From Value to Emotions: Telecom companies in India change strategy for ad campaigns

I intended to write three paragraphs, but I got carried away in the research and anyone who is reading this now have to endure a very long post! I sincerely apologize for all the extra words I have put in….

The telecom industry of 2000 and the consumer profile:

I was in my early 20s when mobile services in India really started gaining popularity with younger generation. The teenagers were still watching television more than spending time on electronic media. Primarily because their (or their parent’s) buying power did not permit the extravagant devices. Smartphones did not exist in India back then, computers were quite expensive, internet was mostly (if not only) found in cyber cafes and laptops were for the privileged few. I have to rant about this to give a background of the market in India in 2000 to bring the readers up to context. My first phone in 2004 was a huge Alcatel which did not fit my pocket or hand, so you can imagine I am talking about prehistoric times here!

Before 2000, mobile used to be an expensive commodity and the service providers charged obnoxious prices. But with cheaper mobile devices from China infiltrating the market and Nokia with their advent of very cheap and super durable basic phones, youth in India with very limited pocket money and no income became the biggest customers. They began extensive use of cheap mobile phones to communicate with family, friends and the special someone, playing games and listening to music. And they cannot pay the irrational prices offered by the then service providers. So started the war of the titans with the 2 top brands Airtel and Hutch competing for market share by cutting down prices and offering promotions. A number of smaller companies entered the market with free calling services and promotional offers and these 2 telecom giants fought with them for sometime on marketing their products, value based services, promotional offers and the much sought after ‘free talk time’!

Fond childhood memories of something beautiful and everlasting:

The advertisements for all telecom service providers, both print and videos, were boring, in-distinctive and never lasting. There were limited players and you can go to third party provider and chose a plan that fits your bill in about 15 minutes. So the marketing endeavors could never generate awareness to their offerings no matter how much they spent, because it really did not matter to the target market. The need was there and information was available for free!

And one day, it changed! One evening I switched on the television and stumbled upon an advertisement of a pug following a child in a number of scenic as well as common locations.

<b>Hutch</b> <b>Pug</b> Campaign

A melodious tune accompanied the dialogue devoid ad, which later on became the signature Hutch tune, downloaded and used as ringtone by millions of users thereafter. There was no mention of new services, new plans, anything free! As a first hand consumer, the advertisement, aired in 2002, still has a lasting impact on my memory and if statistics are boring, this single point is the qualitative success of the campaign. The pug (not a popular breed in India due to its high price till that time) was sought after by rich people and became the mascot of Hutch. Airtel, to counter this commercial success of Hutch brought their signature tune (still used in 2016) produced by A R Rehman, the sole Oscar winning Indian musician. This battle of the giants gave me and countless other youth some cherished memories, and I believe created enough revenue for the companies to prevail over the disruptive new players.

So now I started thinking about the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action) for the strategic move in marketing for these 2 companies. They were already big in their target market (Airtel had the biggest share of 15% and Hutch a close follower with 15% in 2005). They were well known to consumers and were profitable businesses. So why did Hutch launched such a distinctive ad? Why did they move away from the traditional strategy of promoting the value the plan brings? What made them focus on the worth the brand will create for you? They completely changed their strategy from promoting their offerings to appeal to the emotional outlook of the consumer. No more did they say, “We offer 30 mins free talk-time every day”, instead chose the tagline of Abby Award winner “Wherever you go, our network will follow“.

It was correlated with the visual image of the most adorable dog following you to daily chores to exotic vacation spots and I loved it. The youth loved it. And I believe that the marketing strategy might not have affected the revenue but it impacted the brand image immensely. I cannot help but share the ad because (and I am repeating myself) I loved it, in fact loved them as there was a series of them.

The magic continued…

This was not an one-time effort. Airtel shortly brought in their most downloaded ringtone in India. Hutch got acquired by Vodafone and started their unique ‘ZooZoo” campaigns.

Vodafone's Zoo Zoo

Are they not awesome? And best part, it was not graphics or animation. They dressed real people in ‘ZooZoo’ costumes and shot. Saved a lot of money for them!

Airtel-confused friend

Airtel later launched their most successful ad campaign of all time “Har ek friend zaroori hota hai” (“Each type of friend is important, so be in touch). Though Airtel followed suit but still made distinctive campaigns. They connected consumer on the emotional side like relationships while Vodafone was more into the visual and entertainment appeal to consumers. Both resonated very well with the target audience in their attempts!

What did these companies accomplish?

These advertisement changed the realm of advertising in India. These individual companies built a very strong brand which became iconic. They even influenced different industries from beverages like Coca Cola to insurance companies like Life Insurance Company of India to break their pattern of traditional product based marketing to explore the ranges of emotions in people. These did not directly impact their revenues. But they brought a change. They revolutionized Indian marketing pattern. From a structure of Marketing department creating just advertisements, companies invested in Advertising departments with highly paid creative professionals producing thoughtful ads and touching our life. It was not promotion anymore, it was shaping the way society thinks!



About Sayantani

An avid reader, a food lover and a world traveler....
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