It's Sodhiji this time, for Tata Sky

By afaqs! news bureau , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | April 27, 2009
For Aamir Khan, donning new roles for commercials hasn't stopped with Coca-Cola; it seems to have seeped into Tata Sky as well, with a new ad portraying Khan as an elderly Sikh. afaqs! unmasks the new look

A dual role of a bickering Punjabi husband and wife; an urban, mischievous husband to Gul Panag; and now, an elderly Sikh - Aamir Khan has already reinvented himself thrice for Tata Sky in the span of a year, ever since the brand signed him on. So far, Coca-Cola is perhaps the only other brand that has had a series of ads with Khan ('Thanda') where he has donned not just a new look, but a new avatar/role in each.

Tata Sky's latest communication is not a conventional one: the brand has taken a bit of a risk by dipping into the belief that any publicity is good publicity. The ad by O&M has the 'elderly' Khan virtually condemning Tata Sky for being so addictive (with a superior quality viewing experience) that his son has started neglecting him.

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The film opens on a Sardar, Sodhiji (Khan), driving his vintage car and fuming about the fact that cricket has turned into an addiction in India. To top it off, Tata Sky made things worse by offering superior picture clarity, thereby giving viewers an additional reason to get glued to television sets. He is disgruntled that while he stands in queues in the heat to pay his electricity bills, his unresponsive and irresponsible son enjoys a game of cricket on Tata Sky.

Feeling disrespected, Khan decides to teach his son a lesson - by handing over the Tata Sky set top box to an unsuspecting man on the street, and driving off. On reaching home, while his flabbergasted son tells him that someone stole their Tata Sky set, the cheeky Khan airily replies that this was bound to happen with a product like Tata Sky.

The single minded focus for the brand has been on picture quality, explains Anup Chitnis, executive creative director, O&M, South Asia.

Vikram Mehra, chief marketing officer, Tata Sky, elaborates, "With Aamir on board, the journey has been easier. His presence has not only helped us establish a connection with not just the classes, but also the masses."

Khan's Thanda Matlab Tata Sky

Pretty clearly, it has been a ride for Khan, as he serves Tata Sky in a capacity similar to that which he had for Coca-Cola: a brand for which he has easily slipped into more than 10 different looks/roles.

Tata Sky brought Khan on board in 2008, releasing a TVC wherein the actor played a dual role - that of a Punjabi couple fussing over their favourite DTH operator, later realising that both are talking about the same brand. That creative was flagged off by Rediffusion Y&R, which was the creative custodian of the brand at the time.

O&M came into the picture after winning the business for Tata Sky Plus - the personal video recording service offering, thereafter also bagging the Tata Sky account. For Tata Sky Plus, he played the role of a mischievous husband going out of his way to please his wife, just so that he can cajole her into passing up the remote control during cricket matches.

This time around, it's an angry, elderly Sodhiji for Khan.

The peer skies

Raghu Bhat, senior vice-president and executive creative director, Contract Advertising, feels that Tata Sky may well be on its way to becoming the next Coca-Cola. "With Aamir's persona, the brand personality of Tata Sky seems to be very much like Coke," he says. However, Bhat is of the view that Khan overshadows not only the brand, but also the brand proposition.

Mehra of Tata Sky reasons, "When I get feedback that Khan is unrecognisable in the ads (in the dual role ad and the Sardar one), do you even think he can overpower the brand or its communication in any way?" On another note, Bhat thinks that the 'anger' in the film creates intrigue, and the film has a strong build-up.

"Khan, strategically, is a great fit for Tata Sky - his image as a methodical, perfectionist thinker goes well with the product features of picture clarity," says Sujay Nanavati, head, strategy planning, Percept/H.

While Nanavati feels that the commercial is entertaining and memorable, he is not too convinced about the film from a strategic point of view. "Neither does it say anything different from what the DTH category benefit is, nor does it sharply capitalise on the insight of 'change lethargy' the way the Dish TV commercials did," he adds.

What about picture quality?

In the DTH space, better picture quality is a given and consumers are increasingly beginning to understand it. When asked why the obvious was chosen as Tata Sky's positioning, Mehra of Tata Sky clarifies that the brand's positioning is based on three aspects - better picture quality, the interactive offering and customer service.

Bhat of Contract firmly believes that one needs to 'own' picture quality in this space - just like Sony Bravia owns 'colours' in the colour television category. To him, there is a contradiction in this film - the plot uses verbal cues to portray visual properties, which he feels isn't a good thing. "It communicates about picture quality, but does not establish it," he maintains.

In Nanavati's opinion, "The older value-add strategy of Tata Sky was a better one. From a strategic point of view, this campaign seems to take a step backwards, giving the brand a more generic messaging."

The celeb push

Today, DTH wars seem to rival cola wars, with aggressive advertising, spoofing and celebrity endorsement milling about in the arena. The hijacking of the Airtel DTH teasers by Big TV is reminiscent of Pepsi taking a dig at Coke. Celebrities are also being used in the same way.

It started with Dish TV signing on Shah Rukh Khan a while ago. Airtel digital TV uses Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and a whole host of other celebs. Tata Sky began with casting Hrithik Roshan for a campaign, and finally settling on Aamir Khan. Celebrity use has almost become a norm for the category.

However, some experts feel that the DTH market is still in a nascent stage in India and celebrities would provide the necessary recall value. This, says Nanavati, is especially in the smaller cities and lower SECs where penetration of DTH would not be as high.

For the record, out of a total of 13 million DTH connections in the country, and about 3.5 million connections for Tata Sky (as per March 2009 figures), the company claims to be well placed in terms of its offering and consumer base.