Saumya Tewari

"Localising a brand is difficult and time consuming": Sangeeta Sharma, marketing & communications manager, Lufthansa

Fifty-five years after it first flew into India, German airline Lufthansa launched its first-ever television campaign with the proposition, 'More Indian than you think'. Sangeeta Sharma, manager, marketing and communications for Lufthansa, South Asia, who has been with the airline for 23 years, explains how the airline is innovating its marketing strategy in India. From serving hot chai to showing regional movies on-board, the airline is doing quite a bit to change the way it is perceived.. Excerpts:

Edited Excerpts

Why a native TV campaign after 55 years?

The campaign is born out of the insight received from GFK (a research organisation) ad tracking. According to the research, Lufthansa was strong in the rational space but lacked an emotional connect with flyers. We've been identified with punctuality, advanced technology, safety and reliability but the emotional side of the brand was never communicated. There is a misconception that Lufthansa does not understand Indian flyers, which we are trying to address through this TV campaign executed by MRM/McCann.

How important is TV in Lufthansa's marketing mix?

You do not need to be on television to do something innovative for a brand. We executed this commercial because we wanted to emotionally connect with our flyers, which wouldn't have been possible through any other medium.

We have been in India for more than 50 years and have built brand equity without directly advertising on television. Lufthansa, however, has been on the medium through the co-production, 'Runway to Success', on ET Now, which has been running for six years.

Why have you highlighted the 'Indian element' now?

People who don't travel with us have this perception that we are not Indian in our service. We're trying to break this perception but localising a brand is difficult and time-consuming. We have executed regional language versions of the campaign and created a microsite in four languages including Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Our OOH ads in Karnataka are in the local language. We also have a sales team that speaks in all languages.

Have you tweaked your service to suit Indian flyers?

There are a variety of Indian newspapers and magazines, Hindi film music, popular Bollywood films and Indian cuisine. As they check in, experienced Indian ground staff greets flyers. With Indian crewmembers in the flight, the entire experience is geared towards creating a home away from home. We have three different channels of music - Tamil tunes, Rhythms of India and Golden Tarane - as well as movies in regional languages.

Define your TG in India...

Everyone who travels is a 'TG' for us. Earlier, our competition was only concentrating on the leisure segment while we focused on business. But in the last six years, the trend has changed. At present, we have a 60:40 ratio for business and leisure but it has to be noted that that people who travel with us on business often end up taking leisure trips with families.

How has your advertising changed over the years?

Ten years ago, Lufthansa was perceived as a business airline. I went through a hard time, internally, asserting that our advertising was becoming stagnant. We were always on the front page of Economic Times or Financial Express and, after a point of time, the print ad became wallpaper and started losing its relevance.

In a bid to break through that clutter - in the last five to seven years - we have been trying to be seen in unexpected places. For example, when the bluO Bowling Alley came up in Gurgaon, Lufthansa was the first airline to advertise. By moving into bluO we represented the fun side of the brand.

We were the first airline that went on radio at a time when not even domestic airlines were on it. To tap the A-380 buzz, we created and executed OOH campaigns in various shopping malls. We developed a game where people had to park life-sized A-380 airplanes in a hanger on a large screen, after dialling a local number to connect to our server. With time, our advertising has become more innovative and non-conventional.

Which mass media channels play a crucial role for Lufthansa?

Digital and OOH. We have a strong presence on Facebook and YouTube and are present on the mobile medium via apps. For us, as a brand, a campaign has to be an integrated one. An ATL piece has to be supported by a BTL activity. We are the only country to have a dedicated Facebook page (Lufthansa India), apart from the US.

What marketing challenges do you face in India?

Direct marketing is a big challenge as is being innovative. India is a multilingual country. So, when we are trying to communicate in English, the message and way of communication is crucial. The marketing mix, packaging and customisation of the message are important.

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