Carry on Cabby: How Dubai Tackled Mask-Induced Dehumanisation with a Simple Swap

Throughout the pandemic, cab drivers kept Dubai moving, but they didn’t always get the appreciation they deserved. As mask-wearing became the norm, it became easier for passengers to ignore drivers and treat them as invisible. The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai and VMLY&R wanted to do something to help, to make drivers feel proud and appreciated and to nudge the public towards a more human interaction.

Across a fleet of 638 cabs from franchise businesses and Dubai Taxi Corporation , the RTA created personalised taxi lights, each one bearing the driver’s name. The taxi magnets were easily swapped and the project generated a buzz locally and internationally. And, most importantly, the drivers reported improved interactions with clients. VMLY&R’s MENA Chief Creative Officer Kalpesh Patankar explains more.

LBB> What was the brief or conversation that sparked this whole campaign? Was there a particular issue that the RTA wanted to address beyond supporting the cabbies? 

Kalpesh> It all starts with a wonderful client, isn’t it. In this case, Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) of Dubai. When the city and many of its services were under lockdown, RTA ensured the taxis continued to ply the roads and support us. In line with their commitment to keep things going smoothly for the citizens. So when life started getting back to normal, RTA felt it was important the city doesn’t forget the taxi drivers who too are one of our frontline heroes, or their contributions. 

It was during the process of working on the campaign that the other amazing, life-affirming facets of the brief became apparent. Especially the potential it had to raise the morale of these incredible behind-the-scenes workers, and positively affect the customer-driver dynamic.   

LBB> It’s a campaign that has quite a deep psychological insight about dehumanisation – I’d love to know how you got to that insight? How early in the process did it come up?

Kalpesh> Thank you for bringing up that facet of the campaign. The vibe and interactions inside the cabs are transactional at best. So there is a sense of invisibility the drivers already feel. And when they go behind their N95s like the rest of us, the feeling just becomes more intense. We had to make them visible. Have them feel seen. The yellow & black taxi magnet was perfect for this. It is one of the world’s most visible devices. And just the thing that could shift the cloak of invisibility off of our drivers. Once we discussed that, we quickly realised it was possibly the most impactful medium to answer the brief at a very personal level. 

LBB> I think the insight about masks and dehumanisation has a lot of applications in a lot of contexts – do you think it’s something that businesses will have to take seriously as mask wearing continues to be the norm?

Kalpesh> The campaign has humanity at its core. A celebration of humanity, if you will. The best work from brands and businesses always had that even before the pandemic. But I completely agree with you. Humanist insights will connect and travel more, now more than ever. Perhaps because it breaks through the “cloak of invisibility” we too may sometimes feel.  

LBB> What sort of research did you do, and conversations with the cabbies themselves?

Kalpesh> Many of us at work have used taxi services, and at times, still do. Many of us like to engage in a conversation with the drivers. Sometimes it makes our journeys richer, doesn’t it. So the milieu wasn’t quite unknown. The transformation of the taxi magnet did need a spot of research. Again, Roads and Transport Authority (RTA )was immensely helpful and supportive here. But yes, there was a fresh round of conversations with the cabbies when the project began — to understand the dimensions of the brief better. Also when we wanted to assess the impact of our solution after roll-out.         

LBB> From a design point of view, what conversations did you have around the typography and design of the new cab lights?

Kalpesh> The concept demanded that we stick to the “Taxi” magnets’ iconic typeface and design. We were certain of it during our conversations. As a result, we made fresh stencils with the names of the drivers in the same design grammar.

LBB> What were the biggest challenges involved in bringing this to life?

Kalpesh> For begin, all of the work that has to be done in the back end. Designing new stencils, producing them, and putting them into use. Then there was the task of making the video that brought the notion from the streets to a wider audience at home. All of this happened before the lockdown was lifted. As a result, as more people use taxis, the drivers will be perceived in a new light. 

LBB> I guess the impact of this campaign is two-fold – the impact on the drivers and the impact on taxi users – so first of all, what sort of feedback have you had from drivers?

Kalpesh> The response has been overwhelmingly good. The campaign has had a positive impact on them, from being addressed by their names rather than generic language like “taxi,” “driver,” “Oi!” and so on, to having more respectful talks during each journey.  

LBB> And then on the other hand, have you seen any change in how the public engages with taxis and taxi drivers?

Kalpesh> The online conversations it generated (the campaign was seen and shared in 33 countries, not just Dubai and the MENA area), as well as the respect for taxi drivers it reflects, have been immense. Driver feedback has suggested that the appropriateness and quality of client interactions have increased on the ground. In terms of the number of users, we’ve noticed a rise.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Latest articles

Similar articles

%d bloggers like this: