Ashwini Gangal

Desperate to differentiate

Air conditioner brands seem to have taken to the second level of communication in a big way. afaqs! explores this phenomenon and finds out why it has become cool to talk about everything but cooling.

The other day, an unsuspecting lay consumer noticed a huge hoarding in suburban Mumbai with actor Priyanka Chopra posing beside the words 'Virus Doctor'. Just as the layman began pondering which anti-bacterial soap she was endorsing, he realised that it was, of all things, an ad for an air-conditioner brand - Samsung. The brand's television commercial elaborates on the words on the hoarding and attempts to convince consumers that the AC helps kill the dreaded H1N1 virus responsible for swine flu!

Desperate to differentiate
Well, Samsung is just one of the brands in this category that has moved way beyond the core functionality of cooling. In general, the communication for air-conditioner brands has shifted to the second level of advertising as the brands are increasingly trying to differentiate with unique propositions that have little to do with cooling.

While declarations to purify the air, promote good health and kill germs in the home environment have become popular propositions in this space, several brands have gone a few steps ahead of these common claims.

Panasonic's main proposition is 'eco-navi', a technology that senses human activity in the room and cools accordingly, while Onida offers the option of pre-cooling one's home remotely by sending out a text message to the AC. LG claims to energise users and keep them active through the day, while Voltas, with its sleep mode and power saving features, promotes 'Sensible Cooling' with the help of its Sensible Cooling Technology.

Hitachi, in its turn, offers its 'I-Clean' AC - one that 'cleans itself' (have you caught the TVC by Bates 141 in which an air-conditioner dances to popular Bollywood numbers while bathing?)

Desperate to differentiate
Desperate to differentiate
Desperate to differentiate
Desperate to differentiate
Mere cooling is cool no more

afaqs! asked some industry professionals why this category is veering towards aggressive communication of second level brand propositions. Naresh Gupta, national planning head, Cheil Worldwide, the agency behind Samsung's aforementioned creativity, outlines in broad strokes the journey of the AC category so far. "The category has moved from talking about generic cooling to specialised cooling and temperature-related issues to, now, beyond cooling."

R Sridhar, founder, brand-comm is of the opinion that these recent ads represent the AC industry's desperate attempts to differentiate at the brand level and out-do one another. "As a consumer, I feel that most of these brands have interchangeable parts and features. Due to this lack of differentiation at the product level, brands seem to be trying to generate differentiation at the communication level."

He adds that owing to market evolution, air-conditioners are no longer luxury products and awareness among buyers is very high. "Brands are building on this knowledge and trying to stand out of the clutter with their advertising," he says.

Robby Mathew, national creative director, Interface Communications, attributes this trend to the surge in technological innovation in the AC category. "Today, AC ads have graduated from exaggerated depictions of their cooling features, such as showing water turning into ice because of the cooling capacity of the AC, to riding the technology wave."

According to him, each brand seems to have picked an innovation-related USP on which to base its communication. Interface Communications handles AC brand Blue Star; the brand recently repositioned its second level brand proposition from a product that provides uniform cooling around the office area to one that gives office-like cooling at home.

How 'cool' is this trend?

Are these second level propositions working or do consumers find it hard to buy into AC brands' tall claims beyond the standard cooling feature? Cheil's Gupta opines that as long as the consumers find the brands' claims relevant, the ads will work.

"Buyers look for meaning in the proposition," he asserts, adding that the consumer insight used on Samsung was that people today are genuinely concerned about falling ill often. "In the wake of this reality, if an AC offers to help filter the air and kill viruses, consumers accept it," he says.

Prajato Guha Thakurta, creative director, Electrolux AC account, Mudra, feels that cooling is a mere hygiene proposition in the cluttered AC category and consumers are looking for more. "Today, brands cannot get away by talking about cooling alone," he says. However, he is quick to point out that at the second level tangible benefits go down well with consumers as opposed to unrealistic claims.

To support his claim, he cites the example of the Electrolux account, the print advertising for which talks about a tangible second level benefit such as changeable colour panels on the machine.

Interface's Mathew predicts that in the future, this category may swing towards the emotional space as far as its second level advertising goes. "AC brands, like telecom brands, ultimately need to build a relationship with the consumer. Each brand will pick a proposition beyond cooling to highlight," he concludes.

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