Hyundai, Castrol, others are pitching everyday heroism as their brand value

Hyundai in its advertisement talks about the heroism of Santro drivers
In the few seconds that ads have today to have their say before a viewer turns it off or shuts down the tab, the challenge is to tell a story compelling enough to keep all eyes on the screen. One way a number of brands are finding they can do that is by making heroes out of the invisible common man–be it their own customer, their employees or the humble middleman influencing the final buy. In more and more advertisements the product has moved off centre-stage.

In one of its recent ad films, automaker Hyundai for instance, does not talk about the car, its powerful engines or other features or a smooth drive. Instead, the ad is about an army major’s encounter with a stranger who went out of his way to help him in a moment of great distress. He is felicitated as a hero, the car gets just a passing reference. While stories around soldiers and armies are de rigueur in the present environment, the hero of this ad film is not the army major or the car, but the man who is driving the car–Hyundai’s two-decade-old Santro model. 

“Advertising today has changed so much, that ‘buy me buy me’ does not work, brands need a reason good enough and stories bring out the right emotions. Either one has to pat his own back, or pat the consumer’s. It is always better to pat the consumer’s back. That is the whole idea of consumer engagement,” said KV Sridhar, founder, In Hyundai’s case clearly, it is the customer who is being applauded for his right choice.

While Hyundai is talking about its product through the consumer, diagnostic services lab Metropolis Healthcare and online food delivery service provider Swiggy have made technicians and delivery boys, respectively, the protagonists of their ads. The brand conveys its values through these characters but more importantly, the ad seeks an emotional response from the viewer.

According to a study on consumer neuroscience in the Nielsen Journal of Measurement (From theory to common practice: Consumer neuroscience goes mainstream, 2016), “Early thinking was that advertising worked by communicating facts about the benefits of a product or service, and that consumers proceeded to use those facts, rationally, to evaluate the touted benefits against their own needs and desires. There’s now strong evidence to suggest that this is not the case. What is becoming clear from the recent research is that effective advertising succeeds in eliciting an emotional response from consumers.”

Sandeep Goyal, founder for Mogae Media says that the recent ads fit the bill, not just because they trigger the right emotional neurons but also because they convey the value of the product or the service through these characters. “Making the user the hero is a sensible marketing strategy. Also, it gets the customer to believe what is described in classical marketing as “Oh, I was righter than I thought”. That is, I made a good decision to use this product,” he said. 

It also works, to an extent, in giving employees at these organisations a sense of belonging and well-being. By giving delivery boys or mechanics as lubricant manufacturer Castrol India has done with its ads, a place of honour in the brand’s communication with customers, the brands are also talking to their own employees. Besides in the lubricant business, a word from the trusted mechanic surely helps convert consumer interest into a sales figure.  In the Castrol Super Mechanic contest, which is in its second year now, mechanics are quizzed on their skills through a phone based round followed by theory and practical rounds.  The winners are then showcased through advertisements in local newspapers and outdoor hoardings “This makes them heroes in their community, thus encouraging more mechanics to join the profession. As a market leader, we took upon ourselves to upskill mechanics. We have several initiatives wherein we speak to mechanics about changing engines, role of lubricants and customer service,” a spokesperson for Castrol said in an email response. 

Metropolis Healthcare, in its #Feverfighter campaign, presents its representatives in charge of home-based testing and timely delivery of medical reports as heroes. “Our promise is to deliver accurate reports within six hours of sample collection. Additionally, we have also introduced a 24x7 sample collection for the benefit of our patients. It is the dedication, empathy and the efficiency of our fever fighters; pathologists, technicians, phlebotomist and the customer service team who make it possible for us to deliver our promise,” said Piyush Kumar, chief marketing officer for Metropolis Healthcare. 

Goyal points out that campaigns around ordinary people also make the brand’s stories more believable and persuasive. “They make for greater consumer empathy and easier to relate. Most FMCG brands, therefore, trust ‘slice-of-life’ advertising far more than the use of endorsements by celebrities,” he said. It helps to step away from the traditional one-way communication process that brands have been used to in the past too. By crafting relatable stories, brands are also opening the door to conversations online about emotions, values and such other chatter-generating themes. Swiggy, for instance, has found its ad with the food delivery boy and his response to a hungry man gulping down a gulab jamun away from his wife’s censorious gaze, the subject of many blogs and articles online. Besides, of course, it offers a more exciting label for the dull routine of food delivery; Swiggy’s uniform jersey has ‘hunger saviour’ printed on the back. 

Sridhar points out how brands across the ages have struggled to come out of the transactional and business-like tone of advertising. Shifting the spotlight from the brand to the real people involved may be the answer for the times we live in.