Lines between online, offline blur as brands redraw engagement map

Kwality Walls Magnum has launched an online activation with brand ambassador Kareena Kapoor for home delivery of ice creams, Airtel is working on easy recharge facilities for its subscribers
As the old world of brand promotions and on-the-ground marketing initiatives perishes under the relentless gaze of Covid-19, brands across categories are going back to the drawing board to sketch out new customer engagement models. Without recourse to promotions and contests that culminate in a meet-and-greet with a celebrity endorser, or in-store activations or any such activities, brands need new customer touch points, efficient channels of communication and delivery and new ways to stay relevant. 

For instance, telecom brands Airtel and Vodafone have moved away from the routine claims of connectivity and reach that powered much of their communication and customer engagement in the past. Airtel has focused on providing a network of recharge points for its pre-paid subscriber base and is also running a campaign on the various modes of recharging on offer, including through ATMs and pharmacies, which were the essential services that continued through the lockdown period. 

Vodafone has launched a WhatsApp chatbot to take care of increased pressure on its services, as digital adoption has surged. Such measures, according to a report by Boston Consulting Group and Facebook, help brands expand their digital influence and go beyond the transactional in their engagement with customers.

A similar attempt is being made by many in the dairy and snacks and other consumer goods businesses. For instance, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), despite running one of the largest retail trade networks in the country, found itself out in the cold as the lockdown shuttered down its regular routes. It has sought to establish new touch points with its customers, with e-stores and alternative delivery channels. But the challenge is to keep premium brands that do not fall into the essentials category, also relevant.


To that end, HUL’s ice cream brand Magnum leaned on its brand ambassador Kareena Kapoor. Instead of a campaign film with her, the brand team set up an engagement platform with Kapoor as its face called #HappinessZone. She drew attention to the brand as well as helped allay fears that had emerged initially, over rumours about ice creams being a cause for the spread of the virus.

“We see the social narrative being centred on making choices about what is essential and what isn’t. Amidst these debates and doubts, we feel all of us often fail to enjoy little moments of joy for ourselves and our families, we forget that happiness is also an ‘essential’. This led to us venturing into online delivery with the aim to deliver happiness to people and inspire everyone to cheer up,” said a HUL spokesperson.
Many brands have been rethinking the media mix used to reach the customer. For example, Mondelez-owned brand Cadbury Chocolates leveraged their website to deliver to the customer’s doorstep and used Facebook and Instagram to get the message across. Cadbury Chocolates witnessed 1.2x return on investment as a result of this, according to the BCG-Facebook report.

PepsiCo India has sought to convert the delivery process of its brands during the lockdown into a campaign film for Lays. It is about the entire supply chain — from the farm to the transporter, factory workers, salespersons and retailers —that has been clubbed under a common umbrella term ‘heartwork’. 

“Despite the current challenging times, we see people around us, who have kept going about their jobs relentlessly, without seeking praise or a pat on their backs, bringing joy to millions of people across the country. Our special initiative is a tribute to these unsung heroes for their commitment and hard work,” said Shailja Joshi, associate director, Potato Chips Category, PepsiCo India. For the brand, relevance is no longer about taste or providing a moment of joy, but about the people it employs.

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