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Dravid and an ad with a difference

Prerna Raturi | August 17, 2005

Debashis Sarkar just smiles when asked if he's happy that Rahul Dravid was captain of the Indian cricket team for the recent tri-series in Sri Lanka.

Perhaps that's because we lost the finals to Sri Lanka -- under Dravid's captaincy. But then, Max New York Life wasn't looking for leadership skills when in April it signed on The Wall as brand ambassador.

"Dravid is perceived as a dependable batsman. It is this dependability and reliability that we wanted to encash," says Sarkar, who is the director, additional distribution and marketing, for the insurance major.

Max did that by launching its new ad campaign on Ten Sports, in time for the tri-series. Created by Equus Red Cell, the series of eight, 30-second clips shows different people -- from a barber and gym trainer, to waiter and librarian -- advising Dravid on his moves on the pitch, from fielding in the slips to the perfect position in the batting order.

And Dravid is his usual gentlemanly self: he doesn't laugh or sneer. He merely smiles and listens to all that Dolly, the salwar-kameez-and-sneakers-clad woman, and the burly Sikh taxi driver have to say. And then he sums it up, "Everyone has ready advice. The question is, whom do you accept it from? For insurance advice, I trust Max New York Life."

For MNYL, this is the second TVC and its first brand ambassador. With a Rs 12 crore (Rs 120 million) marketing budget {Rs 4 crore (Rs 40 million) more than last year}, Max is ensuring its new campaign gets huge visibility: the ad will be on major cable channels and cinema theatres; outdoor and radio ads will complete the campaign.

Max's first campaign was equally visible. That was in 2001, when Max India Limited entered into a joint venture with New York Life. Aimed at striking an emotional chord with the target customer, that TVC -- created by Equus Red Cell again -- featured different forms of worship and prayer.

Says Sarkar, "We had to make an emotional connect since we had to convince the people that although New York Life is an American company, it has a wide network all over the world and will deliver in India, too."

This time, however, the emphasis was on the quality of advice. That focus followed from in-house research by Max that showed that people are confused when it comes to life insurance. The advice and offers by agents is not clear, there are so many players and different types of policies, and so on.

For Equus, then, the best launch point seemed to be the sometimes humourous fact that Indians have an opinion, and advice, on anything and everything. So, the triviality of cricketing advice was contrasted with the seriousness of insurance advice.

At the same time, there were several strategic compulsions, points out Swapan Seth, joint CEO, Equus Red cell. "We wanted to focus on the kernel of the brand -- the agent advisor and the high quality of advice he renders," he adds.

The choice of Dravid as brand ambassador was also significant. Before zeroing in on him, Max had considered several other celebrities: cricketer-turned-commentator Sunil Gavaskar, lyricist Javed Akhtar and singer Jagjit Singh were some names that were up for grabs, says Sarkar.

But Dravid came out as a clear winner for the demographic profile of the typical insurance buyer is a 30-something man from a semi-urban area. It goes without saying that the brand ambassador needed to have a pan-Indian presence. "And you cannot ignore the factor of celebrity clutter," adds Sarkar.

That begs the question: does a celebrity endorsement help? When big names are plugging everything from masalas to mobile phones, will one more really stand out? Seth believes it will, using make-up as a metaphor to explain: "Where most brands treat celebrities as blush-on for the brand, we treated it as foundation."

In any case, Dravid is a solid foundation on which to base a campaign. Apart from his squeaky clean image and reputation for clean play, he's also a bankable celebrity.

A recent study, Celebrity Track, conducted by marketing research company Hansa Research, shows that Dravid ranks fifth among cricketers who can be celebrity endorsers after Sachin Tendular, Saurav Ganguly, Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar (not in order).

Says Vineet Sodhani, head of marketing and client servicing, syndicated products, Hansa Research, "Dravid is dependable and safe. So sure can one be of him on the field, that if I were his manager, I would even go to cement companies to take him on as their brand ambassador."

Meanwhile, Dravid's job as Max's brand ambassador shouldn't be too tough: he's vouching for the insurance company's ability to offer sound advice, and Max has records to prove that claim. Most insurance outsource their agents' required 100 hours of training to an outside agency.

Max, on the other hand, has an in-house training cell where agents undergo 152 hours of training, with updates every three months.

Also, for the past two years, the company has been the only Indian private life insurance company to be listed in the top 100 companies worldwide in terms of MDRT (Million Dollar Round Table) membership numbers (An international network where the world's best agent advisors get together for taking stock of the insurance industry, innovation, motivation workshops and so on).


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