Branding is the goal, storytelling is the means: Sashi Shankar

The CMO of Idea Cellular talks about the strategic importance and power of storytelling in Idea Cellular’s advertising journey

e4m by Saloni Surti
Published: Mar 7, 2013 2:12 AM  | 4 min read
Branding is the goal, storytelling is the means: Sashi Shankar

Be it the quirky ‘Hunny Bunny’ song or the witty advertisements featuring Abhishek Bachchan, Idea Cellular commercials have always managed to strike a chord with the audience. The ad films usually stand out as they manage to narrate a complete tale in the 30-45 seconds time slot.

While one might receive it as a form of entertaining content or mere advertising, Idea TVCs go beyond the traditional telecom advertisements and establish the company’s stand point very effectively.

“Idea believes in storytelling,” said Sashi Shankar, CMO, Idea Cellular. “Stories have a magical power. They are not attached to any shackles and help in creating emotions or giving wings to one’s imaginations. A good story is always remembered,” he added.

Idea commercials function more or less like a short film, having a plot, characters and a conclusion. While most of their advertisements convey a social message, Shankar explains that it was no theme but an effective means to deliver their promise of ‘An Idea can change your life’ in an innovative manner.

“Like the four elements of nature (air, water, fire and earth), storytelling is also based on four crucial aspects – message, plot, characters and conflict,” explained Shankar. These elements not only craft a story well but also help establish the message one wants to put across.
Shankar stated that in today’s world, product differentiation is blurry. Now physical difference does not matter but communication and customer experience matter and story is what makes the difference for Idea. He expressed that branding is the goal and storytelling is the means.
Ideas storytelling culture goes back to the early 2000s when the company emerged under one brand name, from the former four brand names in different circles. While the name and the tag line (An idea can change your life) were very promising, the brand was not sure as to how to deliver this promise to its TG.

“We went about building brand idea,” said Shankar. “We decided to connect with the consumers not on a rational level but on an emotional level. We wanted to have the qualities of a champion – a champion of thoughts and champion of ideas,” he added.

Idea commercials started establishing the brand as a solution provider and decided not to promote network, price or value added services at all. The brand started associating itself with solutions to bigger problems. Idea commercials associated with various social issues such as education in rural areas (for expansions of coverage and network) and population control (to promote 3G network).

“When the story was discussed, most people were not comfortable with the idea of a telecom company addressing a social issue. However, our CEO and the agency had the conviction that this is what will help us to stand out,” said Shankar.
Also, humour and music were incorporated to make the advertisements more entertaining and interesting. Abhishek Bachchan, who was then an upcoming star, was roped in as the brand ambassador. To keep the commercials different and to maintain the theme of a story, Junior AB was portrayed as a character and not himself.

In its latest campaigns – Hunny Bunny and Telephone Exchange – Idea has moved from a social level to a personal level. While Hunny Bunny captured the ingrained habit that people have of humming songs, telephone exchange tapped on marital fights.

Shankar pointed out that through Hunny Bunny, Idea wanted to establish that it is a pan India network. The campaign was a deviation from what usually Idea did. The jingle was composed by Amit Trivedi basis the brief given to Lowe Lintas. The campaign has been the most successful Idea commercial so far.

While Idea has so far managed to deliver its promise of ‘An idea can change your life’ through its commercial and create a landmark in the advertisement world, how much can these advertisements help in RoI is the real question.

RoI has always been a marketer’s biggest woe. Shankar highlighted that advertisements can help in achieving numbers only up to a certain extent. There is no substitute of what can be done on-ground through network quality, sales and distribution.

Sashi Shankar was speaking on the topic ‘Brands as Storytellers: What an Entertainment Sirji!’ at the Mumbai leg of Pitch CMO Summit 2013, held on March 6, 2013. The session was chaired by Arvind Sharma, Chairman and CEO, Indian Sub-continent, Leo Burnett.

The Summit was presented by Colors in association with MEC.

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