Virat Kohli famously dropped Pepsi from his bag of brands because he won't endorse a product he doesn't consume. We spoke to Uber's marketing head about his choice of brand ambassador and more.
"Chota ho safar, chadhe lambe faasle. Ab rukna nahi, duniya badle chale," is the introductory message from Virat Kohli in Uber's new TVC - #MoveForward. Ride-sharing and transport company, Uber, roped in the star cricketer to be the new face for the brand, a few months ago. This week, Uber rolled out its second TVC, and its first ad featuring Virat.
The ad film highlights how Uber, as a service, bridges the gap between people and their destination. The ad copy, also narrated by Virat, urges viewers to keep moving ahead, ditching all worries that barriers/ challenges to movement might have. While the latest TVC is in line with Uber's previous campaign - #ApniGaadiSamjho - and maintains a similar message of reliability, comfort and trust, it also delivers an overt message about mobility and change, much of which is delivered onscreen by Virat himself.
In a conversation with afaqs!, Sanjay Gupta, head of marketing for Uber, says that the brand's message is in line with Virat's persona as an achiever; a forward moving youth-icon.
In August of 2017, Virat dropped Pepsi from his bag of brands citing health as a reason for his decision. It was a decision made based on endorsing a product that he doesn't actually consume.
Gupta reveals to afaqs! that Virat is an Uber consumer himself, "He uses Uber when he is abroad, on his tours and trips. When we approached Kohli, we told him three things - one, we enable movement, which is a big-big thing in India; two, we create economic opportunities for driver partners; and the third was the decongestion of city roads," Gupta says.
But why Virat? "If we are looking at personal progress, there's no one other than Virat who embodies this. He's young, done things on his own will, and does the right things. We thought, for young India, Kohli is the right person to say 'go and live your dreams'," says Gupta.
Little over a year ago, Uber rolled out it's first-ever TVC with #ApniGaadiSamjho. In Gupta's words, following the campaign, the category became more relevant with day-to-day movement. Uber, which seemed limited to office-goers, had opened up to mall-hoppers and trips to schools and hospitals.
Further down the conversation, Gupta shares that while easing movement in a comfortable and reliable manner is a constant priority, the brand has set its eyes on the long-term goal of reducing cars on the street. "Our ambition for the next 3-5 years is to reduce private car ownership. An average car gets used only 5 per cent of its life; 95 per cent of the time it's in the parking lot," Gupta says.
Uber is a relatively young brand and so is its category in India. There is an obvious lack of older reference points which poses a marketing challenge. To better understand the brand's marketing POV, afaqs! asked Gupta how the brand dealt with this.
There are two things that put us in a better place - firstly, over the last four years, our consumer-base has grown really large. Secondly, the role that Uber plays in a user's life is really tangible. If you have used an Uber today, you'll remember it. It is not one of those brands at the periphery of life; instead, it is one of those brands you bond with. Given the large user-base and the usage bond, we were able to unearth a lot of consumer insights which has eased the situation. We are one of the few tech companies which are both tech and human. We enable both digital and human interaction."
Uber also rolled out digital ads inspired by true stories and real user-experiences that make communication a lot easier. "If I have to think of something innovative, it might take time, but it's easier to communicate a message if I can tell you a story. The series - Uber Journeys - is inspired by real-life experiences of our users," says Gupta.
Aside from Uber and one other major player in the segment, what are the challenges in this duopoly-like situation?
"Unlike other brands, for example, FMCG brands which compete with each other, Uber would compete with a problem like the lack of parking spaces. We see our bet as - how can we reduce the number of cars in the city. If we can get you to not buy a car or use your car less, we would have done our job."
With only a couple of similar players in the segment perks like discounts can have a major influence on consumers. Where does brand loyalty stand in such a case?
"We obviously want to grow in the market and there will be tactical promotions; it could be discounts etc. But we feel that it's our service, the quality of our driver partners and the human interaction that we enable that has to be far superior. As long as we can make the service good, there is a significant brand differentiation."
Shifting back to the advertising perspective, how do you assess the different media vehicles (OOH, Digital, TV) while parking media money?
