Saumya Tewari

"We took a leaf out of the FMCG style of advertising": Amarjit Batra, Olx India

If it is a brand's advertising that defines it, OLX is right there at the top coming up with one chartbusting ad after another - almost all of them memorable. The company, which rolled out its first TVC in 2011, has come a long way, especially with its local language communication line. Some of its most endearing campaigns include Yahan Sab Kuch Bikta Hai, Badi Badi Baatein, Phone ko banao, Sell Phone, Keemat bhi kuch keemti bhi.

The classifieds market (Rs. 1,800 crore in 2013 and expected to touch Rs.4,500 crore by 2018, according to a Deutsche Bank Report) is broadly divided into verticals and horizontals. The former specialise in specific segments like real estate, jobs, matrimony, while horizontal players (OLX and Quikr) follow a marketplace model.

An internal OLX 2014-15 survey - CRUST (Consumer Research on Used Goods and Selling Trends) shows that there are Rs.56,200 crore worth of used goods in 16 cities. Industry sources put OLX's annual ad spend across media channels at Rs.70-100 crore. And this big spending has created some really interesting communication. OLX, which is working with Lowe Lintas & Partners, recently appointed Leo Burnett on a project basis for its digital campaigns. So what went behind the making of OLX and its memorable advertising? We spoke to Amarjit Singh Batra, CEO.

Batra played a starring role in OLX's success story in India. Prior to joining OLX, he spent around five years with Baazee India (now eBay India) where he played a leading role across category management, global trade, strategic partnerships and ad sales, new businesses, and CSR initiatives. He holds a Bachelor's degree in industrial engineering and has an MBA from University Business School (UBS), Chandigarh. Batra, who lives in New Delhi with his wife, daughter, and son spends his spare time playing squash, reading, and listening to music. Excerpts:

Edited Excerpts

It has been quite a journey. How would you describe it?

OLX was founded in 2006 in Argentina and we entered India in 2009. When we came to India, nobody was able to crack the online classifieds market. The segment was focused on business sellers and there was no consumer-to-consumer (C2C) market. Owing to low internet penetration (five-six per cent), online businesses were looking at a hybrid model where they reached out to the users through sales force, got the content and posted it online.

Unlike in the Western markets, there was no concept of 'Garage Sales' in India where people could easily sell their unused goods. Here, people tend to keep buying new products and hoard the old ones.

Therefore, we decided to create a market for online C2C classifieds. The first two years were all about reaching out to different stakeholders, forging partnerships and marketing. But the platform was still at a nascent stage. In 2011, we decided to tell people the reasons for which they should use OLX - and they latched on to it.

You've smartly used the 'hoarder' mentality associated with Indian consumers in your advertising. How do you mine for such insights?

In India, our TG was much wider because the decision making on second-hand goods is usually a collective family one.

We decided to take a leaf out of the FMCG style of advertising. Most FMCG ads are in the local language and have amazing taglines like Surf Excel's 'Daag Acche Hain', Cadbury's 'Kya Swaad hai zindagi mein' or Pepsi's 'Yeh dil maange more'

We decided to build the brand with existing internet users (18-24 years) and also consumers who will come online in the future. All online players started advertising in English and were buying spots on English music, movies and news channels. The idea was to tap the internet population watching a certain type of channels. But we decided to buy spots on GECs and executed ads in Hindi. It was a courageous decision and luckily it paid off. Now, every internet brand is following the same path.

Our TVCs are based on insights that come from our users through consumer research. Earlier, our scale was small and now we have a regular research study called CRUST, which helps us track consumer behaviour.

"We took a leaf out of the FMCG style of advertising": Amarjit Batra, Olx India
How did you zero in on 'Bech De'? Why did you decide to feature sellers in your advertising first?

When we started operations, the Indian market wasn't mature; hence we decided to first build the seller proposition. The initial years were dedicated to narrating the seller side of the story. Our ads were comparatively longer than other internet players'. We chose to invest in that.

'Bech De' became popular because the link of the term is so strong with OLX. It helps a user recall products he/she can sell on OLX - that's the power of real advertising. When we started getting requests from users about whether OLX can sell products on their behalf we realised that we need to show the buying ((side of the) process as well. The buyer centric ads helped immensely in getting traffic on the platform.

How has your TG evolved?

In the earlier days, internet users were mostly youngsters (18-24 years) and the natural inclination for us would have been to focus on them. Our first TVC features two young men below 25 years but this section does not have many possessions like a 35-45 year old (who were not on the internet) might have. Hence, we decided to feature both the consumers in our campaigns where sons tried to convince their father to sell old products at home.

The second TVC went on to feature the father convincing his father to sell the old family car. The ad was male centric, which was driven by our bias that internet users then were only males. But we realised that women are decision makers at home;hence we did 'Badi Badi Baatein' in 2012. In these ads, the women were instigating their husbands to sell old stuff on OLX. A year and a half later we did 'Womaniya' where the women were leading the change and selling products themselves.

"We took a leaf out of the FMCG style of advertising": Amarjit Batra, Olx India
What prompted you to rope in Kapil Sharma?

