like waiting time, refunds, cancellations, surge pricing, rude drivers and more. Honestly, Uber still needs to establish a functional superiority over its competitor Ola before taking the philosophical high ground.
As far as Virat is concerned, it is one more eminently forgettable campaign that makes him richer in the bank, but poorer in his hitherto well-cultivated brand-image. Virat needs perhaps a lesson or two from Aamir Khan in ensuring that the brands he endorses do not dilute Brand Virat Kohli itself. (Sandeep Goyal is an advertising veteran. He has worked at leading ad agencies like JWT, Grey, DDB, Rediffusion and Dentsu for over 30 years).