Amul to Jio: Ads with attitude give brands punch in fight with rivals

Topics Brands | brands marketing

What connects the dots between actor Kangana Ranaut, telecom major Reliance Jio and dairy brand Amul? A scrappy, in-your-face attitude and an aggressive marketing playbook that positions them as bold outliers in the categories they operate in. And their reward, in a 24x7 digital universe of consumer engagement, are trending hashtags that catapult them to the top of the pile, no matter what they do.


Pugnacious brands are the rage. Consider the case of Ranaut, she barely misses an opportunity to pick a fight. She has been belittled by her colleagues in the industry, picked on, in the media and even driven to the fringes when it comes to work and brand endorsements. But nothing cuts down her belligerence or dims the social media spotlight for her. She has even taken on the media in a public spat over their reviewing and reporting capabilities. Hate her, love her but as Ranaut once said, she will not be ignored.


Amul, market leader in the dairy sector, follows a similar aggressive trail. Be it in ice creams, dairy products or biscuits, Amul battles them all in ads that directly take them on. Its most recent scuffle is that with Britannia, over cookies where Amul has claimed that it is the only brand that uses pure butter, not vegetable oil. Predictably, Britannia has lashed back with sarcastic ads and memes of its own. No matter what the outcome, Amul is racking up the numbers on digital media (in terms of brand recall or the number of hits on its posts).

R S Sodhi, managing director, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), the maker of Amul, says, “We believe in presenting the facts to consumers. And the truth can sometimes hurt.” Sodhi insists there was no mention of Britannia openly in its advertising, just a pointed question to consumers on whether the cookies they consumed had butter or vegetable oil.


In the weeks that the battle raged on between the two, both Britannia and Amul trended on social media. Sodhi says he is not finished yet. “It is important to pick up issues from time to time. We have done just that pointing out the need for butter in cookies,” he says.


Another brand that does not believe in letting things lie is Reliance Jio, a company that experts say has disrupted the market and set itself on a permanent collision course with former sector leader Bharti Airtel. The battle continues on every front, in advertising, data tariffs, media, telecom policy, and now, broadband services. With Reliance Jio announcing its entry into fibre-to-home broadband services this month, the fight for consumers between the two majors is expected to heat up.


In this case, Airtel is not dialling down the aggression either. On Monday, it announced the launch of its converged digital entertainment platform called Airtel Xstream, billed as an answer to JioGigaFiber.

Brands have to be heard at all times, no matter what it takes, to be heard above the din, say experts. They need to stay relevant and top-of-the mind for the customer. “Social media has empowered the lay consumer. Communication has become a two-way exercise and brands that understand this will realise how important it is to keep their target audience engaged,” says K V Sridhar, advertising veteran, who is founder and chief creative officer, Hyper Collective, implying that belligerence works in such a situation.


The need for likes, shares and comments on social media pushes brands to state their case with force, hit hard and never to skirt around controversial claims or hesitate to take on rivals. Officials at the Advertising Standard Council of India, which monitors advertising across platforms, say complaints by firms against their rivals for disparagement and misleading claims has been on the rise in the last few years.


N Chandramouli, CEO of brand advisory firm TRA Research says that the gloves are off and the question is who will blink first. “Aggressors will by nature take the bull by the horns and refuse to relent. What happens then? The battle often lands up in court,” he says. Just as Amul was dragged to court by Hindustan Unilever (HUL) two years ago for cautioning consumers against frozen desserts, which it said was made of vanaspati oil instead of milk. Or more recently, HUL and Emami were in court over claims and counterclaims made by their fairness brands. The playground is increasingly looking like a battleground. 

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