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Safety beyond gender: Why Grab's new safety ad featuring women is causing a stir

Safety beyond gender: Why Grab's new safety ad featuring women is causing a stir

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Grab’s new ad in light of International Women’s Day has stirred up some discussions around safety of women in cars. Titled When she sleeps, the ad aims to convey Grab’s prioritisation of female passengers’ safety on grab rides. In the ad, we see a few women slumped over, falling asleep, and the voiceover says, “Isn’t it nice when women can travel without worry?” The tagline of the campaign is "Most boring ride ever". 

Ostensibly, this seems to be a fairly commendable effort on Grab’s part, considering past reporting of female rideshare drivers and passengers facing increasing risk of being assaulted.

However, some netizens pointed out the fact that Grab was celebrating making its rides safe for women and argued that in actuality, safety should be a given. Equating safety to boredom seems to have rubbed some people the wrong way.

Sent in to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's tip off box, some netizens took to Instagram to sarcastically call out the ad saying "Tysm [thank you so much] for not raping me". A quick check by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE found that the ad, which was previously posted on Grab’s Instagram, was taken down.


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In a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Grab’s regional head of marketing and brand, Sulin Lau noted the conversations occurring online. She said:

“We acknowledge the feedback. [It was] never our intention to downplay female safety as empowering women to move without fear has been a huge part of Grab’s founding mission. It is precisely why we highlighted these four safety improvements for International Women’s Day. AudioProtect, Trip Monitoring, Emergency Button, and Share My Ride were all designed specially with women in mind, so all of us can commute to work and move freely without worrying about traveling on our own”. 

Meanwhile, overwhelmingly, many within Lau's professional LinkedIn community lauded the ad for its creativity and execution, while appreciating the efforts made by the company to put safety first. Some claimed that "uneventful, boring ride home is definitely the best kind of ride", while others shared that the ad carried  a "sharp insight and brand message".  Another commentator said, “As a husband and father to two daughters, them getting home safely with full peace of mind, with or without me, is genuinely priceless.”

Nonetheless, some commentators also pointed out that safety shouldn’t be positioned as boring bur rather a need, and claimed that the campaign obscured the “tricky truth” about harassment.

Industry creative view points

Given the conversations emerging, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE turned to several female industry professionals on their thoughts around the ad. Joan Lim, creative director, Wild Advertising and Marketing said that creatively, the idea is arresting. “As a creative, I love it. As a woman, I spot some humble bragging, so I'm unsure if Grab intends to empower women,” she added.

Adding to the conversation, Katherine Khor, creative director and partner at ad agency Nine:TwentyEight said that the ad is definitely an interesting way to go about introducing the new slew of functions on the app.

“It's useful, not just for women, but for everyone. Men, women, the young and old. Because safety is not a gender issue, I don’t feel it needed to be tied to International Women's Day,” said Khor.

She added that International Women's Day is about female empowerment and independence, and it should be about celebrating the all important roles women play in society. She added:


I like the creative thinking behind the ad, but maybe it didn’t need the IWD slant.

Another global insights lead at a network agency commenting under anonymity said, “I get the message and I think it’s a good one. What they mean is uneventful. Personally, as someone who is concerned about safety it does appeal to me in concept.”

She added that this execution by Grab could also possibly a take on Uber which many women in many nations have found unsafe.

“I feel the boring and safe idea would have been better suited to a market where that key competitor exists so you can drive that competitive advantage and where safety is a genuine concern. Not Singapore where at least 99% of cabs are safe,” she said.

Worth a reaction or removal?

Coming in from a PR perspective, Asiya Bakht founder of Beets PR added that as a woman, she is more “puzzled than infuriated with the ad”. 

“Who in their right mind will equate women safety with boredom? Is it boring for a woman not to be harassed or assaulted? I get the message that Grab is trying to convey around safety for female commuters and it is a good one but they could have chosen a more appropriate tagline,” she said.

While it is important to listen to feedback and make changes if there really is something offensive in a campaign, Charu Srivastava, chief strategy officer and corporate affairs lead of communications firm TriOn & Co is of the view that it is natural for not everyone to be in support of the campaign – more so when a campaign takes a stand.

“There will always be some people who do not understand or appreciate the efforts. What is important is that the brand stands by its beliefs and value. If it truly believes in it, a brand should not have kneejerk reactions to criticisms,” said Srivastav.

Sticking to clear convictions and beliefs actually makes for a stronger brand in the long term. On a personal level, she added that the campaign is a clear nod to the banality of an uneventful ride.

She added:

“ The fact that it happens to be all females is perhaps that is my only critique (that and the excessive drooling!) Why is a female taking a safe ride something to celebrate? Shouldn't safety be something that applies to everyone regardless of sex?"

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