About 125 years back, in a rather quaint Mumbai city, a banker wished to have home cooked food for his office lunch. He assigned the first Dabbawala to bring him his lunchbox from home and changed the fate of Mumbai office-goers since. For the uninitiated, the Mumbai Dabbawalas are a group of hard-working people who deliver ‘dabbas’ from your home to your office, via an intricate transport network comprising bicycles and local trains, come rain or sunshine.
A typical dabba is said to change hands 3 or 4 times during delivery, – sometimes even 6 – but the dabba is delivered to the right person, by maintaining a commendable accuracy with the help of codes. If you’re not in Mumbai, do watch ‘Lunchbox’ in which a retiring Sajan Fernandes finds true love in a Mumbai housewife’s lunchbox, thanks to an error by the Dabbawalas. To their credit, Prince Charles is a fan of the Dabbawalas too.
In between of delivering approx 200K dabbas everyday, the Mumbai Dabbawalas Association also provides a bankable opportunity for brands, one through which they can spread their marketing or social cause messages easily via the city’s numerous touchpoints.
A number of campaigns have roped in the help of Dabbawalas in the past, be it for a new product launch, a social message, or spreading the word. Placing a new candy in the dabbas, adding awareness on health related issues and more direct marketing use cases can be found in brand-dabbawala partnerships. Last year, Ariel’s award winning campaign ‘Share the load’ that sought to ask men “is laundry only a woman’s job?” leveraged the Dabbawalas to drive home the point. The brand slipped in the message in the ‘dabbas’ delivered to the men at offices, from dabbawalas carrying the campaign question on their T-shirts too.
— Ariel India (@ArielIndia) January 9, 2015
2016 is seeing some brands putting the Dabbawalas to cool uses in their campaigns:
This February, Gap India made a memorable entry in Mumbai, the fashion capital of the country. It announced the launch of two stores in the city by inviting some of the most influential names in fashion in a one-of-its-kind Mumbaiya style.
The casual wear brand teamed with the Dabbawalas for #HelloMumbai; a bunch of iconic dabbas were painted blue and instead of food, they were stuffed with a Gap t-shirt, a tote bag and an invite to the launch. The Dabbawalas then delivered these to the select influencers, while the brand captured surprised reactions on a video. Excited, they created buzz on social media which resulted in almost 1,000 posts on Instagram and over 7.2 million impressions on Twitter, in just 4 days.
This March, Nissan, the sponsors of ICC WT20, got into a creative association with the Mumbai Dabbawalas. The automaker put its Nissan Sunny to a racing challenge with the Dabbawalas, where the goal was to find out who’s faster in delivering. Cricketer Zaheer Khan and 5th Gear TV star Johnny Smith in a Nissan Sunny on their way to a school in South Mumbai to deliver the ICC T20 trophy, or the Dabbawalas on their cycles and the local trains to deliver lunch to the sports teacher in the same school. The Dabbawalas also had automotive expert, David Parkinson on their team.
The race was captured in a series of short videos, and also run as a complete video on Twitter. Watch the video to know who won:
— Nissan India (@Nissan_India) March 16, 2016
Nissan’s racing challenge seems to be inspired from a 2011 stunt by Top Gear, where a team in the Mumbai series tried to beat a dabbawala delivery service by using a car instead of the train. Of course, they were no match for the Dabbawalas.
KFC, the QSR brand known for its fried chicken snacks was looking to capture lunch times with the introduction of its 5-in-1 meal box in Mumbai. When it’s to do with Mumbai and lunch, who else than the Dabbawalas to create some buzz. KFC India teamed with Dabbawalas to deliver these meal boxes along with their dabba, but the brand did not indulge in sharing any video content for the virtual audience. Perhaps there is a video capturing the pleasantly surprised reactions of recipients and some positive words about the KFC meal box from them, coming up soon!
— KFC India (@KFC_India) March 28, 2016
An on-time, accurate offline food delivery network or study material at Harvard Business School, the Dabbawalas of Mumbai provide a great marketing opportunity for brands, specifically targeting Mumbai. Several brands have promoted their wares, run their social cause campaigns, or created an innovative buzz via the Dabbawalas, but only few remain memorable. This year looks a promising one, and hopefully will bridge the offline Dabbawala initiative with the online campaign efforts, to truly drive visibility and amplify reach on the social web.
Feature image credit: Four Seasons