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Airtel & how to sell a message

April 10, 2007 17:56 IST

A bus rattles its way through lush green countryside. A young man sitting on the roof, is blind to the changing landscape. He is lost in thought even as he walks through the fields towards a cottage. As he reaches there, the old lady of the house is clearly shocked. She addresses him as "Rajju". Smiling, the young man shakes his head and says he is Rajju's son.

Delighted, she calls out to her husband, announcing their grandson's arrival. The old man, though, isn't pleased. "Why has he come here when his father has not spoken to me in 22 years?" he asks angrily. The young man whips out his mobile phone - the Airtel logo is prominently displayed on the screen - and promptly calls his father.

The grandfather accepts the prodigal's apologies, the grandmother pulls the handset to speak with her son, and the family is reunited. The voiceover comes on: "Kuch bandhan atoot hote hain. Jaise Airtel ka network. Desh ke har koney mein, aapke saath (Some bonds are unbreakable, like Airtel's network coverage. With you in all parts of the country.)"

The 60-second television commercial that went on air in early March is the first in a series of ads where mobile services provider Airtel is using relationships where distances don't matter as a metaphor for the depth and efficacy of its network.

"We now intend to move away from the 'Express Yourself' platform and convey to consumers that we are giving them the opportunity to connect to their loved ones," says Gopal Vittal, director, marketing, Bharti-Airtel.

Airtel adopted the "express yourself" tagline in 2003, and has used it not just in communication with customers, but also to unify all internal operations.

While the earlier campaign was on a purely emotional level, the current ad highlights the capability of Airtel's network. But emotions are important, according to Rediffusion DY&R - the agency that created the ad. Since service brands talk about experience, it is important for them to establish an emotional connect with consumers, say agency executives.

A brand audit earlier this year laid the foundations of the new campaign. Feedback on the brand and performance revealed that among the biggest concerns of young Indians is their need to stay connected with their parents and other loved ones.

That's especially true of the large numbers migrating to the cities everyday in search of jobs and better lives. Like other service operators, Airtel too is now setting its sights on tier II and III towns, and villages, which means it needs to make its brand promise more inclusive and appealing. Vittal agrees. "The brand is now trying to reach out to all demographics," he says.

Rediffusion DY&R, which has been Airtel's creative partner for the past 10 years, was brought on board for this campaign as well. National Creative Director K S Chakravarthy explains the transition in mobile telephony advertising.

"Telecom as a category has changed very rapidly. When first launched, it was about technology. Then it targeted premium consumers. Later it went mass and now it is digging deeper. We have, therefore, launched another campaign to remain in our leadership position."

Where the "Express Yourself" campaign took six months of preparation, Rediffusion DY&R designed the current theme in less than a month. That's because the concept for the ad had been written several months ago by former creative director Shuba Menon - who has since quit the agency - although it had been shelved since it did not fit in with the ongoing theme.

With the new brief, though, the agency thought the estranged family idea was perfect. Hindi film director Shaad Ali made the film in 10 days of shooting at Pollachi, near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.

As is its wont, Airtel has kept brand ambassadors Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor out of the new campaign. Chakravarthy clarifies that Airtel does not associate celebrities with its brand-building efforts: they are used only for specific product promotions - the film stars weren't part of the Express Yourself campaign, either.

Brand gurus agree with this approach. According to Unnikrishnan, managing director of brand consultancy Brand Finance PLC, "Star images are fickle and associating a brand's image with a celebrity may lead to negative publicity if the celebrity does not perform up to expectations. The Indian cricket team's recent debacle in West Indies is an often quoted example."

Since it is reaching out to a more varied audience with the current campaign, Airtel is ensuring the TVC is seen as often and as widely as possible. The ad film is already on air on television channels like Doordarshan, the Star network, Sony and Zee, as well as regional channels such as Sun and Gemini.

More than 1,000 hoardings have also been put up in metros, tier II and tier III towns, while print ads are being planned in vernacular dailies and magazines. The current campaign will run for another 10 weeks and Vittal says the next set of ads that will follow this campaign will also be true to the same concept.

The mobile telephony ad isn't the only campaign Bharti launched this season. A few weeks ago, it kicked off its first advertising efforts for the enterprise services business. The business-to-business communication is focused on a series of print ads, all of which show images of smartly dressed executives engaged in non-business activities: rowing boats, playing golf and so on.

The message: if your organisation is well networked, you don't need to be present in office. The body copy underlines that: "All 10 leading banks in India, nine out of the top 10 BPOs, over 1,000 leading corporates, one integrated solutions partner Airtel Enterprise Services."

The enterprise business's campaign will run for the next three months, informing large business houses and other potential customers about the services this division provides. "It is a huge business opportunity and we want to grow quickly. We are using the campaign to spread awareness and build our credentials as a serious solutions partner," says Vittal.

Since the campaign is targeted at a niche audience - CEOs, CFOs and company heads - Airtel has restricted itself to print and online advertising: business newspapers and magazines as well as websites like moneycontrol and

Although the company began operations two years ago, it is now expanding and hence wants to spread awareness about its brand. The print campaign, the company hopes, will showcase the length and depth of its operations in this business. As Chakravarthy puts it, "We want people to realise the size of Airtel's enterprise operations."
Govindkrishna Seshan