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Mobile internet needs to percolate to the rural level: Sashi Shankar

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Mobile internet needs to percolate to the rural level: Sashi Shankar

Idea Cellular has  recently, launched its new anthem campaign “Hum Nahi Banege Ullu Aaj Se…”  in the wake of Independence Day celebrations. The telecom services company has been quite active on the marketing front with a number of high-profile advertisements. Its prior campaigns with brand ambassador Abhishek Bachchan have generally been well received and have seen the company’s market share in India increase significantly over the years. We spoke with Sashi Shankar, CMO of Idea Cellular and the man responsible for driving the company’s promotional activities in one of the most competitive and fastest growing telecom markets in the world.

Your new ‘Anthem’ campaign is quite different from previous advertisements. What was the thought process behind it?
This is actually one of the edits of the “Ullu Banaoing” campaign. We had at least 4-5 edits of the campaign but this is a unique concept. It is not like we have always used Abhishek Bachchan in all our campaigns. If you look at our “Telephone Exchange” campaign, it did not have Abhishek Bachchan. Depending on the story and the script and the communication we plan we use him as much as we want to. We would like to use him in everything but sometimes the kind of communication or message that we want to send does not entail it and we don’t want to use him frivolously. This particular campaign is very topical so we decided to have a theme song around “Ullu Banaoing”.

How will Idea be promoting the campaign?
We will be using the digital medium. We have popularized it through Twitter and Facebook. It is primarily through TV, though we are also using radio.

Going forward, which will be the focus area for Idea Cellular in terms of marketing and brand communication and how are you positioning the brand in a highly evolving telecom sector?
Internet is becoming the growth engine for the telecom sector. We as an organization and the industry itself are investing a lot of energy and resources behind ensuring that internet services get adopted by maximum number of Indians. That is the key strategy for us. From our standpoint, the internet should not remain an urban phenomenon. It needs to percolate down to the rural level. We are working hard to get our infrastructure in place but more importantly we need to educate people about the relevance of internet in their lives. Once the consumer sees this, the adoption will be faster. One did not have to do that with voice as it came naturally. It was only a question of price and affordability. For mobile internet, you need to concentrate on both the price or affordability as well as making people understand its relevance. This is our outlook and this is where the focus will lie for the next few years.

Idea does a lot of ‘educative’ advertisements. Will this continue to remain the primary theme for the company going forward too?
In the immediate future, this is what we are focusing on but going forward we are not only going to stick to that. We want to make it a rounded offering for the consumer so we will look at other aspects of the consumer’s life and how internet impacts that and try to drive in those facts. We will also try to make our messaging more interesting while understanding the consumer’s life and touching upon the relevant points.

Recently, we saw a telecom service provider get a lot of mileage via an ad that went viral. How does Idea Cellular approach the concept of virality?
Virality is important in terms of spreading the message faster. At the end of the day, if the campaign is viral then what you are getting is unpaid and earned media presence. If people are talking about it, it is because you have been able to engage them, to excite them and incite them to share it. We are obviously very happy if our campaigns go viral and we will work towards it but it is very difficult to completely plan it right. You have to have certain elements and then hope that people like it.

A lot of brands are doing digital-led campaigns. Is this something we could see Idea experimenting with too?
It depends on the product. If I want to promote a particular product then I might just do digital. But if it is a brand campaign where I want masses then we will definitely use TV to get reach. But there have been products in the past, like when we launched our smart recharge product; it was primarily done through digital, with some initial push through print. Similarly, if there are products confined to certain segments, then we will definitely depend on digital.

A lot of your target audience seems to be from non-metro cities. Does the medium or the content of the campaign needs to be tweaked to appeal to different sets of audiences?
We have a balance in terms of the campaigns we have created. What we try to do is appeal to masses, to people who are not necessarily young but are open to new things and change; people who are aspiring to become better. Primarily, TV is the reach medium which we also use but we do augment it with other media, including activations. So it is a combination of all media. There is no real difference in terms of communication messaging for Tier I, II or III cities, because if you see even the person in rural areas is aspiring to become better than what his current situation is and learn new things, so we feel it is relevant for all sections.

What impact will the advent of 4G services have?
It is still too early to say. The ecosystem needs to develop but it is definitely a technology which will be around in the next 2-3 years and we will need to be ready for it.

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