Zomato is facing public backlash over an AI-generated campaign featuring Hrithik Roshan that named a temple as a restaurant, hurting the religious sentiments of viewers, along with priests at the temple.
‘Mann Kiya, Zomato Kiya‘ is an AI-led campaign by Zomato that used a fusion of two elements – deep fake technology and location tracking. The technology generated various versions of a single ad film that shows Hrithik ordering an appetizing dish from a popular restaurant that is located near the viewer’s location, tracked through pin codes, and chosen on the basis of order volumes.
The name of the dish and restaurant are personalized as per the viewer’s location, and it was primarily distributed as a 6-seconder bumper pre-roll ad on YouTube. The use of deepfake technology tailored the communication using Hrithik’s face and voice. The ad was created by the agency Enormous Creative, with the raw footage shot by ZigZag Films.
For instance, a user located in Andheri, Mumbai, may see a version of the ad where it shows Hrithik craved a pizza and ordered from Joey’s.
The version of the ad that is currently receiving backlash and a lot of flak on social media shows Hrithik saying “Thali Ka Mann Kiya…. Ujjain Main Hai, Toh Mahakal Se Manga Liya”. Mahakal Restaurant, named in the campaign was chosen on the basis of its high order volume, and thali being a recommended item on its menu.
This version of the ad has been perceived to be hurting the religious sentiments of a chunk of the audience for the reason that the Mahakal temple has been shown as a takeout restaurant. #Boycott_Zomato, #Zomato_Insults_Mahakal, and #रितिकरोशनमाफी_मांग, are a few of the social media trends that have cropped up with which viewers have been expressing their opinions and resentment.
In a statement made to ANI, priest Mahesh Sharma says that “Mahakal temple does not deliver any thali. Zomato and Hrithik Roshan must apologize on this ad. The company has made misleading publicity about the Mahakal temple in this advertisement”.
As a response to the backlash, Zomato has issued a public statement and clarified that the ad distributed in specific pin codes of Ujjain referenced ‘thalis’ at ‘Mahakal Restaurant’, and not the Shree Mahakaleshwar Temple, also referred to as ‘Mahakal’ by the local residents. Zomato has pulled down the ad from media platforms and stated an apology.
This isn’t the first time Zomato’s brand communications have been perceived to be controversial or have stirred hurtful or negative sentiments amongst a section of the viewers. Previously, when the brand had launched the campaign ‘Har Customer Hai Star!’ featuring Katrina Kaif & Hrithik Roshan, it was touted by viewers that the brand promotes an unhealthy work culture for the delivery executives. This was around the same time when reports of Zomato not providing fair remuneration to their delivery executives had surfaced.
The brand has also tugged a few strings related to religion with its brand communications. Zomato’s tweet about food not having a religion, but it is a religion garnered praises and backlash too. In 2019, a customer of Zomato tweeted, saying that he canceled his order because a non-Hindu rider was assigned to deliver his food, and changing the rider or refund was not feasible. Addressing this concern, Zomato tweeted “Food doesn’t have a religion. It is a religion.”
And this bold move also opened up instances from the past when Zomato Delivery Executives were photographed eating food from deliveries. Now that the online food ordering company is publicly listed, it would be intriguing to see if social media trends not just impact their business (if at all it does), but also if it has an effect on its stock prices.