Innovative ad campaigns riding on the back of demonetisation

A look at the ad campaigns that hit the mark during the demonetisation season, and understanding why other brands failed to utilised a golden 4-month window to launch innovative advertising campaigns

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Jan 11, 2017 8:16 AM
Innovative ad campaigns riding on the back of demonetisation

In the wake of demonetisation and the resulting drive to move towards a cashless and digital economy, we saw a blitz of advertising campaigns riding the demonetisation wave. These campaigns came in all forms. While some attempted to draw customers to them, others used the demonetisation theme to make their advertisements topical and relevant. E-wallet brands locked horns across mediums while some were more cautious with their campaigns.

The campaigns that had most recall value were those launched by digital payment service providers. Because digital payment start-ups were the direct and unintended beneficiaries of the move, their campaigns tended to be more natural and organic. “Demonetisation was a huge opportunity for brands to ride on a topic that occupied top of mind recall for consumers, for a good couple of months. However, few brands really rode the opportunity too well. The ones that did best were the biggest direct beneficiaries of the move, viz. the digital payment providers,” said Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO, Mirum India.

According to Ad Guru KV Sridhar, while e-wallet start-ups, cab aggregators, and organised retail companies utilised the opportunity to create campaigns that were germane to the current context, advertisements that made him smile were witty and humourous ones from brands like Amul and Cadbury.

E-wallet services hit the right notes

Without doubt, Paytm emerged as the frontrunner among all the digital campaigns that flooded the digital space since the night of November 8. Paytm began its campaign with an elegant tweet that soon snowballed into an extensive marketing campaign across all mediums. The tweet simply read: We have got two words for you: Paytm Karo. Among the digital campaigns that were a success, Mehta said, “The one that came out ahead by far was Paytm, they were agile to latch on to the opportunity from day one.”

By the morning of November 9, mere hours after the demonetisation drive was announced, Paytm was congratulating Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urging the people of India to go cashless and use their service. The first digital ad released by the start-up faced criticism for making a mockery of the situation, but Paytm soon changed the tone of the ad to a more sympathetic one. Mehta also said that Paytm cashed in by launching some really smart advertising aimed at merchants to quickly get Paytm enabled, was quite brilliant. The Each One Teach One campaign to pursue more merchants to register with and use, Paytm took its campaign to the next level.

Freecharge and Mobikwik gave fair competition to Paytm on the digital medium by launching video ads and implanting their brands in the minds of the public. The nature of their product and the pressing need of the public to use digital alternatives to cash payments made their ads robust and relatable.

Freecharge’s #freechargekiyamatlabcashdiya and #freechargekiyamatlabcashmila together were part of more conversations on cashless payments on Twitter than #paytmkaro between November 9 and December 31. Freecharge launched multiple social media contests to engage with users and kept the conversation about using Freecharge alive. As a result Twitter was flooded with multiple tags related to Freecharge.  

Mobikwik experimented with multiple tags before settling on #Mobikwikhaina on November 19. This tag finally captured the essence of the service better than #mobilenumberlopaisedo or #dontpanicATMobikwik. The mobikwikhaina slogan also created a digital ad with the Mobikwik anthem ‘Mobikwikhaina’.

Ola Cab’s #cashlesschalegaIndia campaign was launched on November 20. The ad promoted the Ola Money feature which is the cab aggregator’s own e-wallet service. Of the two major cab aggregators in India, Uber and Ola, Ola was the only one to create a video spot ad on the topic of demonetisation.

Topical ads that made us smile

Innovative ads were churned out by brands across the spectrum from automobiles, and publication houses, to condoms. These creative campaigns missed the target and largely went unnoticed but for the evergreen Utterly-Butterly Amul Girl whose “Any Time Maska” and “No White, No Black, Only Yellow” resonating with the public sentiment.

Sridhar said that most brands that tried to run campaigns on the topical issue of demonetisation cashed in on the negative outcomes of the announcement. He found that ads that remained topical yet tackled the sensitive issue with wit and humour were most memorable. Cadbury Dairy Milk was the only brand to approach the issue with positivity and made people smile, he said. The Cadbury Dairy Milk ad used its positioning as a chocolate for auspicious beginnings saying : Naye Note Ke Liye New Pinch, Ab Kuch Meetha Hojaye. Sridhar felt that brands could have used the 3-4 month span of the demonetisation drive to launch engaging and innovative campaigns but failed to do so. “It is natural that the beneficiaries of demonetisation will come out with successful campaigns, there is no surprise in that,” he said. Drawing from the topical and solution-oriented ad campaigns that emerged following the 2008 recession, he said that Indian campaigns took to playing on the negativity of the situation instead of offering solutions through their campaigns. He particularly referred to the Levi’s jeans campaign that offered customers the option to buy apparel on EMI in 2009.

Mehta deconstructed the thought process behind the brands who failed to run campaigns during the demonetisation season saying, “Owing to the polarised response to demonetisation, amongst consumers, the brands hesitated to go overt with their offerings, lest they appear to be too opportunistic and worse, if they appeared to be insensitive to consumers who were inconvenienced.”

Government Initiatives Spur Conversations

The move to demonetise 86% of the currency in India polarised the Indian public, and debates raged online and offline from the moment Prime Minister Modi made the announcement. With people stranded without cash, and ATM queues turning into stories of horror, demonetisation was the news everyday for the wrong reasons. The Government of India stepped up its advertising campaign about 10 days after the drive took off. The campaign which was aimed at promoting demonetisation carried the message “mera paisa surakshit hai” (my money is safe). In the case of banks, it was State Bank of India that created the most effective campaign, Sridhar said. According to him advertising campaigns from banks came in a little late and that left e-wallets to take over the conversation by making a splash across mediums.

Interestingly, the government’s lucky draw campaign to promote a cashless economy (#digidhanmela) drew a high number of tweets, even displacing the e-wallet market leader’s #paytmkaro slogan on Twitter. The Government of India’s lucky draw initiative was a step to urge more people to pay digitally and accept digital payments. The #digidhanmela included two lucky draws – one for consumers #luckygrahakyojana and the other for merchants #digidhanvyapariyojana.


Nitin Bhatia, Director Agency Partnerships, Meltwater said, “We have seen Paytm and Freecharge spending their dollars on both offline and online campaigns. Reliance of these wallet companies on social media campaigns is inevitable. Meltwater tracked the various trending campaigns since November  9th. To our surprise #DigiDhanMela was the most spoken about hashtag during the period of November 9-December 31."

Missed Opportunity

Demonetisation also spurred some campaigns from brands that did not have a direct connect with the issue and neither the right positioning to offer a social commentary like the Amul girl. According to Mehta, “There were some that were knee jerk in their attempts and honestly came out looking bad, for the brands concerned. Their association with demonetisation was forced and very hollow.”

Sridhar also felt that some brand tried very hard to make a connect but the campaigns did not necessarily work out in favour for the brands.  Sridhar wondered as to how brands across spectrums missed to connect demonetisation with barter, he said, “The first thing that comes to mind when you don’t have currency is the barter system. Some brands could have used this concept in their campaigns, but totally missed it.”

Mehta concluded saying, “There were others who could have grabbed the opportunity better, but they played safe. I am referring to brands/categories who could have pitched for the consumers' money to be parked into their investments, as most people were suddenly having a larger balance sitting in their savings bank accounts.” He said that brands need not have felt forced to take sides on the matter and used a tactical approach. “I believe that was an opportunity missed, as I did not see any smart advertising around this approach.”

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