Zooming onion rates to pricey bananas: Advertisers bask in moment-ary glory

(From left) Pizza Hut, Arré, IndiGo Airlines have leveraged some controversial and celebratory moments of the year
From skyrocketing onion prices to sky-high prices for bananas in five-star hotels, everything that made the headlines in 2019 made it to the branding table. The trend, fuelled by the universal and ubiquitous nature of social media, blazed through the world of online campaigns by a slew of brands this year.


When onion prices were hovering around Rs 150 a kg and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was being pilloried for her comments on the kitchen staple, food-delivery platforms put out clever one liners. One said, ‘there’s a reason why it’s called a cash crop’ on its cash on delivery page. Grooming start-up The Bombay Shaving Company offered 10 per cent discount on its beard growth oil that contains onion oil stating “the price of onion may be on the rise but our beard growth oil’s price is slashed.” Hyperlocal delivery start-up Dunzo asked customers to bank on them and ‘wipe away their tears’ by selling the crop at a discount. “Since we are also in the business of grocery delivery, it made sense to share our take on the onion prices,” says the Bengaluru-based start-up. It claims it saw a 40 per cent jump in onion sales that day. 


Topical marketing is critical for digital-first brands like Dunzo and Swiggy. The genesis of this approach lies in the fact that their audience consumes both news and entertainment through social media, and always knows what’s trending. Experts say when brands focus on issues that have the attention of consumers, it creates deeper engagement. “They do believe that brands are with them, and not against them. That is a positive harvest of positive sentiment for sure,” says Harish Bijoor, CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults.


When the country is so focused on an issue, brands want to be a part of the conversations online. “A societal pain-point is a point that focuses consumer passion onto the issue. And passion is a great thing to harvest. Brand marketers who used the “onion price crisis” in India to advantage were attempting just this,” Bijoor adds.


Not just start-ups, there were a string of brands harvesting the situation. Policy Bazaar promoted its term plans by saying “The way curry is incomplete without onions, life is incomplete without term plans” while HDFC Bank cashed on the moment to promote its HDFC ‘End of Decade Sale’ that offers 23 per cent savings on purchases with its cards.


Amul, that has spared no issue worth the news, went on to say ‘Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. “If onion prices are high, brands could talk about what they could sell for that price that would seem like better value to people. However, merely commenting on onion prices (or any topical event) without connecting it to the brand and its story is wasteful and pointless,” says communications consultant Karthik Srinivasan.


Sandeep Goyal, founder of Mogae Media says, “Moment marketing is opportunity maximisation. As an aperture it makes for smart marketing but to be honest not very many brands can carry it off. Most efforts are either amateurish or forced.”


For brands, the trick lies in getting in early into the conversations. A quick repartee grabs the attention and begins trending online but a good one, may miss its mark by being too late to get into the game. Sometimes this works but at times it may backfire and that is a chance brands are willing to take.


Earlier this year, when Bollywood actor Rahul Bose was charged Rs 442 for two bananas at JM Marriott, brands came up with tongue-in-cheek Rahul Bose banana moments. Fast food chain Pizza Hut cheekily said ‘You paid Rs 442 for a fruit instead of getting the tastiest pizzas just at Rs 99. Are you bananas?’, while Taj Hotels took home the accolades with an offer to serve complimentary seasonal whole fresh fruits. Not everyone saw the merit in one five-star brand going one up another based on the price of a dish.


According to Goyal, the best moment marketing effort in 2019 where most brands came out trumps was around Yuvraj Singh’s retirement from the game. By celebrating and saluting his excellence and exploits, brands basked in his reflected glory, he says.


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