Shifting generational gears: Swift targets younger car buyers in new ad

Olympic boxer Mary Kom stars in the ads for the auto brand's new campaign
The scene opens with a man pushing his body to its limits, the camera zooms in and we see him jogging on one leg. This is Bhupender Sharma, a one-legged marathoner and mountaineer who talks about finding purpose and courage after a near brush with death and his journey that defies popular notions of success and achievement.

This is the new ad for Maruti Suzuki’s flagship Swift. No shots of a car, nor talk about its design or fuel efficiency; the campaign that features three inspirational stories aims to achieve a higher level of brand salience, the company said. It would rather be defined by purpose, values and a principled stand on issues. However for a brand that has spent a decade and a half on Indian roads, does a purpose-led narrative ensure longevity and relevance or does this dilute its positioning in a market where cause-led advertising has become the new normal?

“We believe, the time has come for us to go to the next level of brand salience which is more emotional,” said Shashank Srivastava, executive director, sales and marketing at Maruti Suzuki. 

Swift has always sought to position itself as more than a fuel-efficient and long-lasting set of wheels. Its past campaigns ‘You’re the fuel’ (2005) and ‘Defy the limits’ (2016) sought to stir a bit of fun and emotion into the brand to appeal to the young. But there was always a close association between the product and the values adopted by the brand.

Para-athlete Bhupender Sharma stars in the ads for the auto brand's new campaign
The present campaign ‘Be limitless’ is for the third generation of Swift and will be first launched on digital platforms. It traces the personal stories of three individuals—Sharma, a para athlete, Mary Kom, the Olympic boxer and only woman to become World Amateur Boxing champion for a record six times and Vikas Dhimri, an investment banker who scaled Mount Everest. 

The stories of Kom, Sharma and Dhimri are that of grit, determination and inner strength, traits one can easily identify with the Swift, Srivastava said. 

The creative agency for Swift, Dentsu Impact, is categorical that decision to steer clear of a traditional, straight-jacketed approach with the product as the centre-piece was a deliberate one. The idea is to showcase the individual more than the product in a manner that the product’s spirit or ethos is defined in human terms rather than as an object, much like Nike ads where an individual is more important than a pair of shoes or socks.

Undoubtedly this places the brand on a different plane and frees it from the traditional price-value framework that auto companies work within. But on the flip side, this is also a much-travelled road. In recent years, more and more brands have looked for causes and qualities that millennial audiences identify with and woven a larger purpose around their ad campaigns—be it white goods, personal care or retail brands.

Srivastava does not see any pitfalls in this approach however. He believes that the campaign will have a great connect with the target audience, pointing out that while those shopping for a car do focus on characteristics, specifications and so on, but brand salience is not built on such functional and tangible traits. It draws on emotions and is meant for building a long-term brand equity for the product. “That is why we have chosen stories that people can connect with,” he added.  

For Avik Chattopadhyay, co-founder at brand consultancy Expereal, who was also Swift’s brand manager in 2005 and part of the core team that worked on its first campaign, the present narrative is not a shift away from the past, but more of an evolution. “It’s just a new way of expressing the same spirit,” he added.

The new campaign reinforces the brand ethos of Swift albeit through a new narrative according to Chattopadhyay. He explains that Maruti has never pitched the car on the basis of its cost of ownership or fuel efficiency. “Right from the time it was launched in India, the Swift has not been the traditional Maruti family member,” he adds. 

So what does Swift stand for? “It’s more to do with style, statement and breaking stereotypes,” said Chattopadhyay. For the brand’s new custodians, it is about determination and courage. Over to the customer.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel