India’s start-up boom echoing in ad campaigns

Plots revolving around start-ups appear to have become the clutter breaker of choice in Indian advertising


Advertisers say it is hard to ignore the start-up culture in India.
Advertisers say it is hard to ignore the start-up culture in India.

New Delhi: A young entrepreneur asks his much older, former boss to become the chief executive officer of his two-year old firm.

A gang of girls want to launch a bakery.

And a group of suited executives finds out the long-haired young man in jeans they met (and made fun of) in a coffee shop is actually the investor they were supposed to meet.

Recognize the ads?

The first is for Titan (watches), the second, Hike (messenger), and the third for HP Pavilion (laptops).

Plots revolving around start-ups appear to have become the clutter breaker of choice in Indian advertising.

“Start-ups have become one of the reference points for many of our potential clients,” said Josy Paul, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO India, the advertising agency that created the HP Pavilion ad.

It’s easy to understand why.

Every one is obsessed with start-ups. According to software lobby group Nasscom, India is one of the first five largest start-up communities in the world, with the number of (technology) start-ups crossing 4,200 —a growth of 40%—by the end of 2015.

A start-up, many believe, is launched every day in India.

Some think that’s a conservative estimate.

So far this year, start-ups have attracted investments of $5 billion, according to Nasscom.

Several students at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), India’s premier educational institutions, are taking the plunge and starting something instead of joining a big-name consulting firm or tech company.

Advertisers say all this is hard to ignore.

“Titan recognizes the equations and relationship dynamics in the workplace are rapidly evolving, and this change is driven by a new breed of entrepreneurial-minded men and women,” said Suparna Mitra, chief marketing officer (watches and accessories), Titan Co. Ltd, referring to the company’s July ad that sports the tagline, Your Time Has Come, created by Ogilvy and Mather.

“This growing culture (of start-ups) is breaking the perception of a successful career in India and is setting a new precedent for the generations to come. It is encouraging young professionals to innovate and be self-reliant for their futures. We wanted to weave this in a story that would represent the values of the brand and also reflect this spirit of today’s modern Indian consumer,” said Mitra.

It is also difficult not to contrast the new with the old.

Whatever the reality may be, start-ups are perceived to be cool and fun (even though the founders, and some of their employees, might be putting in 18-hour work days).

“The new HP campaign, created by us at BBDO India, plays off this tension between the old and the new,” said Paul.

And finally, start-ups are aspirational. Everyone wants to work for one (many even fantasize about starting one of their own).

“The idea of start-up culture works well with our target group from a consumer standpoint because it brings a feeling of aspiration and confidence along with it. With most of our target group being under 35, the start-up setting was perfect for our Free Group Calls ad,” said a spokesperson for Hike. The Hike ads were created by Lowe Lintas.

Like many things in advertising, the idea of using start-ups isn’t new, even in India.

The first wave of such ads appeared in 2000, during the first dotcom boom. The most memorable of those ads was one by Park Avenue, exhorting people to “start something new”.

A decade-and-a-half later, there appear to be enough people willing to do just that.