Free cab rides? VAOO!

I was pleasantly surprised to see Kapil Dev as the brand ambassador of a new cab riding company, on the front page of Mumbai Mirror, last Sunday.

I had earlier offered my views on the business model of free cab rides, in exchange of watching ads, for The Hindu BusinessLine.

Kapil Dev is an investor in VAOO, incidentally.

There are a few cab ride apps that work on sponsor-led free rides. Like Circuit (earlier called The Free Ride) or DeNA Co in Japan, which is a mobile service provider that launched free rides sponsored by Nissin Foods that shows ads to the passengers.

Ad-sponsored free items were and still are very popular in digital goods, but not so common in physical goods. For example, I wrote about a mobile game called It’s Full of Sparks that makes you watch ads to go to newer levels.

In the physical goods space, this idea was attempted earlier by a Japanese brand called Shiru Cafe that builds its cafes inside campuses and universities.

Shiru offers free coffee in exchange of information/data shared by students, besides letting advertisers in assorted places inside the cafe (to enable free coffee for students) including Barista explanations (baristas speaking about the advertiser while the students are inside the cafe!).

They have their cafes in 6 Indian IITs already and 3 more under construction!

Similarly, the free cab rides in exchange for ads is an interesting idea.

Ads, by nature of how we understand them, interrupt our attention. That some of them hold our attention is a testimony to the creativity of ad. agencies, but that doesn’t take away the fact that advertising is meant to interrupt when we’re doing/watching something else.

To make us consciously watch ads by incentivizing our attention in some way is an interesting disruption of the conventional model. I wrote about the Lotto New Zealand campaign recently, where they incentivized us to watch their ads online, frame-by-frame, because the ad contained a lottery number!

But the rules are dramatically different when it comes to cab rides. Cab rides are based on needs and timing. We usually have both Uber and Ola on our phones because if we need a ride to go somewhere, we simply need to do that, no matter which cab we hire. The ride is more important than the brand that delivers the ride. The choice of the ride occurs when we have the luxury of time.

VAOO shows ads in the mobile app that we need to watch and earn credits. The model is beautiful – unlike an Ola app wallet where we transfer money from our bank account to the wallet to be used for rides, in VAOO we utilize our attention to watch ads and add money into the wallet!

For the free ride app to be popular they need to sign up many sponsors to pay for those rides. Towards this, VAOO first asks people to fill a simple form that helps them profile the users.

That profiling helps them sell the data to advertisers who in turn decide if there is a good enough number of people in their target segment to show ads to. This is quite a chicken-and-egg situation (VAOO needs enough users to sign up with a lot of profiles to sell to advertisers, enough advertisers need to find that data big/good enough to show ads to, the quality of ads need to be decent enough for people to voluntarily spend time on… and so on). Considering many people have 2 phones these days, I won’t be surprised if people game the system by having one phone play the ads in the background to earn VAOO credits, while they are busy doing something else.

VAOO’s focus is evident – they call themselves and ‘adtech’ company, not a cab riding company!

VAOO seems to be starting with 17 for 5. They sure need the equivalent of Kapil Dev’s 175 in 138 balls to lead them to victory.

For starters, Kapil paaji is seen doing a Trivago-man in the ad!