Paytm's ads are insensitive and they need to stop

Demonetisation, a blessing-in-disguise for the company, has done nothing to humble it.

 |  7-minute read |   14-11-2016
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move (that some have dubbed as economic terrorism) may not have made a lot of people happy, but Paytm, India’s leading mobile payment company, sure is gloating; and for good reason. Our country’s sudden jump into a cashless environment has surely given people more reasons to use a mobile wallet service.

According to Business Standard, a senior executive at the company said: “Led by unprecedented growth in offline payments, Paytm has touched a record 5 million transactions a day and is on the way to process over Rs 24,000 crore. The company registered a 700 per cent increase in overall traffic and 1,000 per cent growth in the amount of money added to the Paytm account over the past couple of days.” 

Additionally, according to the same report, the transaction value, post-demonetisation, has continued to be 200 per cent of the average ticket size, while the number of app downloads went up 300 per cent. The number of transactions per user has also gone up from three to 18 in a week.

paytm_111416013112.jpg In four years, mobile wallet transactions have jumped from Rs 10 billion to Rs 490 billion. [Photo:]

And Paytm’s gratitude has been nothing but evident. Paytm, just the morning after the demonetisation announcement on November 8, put Modi on its ad, thanking him "on taking the boldest decision in the financial history of independent India”.

Paytm’s ad, that was suspiciously fast, raised a few eyebrows, especially those of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. The AAP leader attacked the company by saying "Paytm biggest beneficiary of PM's announcement. Next day PM appears in its ads. What’s the deal, Mr PM?"

"Utterly shameful. Do people want their PM to model for private companies? Tomorrow, if these companies do wrongdoings, who will act against them?" the Delhi CM added in his tweets.

This blessing-in-disguise for Paytm has done nothing to humble the company as its attempts to capitalise on the plight of the common man’s cashlessness seem to have become nothing but more aggressive.

On Sunday, November 13, Paytm founder Vijay Shekar tweeted a new ad for the mobile wallet that seemed to be a not-so-thinly-veiled pointer at all those criticising Modi’s decision to decommission Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.

The ad featured an upper-middle class woman complaining about how she would be unable to pay her domestic help because she did not have enough cash, thanks to the chaos at ATMs and banks. The maid interrupts her rant and asks her to send her the money via Paytm instead of complaining about the injustice.

The ad, definitely appealing to any Modi fanboy (mostly because it makes a “witty” jibe at all liberal dissenters), is pretty insensitive and overall ignorant in itself.

The ad asks people to "stop the drama". It runs with the presumption that everyone is used to a cashless environment and anyone questioning the government’s decision to overlook this is doing nothing but arbitrarily attacking the initiative. It makes a mockery of anyone extending compassion for the less privileged as nothing more but an excuse to nitpick flaws in something that is intended for the nation’s betterment.

The amount of privilege Paytm’s ad exudes is nauseating. Yes, it would be a great thing if mobile banking, online money transfer and e-wallets were more commonplace - it would definitely avoid so much of the chaos that we are facing right now - but we do not live in an ideal world and here, people have died waiting in queues for cash.

The lives of daily-wage labourers have been disrupted. A newborn baby died after a doctor attached to a nursing home allegedly refused to treat the child as the parents could not pay the necessary deposit in notes smaller than the denomination of Rs 500. Even bankers, who are under a lot of stress because of this fiasco, have been suffering.

Small cash-based businesses are suffering and others have taken to jacking up prices of goods and services because of this sudden vacuum of cash in our economy. For those who belong to the  middle-class and above, this may be a “minor inconvenience” and they are expected to deal with this for the “greater good”, but for others, the demonetisation move is turning into a daily struggle to keep things steady and for some, into a matter of life and death.

Paytm’s blatant dismissal of this struggle got a lot of backlash on social media. There were those who called the ad out and some even decided it was time to boycott the company’s smugness. While there was some outrage, Paytm quickly decided to call back the ad before it managed to tarnish the company’s reputation too much.

In fact, they even upgraded the ad and it no longer refers to people question Modi's move as "drama".

This of course was not the only privilege-ignorant ad that Paytm has managed to produce in the last couple of days. The other one (which was technically the first they came out with) features pretty much the same scenario, only the domestic help has been replaced by an electrician. Why they choose to still feature this equally offensive ad and not the other is a bit curious.

Modi fans, of course, are suddenly raising a hue and cry over how supposed liberals made Paytm take down its ad. To those too blinded by hatred for anti-national questioners, a short primer in coercion is due.

No one forced Paytm to take down their ad. They criticised it. These are two different things. Then again, expecting those who consider anyone anti-Modi as anti-India, to understand the nuanced distinction may just be wrong on our part.

On the whole, while it is great that Paytm is thriving in this present economy, and it is, without a doubt, helping the country transition into cashlessness, the kind of arrogance its ads assume is uncalled for.

Hopefully, they’ll take a step back and try to gain some perspective. If not, how is it any different from any other day, in a country where so many are blinded by privilege?

Also read - If cash is an issue, learn how to use an e-wallet


Pathikrit Sanyal Pathikrit Sanyal @bucketheadcase

The author is a culture writer who likes talking about the internet, memes, privacy and all things pop culture.

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