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One cannot say if the three-wheeler-hailing app TukTuk is an actual service or just another troll account on Facebook. The page went viral in the middle of this year when it started bashing competitor Pick-Me while making accusations that it was ripping off customers; the lowest level a business can stoop to for attention.

However, from a publicity standpoint, TukTuk got its fifteen minutes of fame when the posts started doing the rounds on Facebook and other social media. Some shared the posts because they thought the material was distasteful while others shared the posts hailing the cab service for effectively using ‘creative disruption’ to stand out and stay relevant.

Last week, TukTuk again started gaining attention on Facebook following the posting of a rather controversial ‘ad’ offering to drive lovers around ‘at the slowest speed’ for Rs.50 a kilometer. This ad suggested couples ‘make love undercover’ rather than ‘stay under an umbrella’

Following the backlash however, the post was tweaked to read  ‘why stay under umbrella’ as the admin explained in the comments section of the post that this edit was due to a lot of the readers misinterpreting ‘make love’ as sex. They even went ahead and accused some of the users of being ‘narrow minded.’

Commenting on this particular ‘ad’, Past President of Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM) Gamika de Silva said that this piece of communication got the job done as far as the objective of advertising is concerned as it gained a considerable deal of publicity for the brand and product. Elaborating he said that in the recent past, negative publicity has proven to be effective in directing and attracting the attention of masses, citing US President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign as an example.

Although the piece of communication may have been effective in attracting traffic for the page, De Silva claimed that this advertisement was a ‘disaster’ in a creative and ethical sense. While he emphasized that marketing, irrespective of platform, has to be done in accordance with commonly accepted ethics such as being truthful and promoting social good, he stressed on the need for a regulatory body to oversee, uphold and moderate the quality of marketing and communication material in Sri Lanka.

“There are no guidelines or an authority to look into the quality of the material. There was an attempt three years ago by several professional bodies to set up a regulatory body for advertising in Sri Lanka but it never materialized,” De Silva said. “Certainly a regulatory body is needed, but it is important that this body constitutes individuals with mature marketing knowledge to steer the industry in the right direction.”

He further noted that gaining attention at any cost should not be the objective of a marketer. “Digital sphere plays a huge role in marketing and it’s given that the content has to be tailored differently for digital and traditional channels. This however does not mean that one can or should compromise on marketing principles and ethics in doing so,” he said.

According to De Silva, ‘new age’ marketing is ought to build a conversation and thereby engage stakeholders. In the case of TukTuk he believes they have enraged the potential customers instead, with their antics.

TukTuk which claims to be ‘the largest taxi network’ in the country has a sizable following of 68,817. The post in question alone has been shared over 800 times on Facebook and raked in over 290 comments.

In the comments section however, TukTuk continues to justify their offer claiming to be a blessing in disguise for “many young couples that are deprived of private spaces to freely express themselves.”

In response to a comment hailing their marketing strategy, TukTuk justified their approach quoting the Google definition of ‘business psychology’ – implying that they were merely playing by the rules.

It is however ironic that TukTuk claims that the rationale for offering to drive slowly is to minimize road accidents while also equating three-wheelers to helicopters in terms of the experience.