Picture this: A beautiful woman in a luxurious red gown enters a swanky hotel. A man has been waiting for her. He gets down on his knees and whips out a ring and slips it on her finger. The camera cuts to a man playing a piano in a corner. And, while the viewers try to figure whether it is a commercial for apparel, jewellery or an earthquake-resistant building, the whole set transforms into a grand car and it then emerges that the pianist is a chauffeur and the lounge in which the whole scene was being played out, the new Indigo XL sedan.
“It has been one of our most expensive advertisements,” says S. Krishnan, vice-president, commercial, Tata Motors, referring to the Indigo XL ad. The new commercial is making an emotional and aspirational pitch to its consumers, unlike its predecessors which went on an overdrive about their superior engineering, fuel efficiency and other such drab technological details. “Through the new Indigo XL advertisement, we have tried to build an aura around the brand and highlight its style and entertainment quotient,” he adds. And it is not just the brand-talk that the company has experimented with, it has changed its media mix, too. In the past two years, Tata Motors has not only increased its ad spends by 20%, it has also shifted its focus more towards television than promotions at the retail end.
Tata Motors is not the only player getting aggressive on its marketing communications front. In recent times, automobile companies, across the board, have upped their budgets and pushed their share of voice. The trend has been driven largely by the stupendous 20% growth in the automobile sector, which, like other industries, is riding the benefits of overall positive economic sentiment and a favourable demography. Three years ago, 65 of every 100 cars were sold in the metros and mini metros. Today, these markets account for less than 50 units, while the rest go to smaller towns such as Jalandhar and Coimbatore.
Then, the industry itself has become more competitive. The passenger car market today boasts of around 70 models against 30-odd at the turn of the decade. In the past two years, around 30 new models and variants have been introduced in the market by top-end companies such as BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and Nissan Motor Co. The crowding in of various brands, and strong ones at that, in fact, has been a compelling reason for companies to push the noise levels. Anil Dua, vice-president, sales and marketing, Hero Honda Motors Ltd, says, “Psychographic segmentation and increased competition have made sharper product positioning vital.”
The current spurt in auto advertising is certainly not a flash in the pan. The sector in fact has always been one of the biggest ad spenders in the country across media platforms. According to a recent study by Mindshare, a leading media-buying agency, the auto sector has been the second-biggest advertiser on TV and print for the past three years (see chart). Auto ad spends grew 23% in 2006 to Rs590 crore against Rs478 crore in 2004. Add outdoor and Internet to this, and the total ad spends would amount to Rs655 crore, which is around 4% of the advertising spends in 2006.
Even as auto companies make fervent pitches to consumers, there has been a conspicuous shift in the tone and tenor of their brand talk. “It is (auto advertising) not about nuts and bolts any more,” says Gullu Sen, chief creative officer, Dentsu India. “It’s more about striking an emotional connect with consumers.” Indeed, auto companies are now leaving the product details and other specifics to the Internet and showroom dealers. “That is also because with more car companies entering into technical alliances with each other, like Mahindra-Nissan-Renault, technology is no longer a differentiator,” says an auto analyst. Maruti Udyog Ltd’s Swift diesel model, for instance, is powered by an engine made by FiatSpA, GM and Suzuki Motor Co. “Also, average consumers today are more aware of basic technicalities, and hence, these need not be highlighted in campaigns. A solid brand with its own distinct personality is a better differentiator today,” says Sen.
Abhijit Awasthi, group creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, adds, “In a competitive market, fighting the battle on features and product benefits is certainly not the way to go. In the current scenario, it is the imagery that drives preferences and purchases.
Playing on the imagery, companies are going to exotic locales to bring the grandeur and excitement alive. While Indigo XL’s set was one of the most expensive ones for Tata Motors, Bajaj shot the ad for its Kristal scooter in Malaysia and the Zen Estilo, in Turkey. “Car commercials are by default shot outdoors and only good roads and excellent environment can do justice to a good script or idea,” says Emmanuel Upputuru, senior creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, the agency for Maruti. “Shooting them in India is not a good idea for obvious reasons.” Amit Nandi, general manager, marketing, Bajaj, adds, “To create a compelling impact, foreign locales, sets and graphics are becoming important considerations in auto advertising.”
The drive to catch consumers, meanwhile, is going 360-degree. For the launch of the Chevrolet Spark, its first small car in India, GM blitzed across print, TV, Internet and outdoors, along with on-ground promotions. With an increasing number of young consumers using the Internet to research on the products they intend to buy, GM invested more than 15% of its marketing budget on the net. Along with viral marketing, it also created an interactive website for prospective consumers. The company claims to have received more than 15,000 hits in the first week of Spark’s launch. According to MindShare, while the medium is gradually gaining significance, it still accounts for only 5% of the total ad spends by the auto sector.
The media clutter has also had companies focus afresh on their on-ground presence. So, roadshows and camps are back in vogue. For Chevrolet Spark, GM organized roadshows in busy places such as shopping malls and offices. And accordnig to Ankush Arora, vice-president, marketing, the initiative brought more than 10,000 people over a single weekend to test the car.
In a rather innovative effort, Tata Motors has set up a Safari Explorers Club for its sports utility vehicle customers. The club members are sent direct mailers five times a year with information on car schemes, accessories and discounts on holidays in remote locations as that fits in with the image of the Safari as a rugged vehicle.
Also, to get more bang for their buck, especially for higher-end products, the companies are investing more in market research to identify their customers. This, according to experts, helps them in focusing better on these consumers. “One size doesn't’t fit all,” says Arvind Saxena, VP, marketing, Hyundai Motor India Ltd. “You have to constantly gauge, what they (customers) are reading, which Internet sites they are surfing and which TV channels they are watching,” says Jnaneshwar Sen of Honda Siel Cars India Ltd.