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Despite anti-China sentiments will Vivo manage to keep ringing?

By T E Narasimhan
June 24, 2020 10:05 IST
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As campaigns against Chinese brands intensify and the virus keeps people indoors, Vivo plays it slow with a digital-first launch plan.

In the ordinary scheme of things, the launch of V19, the newly minted model from Vivo would have been a noisy affair.

In the past, its launches have usually been timed alongside the annual cricketing carnival, with flashy and long drawn campaigns.

 

But nothing about 2020 has been ordinary and Vivo, having decided to push the V19 launch by a few weeks, has kept the buzz down with a digital-first campaign, flipping its media strategy to bring out television commercials a few weeks after the official launch and building up expectations slowly.

The company says that the phones (priced between Rs 20,000-30,000) have been launched after due deliberation.

Instead of the euphoric highs of a cricket tournament, it was timed with the partial easing of the lockdown in some parts of the country - the phones hit the market mid-May - and the tone and pitch of the advertising campaign were adapted accordingly.

Nipun Marya, head of brand strategy at Vivo Mobile India said, “So far the response has been good. The market is not fully open and consumers are still afraid of coming out. Keeping all this in mind, we are doing fairly okay.”

The smartphone market, he points out, is a basket of imponderables at the moment.

In the pre-COVID-19 period, the Rs 20,000-30,000 segment (budget-premium) and premium segment were growing at a fast clip, propelled by hefty instalment schemes and offers.

Now, EMIs are harder to come by and the virus has tightened purse strings all around.

Marya says that some reports indicate that the demand is high for the sub-Rs 15,000 or budget segment.

But this could change within months, he warns as the market is changing its character by the day.

When planning the launch of V19, the marketing team took the uncertainty into account, as also the fact that reach was going to be a challenge without a vehicle such as the IPL.

Hence it was decided to cautiously build the product, starting off slowly with digital and Below The Line marketing before going national on television, with ambassador Aamir Khan.

“TV commercials used to be launched on day one, because the product was readily available.

"The situation being different, the company modified the strategy accordingly,” Marya said.

Digital media was also used innovatively, with augmented reality (AR) unboxing videos and as the environment improved, the company came up with its own retail scheme called Vivo Smart Retail.

“Customers don’t need to step out of their homes, they can message the company and the phone gets home,” he added.

However the lockdown is not the only challenge that the brand has had to contend with, the growing tirade against Chinese-origin products is a worry too.

There are two ways the company could have countered the negative narrative about Chinese brands.

By challenging those asking for a boycott to explain their stand or by letting it slide.

Vivo chose the latter, which experts believe, may be the safest way to ride the crisis.

“The traction of #VocalForLocal is yet to hit the markets, leave alone the streets. This might be a good open-window time for new launches," said Harish Bijoor, founder, Harish Bijoor Consults.

Vivo also hopes to leverage its two-year-old association with Aamir Khan to build a more compelling pull for the brand.

“We know how respected Khan is in India. The people don't just love him for his movies, but also the choices he has made as a person.

"People also know that if he endorses something, then the product or the brand must be good,” Marya said.

The brand also expects to reap the benefits of active reputation-building exercises undertaken during the past five years, be it in terms of the investments made in manufacturing and marketing the product or building a reliable distribution and retail network.

International Data Corporation’s (IDC) Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker says that in the year ended 2019, Vivo continued to lead the market with 28 per cent market share in the mid-premium segment on the back of its high selling Vivo V15 Pro.

And in the final quarter of 2019 as well as the first quarter of 2020, Vivo has managed to break past Samsung to be the second most sold smartphone brand after Xiaomi.

As demand for smartphones pick up gradually, the brand is hoping to keep climbing the curve.

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T E Narasimhan in Chennai
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