Classifieds are for the common man and we have always taken lesser known faces in our communication. Although we made a mark in people's mind, we were not reaching out to everybody. The creative idea was to let the product itself call out to its buyer or seller.

We thought of either using animation or humour and that's how Kapil came into the picture. It was a conscious decision to not use him as a traditional endorser but rather as a character. Kapil expanded our reach, attracting those who were not even interested in selling anything.

"We took a leaf out of the FMCG style of advertising": Amarjit Batra, Olx India
How have regional markets helped OLX's growth?

We found that around 40-50 per cent of the traffic was coming from certain key regional markets. Hence, we decided to think locally and translated the 'Bech De' proposition in a variety of regional languages.

We roped in celebrities like Dhanush (Tamil Nadu), Allu Arjun (Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh and North Telangana), Sudeep (Karnataka) and Mir (West Bengal).We recently executed a campaign with the four of them.The underlying theme was 'Purana jayega, naya aayega" as it's a universal theme of upgrade.

"We took a leaf out of the FMCG style of advertising": Amarjit Batra, Olx India
Does TV continue to be the dominant platform in your media mix?

Yes. It is followed by digital, radio, print and OOH. We keep on evolving and do not follow a fixed model.

Your new set of digital campaigns is high on human-interest stories. Is that an intentional shift?

The transformation happened last year. We have taken the content marketing approach - trying to build a timeless human connection through our digital campaigns. We were being copied by other players. Digital campaigns are helping us to differentiate from the 'me too' players.

We will continue with the humorous campaigns but OLX has also graduated to more meaningful advertising. Our 'Keemat bhi kuch keemti bhi' series was all about bringing people together. The first campaign in this series was the one where the grandmother sells the dining table because the family never sat together to eat (realising which the family starts eating together). This was a Keemti moment. Post this, we created Little Joys of Life, the Kashmir campaign (featuring an army officer and a Kashmiri local).

The latest one is 'Dastaan' which narrates the story of partition. The core emotion is of memories. These campaigns have been appreciated and shared on social media. As a marketer, I can spend money but I cannot make consumers like or share an ad until it touches their hearts.

"We took a leaf out of the FMCG style of advertising": Amarjit Batra, Olx India
Tell us more about your mobile strategy.

In 2009 we launched the OLX app across platforms and created a mobile website. We found that consumers find mobiles easier to use; then we shifted to a mobile-first marketing strategy and launched "Cell Phone ko banao 'Sell Phone'".

Currently, 85 per cent of our traffic comes from mobile and we are touching 2.5 billion monthly page views as compared to a meagre 10 million in 2011. We do approximately 80 million page views a day.

"We took a leaf out of the FMCG style of advertising": Amarjit Batra, Olx India
How many listings do you have? Which category attracts the maximum number of listings?

We stopped talking about listings because other players have been quoting wrong numbers. We have User Generated Content (UGC) listings. The biggest category is mobile and auto (used cars and bikes) followed by electronics and home.

"We took a leaf out of the FMCG style of advertising": Amarjit Batra, Olx India
What percentage of the global business comes from India?

We do not talk about revenues. OLX is in 40 countries with a physical presence in 25 of them. India is one of the best performing markets. There are three types of categories we have for countries where we are present - monetising, investing and emerging. India is in the investment category and is the leading market.

There have been reports on how Quikr is ahead of you in revenues. Are you considering other revenue sources (premium listings/B2B etc)?

Quikr has taken the easy path of B2C listings and faltered on the C2C one. Seventy to eighty per cent of our content is unique. Currently, we are monetising through basic ads on the website and we will launch featured listings (placing paid listings on top) this year.

A Note From the Editor

The other day, a colleague was grumbling about his neighbour's night-time music routine, that left him groggy at work, all week. Pat came a response from an eavesdropper at the other end of the room, "Bandhe ka photo hai na? Olx pe bech de!"

While we're in no way suggesting the site should entertain the attempted sale of fellow humans, we are indeed marvelling at the ease with which the brand's tagline – one that couldn't get any simpler or direct – has crept into local parlance. For many an adman, that's the dream. And while that's rarely what a marketer aims for directly, it's probably the second best thing, after a healthy sales chart.

On the advertising front, Olx has had a great run in the Indian market. Like the aforementioned gentleman, not too many people know that Olx is an Argentinian brand, that entered India in 2009, three years after its launch. At the time, the classifieds market in the country was yet to open up, and the need gap Olx identified and worked towards filling was the consumer-to-consumer or C2C sub-segment.

The brand has since managed to capture the market by rolling out campaign after campaign, each based on uniquely desi insights. Take for instance, the recent one that drew on the very Indian tendency to hoard old things, and encouraged us to let go.

Olx is present in 40 countries and India is one of its best performing markets, we learn, during the course of an interview with the brand's India CEO Amarjit Singh Batra, from whose desk the creative briefs to Olx's agency partners originate. One of most interesting brand anecdotes he shared during the interview is about the way his team realised, only around 2012, that women ought to be addressed through Olx's otherwise male-centric communication. Up until then, the presupposition was that most internet users are men.

In a year, we do only a handful of stories on standalone brands. In 2015, Olx, deservedly, is one of them.