VW Polo romps home


To promote the 2001 film, A Knight’s Tale, a Sony marketing executive invented a reviewer and concocted a suitable quote to be highlighted in its promotional poster. The movie went on to become a blockbuster. In fact, this fictitious film critic (David Manning) gave consistently good reviews for releases from Sony subsidiary Columbia Pictures that were quite often panned by ‘real’ critics. Once exposed, the David Manning episode continued to haunt Sony Pictures till it agreed to refund dissatisfied customers; it ended up paying close to $1.5 million to settle suits that charged it for conning viewers into seeing movies. Ouch!

Lesson No. 1 for brand managers: Do not overstate your story. You can’t deceive consumers with false promises, especially in a day and age when we are all connected via the internet and the mobile and various other means. Lesson No. 2 — and it flows from Lesson No. 1 — use the net, or more precisely, the social media to get the message across.


These two things come out clearly in the results of the 2010 Brand Derby, which ranks the most successful brand launches of the year gone by. The Top 10 successful launches of 2010 are Volkswagen Polo, Ford Figo, Dabangg (the movie), BMW X1, Nokia N8, Toyota Etios, Volkswagen Vento, the Commonwealth Games 2010, GM Chevrolet Beat and the BlackBerry Curve 8530. Most of them had very interesting launch campaigns, a handful of them used the social media like never before and none resorted to competition bashing — a lot of which we are seeing these days. “The writing is on the wall,” says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, “digital will overtake print advertising sooner than later, like it has done in markets like the UK.”

The survey was done by global market research firm Synovate. The agency conducted face-to-face interviews among marketing professionals belonging to various industries. The survey covered eight cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Pune and Hyderabad. The marketing professionals were requested to sort these brands into three groups — brands which were very successful, somewhat successful and not successful. The Top 3 ranks from those classified as “very successful” were given scores as per their ranking to arrive at the top ranked brands. In all, 111 marketing professionals were interviewed for the survey.

Coming back to the survey findings, there are as many as six automotive brands in the Top 10 (there were four last year), two technology brands (as compared to one last year), a movie/media brand (there were two last year, with the movie 3 Idiots leading the pecking order) and, surprise surprise, No. 8 on the list is the Commonwealth Games that came under the media glare for all the wrong reasons. As they say, any publicity is good publicity.

Also note the fact that the food and beverages sector, which saw a few high profile launches last year and was the biggest advertiser on television last year consuming 24 per cent of the advertising secondages, according to media monitoring firm TAM, was conspicuous by its absence in the Top 10. Also absent from the list are personal care, banks/financial products and telecom service providers, which regularly feature among the Top 10 advertisers on television.

Another thing that stands out is the fact that most of the new brands refrained from taking a leaf out of that much-thumbed recipe book — by signing a Bollywood star or a cricket icon on as their brands’ ambassador and star endorser. Indeed, apart from Nokia N8 (Priyanka Chopra), none of the other new brands in the Top 5 took the help of a celebrity to grab attention. The point is, endorsements cease being credible when the endorser mouths ‘manufacturer speak’. There is a growing realisation that in the long term, the brand has to be the hero; it can never be an alternative to a sound strategic or creative idea. Plus, with the stars simultaneously endorsing so many brands, a Sachin or a Bachchan endorsement has ceased to be a novelty as far as consumers are concerned. So if busting clutter was the starting point of this whole celebrity endorsement business, the overkill has actually inspired major debate.(Click here for THE BIG PICTURE)

All the six automobile brands in the Top 10 this year had extremely well-crafted launch campaigns and managed to differentiate themselves effectively from the crowd. Take Polo. With innovation as the pillar of its entire India strategy, the company drummed up a media campaign that harped on VW’s engineering prowess on the one hand, and sought to allay consumer fears — after all, the company was a late entrant in the market and didn’t enjoy the kind of recall that a Maruti or a Hyundai did — on the other.

The Polo ads on television, for instance, revolved around the exploits of this character who thinks the car can’t meet up to his expectations. The car’s strengths are brought out as he got into weird situations during his many trial drives. A dramatic way to involve a prospect in your message.(Click here for THE PECKING ORDER)

For Ford Figo the clincher was its killer pricing — between Rs 3.69 lakh and Rs 5.57 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). The first B-segment compact car from the US car maker, the Figo (Italian for cool) had close to 90 per cent local components. It was designed for Indian roads and sported colours that work best in India. There were no celebrities to endorse the new car — Ford had earlier used Abhishek Bachchan for the Fiesta — but a viral campaign was sparked off as soon as the brand hit the showrooms. Says Sinha of Alchemist Brand Consulting, “The three auto brands in the Top 5 had great equity in the premium segment. With the new launches they had a relevant offering for a much bigger market.”

What worked for both the Polo and Figo was the fact that they were products meant for the mass market, packaged like mass market offerings and were sold like them. Same with Dabangg, the lone media/movie brand on the Top 10. “Among other things, what worked for Dabangg was the fact that it took an old formula and packaged it with contemporary slickness,” says Sinha.

