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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 July 2018

Careem Pakistan forced to apologise over ill-conceived election marketing campaign 

The ride-hailing service was seen to be mocking political candidates through its discount promotional codes ahead of the country's election 

Careem Pakistan has been forced to apologise to users after a marketing campaign that appeared to mock candidates in the forthcoming general election. Victor Besa / The National
Careem Pakistan has been forced to apologise to users after a marketing campaign that appeared to mock candidates in the forthcoming general election. Victor Besa / The National

The popular ride-hailing service Careem was forced to apologise to users in Pakistan after it triggered anger with a marketing campaign mocking the country's political parties.

The Dubai-based firm had launched a promotion to tap into election fever, using puns on political slogans and jokey promo codes.

But in an increasingly tense election campaign, adverts that may have been intended to be tongue-in-cheek quickly drew angry accusations on social media that the marketing was partisan, disrespectful or anti-democratic.

A hashtag calling on users to #BoycottCareemPakistan quickly followed, with users saying they would uninstall the app and turn to the firm's arch-rival, Uber.

“Looks like Christmas came early for Uber in Pakistan,” said prominent journalist Gul Bukhari on Twitter.

“Careem Pak app being deleted for obnoxious political advertising.”

The campaign co-opted political slogans from the three main parties alongside mocking promo codes, apparently for users to gain discounts.

One promo code, “10percent”, referred to the long-standing nickname of Asif Ali Zardari. The former president and current chairman of the Pakistan People's Party gained the moniker following allegations that he took personal commission on state contracts. He has denied corruption.

Other promo codes took aim at Imran Khan's PTI party and at Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League.

It was quickly clear that many had taken offence.

“I was a very loyal customer but never again will I use Careem,” said one Twitter user, identified only as Nasir.

“Siding with a single party and promoting him. Disgusting behaviour from your organisation. Biased!”

Another user, identified only as Faisee, said: “I demand you apologise for your hateful campaigns, slogans and retract all those demeaning slogans; otherwise I have no option but to #BoycottCareemPakistan for the respect of my stand out and my political views.”

Pakistan has a fortnight to go until a general election that may result in the country's second-only democratic transition of power. Campaigning had been lacklustre, with hot weather, Ramadan and delays in announcing candidates all leading to a subdued electoral battle.

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But a surge by Imran Khan and the conviction of former PM Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges have belatedly breathed life into the campaign.

A statement from Careem said: “We sincerely apologise for hurting your sentiments. Careem is politically neutral and our election taglines covered all popular political slogans. Our singular aim is to get everyone to the polling stations.”

Pakistan's military on Tuesday said it would deploy more than 350,000 troops to protect 85,000 polling stations for the July 25 poll.