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Zomato has taken some big steps towards company growth these last couple of weeks. It caught public attention on July 14 for opening its IPO for the subscription – a move that was amplified by the company's social media activity and the response it received from other brands.

But just a day before that, it had shared some other big news – Zomato had featured in the worldwide release of the music video for Jalebi Baby, a song by Canadian-Punjabi singer Tesher that was later remixed to global fame by American singer-songwriter Jason Derulo.

The storyline of the video is typical of pop music about physical attraction and ‘getting the girl’. It stars Tesher and Jason as two eager restaurant waiters who are hopelessly besotted with a beautiful customer awaiting her order of Jalebis. When Tesher drops the order right before it is ready to go out, he calls upon Zomato to save the day with a fresh batch. The brand helps the two complete the order on time, only for them to discover that all the rush was for nothing – the customer is in love with someone else.

It is remarkable to see a brand of Indian origin featured in a music video of such global reach. Both for Indian viewers who feel pride at being represented in a way that goes beyond tokenism, and for Indian brands that are always looking for newer ways to grow in cultural significance.

But aside from formulating a novel way of engagement, why collaborate on an international scale? The video definitely reinforces the brand's identity as a fun, goofy and youthful brand. But is it worth investing a sizeable sum of money just to emphasise that, when it can also be done through the simpler route of digital marketing?

Here's what we think.

Meeting its challenges as a food delivery brand

Considered objectively, the food delivery business is relatively mundane. Usually, there is only so much that a food delivery brand can do to get its customers excited. It can introduce discounts to make them feel like they made a smart deal. And it can take on a likeable personality and participate in cultural conversations through digital marketing, to entertain its audience.

With such limited avenues for engagement, the parity between food brands can be tough to break out of. We recently saw this reinforced when Zomato and Swiggy made similar marketing moves in close succession, such that it became difficult to distinguish one brand from another.

Both launched a discount of up to 60% on their food and popularised it by making it seem like their financial team wasn’t on board with the steep price cut. Both brands tried to derive humour from the advertising/marketing trope that finds the creative department and the finance department on opposing ends of any discussion.

Aside from this challenge of differentiation, there is also the fact that food delivery brands are in a key growth period right now. Their customer base in metropolitans has settled into the habit of ordering in, so each of them is now eyeing smaller cities as the critical route to expansion. At a time like this, getting a leg up on the competition can go a long way in securing a bigger market share.

Zomato’s collaboration with global artists Jason Derulo and Tesher appears a response to these challenges. It seems like a step to gain brand recognition and generate brand preference in a way that the category hasn’t seen before.

At a brand and category level, it has underlined Zomato as a major name in food delivery in India, and increasingly beyond, on a global scale.

The way the storyline has been crafted for the music video makes it seem like Zomato is the first name that strikes anyone looking for timely delivery of authentic Indian food. Unless Swiggy makes a move to counter this association, it will remain the foremost reference to Indian food delivery brands in popular culture overseas. In a way similar to how Ikea has leveraged popular culture over time to establish itself as synonymous with DIY furniture across the world – but of course, on a much larger scale.

At a cultural level, it has presented Zomato as one of the obvious signs of Indian culture.

Since the music video is first meant for a global audience and then an Indian one, it includes the most easily recognisable signs from Indian culture such as Bhangra, women in saris and lehengas, Tesher in a sherwani and Indian food – signs that can even be found in places such as Canada and London, which have a sizeable Indian population.

While Zomato is obviously not as widely recognised as these, placing it next to them has allowed it to enter the league of the go-to signs. As is also true for the Jalebi which, having featured in this video, has catapulted to global fame from the streets of India. And otherwise, may not have made it to the list of foods most popularly associated with the country.

Zomato has also utilised its presence alongside those elements of Indian culture to present itself as the ambassador of Indian food. It may have featured in the video exactly how it does in people’s real lives, i.e., as a food delivery brand, but because it has done so in a space meant to represent all things Indian, it has been elevated from simply being a seller of goods to being symbolic of Indian food.

This is just like when Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk collaborated with singer Jasleen Royal to place the Heart Pop bar in the music video for 'Sang Rahiyo'.

The opportunity helped the brand go from being just a seller of chocolates to playing a loyal companion to young couples in love, because it was shown to be an integral part of that narrative.

Wrapping Up

Why does all of this matter to Zomato’s Indian target audience, ranging from 18-35 years of age?

It’s like we highlighted in our piece about Netflix India’s marketing strategy. The younger generation today, especially those located in urban areas, see themselves as global citizens. As much as they’re rooted in their own local culture, they also enjoy interacting with content from overseas. It fulfils an aspirational need to participate in a globalised world’s culture.

When Zomato features in branded content such as Jalebi Baby, it acknowledges both these desires. It also gives its audience a way to see themselves represented at an international level — considered the pinnacle of recognition by any country's culture.

Simply put, it becomes the 'cool brand' for doing it. Like it is ‘cool’ for joining the emerging trend of people of colour – here an African-American and a Canadian-Punjabi guy – performing together to an audience beyond their own. A trend that is now being consciously introduced to diversify the media and entertainment industry.

And like we discussed at the start of the piece, isn't that what any of the leading food delivery brands are aiming for?