TukTuk: Did they commit a marketing sin?

Sri Lanka has had a surge of  e-hailing application applications being introduced to the market. Nowadays, customers have a wide plethora of options from PickMe to Uber to Hire1 and many more.

With such a highly competitive market, TukTuk, the new e-hailing application entered the market in the late 2015, with the intention of connecting Tuk Drivers and Passengers via a mobile application and SMS gateway. TukTuk, is an affiliate of Dialog which was formally presented under Dialog’s Ideamart, and is designed and developed by Erbenlab, a company focused solely on Mobile Applications and Mobility related technologies.

TukTuk has recently been the talk of the town. The application received such attention due to their vehement Facebook posts where most of their content were aimed at their competitors; PickMe and Uber, of which PickMe was their prime target.

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These posts with little to no photo editing techniques, is caught between comparative advertising and unethical marketing. When it comes to their audience, they believed that this was in fact bordering towards unethical marketing, and they were not delighted with it.

As the enrage audience accused TukTuk of unethical marketing, while some expressed their displeasure of their marketing activities, others either resorted with removing and unliking the page, and others defending PickMe.

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However, TukTuk’s (or at least the Admin at the moment acting on behalf of TukTuk) stance and method of replying to these claims of their current and potential customers was the most surprising of them all. They retorted to blame these accusers for being myopic of the hardships of the three-wheel drivers, while others who did not understand how to use the application was told to “learn” how the app works. While other posts by customers were spammed with their promotional images.

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Although, many voiced against these marketing activities, there were a few, people who rallied around them to show support, and TukTuk embraced them with open arms.

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On the 22nd Janury 2015, TukTuk publicly apologized for any inconvenience caused to their customers, competitors and Facebook fans, stating that they removed the admin responsible for the controversial posts on their sight. This was followed by the removal of any incriminating content against their competitors, and most importantly them. However, if you dig deep enough, you will be able to find some remnants of the work of the previous admin.

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As TukTuk recovers from the wrath of their previous admin, the real question that arises is whether or not the marketing activities were unethical as it was widely considered. Chron recognizes 4 activities that can be identified under Unethical Marketing, they are; Misleading Advertising (advertising where dishonest or exaggerated claims are made by a company), Exploitation (i.e. capitalizing on the fears of the customers, or “fear-sell”), Spam (flooding the customer with information regarding the company without any prior permission from the customer), and Pushy Sales Tactics. When looking at TukTuk’s marketing activities under the previous admin, even though at a glance it may appear to be unethical, their marketing activities does not amount to unethical behaviour.

So the next question that arises is that, if those marketing activities were not unethical, then what is it? Well, it was in fact Comparative advertising. Before delving into what Comparative Advertising is, let’s look back at the unforgettable Pepsi advertisement released in October 2013 to coincide Halloween.

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This advertisement took a jab at the long-standing rivalry between Coca Cola and Pepsi in the Cola market. The advertisement took over the internet and was commended for its creativity, even though it was openly calling out Coca Cola, this was not deemed as unethical because this was considered as comparative advertising.

Comparative Advertising is where a company presents its products or services superiority when compared to that of their competitors by comparing the benefits of the product or services along with the cost of using the competitors. So why didn’t this approach work for TukTuk? According to Fei Xue, comparative advertising is often avoided by East Asians, due to the characteristic of collectivism embedded within their culture, instead of the individualism that exists in USA. Xue further stated that this collectivism tends to make customers avoid confrontation as they value harmony. This may have been a reason for the failure of TukTuk’s advertising campaign, as Sri Lankans, and Asians as a whole are not that receptive towards Comparative Advertising.

Another question that arises is that whether TukTuk ever need to choose Comparative Advertising? They have a unique strength of their own, i.e. their affiliation with Dialog and their partnership with other telecommunication providers to give SMS and other notifications to drivers nearby the passenger by obtaining location details through the network towers located island wide.

Even though TukTuk identified PickMe, they have a difference in their offering, which TukTuk can leverage to create an advantage or let PickMe use it as a weakness of TukTuk. This unique offering is that unlike PickMe or Uber where they have a selected number of Tuks, Cars and other forms of transportation on hold, TukTuk is initially focusing on creating a database of tuk drivers, where the customer will be provided with a number of tuk drivers near that area and their different ride estimates, this is similar to hailing down a tuk on the road, except avoiding the wait and the tedious task of asking for the rate from each tuk driver.

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On the Social Media end, TukTuk has a lot to improve. Their Twitter page has no relevant activity with just two tweets which were made in mid-2015, and has neither brand related nor product related posts. While their Facebook page lacks direction, they post content aimed at both Drivers and Passengers and in the same page, there should be more singular direction for their posts, with either the Driver or Passenger given focus through the page. Furthermore, they need to provide more guidance and assistance for bugs and problems in their product as they are often replied through incomprehensible instructions through mere screenshots.

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