We are learning new ways to reach out to consumers: Amit Syngle, Asian Paints

In today’s segment of ‘Beating All Odds’, Amit Syngle, Managing Director & CEO, Asian Paints, speaks to Impact's Neeta Nair

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: May 19, 2020 9:19 AM
Beating All Odds

This brand has brought colour to the lives of many customers across the country, and literally so.

When most companies are administering pay cuts, Asian Paints has decided to give its employees a salary hike to boost their morale, one of the many ways in which the brand is helping people and their staff deal with the gloom of the pandemic.

In this edition of ‘Beating All Odds’, we have with us Amit Syngle, Managing Director & CEO, Asian Paints Limited.

Asian Paints has been one of the most prominent advertisers in the country. How has the lockdown affected you as a brand?

The current situation has been very, very exceptional. Yes, we are going through a lot of uncertain times. But, as a brand we feel that when situations get tough, it is important for a brand to keep the brand saliency on. So we've been pretty active in the last about four and a half weeks in terms of the series of campaigns we have done. We've done two beautiful campaigns on ‘Har Ghar’ in terms of really connecting with the customer and exhorting the customer to stay home and stay safe. We've been working on a lot of digital campaigns. We did a live concert with Shaan and Shankar Mahadevan, some other initiatives around Mother’s Day, and so on and so forth. So we've been pretty active around the media, because we feel that for any brand, you know times can be tough, but it is important to have the saliency around it. Yes, what we have done is curtailed possibly the spend which would have been in normal times, but at the same time we've also run ATL which has been around our Royale Health Shield, which is our brand in the health and hygiene space to that extent. So overall, I think we've been still quite active, maybe not as active we would have been in the normal times. But we feel that is something which any brand should kind of appropriate in terms of even times that are not looking very great.

How have you gone about allocating your advertising spends. Most advertisers literally chose to move away from other mediums and focus largely on digital. Has it been a similar approach for you?

So we've looked at balancing our spends in the last few months and weeks as we look at it. The largest spends obviously have been towards digital for us as well, because we kind of diverted a big chunk of our spends towards digital, and we had almost two to three film launches on digital. So, it took a bit of a spend there, but at the same time we have not shied away from the traditional ATL channels and we have looked at some of our communication happening on the news genre and certain other general entertainment channels. Therefore, we have been active in terms of the traditional channels as well. But having said that, yes, there has been a larger spend towards the digital medium to that extent and a lot of innovation which has been kind of done in terms of looking at the social handles and other areas.

And in this period you have come up with more than one digital film. And it literally takes us back to your iconic 2007 film by a similar name ‘Har ghar chup chap kuch kehta hai’. Tell me how did you go about making that during a lockdown and get Piyush Pandey to lend his voice to it?

See, that entire initiative actually was done in a period of just five days, from the idea germination stage to the actual execution it was something. And I would really credit, both the brand and the agency of really partnering so well, coming together with the idea and really looking at a very fast way of executing it. Obviously, kudus to Piyush, because in a conversation with him, he really said that, you know this is something which he would like to lend his voice and he wrote it himself. And that was, I think a big thing in terms of what he gave an expression to the entire film in a very, very strong way. And then started a series of things where we were shooting simultaneously in 10 homes through mobile phones. And it was almost real situations, real sweet moments which people could relate to, moments which brought joy and happiness to people's lives in this uncertain and exceptional times. And really, you know strengthen the bond in terms of the emotional connect with the homes in a very, very beautiful way. So I would say that it was literally like magic in terms of how it really worked. And, you know Piyush went out of the way in terms of looking at saying that his best voice comes forward in terms of really lending a very strong expression to the film. And that's how I think the two campaigns came in. The first one was more in the zone of looking at some of those, you know daily sweet moments which are happening that we can relate to them very strongly. And the second one was more in the space in terms of how we really connect with the homes, and almost empathize with homes, and in a space when we are staying with those homes for a very, very long time. So both had a very, very different zone, and really connected well with the consumers in a very big way.

In this period, a lot of brands have had a very CSR-led approach. And even in your case you've pledged about Rs 35 crore towards the relief fund. What is the consumer’s expectation right now from a responsible brand like yours and how are you going about fulfilling it?

So, right from the time this has happened, we have always looked at saying that - can we partner the government in terms of fighting this entire COVID battle. We've also looked at in terms of how we can help the communities around us, how we can help the NGOs which are there. So not only did we look at committing more than Rs 35 crore in terms of lending to the government, we've been working very actively with the NGOs in terms of looking at providing food and whatever we can do in terms of lending a helping hand. But more than that, you know the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Chemicals approached us for what help we could provide as a brand. And, therefore, we looked at entering the sanitizer category and being a responsible and caring brand. We felt that it would be a great imperative to look at in terms of really helping the government, not only in terms of providing the money, and looking at helping the NGOs with what we want to do, but also coming out and really providing a strong zone of providing something in the market where there was a big deficit. So we've been really working around very strongly in terms of what we can do in terms of helping communities, hospitals and NGOs and we think that we're proud of a lot of work which we have done in the last four and a half weeks in this direction.

About this foray into the sanitizer category, is that temporary or part of your long term plans?

