Rashmi Menon

A Gift in the Future

In the first mass campaign ever in its category, LifeCell International has launched a major TV offensive to concept-sell umbilical cord stem cell preservation. To persuade would-be mothers to use its stem cell bank, its next TVC will feature Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

Awareness about umblical stem cell banking has been growing slowly in recent years. To hasten that and establish itself as the category leader, LifeCell International, a Chennai-based private stem cell banking service, has launched its first television campaign.

A Gift in the Future
A Gift in the Future
A Gift in the Future
The company began its operations in collaboration with Cryo-Cell, USA, the world's first private stem cell bank, in 2004, with the core business being storing umbilical cord stem cells. If preserved, stem cells can help the child combat a range of diseases - including some forms of cancer - during his or her lifetime.

The TVC titled 'The Gift', which has been created by the Chennai-based ad agency 1pointsize, is targeted at soon-to-be-parents. It is a collage of heavily pregnant women, whose bellies display gift wrap ribbons. The voiceover then urges the target audience to gift their baby a 'lifetime of protection at birth' by storing the umbilical cord stem cells. The voiceover points out that umbilical stem cells have the potential to protect a child from over 80 medical conditions.

The ad is aimed at expectant parents or couples in the 20-40-year age group who are planning to have a baby. The TVC will be aired on general entertainment, news, lifestyle and regional channels.

Sharad Haksar, CEO, 1pointsize, says the intention was to show that while a baby is a gift in itself, the parents can gift their child a lifetime of protection by opting for this service. "We think the message will resonate with anxious moms who are open to leveraging the marvels of science for their little ones," thinks Haksar. The agency, which was hired to work on a rebranding exercise three months ago, now has the entire creative mandate for the company. LifeCell is in competition with about a dozen rival firms.

Price Point

Towards the end of the film, the fact that the service is available "Now for just Rs 19,990' is highlighted. The price point indicates that LifeCell wants the commercial to not only create awareness about the category but also make people realise that the services are now affordable. The company received funding of Rs 35 crore from Helion Ventures early in 2013.

V. Ravi Shankar, chief marketing officer, LifeCell International, says that the price point is being promoted because until now, new parents had to pay Rs 75,000 upfront - plus an annual fee - to avail of the service. Considering the high price, mass communication would have served little purpose.

However, in October, this year, LifeCell changed - thanks to the funding - from a luxury service to an affordable private stem cell bank. Hence the drop of fees to Rs 19,990 plus an annual storage fee of Rs 3,500 per year. "The democratisation of the category offered us the perfect springboard to go direct to the consumer," states Ravi Shankar.

However, he is quick to point out that pricing was not the focus of the communication. "When you take the effort of category education, brand awareness happens automatically. In any case, to bolster awareness, we subtly encoded purple (our lead brand colour) throughout the campaign. Pricing was never meant to be the lead story. We've used it as a penny dropper in the end to highlight on the aspect of affordability by a larger audience," says Ravi Shankar.

LifeCell intends to roll out its second phase of the TV campaign with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who has preserved her child's stem cells with the company. Why didn't they use her for its very first commercial? Ravi Shankar's response: "Before we unleash the campaign we've created with her, we thought we must prepare the ground with a little concept selling and establish knowledge about the category. It always helps to create a little traction for the product before using a celebrity to endorse it."

The concept and challenges

Mayur Abhaya, MD and CEO, LifeCell International, explains that the company did not have money to advertise in the early years. A lot of awareness about the concept and business generation had to be created through hospitals and gynaecologists. But the science was interesting, so the idea received a lot of media coverage via the use of public relations.

Today, LifeCell International has a presence in 100 cities and about 1,000 hospitals spread across the country. Apart from umbilical cord stem cell banking, the company also provides services in menstrual stem cell banking (a first in India), besides stem cell processing and BabyShield, a screening programme for newborns.

LifeCell claims that 85,000 families have availed of its services until now, making it the largest player in its category. The company is strongest in the South. LifeCell was enrolling about 1,500 parents per month before the price drop.

The company has also established an active digital presence which is now its largest source of leads. It has also undertaken educative events such as pre-natal programmes for expectant couples and also partnered with pregnancy management education courses. These have allowed it to market the concept directly to would-be parents.

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