Truck makers ride on celeb power to build brand

Truck makers like Mahindra and Mahindra, Ashok Leyland are riding on celeb power as increasing competition in the segment prompts them to heighten the sales pitch


Bollywood actor and brand ambassador of Tata Motors, Akshay Kumar, during the launch of new Tata Xenon Yodha in Mumbai on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
Bollywood actor and brand ambassador of Tata Motors, Akshay Kumar, during the launch of new Tata Xenon Yodha in Mumbai on Tuesday. Photo: PTI

Mumbai: What do trucks and celebrities Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have in common? These celebrities—Kumar for Tata Motors Ltd, Devgn for Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) and Dhoni for Ashok Leyland—have signed up as brand ambassadors to woo truck operators and fleet owners. Truck makers are riding on their celeb power as increasing competition in the segment prompts them to heighten the sales pitch.

The switch to marketing-led approach to selling, from the traditional distribution-led one, has also been fuelled by demand for better, fuel-efficient and feature-packed trucks. Tata Motors, which appointed Kumar as the brand ambassador late last month and launched the first TV commercial featuring him on Monday, is the latest to hitch a ride.

It’s the first time in its 60 years of trucking history that the market leader has engaged a celebrity. “With the advent of newer, foreign entrants and increasing competition, we felt it was important to reinforce the brand dynamism by enhancing our presence in the media,” said Ravindra Pisharody, executive director at Tata Motors. It was also driven by the entry of second and third generation in the trucking business who are very much connected with the social media and entertainment, he added. “Ten years back, we wouldn’t have done it but now we would like to experiment,” he said.

The entry of foreign truck brands like Volvo, Daimler and MAN and companies like M&M into the segment, has challenged the decades-old duopoly of market leaders Tata Motors Ltd and Ashok Leyland. While the two continue to have a lion’s share in the market selling three out of four vehicles, the newer firms, which boast of driver comfort, better power and other features, have prompted incumbents to revisit everything—from products, price and distribution to selling and marketing. Ashok Leyland was the first to engage a celebrity. It signed up with Dhoni to coincide with the launch of the Captain range of trucks. The three-year contract with Dhoni ended in 2015.

M&M, the newest entrant which till a year back was grappling to find its feet in the competitive market, has seen sales improving month-on-month. It tasted initial success with its Blazo range of trucks which started selling in June. In a bid to cut through the clutter, it roped in Devgn, becoming the first truck brand to engage a film star. The audacious message by Devgn in the TV commercial to return the truck if it does not live up to its fuel efficiency promise has struck a chord with the target audience and has paid off, said Nalin Mehta, managing director and chief executive at Mahindra Trucks and Buses. M&M has sold 1,200 units of the trucks so far, he said. “Our proposition is a big promise. We wanted to cut it through a personality who keeps his word,” said Mehta, adding that the truck market will replicate the car market in terms of variants, features and technology. M&M’s initiatives in the past to build the brands, has contributed to the trend of building a truck brand. Some of the newer entrants, he added, have taken a lead and brought marketing into the trucking industry. “It was a very distribution led approach earlier,” he said.

“There’s a need to build more pull and traction for the brand,” said Pratap Suthan, partner and chief creative officer at Bang in the Middle. “It also influences the mindset, he added. Seeing their favourite cricket and film star gives them the confidence that a company is not a fly-by-night one. It cuts across the owner as well as the driver,” added Suthan.

Among other things, a promising market which is being fuelled by highway and roads projects is also encouraging companies to dole out more on advertising and brand promotions. Though truck sales have taken a hit in the last couple of months owing to the impact of demonetisation, companies are bullish about the future.

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