Maruti Suzuki: Appealing to the consumer in a savings-conscious market.
Often, an ad that seems less imaginative but more direct has a better chance of making an impact than more sophisticated ones.
In 1987 when I bought my first car (Oh God, there he goes again, you're thinking) the task was simple. There were basically two cars in the market, the Premier Padmini and the Ambassador. I remember the management guru of those days, Sharu Rangnekar, telling us that the Ambassador made you feel close to God because everyone who got into the car invariably exclaimed “Oh God!” and I did not want to feel so close to God then as I was already experiencing similar emotions when my wife was at the wheel!
But, let's drag ourselves forcibly from the past to the choice-filled present. Today the Indian consumer has over 800 models to choose from and that is a conservative estimate. Yes, the choice is mind-boggling even if many of the models are quite similar to each other in design, capacity and even looks. What happens when there is a plethora of similar products all desperately trying to catch the consumer's attention and wallet? Advertising becomes extremely important as the dream merchants strive harder than ever before to stand out from the clutter. And yet, despite being an avid watcher of television and also being someone who does not rush to the bathroom the moment the commercials come on air, most car commercials often leave me cold. How many of these commercials do I actually remember and more importantly, like? Let me try to recall some of the more noticeable ones that have reached out to millions of people like you and me.
Kitna Deti Hai?
When I racked my brains trying to recall the car commercials that had made an impact on me, the first lot that came to my mind fairly easily were the Maruti Suzuki commercials. Remember the one with people in a luxury yacht where the commentator waxes eloquent about the opulence of the vehicle and how grandiose it is when the guy asks him “Kitna deti hai?” and the voice-over talks about how Maruti Suzuki has been designing fuel-efficient cars for a country that is obsessed with this particular aspect of motor vehicles. The next commercial is set in an exhibition where a pompous commentator speaks about a spacecraft that can take you to Jupiter in a month and a similarly anxious Indian voice asks him “Kitna deti hai?” at question time. I realise these commercials have not exactly been launched last week and have probably been on air for some time now, but I do recall them. Maybe they are even a bit corny, even exaggerated, but they do have a strong consumer insight. For the desire to buy fuel-efficient cars and two-wheelers is as common as Indians' love for owning the roof that is above their heads or buying jewellery. I still remember the Hero Honda's initial ads for their four-stroke bikes with the line “fill it, shut it, forget it” and the fuel-efficiency-conscious Indian consumer has not stopped buying the bike for nearly three decades now. Single-minded, relevant communication will always work in a crowded category.
Trying to be everything to everybody?
Contrast this with the Tata Nano, which in a desperate attempt to arrest the slide has come up with an ad with a group of youngsters going for an enormously long drive for a cup of tea. In the bargain the commercial tells us that not only is the car fuel-efficient but it has got space, good ground clearance, is easily manoeuvrable, can take on rough roads and comes with a down payment of Rs 15,000 only. A clear translation of the client's brief into a boring and predictable TV commercial. I did feel a bit bad that they had left out the fact that the customer was a two-wheeler owner who was graduating into a car buyer! This reminds me of my early days in marriage when I used to get my wife multiple birthday gifts as I had no clue what she liked and hoped that one of the many would meet with her approval. In similar fashion the Tata Nano has given the consumer multiple benefits in the fond hope that one of them would hit the target.
Why do brands try to be all things to all people? The Fiat tries something even weirder. It shows a commercial shot completely underwater and attempts to tell us that the brand is so well engineered and tested under extreme conditions and available in Oceanic blue colour. Of course, it left me completely cold. The Nissan Caaar commercial where the wife asks the husband if “he has seen her caaar keys” and the owner in the lift asks his driver to bring the caaar and the steward in the restaurant tells the patron that his caaar has come. All this happens when bemused bystanders are wondering what is happening. Of course, the car has more leg room.
Is the commercial corny? Probably. An exaggeration? Probably. If the consumer feels let down after the build-up about space, then it would be counterproductive. But I noticed it and am writing about it, so there is some answer there. The new Swift Dzire ad where the guy is talking about the car and his wife about having a baby is cute but I am not sure people will recall the brand, even if they do remember the commercial. Still I must say it is better than a lot of others in the category. I can't remember too many other ads for cars. Attribute it to my age! And if I have missed out your brand, my friend, kindly excuse, I am like that only!
Finally, the importance of mass media advertising in car sales is overrated. I wish companies would spend more time, money, attention and energy online as the first search is online. They must still attempt to do better above-the-line advertising, I daresay they may not have the luxury of a two-minute commercial on Super Bowl with Clint Eastwood like Chrysler had, but they do have their own imagination at least. I wish they made better use of it.
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