Sohini Sen

"Vogue Empowerment was never a brand campaign": Oona Dhabhar, Conde Nast India

Vogue's 'Empower' campaign has created quite a stir on social media. While some men and women have come out in support of the 'My Choice' film by Homi Adjania, featuring Deepika Padukone, most social media users and commentators believe it confuses women's empowerment with male bashing, and even with infidelity. While the two previous 'Empower' films, featuring Alia Bhatt and Madhuri Dixit, did get a fair amount of views, they did not create as much news and social conversations as the recent one.

According to Oona Dhabhar, marketing director, Conde Nast India, 'Empower' was never a marketing campaign. It was a CSR initiative which took birth from the editorial content of Vogue India's October 2014 issue.

Dhabhar's experience with research has shown that women's empowerment is something her readers feel strongly about, as does the team at Vogue. With over a decade's experience in consumer and market research at P&G, Dhabhar knows how to read the pulse of her audience. She had visited over 200 houses during her days at the FMCG company to understand consumers' needs in the beauty care and detergent category. How spot-on was she this time?

"Vogue Empowerment was never a brand campaign": Oona Dhabhar, Conde Nast India

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

What are the challenges of marketing a luxury magazine like Vogue? How has that evolved or changed in the last few years?

The fundamentals of marketing, be it for a magazine or any other product, really don't change. Therefore, when we originally launched the brand we really focussed on continuing to build the brand equity, provide what is relevant to the reader in the global context and understand how our reader is evolving. Making sure that every aspect of our brand is building on its equity and we are talking to the right consumer, and how do we grow our audience - even to the next generation, is what we are trying to focus on.

Your 'Empower' film series is being seen as a brand campaign, and not just something that has come from a magazine. Is this a new era in magazine branding?

For us, Vogue Empowerment was never a brand campaign. It is not a marketing initiative which we are trying to measure with all kinds of variables. Truth is CN as an organisation has almost two-thirds of women employees. Quite frankly, when we saw all the stuff that was happening in terms of women's empowerment, we realised that we had to take a stand on it. We had to do our bit as a brand, which is clearly as an influencer of influencers. And, we wanted to use our voice which we believe is quite powerful to really spread the message.

It was an idea that the editorial team came up with and it is something that we really, really believe in. How do we make a difference? How do we drive awareness and create conversations around women's empowerment - that was the starting point for us. It was launched as a CSR initiative rather than a marketing campaign.

We reached out to more than 180 pledge-makers from various walks of life. For example, Sudha Murthy gave us significant amount of money that went to cancer charity, Aamir Khan lent us his voice for the radio campaign, AR Rahman dedicated his Ladlii album to Vogue Empower.

How much research and effort goes into making Vogue a household name? Considering your background in research at P&G, what do you bring to the table to build brand Vogue even more?

For us, it started with trying to understand who the Vogue reader is, and it was important to understand her quite clearly. Pre-launch, we went to more than 40 households and met the women to understand the life of these fashionable, affluent women. Then, we came back to discuss how will our magazine influence the lives of these women. Post that, we constantly try and stay in touch with the consumer. We either stay in touch with the consumer through normal processes such as a research agency, or by interacting with our readers. We need to understand where she is today, and how she is evolving in the future, and based on that, trying to create content.

Your Empower campaign has been a very strong brand statement for Vogue. How do you decide which issues to address through these films?

The three films are only a part of women's empowerment. The fundamentals are to generate conversation, raise awareness, and it could be across various aspects - gender equality, financial empowerment. For example, our October issue had 50 ideas to empower women. We have covered different people from different walks of life. Some pledge-makers have given money or time, some have trained women in self-defense.

Your recent film, 'My Choice', has got a lot of negative feedback. How do you handle the criticism, or do you take any learnings from it to employ in your future campaigns? How do you put out a digital fire?

We are actually quite happy with the video, and we are happy that Deepika is the face of the video. But, like I mentioned, the Deepika video is one of the many things we had done. The other two videos, Going Home and Boys Don't Cry, had also received a lot of views. This video, while important, is only a part of all the things we have done. We have raised Rs. 25 lakh through all the initiatives we have done, all of which is going to charity. The things we have done, in their entirety, have had a voice and a very positive impact.

"Vogue Empowerment was never a brand campaign": Oona Dhabhar, Conde Nast India

We don't think we have landed in a digital mess. The overall initiatives have got lots of positive feedback. One of our main partners, Star Network, has been playing Boys Don't Cry across all their channels. The reach and impact has been positive. We have created the right context for women's empowerment.

"Vogue Empowerment was never a brand campaign": Oona Dhabhar, Conde Nast India
Where does Vogue India, GQ India, Conde Nast India Traveller, Architectural Digest stand in the overall pie of the Conde Nast group? Which is the most popular offering of your entire bouquet? How different is the TG for each? How much of readership overlaps between Vogue, CN Traveller GQ India?

Clearly, Vogue is the oldest and the flagship brand. It is the largest brand, in terms of readership, circulation, advertising revenue etc. Then comes GQ, while AD and CN Traveller are slightly smaller. In terms of readership overlap, what we have made sure is that while all four titles clearly speak to the affluent audience, each of them has a unique positioning and, therefore, a unique audience that it reaches out to. For example, Vogue is for the women who are fashion and luxury inclined, GQ is for men who have similar tastes, AD is for the premium and affluent audience, but for those who are design inclined. Again, CN Traveller is talking to an evolved traveller who is looking for curated travel experiences. So, the good news is we have found very little overlap in terms of readership. Because each one's content and product - the way we have developed and defined it - is very uniquely talking to that audience.

How do you reach out to your TG? Today, you must have so many more consumer touch-points (like digital, apps...) to consider than you did in the past. Does this make it easier or is it all the more challenging to keep up?

When we launched, we were clearly being seen as a magazine business. Today, we are no longer being seen as just a magazine, rather as a multi-media, multi-platform company. That is clearly how we have evolved. Today, Vogue has various touch-points. And for each touch point, we want to ensure that the consumer is getting the great Vogue experience that she is expecting and, therefore, we deliver on that.

Magazines, rather print, is seen to be dying the world over. Basically - who can salvage the situation for a brand like Vogue?

We are finding that glossy publications like ours, which have a very strictly defined target audience and has created differentiated products, are actually neither dying, nor are they on the decline. Across the world, in some of the developed markets and in India, this is the case. The good news for us is that we are not seeing a huge decline, though we have seen the ability to reach more and more audiences through the multiple touch-points. All of it is only helping me grow the brand reach significantly.

Have news to share? Write to us