Uber, the app-based transportation network and taxi company, has been making news ever since the it launched in India in mid-2013. Most of it was around the service provider’s strategy, pricing and discounting. However, the recent incident has put a question mark on the brand’s stature. With a previous record of notorious activities and several police complaints against him, the Uber driver took it one step further by allegedly raping a lady from Delhi. While the action against him would be most stringent, what happens to Uber in India? There have been calls for banning the service, even.
Adland and brand experts believe that while the brand’s stature has been hit, it can fight back.
Raj Nair, chief creative officer, Madison BMB, believes that banning the service is not the answer. He says, “This is not the issue of one city alone. Banning them in Delhi, or anywhere for that matter, is not the answer. Making sure that each of these services comply with the utmost stringent checks available – and that all requisite permits are in place -- is the need of the hour. Uber should go public with the steps they are taking to ensure that such criminals are not on their rolls henceforth.”
Jaideep Shergill, CEO, MSLGroup India, agrees with Nair about the fact that Uber needs to go public with their steps to tackle the menace. “It has severely dented Uber’s brand image as a sophisticated, hassle-free service. The worse thing they have done is to maintain cold silence and their failure to communicate and discuss the unfortunate incident with their stakeholders and target audience. And in this time of new age media, they failed miserably. While the larger issue is that the Government still hasn’t managed to rectify the situation of women’s safety in our country, Uber needs to proactively showcase the measures they are going to adapt going forward to ensure that such a scenario never reoccurs,” he says.
On the measures to be taken, Kiran Khalap, co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications consultancy, says, “It’s about the corrective measures now. If you see what Cadbury did with insects, it took it step by step to change their missionary of ‘no insects’. They got Amitabh Bachchan to visit the factory. Uber needs to do something similar. Corrective measures have to be taken and then communicate that.”
Madhukar Sabnavis, vice chairman and country head – discovery and planning, Ogilvy & Mather India, echoes Khalap’s views. He talks of the ‘Tylenol Crisis’ and urges Uber to follow that path. “Johnson & Johnson distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors and finally issued a recall of Tylenol products, which were causing deaths in Chicago. Similarly, Uber needs to rebuild confidence. It’s a crisis it can come out of. I genuinely believe India is a very forgiving nation, and if corrective action is taken, it can come out of this crisis. One step is by taking the corrective steps and deliver a promise of safety.”
Lloyd Mathias, chief markteing officer, HP India, explains the effect the case will have on these companies. He says, “They need to have a more robust certification process. They cannot blame that the police verification papers were forged. They need to ensure that people are properly certified. It’ll make all of them recognise that they need a clean cab with a good chauffer. The whole process will come under scrutiny and safety will be underlined.”
Shergill, surmises, “This is undoubtedly a wake up call for all the other players in the market and will ensure that brands, especially foreign ones hoping to gain a foothold in India, tighten up their verification process and ensure 100 per cent safety and security of their passengers.”
Madhukar Sabnavis, vice chairman and country head – discovery and planning, Ogilvy & Mather India
“In this kind of situation, a category which is evolved doesn’t face the wrath as a whole. But, in an emerging category such as this, various taxis are now coming under questions. Uber mustn’t worry about the category, but it should worry about itself.”
Jaideep Shergill, CEO, MSLGroup India
“To gain consumer confidence at this stage will be a herculean task. But for now Uber should put all their talks into action now. Having said that, Uber will have to come up with a completely revamped attitude for it to gain back customer confidence.”
Raj Nair, chief creative officer, Madison BMB
“A rape has been committed. A driver of the service is the perpetrator. The driver’s credentials were not verified adequately as it has come to light, by his own admission, that he is a serial offender. This is gross, callous negligence. The driver may not make the brand, but this will undoubtedly harm Uber, especially considering safety is the platform on which they have based their offering”
Kiran Khalap, co-founder, chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy
“For any brand it’s a unforeseen risk. It’s a risk that couldn’t be planned for. It could happen to any brand. The severity of the incident has affected them.”
Lloyd Mathias, chief marketing officer, HP India
“It has created a storm and created obvious problems. It’s forced Uber to revaluate. They were saying they’re a technology business and not a transporter business. They need to do serious checks on their staff. It’ll make sure these cab companies that say they’re in the technology business to go down the mandatory checks for their drivers.”
(Appeared in the 26 December issue of Campaign India)