So Asian Paints always has been a responsible and caring brand. And we felt that when we got this nudge from the government, it was a great opportunity to get into the health and hygiene category. And given the fact that we were already working in this category, because we have a product called Royal Health Shield, which is an antibacterial paint which goes into homes and provides bacterial protection, we felt that it is also a category which leverages the existing health and hygiene space in a beautiful manner. And therefore, as we now go ahead with this Viroprotek hand sanitizers and surface sanitizers, the initial production is more directed at helping the government in the NGOs. But as we go ahead, we are looking at saying that this is not like a flash in the pan. We are looking at integrating this far more strongly with our health and hygiene category. We are looking at a separate distribution network in terms of looking at how we can get this product and range in the market. And we have already started reaching out to a set of distributors who are ensuring that the products are now available at the right shops so that we are able to kind of take this entire initiative forward. As we go ahead, this category is going to be an integral part of our health and hygiene portfolio and we think we are looking at a lot of innovation around with category, both in terms of products and services.

Coming back to your main business that has been hit to a large extent, considering that painting your house will take a backseat in most households at this point, what is your strategy in that direction?

I won't agree with you that people are not going to look at painting their house anymore, because I still believe that we will cajole and get people into painting their homes because beautiful homes is something which Asian Paints is already, always aligned with. So what we are doing is that as we go ahead we are looking at partnering the customer in a very, very big way. We have launched a service which is called ‘The Safe Painting’ service. And as part of that service what we are assuring the customer is that when a set of painters come to their homes, they come in with full protection, with full safety gear so that they are assured that if they are making their homes beautiful, at the same time, you know they are ensuring that they are perfectly safe and people need not get worried about they getting any kind of germs and viruses inside their houses and to that extent it’s an assured and safe service to that extent. So, I think the whole attempt is to hold the customer’s hand and partner the customer in terms of this assurance that we are helping them in terms of a very, very safe service. At the same time, we are also coupling the service with a sanitizing service where we are looking at sanitizing their homes with a range of sanitizers which we have. So the customers are doubly assured that not only that we are looking at safe paintings, we’re also looking at providing them a very, very strong health with respect tosanitizing theirhomes as they kind of go forward. So we feel that as we go forward, obviously, I think it will take some time to full normalcy which will come back, and people kind of really engaging in terms of the whole painting exercise, but we are hopeful that as and when people see the merits of such safe painting practices coming in, they will be more encouraged to kind of get painters within their homes and start painting their phones.

At the same time we feel like there are a lot of construction activity which has started, and some of those construction activities will get into painting, whether it is exterior painting or whether it is in terms of lot of other areas which we offer in terms of waterproofing and other areas to that extent. So overall our perspective is as the environment open slowly, we would kind of see that the market would try to start to open out and that is something which we are having an optimism about that in some time, you know the market will open and painting works will start, construction will start.

And in such times what are your expectations from your ad agency. Is the focus on making video ads at this point, or providing business solutions?

So, I would say that when you look at the advertising agencies, they are very strong partners in this business as we go ahead. And they align with the kind of work which we would like the agencies to do. So I think from a point of view of one, working along with the brand in terms of developing new propositions which will suit the customer, looking at new creators that we can kind of go in terms of really looking which will be possibly standing with the customer in a very, very strong way. And also partnering the brand from the point of view of providing more fuel and more, you know armory in terms of what we can do as we kind of look at this challenging environment in terms of going ahead. So I feel that the advertising agencies would not just come in in terms of just sitting and making creators with us and looking at new prepositions, they will partner on the brand in terms of really saying that what are the kind of strategies which we can kind of unleash in the market so that we are able to kind of, you know get the brand going in, in these tough times.

Very few brands are advertising at this point or communicating about being there for the consumers even if direct sales are on hold. Will the consumer respect you for that?

As we go ahead, we are very clear that we will look at supporting a lot of integrated marketing activities for the brand. And we will really stand up in terms of ensuring that we have a certain brand saliency in the market because that is very, very important in terms of really reaching out to the customers and being top of the mind at the customer level to that extent, so some of those initiatives as for me would continue. Obviously, it all depends in terms of how much the market is opening, how is it basically the situation enveloping as we kind of go ahead. And therefore, a lot of force in terms of those initiatives will come in, depending on how the situation really unfolds.

Once the lockdown is completely lifted from across the country, do you see yourself going all out to advertise or will you be a little cautious about spending money on advertising?

I feel that for any brand we should always take a balanced opinion in terms of looking at going ahead. So when the market tends to come into normalcy, it's not that we are going to really splurge the market in terms of looking at a host of market campaigns and a lot of advertising which is going to happen. But as I see it is that once really the market opens and with the impending festive season, which is going to come ahead, we will look at definitely spending moneys in the marketing and the advertising and above the line forays which are there and look at balancing the entire initiative in such a manner that we are able to reach out to the customer, remain top of the mind, but at the same time balance it in terms of how we see the revenues coming during that point of time. So I think it's a fairly balanced approach we would like to kind of take and see that you have the relevance in the market, you have the salience in the market, and you are able to remain top of the mind for your set of consumers.

What is the biggest change that you think COVID-19 has brought to the entire marketing community?

I think the biggest change is that people are learning to work from home. And we are learning new ways of really marketing and reaching out to the consumers. And at the same time discovering that our potential is much, much more, so I think people are really saving lots of time in terms of not driving to work and spending time in traffic. And suddenly the availability of time is becoming a very, very big asset, which people are discovering. And I feel that post when everything opens, we'll realize that our productivity has got, you know doubled to a zillion times than what we were doing earlier.

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