All eyes are on Vidya Sharma, captain and goalkeeper of the Indian hockey team, as she prepares to take the final strike in the World Cup shootout. No one can miss the UltraTech logo emblazoned across her T-shirt. The Aditya Birla Group-owned UltraTech Cement Ltd shed its staid image to associate its cement brand with the latest Bollywood hit, Chak De! India.
And it is not the first among its peers to rope in filmdom for branding or endorsements: Binani Cements Ltd got megastar Amitabh Bachchan to lead its branding exercise with its line, “Who is bigger than Big B?”
Riding high on a real estate and infrastructure boom, the cement sector has been growing at 10% annually and notched up a sales turnover of around Rs30,000 crore for 2006-07. Spiralling profits have also fuelled a healthy 30% rise in ad spends over thepast two years, taking total spend figures beyond Rs190 crore for the year ending March 2007.
Cement is not the only commodity that is marketed like a product. “Other commodities such as salt, cooking oil and petroleum products have been pushed to customers as a brand, appealing to the emotive side of the audience,” points out Nirvik Singh, CEO, Grey Worldwide, the ad agency which did the creative for Ambuja Cements’ commercial, “Ye dewar tut ti kyon nahin”, and the ‘Dadi’ ad film.
Emotive appeals take their cue from packaged goods strategies, and help cement majors stand out in a crowd. India’s production capacity will zoom to 85 million tonnes per annum over the next three years; a 50% addition to existing capacity. This would be next only to China in cement production. But, this large sector is highly fragmented, with over 50 players. The top five companies have a market share of more than 40%. “Brands in this category are largely dissipated in their individual imageries and are crying for awareness. Further, many operate in the space of the quasi-brand and even more operate with tough competition from the space of commodities,” says Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults.
This is where the glamour of Bollywood acts as the differentiator. The easiest route to brand awareness is through an endorser from either Bollywood or sports, says Bijoor. They give these brands quick recall value and connect with the persona exuded by the star or with a national sentiment, as in the case ofChak De.
Vivid brand building adds power to the expansion drive of cement companies entering newer markets. National players such as Grasim Industries Ltd, of which Ultratech is a subsidairy, Ambuja Cements Ltd and ACC Ltd are adding capacities in the North, and so are North-based players such as Binani, JK Cement Ltd and JK Lakshmi Cement Ltd, says Rupesh Sankhe, Mumbai-based cement industry analyst, ICICI Direct.
This shift in gears is reflected in their communications plans. ACC, India’s largest cement manufacturer with a tag line, “Build with confidence”, increased its ad spend 33% and unveiled a new logo. Meanwhile, Ultratech rode on non-traditional media. Explains Madhusudan S. Mokashi, deputy general manager (marketing services), cement division of Grasim Industries: “Television is a fragmented medium and the easiest way to reach my target is through movies. Chak De! India caters to the Hindi belt, and South Indians, too, could come to watch Shah Rukh Khan. Since the movie had more reach, we decided to use it as a platform for Ultratech brand-establishment.”
While Ultratech is lookingat promoting more events linked to the film, others still prefer the traditional vehicles of paintings on walls of shops and houses, especially in rural and suburban areas, print and television. “For a category like cement, television is still the preferred medium for its mass appeal and the platform it provides to tell a story. Print media is a great tactical support medium for the intermediary market,” says Singh.
The goal is to prevent pricing becoming the only determinant of a purchase decision. Says Singh: “Cement is merely the means to an end—a dream home. The challenge, therefore, is to develop an identity or personality for your product that consumers can relate to.”