As lines between content marketing and reality blur, journalists everywhere are finding it hard to keep up.
Zomato’s joke that 72 percent of all cash-on-delivery orders were paid with Rs. 2000 notes has been reported as real news by major news outlets. “Since Friday, 72% of our cash on delivery orders were paid in ₹2000 notes,” Zomato had tweeted on 22nd May, a day after the government had announced that it was putting the Rs. 2,000 note out of circulation. Zomato had added a meme from the show Breaking Bad to the tweet, which was modified to show a man in a Zomato delivery T shirt.
Now Zomato often makes such tongue-in-cheek claims from its Twitter account. When Mumbai Indians had managed to qualify for the IPL playoffs, Zomato had tweeted: “no mukesh from mumbai, we can’t deliver 104 kg jalebi fafda at this time,” which was a subtle reference to Mumbai Indians owners Mukesh Ambani. A few days prior, it had tweeted “satvik from jaipur, why have you been ordering a roll at 4:20 for the past 6 days???”
Now Zomato would likely not give out personal details of its users for the world to see, and Mukesh Ambani probably hadn’t ordered 104 kg of Jalebi Fafda from Zomato after MI’s qualification. But many prominent media houses took Zomato’s 72 percent tweet at face value, and wrote entire articles based on it. “Zomato says 72% of cash-on-delivery orders paid with Rs 2,000 notes since RBI announcement,” was the heading of an Economic Times article. “Zomato says 72% of CoD orders were paid with ₹2,000 notes since RBI announcement,” was an article by Hindu Businessline, and Hindustan Times wrote an article titled “After RBI’s big order, Zomato says 72% of CoD bills paid in ₹2,000 notes.” International media picked it up too — Reuters included the tweet in an article titled “From mangoes to luxury watches, Indians look to offload 2,000-rupee notes”.
Zomato has now clarified that the tweet was made in jest. “The tweet was a joke and not factual,” a Zomato spokesperson said. Zomato also declined to provide the actual numbers of orders that were paid through Rs. 2000 notes.
But by then damage had been done, and the internet was abuzz with how Indians were looking to get rid of their Rs. 2000 notes as soon as possible. While Zomato tweet did seem factual at face value, it didn’t quite pass the smell test: given how the average order value on Zomato is just Rs. 406, it’s unlikely 72 percent of people would’ve paid for them with Rs. 2000 notes. Also, it’s unlikely Zomato asks its delivery partners to enter in data of which denominations of notes they’ve received from customers, which would make it hard for Zomato to come up with a definitive number the very next day. And perhaps most importantly, Zomato’s Twitter account has a history of sharing funny content, and the meme that was added to the tweet was a giveaway that the content was meant to be a joke. But while Zomato’s tweet got its desired reaction in content marketing terms — the tweet has over 20,000 likes on Twitter alone — it misled nearly all of India’s top media houses into sharing some completely fake news.