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Kotak Bank: Personalisation pitch, sutradhaar style

By , agencyfaqs! | In | December 15, 2003
The new commercial for Kotak Bank uses an observant jazz singer as a prop to sell the bank as a provider of personalised investment advice


Whenever a brand offers - or professes to offer - personalised solutions to its consumers, the brand's communication invariably talks about how the brand understands that no two consumers are alike and how there's no such thing as one-size-fits-all. To demonstrate this, the advertising usually dwells upon the divergent nature of human beings, and how the brand picks up its cues from the way people think, act and behave to offer tailor-made solutions to suit different needs. It's an age-old advertising format, and judging by its popularity, one would imagine it has its merits.

However, as is generally the case with most formatted advertising, the problem with the diverse-consumer-types-so-diverse-solutions format lies in the execution. Rather, the repetitiveness that creeps into the execution. So you either have a 'brand spokesperson' or 'representative' doing a walkabout in different situations, pointing out the different ways people behave and how the brand takes note of these differences. Or you have a faceless voiceover filling in for the brand spokesperson, threading a montage of slice-of-life situations (or behavioural patterns) into a composite whole. It's the sheer predictability of this clinical approach - and the inherent seriousness in its tonality - that makes a monotony of the advertising.

Despite subscribing to the format, the new commercial for Kotak Bank is one of those rare and pleasant exceptions. The ad, created by O&M, opens in a distinctly upmarket restaurant, complete with a live jazz band. Cuing into the song rendered by the lead singer (actor Boman Irani, seated at the piano), the camera tracks the goings-on in different corners of the restaurant from the singer's point of view.

'All these beautiful people on my mind…' the singer chuckles, as he eyes a young couple seated at one table. The man is in the process of paying the bill, and is obviously quite taken in by the waitress. 'Some are extravagant,' the singer croons, as the man gives the waitress a glad eye, digs into his wallet, pulls out one, then two five hundred-rupee notes and places them in the folder as tip. The wife, who hasn't missed much, reaches out and pulls one of the notes out of the folder with a shake of the head. 'Some… well…' the singer shrugs.

The camera moves to a waiter bearing a laden tray, weaving in and out of a crowd. 'Some are cautious,' the singer observes, as the waiter raises the tray in the air to avoid someone accidentally knocking it down. But for all his care, he stumbles on a walking stick that an old man seated at another table carelessly sticks out. 'And some careless,' the singer remarks and laughs to himself as the tray hits the carpet.

Cut to a crowded bar where a man is raising a toast to somebody or something. This gentleman is obviously in love with his voice, much to the dismay of his audience. 'Some are patient,' the singer points out, as most of those at the table sigh and drum their fingers, but bear the monologue for protocol's sake. 'And some not so,' the singer eyes one man seated at the far end of the bar quietly turning his head away and taking a surreptitious sip from his glass. 'That's why we never give two people the same advice,' he chortles in a surprising dénouement. 'Personalised investment advice from Kotak,' goes the voiceover. 'Think investments. Think Kotak,' goes the slug.

Detailing the rationale for adhering to the diverse-consumers-diverse-solutions format, Shashi Arora, head of marketing, Kotak Mahindra Bank, says, "We did not want to sell things like the strength of our ATM network or phone banking or Net banking. These are the hygiene factors for any bank, and today these are givens as far as consumers are concerned. The agency brief was we have to communicate the fact that Kotak understands and respects differences in people, so we are best suited to offer consumers personalised investment solutions."

Kotak's decision to tread the personalisation path is rooted in current realities in the retail banking and financial sectors. Being a new entrant (with a small network, that too predominantly in urban India) in a hugely cluttered market limits Kotak's possibilities of marketing itself purely as a bank. "There are already so many banks in India. And if you already have one or two bank accounts, you really don't need another bank account, so why sell you another bank?" Arora asks. The opportunity that Kotak saw, however, was an increasing need among consumers for advice on wealth management. With falling interest rates and inflation, the rate of returns in fixed deposits and savings accounts has hit rock bottom, forcing investors to actively pursue investments that offer higher returns.

"Consumers are looking for investment advice, but often don't know where to get it," says Arora. "The bank is a physical face that represents trust and security to the Indian consumer, so providing sound and unbiased advice is something that a bank can successfully do. And Kotak's core strength is its in-house competence across all fields of the financial sector, be it insurance, mutual funds or securities. Kotak has the ability to meet the entire gamut of financial needs, and we understand investor profiles based on our experience across the field. We saw a match between what the consumer is looking for and what we can offer in terms of personalised investment advice based on the consumer's liability and risk-return appetite. That's why we are positioning Kotak as a wealth manager for high net-worth individuals (households with annual income of Rs 4.5 lakh or more)."

Returning to the communication, what lifts the ad is the execution - the manner in which an observant jazz singer slips into the role of a sutradhaar and becomes a de facto spokesperson for the bank brand. "The reasoning was that you can personalise things only if you understand people and their needs, and understanding comes from observation," explains Abhijit Avasthi, creative director, O&M, who conceived the ad with his creative team comprising Malavika Mehra and Vijay Lalwani. "So we began looking at instances where observation of human nature happens. We came up with two-three concepts, but everyone warmed up to this one as this showed different aspects of human behaviour in one place. It also showed the acute sense of observation that we had to portray, plus the restaurant cues class, which fit in with the audience Kotak is targeting." He adds that the jazz singer - inspired by the sharp, dry humour-spouting jazz musicians in Hollywood films - is not a personification of Kotak, but "just an interesting way of telling a story".

Particularly refreshing is the fact that the ad is not encumbered by the seriousness that typifies most category advertising. 'Un-banky' is the precise word. "The critical thing was to appeal to our target audience, so the approach had to be novel and understated, not in-the-face," says Arora. "We want Kotak to represent not just a bank but 'investment'. And we wanted to do that by breaking the clutter of financial advertising." © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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