Ola’s Cabs Are Turning Into Transformers, And Could Help The Company Earn Some Serious Money

Over the next few days, Ola users will see an unfamiliar sight on their apps. Instead of cabs, Transformers will be whizzing across their cities, picking up and ferrying passengers. So the Ola Micro will become the Bumblebee, which is “protective, loyal and and playful,” and Ola Share will become Crosshairs, which is the “best team player.” Ola Prime, of course, will become Optimus Prime.


The campaign is a promotional event for the Transformers: The Last Knight, which released in India today. Apart from the changing icons for their cabs, Ola will also go the extra mile — its Prime customers will be able to see behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews through Ola Play, and lucky users will win movie tickets and fan merchandise.

This isn’t the first time a cab company has changed its cab icons to commemorate an event — earlier this year, Uber had made all its cabs in India look like rockets to mark ISRO’s successful launch of 104 satellites. Ola’s move though, while just as cutesy, could earn it some serious money.

Ola appears to have partnered with Paramount Pictures to promote the release of the Transformers movie in India. It’s a move that seems logical — Ola’s urban, upwardly mobile audience is exactly the sorts that would be interested in a new Hollywood release, and Ola has nationwide breadth — with over 6 lakh cars in 110 Indian cities, it could generate buzz about the new movie amongst its users.

Ola – A Media Company in the making?

But this campaign doesn’t seem to be a one-off — Ola has been priming itself (heh) for partnerships like these for a while. It had launched the Ola Play platform earlier this year, through which it had installed tablets in cabs which played videos and music. So customers riding its cabs could catch the latest AIB videos, listen to ghazals, and even watch Republic TV, right from within their cabs. 

It might not seem immediately obvious, but having millions of people as a captive audience while traveling in your cabs is a tremendous media opportunity. Ola can choose what content it shows on its tablets, and insert ads and promotions within it. If Ola can introduce Ola Play on all its vehicles, it would have an audience reach that would interest lots of advertisers. Ola has 6 lakh cabs across the nation — if each cab takes 8 daily trips that last half an hour each, Ola can potentially have 24 lakh daily hours of audience attention per day. 

Ola could, therefore, have over 4 billion monthly minutes of user attention per month. These are figures that a media company could be proud of — online publications like Bhaskar and Firstpost get less time on their digital properties, according to ComScore. Only the Times Group, which is the largest digital publisher in the country, gets more attention at 10 billion minutes, and it’s a dedicated media house — Ola, on the other hand, is a cab company.

Of course, Ola’s customers won’t spend all their time consuming content on Ola Play, but even if they spend a fraction of their rides doing so, Ola would be in business. As the Transformers tie-up shows, companies are already willing to pay a pretty price for these users. And Ola could do well to have an alternate source of income. It recorded losses of Rs. 1760 crore last year, as it found itself battling Uber on one hand, and angry driver partners on the other. With money coming in from ads, Ola could help its driver partners earn larger incomes, reduce fares for its customers, and help itself become financially viable. 

Ola’s cars turning into Transformers might seem like a gimmick, but they could define the future of the company in the years to come.

Update: The math around the calculation of the the user minutes has been corrected.