"As a technology company, our priority has always been to bet big on digital. However, to reach out to our diverse set of users and resonate with them, it is equally important to be present across platforms and strike a balance between traditional and new-age mediums. Each of these mediums are unique in the way that they connect with consumers. A synergy between all these mediums, together with a powerful and meaningful campaign thought is the perfect way to deepen the connect with consumers."
How has it changed over time and where do you see it going?
"Every day new and exciting technologies are being developed. We, as a technology company, believe it is not only best to move along with the winds of change but to also try and predict how content will be consumed ahead of time. Keeping up with this momentum and the understanding that Gen X and millennials are our primary target audiences, we believe it is predominantly the era of digital and experiential digitisation of the OOH medium and new-age media.
Sonal Dabral, group chief creative officer and vice chairman at Ogilvy India, the agency that crafted the ad film says, "We wanted to show that it's not just movement but every time there is a journey, Uber is enabling the movement towards the destination or purpose. It is taking things forward, sometimes it's taking a job forward and sometimes it might be a relationship. Uber enables the realisation of this purpose at any time of the day."
Speaking about the brand's roping in Virat Kohli as an endorser and the modern day challenge of weaving the brand's message around the star's persona, Dabral says, "Unlike a time from the past when consumers used to look at celebrity endorsers from a single linear viewpoint, consumers now view celebs from multiple viewpoints and know more about things like their choices, their likings, things that they stand for, etc."
In a situation like this, Dabral opines that it is now all the more important to find a perfect fit or a match between a brand and its endorser, "A celeb is no longer just a cricketer or a film star, a celebrity now is a mix of many personas. A proper match between the celeb and the brand works the best. But there might be times when all of the traits of the celebrity do not entirely match the brand. In such a case, we have to carefully consider the specifics before going ahead with a celebrity endorser. Information is easily available now, there are social media, there are PR teams, the media - brands now have to weigh in on everything and see if there is something about the celebrity which might not go along with the brand. In the case of Virat Kohli and Uber, it's a perfect match. It's an inspiring manifesto delivered by Kohli as the brand's spokesperson. The messages delivered by Kohli are not only specific to Uber but Virat himself, as if it comes from his own journey from his baby steps to the star cricketer he is. It's in line with Uber's own philosophy."
afaqs! spoke with a few experts to get their opinions on this partnership:-
Vibha Desai, independent advertising and marketing consultant, is of the point that in today's age, a celebrity is also accompanied by 'baggage' of additional information apart from the person's usual stardom. It can be both positive and negative and depends on the brand and the creative agency to use it to the benefit of the brand.
"Earlier it was just a one-way view of the celebrity; for example, only the filmstar's presence or stature in Bollywood mattered. Today, the celebrity's identity is multidimensional. When you are picking a celebrity, you are not just picking that person but also picking up their baggage. It can be negative; the celebrity might have been in a fight or some other negative action. It can harm the brand, it can be used by rivals and it can also send out a wrong message. Even things like a celebrity's relationship with family members or a spouse, matters. Since there is a lot of information about the person, it is a lot trickier now. The trick is really for the creative person to use all the nuances of the endorser for the benefit of a brand. Let's consider Virat Kohli - a) he's a cricketer; b) he is married to Anushka; c) he is a health enthusiast; d) he inspires the youth; e) he encourages people to push their limits and so on. If you can use all of it to your benefit in an ad, it makes the ad so much more powerful. Kohli's incorporation in the Uber ad and his delivering the message for Uber in a way that gels with his persona was a good move. In such a situation, the brand wins, the consumer wins and the endorser also wins," Desai explains.
Shubhomoy Sengupta, digital marketer and co-founder of Pink Shastra, an e-commerce portal, says, "Now, with the coming of communication platforms like social media, there is a lot of information. There are many different aspects like the celebrity's stand on the environment, political inclination etc. If you are on Facebook and you follow different people, you know about their opinions. Previously, we did not have access to as much information about the person. Brands need to conduct a hygiene check before roping in someone. There has to be a comparison between the brand's values and the star's values to judge if the person is fit for the brand."
However, in the case of Uber's roping in Virat as the brand's face, Sengupta maintains that it's only the cricketer's stardom that is at play. "I am sure that there are many Indian cricketers who are playing cricket at the highest level and share the same values as Kohli. Here, Kohli is no more than a traditional star endorser. It barely has anything to do with his personal values," Sengupta signs off.