Brands are dishing out special offers on I-Day, but are consumers buying?

(Top) Ola has a campaign around its first transgender driver; (Bottom L to R) HDFC promotes its home loans as a ‘freedom’ initiative and Paytm uses the same theme for its cash-free campaign
Ask any marketing expert and they will tell you that brands must use every opportunity to pitch their wares to the consumer, but never at the cost of compromising the core value of the brand/product. In their eagerness to be a part of the country’s Independence Day celebrations, however, brands are increasingly eschewing the latter in their pursuit of the former, say experts. 

Consider for instance the flood of messages  about freedom sales. From real estate companies to e-commerce players, all are wearing the tricolour on their social media posts that talk about slashed prices for apparel to properties going at never-before rates. How much of the brand is truly visible through these advertisements?

On Independence Day, one is inundated by advertising that is a clever take on independence.

Independence from germs, from flu, from worry, from hunger. But it’s no more than an ego kick for brand managers. Very little of it makes a genuine connect, or is an extension of the brand proposition while being appropriate for the occasion. More often than not, it is one more brand screaming for attention in an already cluttered ‘trying too hard to be clever' landscape,” said Vani Gupta co-founder Hypersonic Advisory and former marketing director (Indian Snacks, Foods) with PepsiCo.

Sandeep Goyal, chairman of marketing and communication agency Mogae Media, said that apart from retail, most of the companies are acting under peer pressure, and not for the customers. “There is no sincerity in the communications they have put out, to that extent they are a waste of time and money,” said Goyal. He believes that retailers have a direct message to offer — that of sales and discounts.

Many promotions are sale-led. Amazon and Flipkart have announced ‘freedom’ sales while Reliance has a ‘Digital India’ sale. AirAsia and Vistara have announced low fares and ‘freedom fares sale’ as have many others. Industry representatives said that sales spike during these occasion-led purchase days. There is a 250-400 per cent increase as compared to business as usual, they said.

Brands are playing with the ‘freedom’ theme.  Bajaj Avenger has launched a #NoPlasticPatriotism campaign. In the campaign note, Narayan Sundararaman, vice president, Marketing, Bajaj Auto said, “We felt we could offer a reality check to the nation on a day that stands for liberation, urging citizens to live the essence of Independence Day by taking steps to free India from plastic pollution.” 

Another brand pushing the azadi (freedom) message is Paytm. In a press note, Jaskaran Kapany, vice president, Marketing, Paytm, said that they were keen to promote a cash-free habit. "It is a powerful message to break the ‘habit' of dependence on cash and embrace the convenience of digital payments,” he said.

Some brands have looked at in-house stories to frame a narrative of inspiration around their Independence Day communication. Ola for instance has #MyIndependenceDay campaign where it talks about its transgender driver-partner and wraps a message of inclusion around the freedom theme.  Pallav Singh, senior vice president Ola said, “We are proud to have Meghna Sahoo on Ola’s platform, who has been a source of inspiration for many through her grit and determination. Ola, as an inclusive platform welcomes people from varied backgrounds.”

Joining the bandwagon are others such as HDFC bank for its home loans products, the Godrej group on its legacy and contribution to the India story. Most of these campaigns are online-only initiatives and driving brands to do this are a bunch of numbers. India has 226 million social media users in 2018 according to Statista. By 2019 there will be around 258.27 million, up from close to 168 million in 2016. The most popular social networks in India are YouTube and Facebook, followed by WhatsApp. Facebook is projected to reach close to 319 million users in in India by 2021 according to Statista.

But the numbers tell just part of the story. “When a brand like Kurkure does a festival campaign there is a direct connect with the brand proposition as ‘kurkure’ brings families together and festivals are a time for family bonding.  Similarly when a sports brand takes advantage of a mega event like Fifa it makes sense.  Without a direct fitment with the brand proposition, just writing a clever line that rides on an unrelated occasion, is just that — clever. Without achieving any meaningful connect with the consumer,” said Gupta.

Patriotism too has been a brand favourite. For instance BookMyShow has launched an ad with Akshay Kumar starrer Gold on hockey hero Balbir Singh’s triumphant journey. Virat Kohli has a special campaign invoking national pride and promoting traditional wear for Manyavar. He challenges Delhi teammates Shikhar Dhawan and Rishabh Pant along with the nation to wear Indian. But Goyal is quite clear that Mera Bharat Mahan type of campaigns lack sincerity and impact. “It will just provide a feel-good factor,” he added.

With inputs from Urvi Malvania & Nikhat Hetavkar in Mumbai and Gireesh Babu in Chennai.

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