Zomato, India’s most famous food delivery brand, had a problem.

Their ad costs were rising. The Google Delivery Network (GDN) – which is a large collection of all the websites that allow advertisers to show ad banners on their pages/blogs – is saturated with too many ads.

Every brand is competing for valuable space. So the bidding cost is high. But the return on ad spend (ROAS) is abysmally low. Hardly 1% click-through rates, and near-zero conversions.

Something had to be done. Something scandalous.

Instead of putting up their ads on popular news or entertainment sites, where the competition was too high, they went where no advertiser had dared to.

Before the porn ban by the Government in 2019 – which saw 800 porn sites being pulled down – India was the third-most porn-watching country in the world. Millions of minutes streamed every minute. Thousands logging on to get the dose of digital pleasure.

Zomato took note of this. In their blog post on the campaign, they mention these stats:

  • India ranks #5 in terms of most daily visitors to Pornhub (the world’s biggest porn site network)
  • Outside of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and e-commerce sites, Xvideos is one of India’s top visited sites
  • The average time spent on the site by Indians is ~8 minutes (yes, really, just 8 minutes #quickgunmurugan)

But no brand would’ve thought of capitalizing on this traffic as it was (and still is) considered taboo in India, which is a largely religious nation by nature.

Zomato’s ads entirely depended on some steamy NSFW copy with double entendres that were very much appropriate for porn platforms. Here are a few examples.

The ads were run during the late-night time (11 PM – 4 AM), which is the period when most porn viewers settle down for their sessions, and it was also the slot for which Zomato wanted to increase their delivery orders.

Here’s a direct quote from the team.

The goal was clear – get people to click. Our strategy for this was fairly straightforward, too – create something that’ll take people’s eyes off the video, they’ll click the banner because they’re (obviously) getting hungry now, and then they’ll order online on Zomato. The easiest part was creating ads that didn’t look like all other ads on porn sites, because most ads on porn sites are for…wait for it…more porn!

Since not many people dare to advertise on porn sites, the competition is not as intense, and ultimately cost per click (CPC) is astonishingly low.

Did the ads work? Let’s look at the results.

  • People in Delhi NCR clicked on these banners the most on desktops, at an average click-through rate (CTR) of 0.12% while Bangalore came (*teehee*) a close second with an average CTR of 0.11%. The campaign’s average CTR was recorded as 0.22%.
  • At a more granular level, the highest number of clicks in Delhi came from around the Hauz Khas area. We can’t say for sure why that happened, but IIT-Delhi is in the area, so… ¯_(ツ)_/¯
  • In Bangalore, Koramangala was hands down the naughtiest part of town, while in Mumbai, Powai gets down and dirty the most.
  • The BBW/Big Beautiful Wraps ad was our best performing desktop ad (no surprises there); the “Hot Sticky Mess” and “Hot Singles” ads also did really well.

Of course, Indians being Indians, took objection to the sexy ads, and the campaign had to be pulled down a few days in after receiving public backlash. But no one can deny that it got the entire nation talking. It sparked a controversy. It caught everyone’s eyeballs. It got Zomato media attention at a time when the brand really needed it.

That’s what makes it great marketing in the end.

This is a classic example of Blue Ocean Marketing.

This is a dead-simple idea. We start with the realization that most markets are saturated with heavy competition. Pick any product, and it has >15 brands competing for the same space in the customer’s mind.

In other words, most markets are read the ocean. Bloody with fish fighting to kill & destroy one other. Too much noise.

So positioning your product’s personality & utility differently is vital.

Marketing it in a unique way & standing out in your communications is also a survival strategy.

In other words, it’s important to create blue oceans by figuring out how you can do something so innovative that can’t be beaten by the competition easily.

Basically, blue ocean marketing is going where no one has gone before. It is creating or finding new opportunities & avenues to push your product or message.

For example, the circus space was crowded and usually reserved for kids.

So the creators of Cirque Du Soleil decided to flip the tables. Instead of a disjointed circus experience for youngsters, they created a beautiful mature stage performance experience for adults.

Nobody had seen a circus with a storyline that tied acts together. The script, sound, and costumes were all very mature.

This is how they stood out, and managed to get worldwide recognition.

Most blue ocean marketing must be baked into your product’s design. Ask yourself, “How can I make my brand unique from the get-go? What features, benefits, target audience, and utilities should I pick that my competitors can’t fight with?”

But blue ocean marketing doesn’t stop there.

Your communication needs to be unique, too. You can do so by saying things others don’t or using mediums/channels other brands haven’t thought of hedging their bets on.

For example, the local drinks brand Paper Boat knew that fighting for shelf space in a saturated cold beverages market was going to be a losing battle. So they tied up with Indigo airlines to sell their beverages inside flights to passengers.

The in-house serving strategy had not been considered by many F&B brands yet, so Paper Boat enjoyed the monopoly for quite some time. Many consumers associate it with the drinks that are served aboard, even to this day.

Furthermore, this strategy allowed Paper Boat to charge a hefty markup under the guise of airport logistical, transport, and storing costs. Consumers still bought them because there weren’t many other options.

So all that translated into a high-profit margin.

In all fairness, the drinks themselves are unique, too, so you feel like buying them even if it costs a few extra bucks. In a world of Pepsi & Coke, getting Aam Panna or Ganne ka Juice (sugarcane) is quite refreshing.

They create the nostalgia of childhood memories from the 80s & 90s. Of course, the brand has been quick & aggressive to capitalize on that sentiment on all its channels.

Its entire Instagram feed is just a collection of comic strips featuring stories & memories from our childhood.

Coming back to Blue Oceans, you can also think of the case of Starbucks.

It launched in a pretty saturated cafe coffee space market. But they decided to differentiate themselves as an office space, where people could not only get good coffee but also work, meet, network, or just lie around.

If you find the concept of Blue Oceans interesting, I highly recommend reading the seminal book that popularized the term (arguably coined it).

The title is “Blue Ocean Strategy,” published in 2004 by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. It should take 3-4 days to complete, which is a decent length. My favorite part is that it’s loaded with many great examples from different industries.

There’s also a sequel you should consider picking up to become a master of the technique.

Did you already know about this? What do you think of Zomato’s ads? Let me know in the comments below!

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