"Marketers need to bring back the romance of advertising": Pallavi Singh, MG Motor

By Ashwini Gangal, afaqs!, Mumbai | August 27, 2018
MG Motor India's recent collaboration with media platform The Better India highlights social work done by six women. But what's that got to do with selling a 94 year old British-born car historically associated with races, roadsters and royalty? We asked the brand's marketing head Pallavi Singh.
Pallavi Singh

Pallavi Singh

Marketing head, MG Motor India

MG Motor India, a fully-owned subsidiary of Shanghai-headquartered auto firm SAIC Motor Corporation, has, in collaboration with solutions-based media platform The Better India created a campaign called #MGChangemakers.

The digital videos, available on the The Better India's YouTube channel, highlight social work done by six women - transgender activist Kalki Subramaniam, Sudha Varghese who has been fighting for the upliftment of dalits, pioneer in the field of women-led rural banking Chetna Sinha, India's youngest sarpanch Jabna Chauhan, Monisha Behal who advocates women's rights in the North East, and Rani Bang, a doctor who provides health services to tribals in Maharashtra.

MG stands for Morris Garages, a 94 year old British-born car brand which has, historically, been associated with sports, races, roadsters, cabriolets and royalty.

The company will launch its cars in India in April 2019. Presently, the team is hiring people from different backgrounds and cultures, including former agency folks. More advertising and promotional messaging will break in a few weeks.

Former Harley-Davidson hand Pallavi Singh, who is now head of marketing for MG Motor India, is tasked with building awareness for brand Morris in this market. What's the connection between stories of social work at the country's heartland and a vintage race car brand like MG? We asked Singh this and more.

Edited Excerpts

Outside of car aficionados, many people don't know of MG Motor India. Must be challenging to go from marketing Harley-Davidson, that enjoys good brand awareness, to marketing MG...

The challenge is huge, yes, because like you said, people don't know MG. That's where the brand custodians and marketers need to rack their brains. But the opportunity is great. It's a challenge we'll address over time; it's not going to happen overnight, or even over months. We have a long way to go. We're thinking hard about how we can create events, mindsets and opportunities to be a 'different' car brand. We're really thinking our strategy through, because MG has a great history, it has gone through ups and downs, it has gone through ownerships.

I just have to ask - what's the connection between the noble work these six women are doing for society at the Indian grassroot and MG Motor India, a car brand which evokes words like 'sports', 'racing', 'international' and 'premium'? How do you defend this association?

Sometimes there doesn't need to be a connection. Sometimes things don't connect, but you have to build the connection. Brands do so many hoardings, print ads to talk about the product. Why can't we look at a different way of storytelling to market a brand? This is also a way of telling people that MG as a brand stands for differentiated experiences. It doesn't only have to be a message like 'MG is coming to India very soon with a new SUV'. We don't have to always connect things to the product. It's a car and of course we have to sell it, but in the background, we want to be enablers for a larger cause.

The brand ethos comprises community, people, experiences, diversity and innovation. That's the connection. Also, MG has a huge Car Club history, which began in the 1930s at Kimber House, Abingdon (UK). Since then, community activities have been taking place; the car is just a catalyst. That's where we took inspiration to take up a true cause from.

From a community standpoint, we don't just want to say 'We're giving this money away', 'We're doing funding', 'We're doing CSR'... that's clichéd. Everyone's doing it. We'd rather tell a story.

Our country really needs it. If we, corporates like us who have the capability, don't do it, who will? We are taking that leap and doing events to change the mindset. Business is one part. But there's another part... we all need to make our country a better place. And rarely would you find an automobile brand doing something like this. The auto industry needs a change and we are bringing it.

ALSO READ: 2017 Interview with Pallavi Singh

But isn't that like merging pure play brand advertising with CSR? A sexy car brand like Morris ought to be doing sexy advertising, don't you think?

I think that's a great question and I'm glad you brought it up. One of my favourite ads for MG was done back in the '60s - it said 'Your Mother Wouldn't Like It'. We don't do this kind of advertising anymore... and there are reasons for it.

But MG is a bold brand and we will do bold campaigns. As marketers, we need to be more bold, we need to bring the romance of advertising back. I promise you will see that.

But there's a time and place for everything, including for cool, sexy advertising. You will see that too, closer to the launch. We're phasing it.

We will be creative and fun, but we'll keep the ethos of storytelling going. But it won't just be about product, specs, launch price, network. We want to be a responsible brand. We want to balance product-led marketing with human-led marketing.

We do something called 'Fit Friday' - and those are very cocky ads.

ALSO READ: 2014 Interview with Pallavi Singh

Who is your target consumer? Who will buy MG cars in India?

If marketers are thinking about target groups today, I think it's a problem. There's isn't any target group. We now look at mindsets, attitudes, psychographics. The MG customer belongs to a meaningful generation. We've coined a word called 'Cigital' - a community which is digital.

We will know who the customer is when we actually launch. When we sell about 2,000 cars, we'll know who the customer of the future is.

MG is not looking at being a niche brand. We want to be in the space of Jeep Compass, Creta (Hyundai), Mahindra XUV500. But we want to keep it premium.

MG posters from the 1960s

Digital Campaign called 'Stories of MG' - Recent Digital Ads

'Road to MG Live' - Digital Videos - an association between travel-focused platform Tripoto Travel and MG Motor India

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