Learnings from OlaCabs: “How NOT to build brand trust”

All that glitters is not gold. All the fancy promos you see is NOT the whole truth told #MondayMorningWakeUpCall

I got a notification from Ola a few mornings ago (Screen #1, Exhibit O.a). The notification made me a wee bit extra happy than what I usually am on any mad Monday morning. Not 100 times happy, but just a wee bit extra happy. Happy like when my grandparents would give me Rs. 100/- whenever I used to visit them.

OlaCabs Marketing Gimmicks

Screen #1, Exhibit O.a

The reason for my superfluous happiness by Ola’s unassuming kind gesture was because I was scheduled to travel to Colaba from my workplace in Goregaon West one of the days in the week for a work-related meeting. And I was sans my Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the week. A regular cab ride would easily be north of Rs. 666/- in non-peak hours (11am to 5pm). I could now get to Colaba using the 100 bucks I earned from my granny, just for showing up. I wouldn’t even have to contemplate braving the local train (even though in ‘non-peak’ hours they are usually the best mode of transport if you consider the benefits of time and money put together.. it’s just that the definition of ‘non-peak’ hours in Mumbai can be quite unpredictable)

I tapped on the notification to learn more about it. Mostly to check if I was reading it correct, that it wasn’t a Rs. 100/- discount but that it was truly a ride for a FLAT FARE of Rs. 100/-.

I was presented with (Screen #2, Exhibit O.b). I did a little dance. Colaba I’m coming, for just 100 bucks. Woohoo! I resisted tapping on the seductively luring ‘Book Now’ text, just for a joyride for 100 bucks, and noted down the code to be duly applied.


Screen #2, Exhibit O.b

Couple of days later I embarked on my Rs. 100/- journey to Colaba, mentally humming We Are One Ole Ole Ola, who needs Uber when have an own Indian brand so super-duper.

My bill was a nice auspicious Rs. 444/- coloured with a merciful yet devilish looking discount of Rs. 66/- (Screenshot #3 – Exhibit O.c)


Screenshot #3 – Exhibit O.c

Waaaaaat! I double checked if I applied the code. Check. Double checked myself from screaming at Mr. Balram Jha the uninformed driver. Check. Double checked myself from immediately calling up Ola Support and ranting at a pre-programmed robot cos I had a meeting to attend in the next 3 minutes (note to self – evaluate later if meditation is helping or not helping)

Post meeting call Ola I did.

Ola Support: Hello Sandeep, one-who-shall-not-be-named here. How can I help you?

Me: Hi.. I received a promotional notification HAPPY100 a couple of days back. It said Rs. 100/- for all rides between 11am to 5pm. I’m calling to clarify if that’s correct, if I’ve understood it correctly?

Ola Support: Yes Sandeep, but only for rides between 11am to 5pm

Me: Yes, but Rs. 100/- right?

Ola Support: Yes, it says “All rides between 11am – 5pm at just Rs. 100/-“

Me: Great! So I took a cab ride today around 3pm and I was charged Rs. 444/-. Can you look into this please.

Ola Support: Yes, I see you have been charged Rs. 444/- and have been given a discount of Rs. 66/-

Me: Ya.. but it says Rs. 100/- for the ride, right?

Ola Support: Yes. Ummm… may I put your call on hold while I check with my supervisor?

Me: Yes… (meanwhile fantasizing there might be a glimmer of hope of an error and I get my ride to Colaba for Rs. 100/- only, after all, Mr. Ola Support just verified the coupon information)

Ola Support: Hi Sandeep, I just spoke to my supervisor and he informed me that it’s valid ONLY FOR RIDES UPTO 10KM

Me: (Breathe in breathe out, don’t scream, don’t shout, it’s not worth fighting about… once again, is meditation helping or not helping???). But you just read the coupon. Even you said it’s Rs. 100/- flat

Ola Support: Yes Sandeep, but there’s also conditions apply

Me: But where, it doesn’t mention anything. On tapping on the ad, it takes me straight to ‘booking a cab’, you didn’t see it either. You would have taken the cab ride thinking you’ll pay only Rs. 100/-, right?

Ola Support: Yes Sandeep, but there’s also conditions apply

Me: (I figure he’s now switched on to pre-programmed robot mode, it’s pointless trying to get my money back without spending more time and energy than its worth). So tell me one-who-shall-not-be-named, don’t you think you’re conning and cheating the customer?

Ola Support: I understand what you’re saying, but there’s also conditions apply

Me: Don’t you feel ashamed working for a company that cons customers like this? (Which dream world am I living in, fanatsizing about an employee creating a mass exodus because of his company’s marketing gimmicks)

Ola Support: Err..

Me: Chill, it’s not your fault, but then maybe you should think about how you feel working for an unethical predator company (Hmphh.. that should make you feel all shamefaced!… in my imaginary Wonderland)

Definition of a brand:

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.” – Seth Godin

There are umpteen other definitions of brand from various marketing visionaries. Here are some – http://heidicohen.com/30-branding-definitions/

Most of the definitions can be summarized into one critical word.


To paraphrase Metallica, “Trust I seek, but I don’t find in thee dear Ola.” It’s “Sad but true.” Ola, thou shalt remain “Unforgiven”

But my guess is no one at OlaCabs does really care. So my fellow Ola passengers, beware and please do share, if you think this is unfare.

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