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Inside the Ola vs Uber marketing war zone

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Inside the Ola vs Uber marketing war zone

Taxi aggregator service Ola and Uber have changed the landscape of cab service in India with the former accounting for 80 per cent of country’s ride share market till 2014 end, while San Francisco-based Uber accounts for 25-35 per cent share according to a recent report by brokerage India Infoline.

Brand positioning

From its inception Uber banks itself as a premium service where the user is paying an affordable price for the experience of travelling in luxury cars, whereas Ola always focussed on getting more cars, taxis, and auto-rickshaws on their platform and more riders to use their services. But the lines are increasingly getting blurred with the launch of Ola’s business class service called Ola Prime.

In May both taxi aggregators launched their ride sharing verticals called Ola Share and uberPOOL. With these, users can now share cab rides with others heading to the same destination or in the same direction. Uber even ventured into auto rickshaw category in Delhi but had to suspend its operation after seven months. In March Ola introduced Ola Cafe, a food delivery facility via its app. The model is similar to uberFRESH service in the US and uberEATS in Spain. Uber has run promotions around food delivery in India with uberGOURMET, a gourmet meal service curated by celebrity chefs.

Marketing war continues

It took Ola four years to come out with its nationwide (multi-channel) campaign titled ‘Chalo Niklo’ by Happy Creative Services, which aimed to position Ola as the go-to transport platform of choice for immediate and spontaneous city travel needs, across cabs, autos and taxis. Before this, it made good use of Facebook’s Marketing platform in October ’14. Facebook offered Ola a captive audience in terms of the number of mobile users who could be used to promote their app. Facebook’s plethora of ad formats were utilised to reach out to specific demographics. Link ads in the News Feed and right column brought people to its website. Then there were mobile app ads which drove people directly to Ola’s mobile app. In just five weeks, from 5 January to 9 February 2015, the Facebook ads strategy helped Ola increase its customer acquisition rate by three times and brand-related online searches by four times, while sales increased by 60 per cent.

Uber on the other hand banks on experiential marketing. For instance, they rolled out their service with ‘Rider Zero’ campaign, where they roped in celebrities from every city to try out Uber’s service for the first time. In this manner they reached out to millions of followers, since the celebrities used Twitter to create a significant buzz around the service. Then they tried referral marketing by targeting the corporates (titled ‘Office Heroes’), where for every colleague you refer, Uber promised credits worth Rs 600 and Rs 10,000. This was followed by festival marketing, launch of new cars and expansion to other cities. But its business was disrupted after one of its drivers was involved in an assault case in the capital last year. 

Despite the obstacle, Uber started looking at different alternatives like tie-ups with Zomato, Paytm and BookMyShow apps which worked in its favour. Its partnership with Mini Cooper gave its users a 15 minute free ride using their app. Uber with its experiments and tie-ups claims to grow at the same pace as Ola, which stands at 40 per cent month-on-month in India, and will clock more than one million daily rides by March 31, 2016.

Ola is increasingly focusing on innovative marketing to stay ahead of the competition. Recently it tied up with Myntra  to flag off their ‘LookGood Express’  across metros, offering a free makeover curated by personal style advisors to users of the Ola app.

Celebrity engagement

Leveraging the power of celebrities, both brands implemented efficient communication campaigns to become the talking point on social media platform like Facebook and Twitter. For instance, this September Ola announced a major revamp of its business-class offering (Ola Prime) in Bangalore, where select customers will be picked up by celebrities like F1 racer Narain Karthikeyan and former model Milind Soman.

Uber gave out VIP passes and an on-demand chopper ride with DJ Hardwell to his concert recently. It has also teamed up with the premier IPTL (International Premier Tennis League) offering an opportunity for Uber riders to meet tennis stars like Rafael Nadal, Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna and Agnieszka Radwanska.

Expansion plans

The competition is just about to intensify with Ola closing a funding round of $500 million recently. It plans to enter new markets and introduce new services like motorcycle taxis and shuttle bus service. It’s India’s third most valuable venture-backed startup after e-tailer Flipkart and Snapdeal, functioning across 102 cities across India. Uber is catching up fast with its aggressive expansion into newer cities with investment plans of $1 billion in India in the next nine months. In August Tata Group's private equity arm Tata Opportunities Fund invested around $80-100 million on this taxi hailing app, which currently operates in 22 cities.

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