It's Indian exotica, with a Japanese twist. The new television commercial of Honda Motorcycle and Scooters India (HMSI) is set amidst the sand-hued fortresses of Rajasthan.
Colourful costumes, traditional music add to the India-ness of the scene as a young woman explores a mela-like scene before sitting down before a mehendi-wallah.
When the mehendi-wallah finally lifts his head, he is a Japanese -- in fact, he is Yoichi Mizutani, HMSI director, sales and marketing. And carefully etched between the intricate paisleys and trellis patterns is Honda's wing logo.
As Mizutani bows and greets the young woman in Japanese, the voiceover announces, "Aapko yeh jaankar aashcharya hoga ki hum aapke jeevan ka kitna ahem hissa hain. (You will be amazed to discover how integral a part we are of your life.)"
The idea behind the 30-second TVC, created by Contract Advertising, is clear: it's an attempt to showcase HMSI's attempt to fit in and understand India.
For HMSI, a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan's Honda Motor Company, it's also the first brand building campaign. Set up here in 1999, the company is the fourth-largest two-wheeler manufacturer in India, with a capacity of 200,000 units a year.
And now that the company has a foothold in the two-wheeler market with its scooters -- Activa, Eterno and Dio -- and motorcycles, a corporate campaign seemed like the next natural step towards brand awareness. HMSI's last product ad was in 2004 when it launched its 150-cc 4-stroke motorcycle Unicorn.
"It is not enough to have a presence in the market owing to your products, especially in the auto sector, where brand is a major deciding factor," points out a brand management analyst.
But that was the sum of HMSI's achievement in India. Although its products were popular, the company lacked an India connect. In fact, a brand survey by HMSI last November revealed that most consumers considered Honda to be an international brand with operations in India.
"We were not emotionally connected with our consumers," agrees the company spokesman.
While that's the main thinking behind the new campaign, Prashant Mathur, vice president, Contract, gives another reason.
"There are too many Honda companies: Hero Honda, Honda gensets, Honda cars. . . HMSI had to make a mark for itself." Which is why the company's wing logo has been prominently displayed in the mehendi pattern in the ad.
For Contract, the challenge in creating the HMSI campaign was not so much to infuse the ad with an Indian flavour, as to select one that was pan-Indian in its appeal. Among the options the company considered were themes that related to India's roads and automotives.
The mehendi idea, though, won hands-down, not only because it cuts across regional boundaries but also because it effectively showcased a Japanese understanding Indian culture. "After all, it's not easy to draw mehendi patterns," points out Mathur.
This is Contract's first association with HMSI. The agency bagged the six-month corporate contract after a pitch where Triton Advertising and HMSI's regular agency, Dentsu, also participated. The idea behind the campaign was simple. "We thought it was time we let our consumers know about us and not just rely on the technology that we are bringing to India," explains HMSI's spokesman.
That also made the hunt for a camera-friendly Japanese model simple: Contract tested some of the expats at HMSI's office in Manesar, Gurgaon, before zeroing in on Mizutani. "Having him in the frame helped us create the true blend and also portrayed HMSI's promise of authenticity and commitment," explains Mathur.
While the 30-second ad and its 20-second edits are appearing on all major cable television channels, HMSI is also planning substantial print, outdoor and online campaigns to bolster its attempt to be seen as an Indian company.
While the current ad will run till the end of this month, more campaigns are being planned to reinforce the India connection. Those are still at the storyboard stage, though.
Meanwhile, two roadshows are already on across the country for the Eterno and Unicorn, while more such initiatives, including at the national and regional dealer levels, are being planned. "Our focus is to bring the company and its products closer to the people," points out the HMSI official. The TVC is just the first step.