Leisure biking has started to become a norm in India, what with a marked growth in disposable income. People are now taking vacations to discover the Himalayan topography on their heavy and loud bikes or cruisers as they are called. The category didn't have many players and Royal Enfield enjoyed a monopoly.
In December 2016, Bajaj launched its most powerful variant Dominar. The 400cc bike was launched to take on the likes of Royal Enfield (Himalayan series) and Mahindra Mojo. Six months later, that is, now, Bajaj released a television commercial, urging people not to carry the weight of nostalgia as a liability; the ad is titled "Haati Mat Paalo".
The 60-seconder traces the journey of a bunch of bikers on a mountainous terrain... they aren't riding motorbikes, though; they're sitting on elephants. The background noise is, quite evidently, the familiar thump of a Royal Enfield engine.
The film fetched a fair share of media attention, and the one question everyone asked was - why is Bajaj mocking Royal Enfield? Well, afaqs! reached out to the man behind the ad film, Sumeet Narang, vice-president, marketing, Bajaj Auto.
Narang tells afaqs!, "Actually the ad is not a dig, but an introduction to a new approach towards long-distance riding. Traditionally, in India, and even globally, people have been choosing large, 'lazy' bikes for this purpose. Dominar belongs to an emerging class of sports cruisers, a first-of-its-kind in India. The ad simply dramatises the difference between both types of riding as seen from 'the Dominar lens'. We believe that size is nothing without performance."
Narang feels the film is a "simple display" of manoeuvrability and performance, something he believes would leave "traditional riders baffled if they ever experience it up close."
Dominar had a great start; in its initial days, Bajaj sold around 3,500 units of this variant a month. But it could not sustain this run and sales dipped to 927 units in June. The bike has, however, built a strong community of loyalists in metros.
Bajaj has rolled out two initiatives to engage riders so far - HyperRides (which are weekend group rides) and HyperTours (which are 10-12 day-long trips wherein one rides with professionals).
"In the top eight metros, close to 20 per cent of our customers have already taken part in HyperRides," informs Narang.
So does this mean a Dominar can only find a place on the road by replacing an existing Royal Enfield? "Dominar will create its own segment of customers," answers Narang, adding, "(it will become popular among) customers who want high-performance, athletic, tech-loaded bikes capable of swallowing long distances. These are customers from various segments..." and are familiar with more than "just one or two brands...."
Ogilvy & Mather is Bajaj's creative agency. Sukesh Nayak, chief creative officer, Ogilvy, West, has created the campaign. The brief given to agency was - make people realise that the segment has progressed over the years.
Where did 'Haati Mat Paalo' come from? "Once we had the brief, we put this creative idea on the table. It is based on our observation that today, the mindset with respect to this category, is quite a dated one. Performance and specification-related aspects are completely ignored and decisions are made on the basis of the nostalgia associated with the brand in question. So 'Haati Mat Paalo' is for those who are stuck with something big, dated, and heavy on their pocket and yet defend it on the grounds of nostalgia," asserts Nayak.
The entire film is shot in Thailand. Why? Well, the place affords easy availability of trained elephants! "We were keen to show that this is a bike which will respond to your demands no matter which terrain you are riding on. When someone goes for a tour he passes through different terrains, and we wanted to say, 'Here is a modern alternative for your hyper-riding needs'. The film was made keeping that in mind," adds Ogilvy's Nayak.
Does this sort of pot-shot advertising work for the two-wheeler segment?
"This is a pot-shot... a big pot-shot at Enfield," says Naresh Gupta, chief strategy officer and managing partner of Bang in the Middle.
He adds, "Now is that bike worth a pot-shot? Everyone agrees that Royal Enfield is not the most advanced or the smoothest bike. The appeal of RE is in its rawness. The elephant may not be a bad analogy, but despite the slowness of elephants, it is the most regal animal in the jungle..."
Gupta goes on, "I guess the one simple take-away is - (Bajaj) wants the RE fan club to try out (Dominar) and eventually choose it over an Enfield. It's a nice battle to watch. Just that, they didn't need to take such an overt pot-shot."