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Pillsbury: Moving beyond category promise

The new television commercial for Pillsbury atta takes the ‘non-commodity’ route to communicate how good food is used as a ‘bribe’ to win hearts

N. Shatrujeet



For its sheer incongruity, this one surprises.

We are referring to the latest advertising for Pillsbury atta, which takes the ‘non-commodity' route to communicate how good food is used as a ‘bribe' to win hearts.

The communication consists of one television commercial, created by Leo Burnett India, which goes like this. The ad tells the way-to-a-man's-heart story of a wife who is being ‘extra-sweet' to her husband, plying him with roti after roti (made from Pillsbury, of course). Hubby dear is more than happy being at the receiving end of so much attention, but his ‘alter ego' quickly warns him that his wife is charming him to curry some favour or the other. The man and his alter ego debate this for a while (the husband sees the roti as just a roti, but the alter ego sees it as the wife's ‘bribe' to get hubby to take her to Goa). Eventually, the matter is settled when the wife mischievously tells the mnemonic ‘Pillsbury Doughboy' that ‘they'll be picnicking in Goa'. ‘Yeh roti hai ya rishwat?' asks the signoff.

This is the first time that Pillsbury atta, which launched in the country four years ago, has taken a ‘non-commodity' route in its advertising. "We were clear that we wanted to create advertising that helped in value creation for the brand," says Yubaraj Bhattacharya, group account director, Leo Burnett India. "But the problem we had was, what do we say when we have nothing new to say about the product? After all, we had built the ‘three-finger tear' (a visual representation of ‘softness in rotis', which, in turn, is the old proposition of the brand) over three years, and there was nothing new to say about that."

The task was compounded by the dynamics of the marketplace.

Here's a currently-small-but-potentially-big - make that huge - market, with at least four giant-sized national-level players (including a couple of multinationals) already in it. Everyone associated with the market can sniff the potential, and everything points towards sustained growth. Yet, the market is registering negative growth.

And this is how the figures add up. In value terms, the market for branded atta in India is currently estimated at Rs 500 crore. Not a big market, by any measure. But when considered against the fact that the branded market constitutes a mere 2 per cent of the total atta market, the category suddenly becomes a terribly attractive proposition. Small wonder marketers such as Hindustan Lever (Annapurna), Cargill Foods (Nature Fresh), General Mills (Pillsbury), ITC (Aashirwad) and ConAgra Foods (Healthy World) are busy marking territories. However, despite its obvious potential, the branded atta market saw a 5-per cent decline last year.

So what's going wrong and where? To begin with, there's a perception battle that the branded players are fighting. Part of that pertains to branded atta being more expensive when compared to unbranded atta. Secondly, many consumers (especially in north India, the biggest atta market) still believe that the traditional chakki ka atta (mill-ground flour) is superior, both in terms of quality and nutritive value - something that the ‘hygiene' proposition of branded atta has failed to offset.

But that is only half the problem - the branded market also suffers from a severe case of ‘commoditization'. With so many brands - both national and regional - in the market, differentiation between brands is almost negligible. Most of the communication in the category centers at the quality of gehun (wheat). And while this is anyway a non-verifiable factor (as far as the consumer is concerned), it also imparts a wallpaper-like sameness to all the advertised brands. Which usually results in consumers picking brands on a whim - or on the basis of some retail-level promotion. In fact, in the past, most atta marketers have banked heavily upon distribution and promotions, neither of which has helped in value creation in the consumer's mind.

Against this backdrop, the desire - for both the company and the agency - quite clearly, was to capture the imagination of the consumers of both branded and unbranded atta. "We had to find a fresh new insight that was different from the category, yet appealed to all consumers," says Bhattacharya. Naturally, client and agency resorted to consumer research. And after three months of research - both discovered that they had landed a dud. "All we had was a thick document full of facts that were anyway not actionable," Bhattacharya admits wryly. "So we realized that we had to look at the problem from a new angle."

And that ‘angle' was a projective technique using Burnett's proprietary software tool, Mind Mapping. "We got about 20 people from both the agency and the client's side to sit in a room and list some 10 words each one of us associated with the word atta," Bhattacharya explains. "Once we had done this, patterns emerged. Naturally, ‘roti' was a common thread. We now asked everyone to list words associated with roti. What emerged in common was ‘food'. Now the moment your thinking moves from ‘atta' to ‘food' huge communication possibilities emerge. We had traveled in two hours where research hadn't reached in three months."

"Once the thought process evolved to ‘food', we began exploring for ideas in the area of food," he continues. "And what we found was that when you mention food, the mind thinks about enjoyment, ‘feel good' and fun. So we decided that the Pillsbury brand should have a ‘fun' image." Next, the agency listed ‘food insights' - things that food does to people. "We could have focussed on the atta and its fineness, but we consciously chose to look at what that atta did to people." One of the food insights was ‘food as a bribe'. And when the agency tested the insights, this one seemed to be the clear winner. "It brought a smile to faces, and consumers gave us real-life instances where they had been part of such ‘negotiations'," Bhattacharya smiles. "The creative execution of the idea is the roti-rishwat debate."

Interestingly, the concept of ‘good food is bribe' (or ‘food to create a favourable impressions' which amounts to the same thing) has been touched upon in Indian advertising even in the past. Countless masala ads have the husband and wife cooking a great meal to bribe the boss into giving hubby a promotion. However, this is perhaps the first instance of the idea being verbalized in as many words.

Burnett also takes pride in the results that pre-testing has thrown up. "Even after we made the ad, General Mills India was not prepared to air the ad unless it was analyzed and cleared by Ipsos, the US-based research firm that General Mills swears by," says Bhattacharya. "Ipsos analyzed the communication, and we got great scores. For instance, Pillsbury, due to its MNC background, has had a poor value-for-money perception. However, with this ad, that changed dramatically, with scores moving up from 28 to 71. This, without our making any mention about price in the ad. It just shows that advertising has to be engaging to be liked."

The best part about the commercial is that it does not limit itself to the category promise. "Talking directly about the quality of atta and comparing it to chakki ka atta is counterproductive," says Bhattacharya. "As it is she thinks chakki ka atta is the best. Next you tell her this is like chakki ka atta, reminding her about the goodness of chakki ka atta. Does it make sense? On the other hand, we have talked about good food, and people will make that connect that if the food is good, the roti must be good and the atta must be good."

What remains to be seen is whether Pillsbury's breaking away from the ‘commodity aspect' helps the brand increase market share. Although Pillsbury leads in Mumbai with 35-per cent market share (in the city, Nature Fresh has 25 per cent, while Annapurna has 18 per cent), nationally it is at No. 4 with a 7-per cent share. For the record, nationally, Annapurna leads with 12 per cent, north-centric Shakti Bhog has 10 per cent, while Nature Fresh has 8 per cent.

Agency : Leo Burnett India, Mumbai

Agency Team : Yubaraj Bhattacharya, Priya Barve, Sonal Chayya, Kumuda Rao, Kainaz Billimoria, Kevin Alphonso, Rajeev Sharma, Aniruddha Bannerjee

Brand Team : Gayatri Yadav, Murthy Chaganthi, Manish Pajan

Production House : Apocalypso

Filmmaker : Pradeep Sarkar

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