Last year’s No. 1, 3 Idiots, had a well-crafted marketing strategy and sold on the premise that it was looking to address certain issues in our academic system. It rang a bell — this was a common problem for a large number of people in India. The Salman Khan-starrer was nothing like that: The invitation said, “Come, have some fun.” Simple and unpretentious, just like Chulbul Pandey’s eminently visible paunch, his unchoreographed dance moves.


POLO VOLKSWAGENWhat the Beetle did for Volkswagen (VW) worldwide, the Polo did in India. Polo was VW’s ticket to the volume segment of the Indian automobile market, lorded over by Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and Tata Motors. Says Neeraj Garg, director and member of board, Volkswagen Passenger Cars, “The Polo was meant to allow a larger market access to our premium cars.” While the car’s features were tweaked for an Indian market, VW ensured its communication blitzkrieg left a blazing trail of recall. One reason why it topped the Business Standard Brand Derby survey of the most successful brand launches of 2010.

When launching the Polo, VW had a lot of ground to cover. While the price tag of Rs 4.5 lakh was a major crowd-puller, the company admits that awareness for the VW brand has been low in India — its entry in late 2007 had not been supported by a consumer campaign. VW started laying the foundation for its brand only in late 2009 with a corporate campaign. It carried out roadblocks in print (it bought all the ad space in an English daily for a day) and a television commercial that showcased all its cars through the eyes of a child planning to buy each at different stages of his life. The Polo launch campaign was carried out with similar flamboyance.

Even though the corporate campaign had paved the way for its more popular cars to roll out, the media use by its competition followed a set pattern. Newspapers still carried as many as three car ads on an average, talking to the same audience of SEC (socio-economic) A, 25-44 years urban male. TV ads for cars mostly depicted aspirations of the Indian buyer or played up the bells and whistles in a car. Lutz Kothe, head of marketing and PR, Volkswagen Passenger Cars, says, “We were clear that not only our vehicles but our marketing too would reflect innovation, one of the core values at VW.”

Instead of the usual 100 cc ads, VW played on the association that Nestlé’s mint brand, Polo, had already established. While the mint was known as ‘the mint with a hole’, VW along with its media partner, Mediacom, punched a hole in Polo’s outline in a leading English daily across 16 editions in 28 lakh copies. The pages with the cut-outs, listed out the features of the car. The last page bore a full page ad with the Polo and the tagline — ‘We’ve put a lot into it. You’ll get even more out of it’.

Word of mouth, which VW had been aiming for, spread rapidly on the social network. Kothe says that the campaign pulled in 200,000 page views on the day it broke. While the print ad went all out to grab attention, the TV ad tackled the consumers’ concerns. Kothe points out, “There were a lot of prejudices in the market. The main concern was whether our cars were built for the Indian roads. It was a question of trust for our consumers — are we here to stay?”

Bobby Pawar, chief creative officer, Mudra Group, which orchestrated the campaign, recalls, “For the TVC, we had a specific objective — how to say that this German car was made for India. We portrayed an extreme skeptic who thinks the car can’t meet his expectations. Through his wacky adventures in the name of a test drive, the car’s strengths were brought out.”

The features which were relevant to India were highlighted in the ads. Kothe adds, “Ground clearance would not be an issue for city-driving in Europe or America, but a high ground clearance was of value to the Indian customer. Rather than a barrage of features in the ads, our ads tend to bring out the stories around them.” The car was tweaked to make good its promises in the campaign. Garg says, “We had to ensure that our air-conditioners were geared to work in the wide range of temperatures in the country. The suspensions, decibel levels of the horn, the engine tuning were all done to suit the Indian conditions.”

According to VW’s internal estimates, brand awareness increased from 8 per cent in 2009 to 40 per cent in 2011. Launched in February 2010, VW had sold 19,395 Polos in the March to December, 2010 period, according to SIAM. Between January and June 2011, VW sold 20,197 units of the car. Sayantani Kar


FIGO FORDWhen the US-based car maker Ford Motor Company launched its first small car Figo in India in March 2010, little did it expect that sales volume for the company would triple in the course of the year. Not only did the car — which accounted for over 80 per cent of Ford’s sales in the domestic market last fiscal — catapult Ford among the top five automobile manufacturers, it helped revitalise the Ford image in the country.

“The Figo has taken Ford to a new level in India,” says Michael Boneham, president and managing director, Ford India. “With the Figo our market share has tripled to around 3 per cent. The Figo has been one of the most successful launches for Ford India — it sold 25,000 vehicles in 100 days, and 50,000 in just six months.” The car is the second brand in India to cross the 50,000 sales mark in six months of launch.

Boneham says Ford’s priority while launching the Figo, based on the “Kinetic Design” adopted by Ford the world over, was to redefine the hatchback segment. So the entire product mix was designed that way. Says V G Ramakrishnan, senior director, Frost & Sullivan, “The Figo has been designed to appeal to a large section of customers. The shape of the car is reasonably good. The pricing (between Rs 3.69 lakh and Rs 5.57 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi) is exceptional for the features it offers. The car comes in both petrol and diesel fuel options. Ford’s ability to get a solid, reliable product on ground has enhanced consumer sentiment dramatically.

