Indian Oil: Taking the high ground of humility

By , agencyfaqs! | In | October 20, 2003
Through its four-ad print campaign, Indian Oil is looking at connecting with the consumer emotionally, and coming across as an accessible and friendly company

'For every step we take, there's an inspired Indian leading the way.' These words, tucked away in a small blurb occupying a postage stamp-sized corner in each ad, embody the underlying thought in the new four-ad corporate campaign for public sector giant, Indian Oil. A campaign that pays homage to the doughty spirit of little known Indians (the late Captain Vikram Batra of the 13 JAK Rifles being an exception) who have given back more than they have received from life. People who have left small footprints on the sands of time by acts of selflessness that have somehow contributed to a Greater Good.

'What can India's only Fortune Global 500 Company learn from a man who opted out of a comfortable career?' asks one ad, alluding to Captain Batra who chose the harshness and rigor (and eventual martyrdom, though he was not to know it then) that the Indian Army offered over the comforts of making a career out of sailing with the merchant navy. All for the sake of defending his beloved motherland. Captain Batra finally fell to a hail of hostile bullets in Kargil. But his bravery proved inspirational, goading his fellow soldiers to win the war for the nation. 'Sometimes an ordinary Indian can make a Rs 120,000 crore company feel humble,' the ad says, going on to explain how Indian Oil depots '…bore the brunt of the shelling at Kargil…' and how the company meets '…90% of the vital petroleum needs of the Indian Defence Services.'

'How a quiet, smiling lady from Kutch got richer than a Rs 120,000 crore company.' Ad two is about Dr Shantu Patel, who runs the only neo-natal hospital in the dry wastes of Bhuj. Like Captain Batra, Dr Patel too traded a cushy life in England for the uncertainties of working in the hinterland of Gujarat. Her motive. A call of duty towards the children her own country. Her reward. A lifetime of goodwill from the rural folk of Bhuj that has '…left her a billionaire many times over.' The ad subsequently talks about how Indian Oil too '…constantly supports healthcare initiatives for the needy…', how it has '…helped set up the Excimer Laser facility corneal refractive surgery…' and how its many petrol stations '…help spread HIV/AIDS awareness among susceptible target groups.'

The third ad is about a sculptor and primary school dropout named Ram Chandra who, while getting his bicycle repaired, hit upon a remarkable idea for making artificial limbs less cumbersome and more affordable. The result: the Jaipur Foot, which has its own distinctive place in the pages of medical history. While celebrating Chandra's role in helping over seven lakh people walk, the ad talks about how Indian Oil '…is committed to developing innovative solutions to improve day-to-day life.' The last ad in the series focuses on 'Forest Maker' Abdul Kareem, a Malayali villager who single-handedly nurtured a verdant 32-acre forest out of the inhospitable laterite soil of northern Kerala. The 'Kareem Model' is today seen globally as an ecological miracle, and Kareem is something of a poster boy for environmentalists. The plantation of '…over ten lakh trees across India…' and the creation of green belts is where Indian Oil comes in. The ad concludes by referring to the company's efforts at protecting the environment.

All four ads ostensibly salute the achievements of inspired Indians (the campaign's slug suitably reads 'India Inspired'). Yet, there are clear linkages in what's being talked to the different accomplishments of Indian Oil, as an organisation. Which is but natural. The absence of chest thumping, and the manner in which the company has chosen to take a backseat, however, is where this campaign is distinct from most corporate campaigns. In fact, it is only in the last three paragraphs or so (cheers to long copy!) that the ads dwell on Indian Oil. Everything that comes before is solely about the Captain Batra, Dr Patel, Chandra and Kareem.

It couldn't have been any other way. Not with an ambitious campaign premise like humility at Indian Oil.

Now humility, as most of us know, isn't a sentiment that comes naturally to advertisers. And that alone makes the Indian Oil campaign noteworthy. "The idea first came to us while we were brainstorming at the time of pitching for the account, and had to suggest ways in which the company could communicate the fact that it touches a huge section of India in many different ways," reveals Agnello Dias, executive creative director, Leo Burnett India. The reasoning at the agency was that Indian Oil, as a company, had contributed significantly towards nation building, and yet had never made a noise about itself. Clubbed with this was the fact that the company was seen as 'big', which has its own set of disadvantages. "When you are big, simply saying 'I am big' is of little use as people already know that, and more importantly, it can alienate them," Dias explains.

"Because bigness at times alienates people, there comes a time when you have to buy your bigness back," KV Sridhar (Pops), national creative director, Leo Burnett India, takes up. "The insight here was that when you are very big, your bigness often lies in your humility. The fact that Indian Oil has never tom-tomed its size or stature or role in nation building is itself proof of humility. So we just looked at Indian Oil as an unsung hero. By saying how ordinary Indians make Indian Oil feel humble, we are putting the company in the same league of countless other unsung heroes, and reinforcing the concept of humility."

The objective served is imparting a "human face" to the sole Indian Fortune 500 Company. "The campaign is aimed at making people see Indian Oil as an accessible and friendly company, which will help create a differential from competitors," says Pops. Venkat Mallik, national director, client services, Leo Burnett India, adds, "We are looking at emotional proximity with the consumer by making a strong emotional consumer connect. The image of the company will play a significant role in the future, especially considering the emerging competitiveness in the category. So strengthening the company's image is important. And we are building on the company's strengths."

One of the most interesting aspects of the campaign is the 'human-interest stories' it cradles. Obviously, the stories had to hook up with things that Indian Oil was doing. But, from a communication perspective, it was imperative that the stories were inherently dramatic, making interesting reading. "We looked at many stories before settling on these four," says Dias. The treatment was critical as well. "Pops told us that this is an honest campaign so it must not look and read like your usual ad," Harshad Rajadhyaksh, creative director at the agency, recalls. "We poured over magazines like National Geographic and Life to see how they tell human stories visually, and we treated the layout and photography (by Shekhar Phalke) accordingly. We had captions accompanying visuals, blurbs and a typeface that gave the campaign a 'journalistic' feel." Dias agrees that he even changed to style of writing to give it the tone and feel of reportage.

The campaign, which has been running in print for roughly a month now, will soon be extended to national television. The agency, however, declines from sharing anything more about the campaign at this stage. What it reveals is that the 'India Inspired' thought is something that the agency and client will live with in all corporate communication and corporate branding exercises for some time to come. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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