Are you what you drive? That is what car companies seem to be asking and in the same breath trying to convince you about. In other words, are you the Hyundai Accent owner who commands immediate respect wherever he goes (including from the potential father-in-law) or are you the suave executive from the Chevrolet ad who is ever ready to share a moment with a loved one?
With a plethora of new models in the market, and generic benefits (such as space or fuel efficiency) of a particular car segment hardly a distinguishing factor between car models, marketers are increasingly differentiating on the emotional pay-off a particular car model/brand provides to the consumer. This, of course, varies from segment to segment and also on how long a particular model has been in the market.
For instance, while advertising for entry level or smaller cars tends to focus more on the rational or functional benefits of the vehicles, the differentiation is increasingly on the emotional benefits when it comes to high-end cars. Agrees Amit Dutta, Vice-President, Marketing and Sales, General Motors India. "Generally, it has been seen that as one moves up the value chain, the differentiation is more on the emotional pay-off. People buy cars as an extension of their own personality rather than just the features. A car, in India, helps build up show-off, social esteem value. The advertising would also vary according to the segment which one is targeting," he says. For instance, the Chevrolet Optra ad (which depicts a young husband driving his wife to see the moon on the occasion of karvachauth) shows an Optra consumer as someone who believes in family values and indulging loved ones. "We find that the typical profile of an Optra consumer is someone who is in the age group of 35-45 years and has a chauffeur. He buys a car not only for himself but also for the family and tries to make up, for not being able to spend enough time, by indulging loved ones," points out Dutta. The positioning goes well with the company's catchline of `for a special journey called life.'
High-end carmaker Skoda Auto too, through its advertising, attempts to connect with its consumer on the emotional level. "Cars are an extension of the personality and our advertising shows the consumer to be youthful, image-conscious and even a bit macho. The campaign jointly made by Skoda's marketing department and ad agency iB&W not only communicates the quality of the brand but an appreciation for the finer things in life. The target Skoda consumer is a SEC A1, primarily male, businessman or someone in the senior management," says Shashank Vaid, Manager (Marketing), Skoda Auto India. Surely, image building does come up higher in the consumer's scheme of priorities when buying a new car than ever before.
Says Neeraj Bhatia, General Manager, TNS Automotive, "The importance of brand image has risen sharply in the last few years. At the segment-level, the increase in importance is greater for the mid-size cars, indicating the relevance of the brand among the more expensive market segments. The manufacturers need to focus more on how consumers perceive them as offering exciting cars and being committed towards them. Contemporariness of models has a big impact on purchase decision. The perception of the car in terms of its performance and design, quality, sales and after-sales, cost of ownership, apart from brand image, all impact upon the purchase decision."
According to Bhatia, as long as advertising for cars is strongly differentiated and sharply positions the model and at the same time satisfies a definite need segment, it shall have the capability to break the clutter and create a unique and compelling reason for consumers to purchase. "One good example of this is Ford Ikon — `the josh machine' made a tremendous impact on consumers in offering to satisfy a clear need. You can see some more of this with a recently launched premium hatch back as well," he says.
Interestingly, the strategy marketers follow changes a bit when it comes to addressing the smaller car category with the rational benefits of a brand tending to be the focal point of the campaign. "We have found that typically a buyer for a smaller car (sub-Rs 4 lakh) looks for aspects such as reliability and fuel efficiency. This changes as we move up since in this case the consumer has been with the category for a longer time and hence it is important to talk of an emotional pay-off," says Ajay Bangia, Research Manager, Qualitative, Synovate India.
A case in point is the Maruti 800 campaign in which the kid who is playing with a toy Maruti 800 exclaims to his dad (when asked how long will he keep on running the car), "Papa ki karan, petrol khatam hi nahin Honda." The ad cleverly conveys that the car just keeps going on and on and on. It ends with the voiceover telling us that Maruti Suzuki is India's most fuel-efficient car. `Count on us,' goes the slug.
Similarly, the most recent campaign `Rs 2,599' for the Maruti 800 not only directly conveys that the car can be bought at only Rs 2,599 per month, it also manages to connect with the aspirations of scooter owners who can upgrade to a car now. However, Mohit Kalra, who is looking after the Maruti account at Capital Advertising, differs that the Maruti 800 campaign purely reflects the rational benefits of the brand. "The key lies in conveying the rational benefit and yet striking an emotional chord with the consumer which the Maruti 800 fuel efficiency campaign manages to do. But yes, for higher end cars the focus is more on the emotional benefits as consumers expect a number of features as a given," he says.
However, in the small car segment, the rational benefits logic is not always applicable. Take the case of the Hyundai Santro, the advertising of which has evolved over the years from initially conveying mainly the functional benefits of the model to connecting with the consumer on an emotional level now. "When we launched the Santro, we started with the positioning of the car being a complete family car which was a completely rational positioning. But then two things happened — the product found acceptance in the market and the competition came up with similar products in the market. This is when we decided to evolve our positioning to the `sunshine car,' which was more of an emotional positioning," says Sanjeev Shukla, Marketing Manager, Hyundai Motor India.
Incidentally, the Hyundai Santro is also one of the very few cars in the market which uses Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta as brand ambassadors, "We signed on Preity Zinta to add a fresh appeal to the product. The move did achieve the objective of making the brand younger and more glamorous," says Shukla.
Hyundai's popular mid-size car Accent too underwent a similar evolution in positioning with the current three campaigns on air focusing on what the Accent does to the owner's image. "The campaigns were developed after extensive research in non-metro cities and Delhi as we were using humour for the first time. The advertising, however, has been very well accepted," says Shukla. But marketing experts point out that investments in advertising alone is not enough to sell a high value/involvement product such as a passenger car.
Take the example of a Honda or Toyota, which have small advertising budgets but still sell in the market. People are already aware of the brand pedigree and associate it with technology/engineering. On the other hand, newer brands need to invest more to build a level of trust and awareness," says an analyst. Secondly, if the brand comes to be associated with negative values, a vehicle may not sell even with the support of high pitched advertising. A key example is Fiat, which despite having strong products such as the Palio and Petra in its portfolio is not getting sizeable sales due to a negative brand image in the consumer's mind. And thirdly, no amount of advertising can sell a bad product.
"Brand image is not driven by good advertising alone but is significantly impacted upon by the cars performance and design, quality, and cost of ownership. Among the three, product quality has the highest correlation with brand image. Small car buyers seek credibility in advertising, and fuel-efficiency is relatively more important to them. Technology, innovation, and good advertising influence premium mid-size buyers. One reality for us in India is that the market is extremely price/value conscious. While making purchases based on the above, there is a rational side, which does have an impact on the decision on a particular make and model of car," says Bhatia. Be it a rational or an emotional decision, consumers would have much to think as a bevy of new models flood the Indian market.