With much of the market’s growth in the sub-B segment, Ford deliberately set out to offer a car that was more substantial in its attributes than other segment offerings. “The Indian customer is discerning. Customers today want to buy products that offer value, products that make them feel great about making a smart choice,” says Boneham.

Ford focused on a 360 degree communication campaign to support the launch of the Figo in India. Particular emphasis was laid on consumer engagement programmes. Soon after the launch, the company initiated an online contest by means of which four couples were selected to drive the Figo across 10 cities for 25 days.

The participants in the Ford Figo Discover Smart Drive were asked to post their experiences in social networking sites. Nigel Wark, executive director (marketing and sales), Ford India, says, “The drive was successful in generating positive conversations around the brand and resulted in increasing Figo’s fan base on Facebook to over 15,000 people. Over 600 updates were posted on the experiential drive and this resulted in showcasing the key differentiators of the Figo such as spaciousness, fuel economy and air-conditioning, from over 5,000 comments on social networking sites.”

The Figo won the accolade of being the most awarded passenger car, having bagged 20 titles at various auto industry awards in 2010. It has won the ‘Indian Car of the Year’ and ‘Business Standard Motoring — Special Jury Award’, among others.

To celebrate the sales of 100,000 units of the Figo in July this year, Ford embarked on a road show, Ford Figo Bharat Yatra, across 1,000 cities in India. The campaign is intended to give potential customers a first-hand look at the vehicle. The road show kicked off in Kolkata on June 29, and will continue through the states of West Bengal, Assam, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. The route for the Ford Figo ‘Bharat Yatra’ has been meticulously crafted to ensure that the car not only goes to Tier I and II cities, such as Pune and Asansol, but also to remote towns such as Gadchiroli and Hinganghat in Maharashtra and Korba (Chhattisgarh). Sharmistha Mukherjee



X1 BMWWith an aggressive price tag of Rs 22-29 lakh, BMW X1 helped open up a whole new segment of buyers who until now had shied away from the luxury badge. BMW’s cheapest model in India, the X1 sports utility vehicle was entering a cluttered market where it would compete with behemoths like Toyota Motors (Fortuner), General Motors (Captiva), Skoda (Yeti), and Ford (Endeavour). However, the X1 had BMW’s pedigree on its side.

German luxury car maker BMW, which entered the Indian market in 2007, had established credibility as a premium car maker through a slew of uber-premium models. So, the threat of a lower price tag diluting BMW’s brand perception was minimised, more so as the brand was mindfully adhering to its top-down approach for the Indian market. Within two years, it had managed to unseat rival Mercedes-Benz to become the numero uno luxury car brand in the country.

However, its initial strategy had helped win a marginal set of consumers. BMW now required a volume driver. The Indian car market, after all, is largely a small car market. To make deeper inroads, it needed a vehicle that would not compromise on BMW’s quality, but at the same time appeal to the increasingly affluent consumers who are migrating to bigger cars.

A few key marketing initiatives set the launch of the X1 in the right direction. The buzz was initiated even before the car came to India. It was revealed to the public through unique events like the Auto Expo in Delhi and the Mumbai Fashion week. This helped build huge intrigue around the product.

At the time of launch, the company ditched the classical launch strategy — unveil the car at a dealership and speak about its features. It chose nightclubs in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad to showcase the car to prospective buyers. The objective was to create a lifestyle-like atmosphere allowing users to subtly engage with the brand, rather than hard-sell the car. It also reinforced BMW as a young and sexy brand, an image arch-rival Mercedes has been struggling to own.


To keep up the momentum after the launch, the company engaged users through new media, a communication route it had never used before in India. Online advertising on search engine sites and social networking sites Facebook and LinkedIn allowed users to book test drives for the X1. This was done in tandem with classical advertising where the ‘Joy is what you make of it’ campaign kept alive the values of the BMW brand.

“Besides brand-building, the BMW X1 also benefited from the overall expansion in dealership,” says Vineet Hetamasaria, vice-president (auto), PINC Research. In the last one year, dealership footprint has increased from 21 to 24, and the company plans to increase it to 40 dealerships by the year end. To tap consumers beyond those who visit its dealerships, it showcased the car in premium shopping malls and cinemas, more actively than it has done for any of its other models in India.

Abdul Majeed, India leader (automotive practice), PricewaterhouseCoopers, believes communication and engagement at the dealership level has helped consumers perceive BMW X1 a notch above peers on the values of safety, efficiency, comfort and appearance.

So far, the company’s initiatives have met with decent success. “X1 is a conquest model and we were able to break into a new target group. About 90 per cent of people who purchased the car have upgraded from mass manufacturer car brands like Toyota Camry or Volkswagen Vento,” claims Andreas Schaaf, president, BMW India. Many of these are first time BMW buyers.

While it has not been able to dislodge segment leader Toyota Fortuner, X1 sales have grown at a steady clip. So far, the company has sold 1,340 units of the X1, which is the third-largest selling model in its fleet, after the 3 series and 5 series. Company officials say sales numbers have not been reflective of the true potential of the car. BMW is confident that with capacity increase, X1 will be a key pillar in its ambitious growth plan for India.

  Preeti Khicha