... Usha sewing machines' advertising journey has traversed many eras. We try and stitch the brand's ads over the years together in one place - while wondering about the market for sewing machines in 2019.
The sewing machine has traditionally been marketed to women. That's one of the reasons we stopped and took note when we saw children using the product in a recently released ad with the Mumbai Indians cricketers. On both counts, the historically addressed TG - women - was missing. While that was a bit strange, the ad itself was quite unremarkable. But then it all came together wonderfully when we spotted an old black and white print advert for the brand where a mother is preparing her daughter to be an ideal housewife by training her in the then revered art of sewing garments.
With both ads side-by-side and examined together, it gave us a sense of how far both societal and consequently, advertising norms, have evolved. It also got us thinking about the market for sewing machines today. Outside of industrial and commercial use, who uses sewing machines at home anymore? And what is this user like? Where does she stay? Even if you do have a sewing machine at home, is it a relic of the past?
Let's rewind to 1970 when the homegrown consumer durables and appliances major was positioned as a must-have for every newly married woman. The ads usually read - "A gift of love on her wedding day, for a lifetime of happiness" and "Train her to be an ideal housewife". Today, we'd frown upon such ads as being regressive, but it's important to remember the era they were made in. In the '70s, they fit in just fine with the now objectionable gender roles men and women lived by.
In an exclusive chat with afaqs!, Harvinder Singh, president - sewing machines and appliances, Usha International, spoke about the ambit of sewing in modern times. Is it just a nostalgic, sentimental relic of the past or does a market really exist for the same in the present era?
According to Singh, as long as people are getting clothes tailored, buying tailored clothes or learning to create on a sewing machine at home, the product will always sell. "We endeavour to elevate the experience of sewing to an art form across demographics and geographies," he says.
Singh adds, "We started our sewing business with the straight stitch (black) sewing machine. We have grown along this journey to boast a product line comprising a range of straight stitch and zigzag automatic sewing machines catering to the individual as well as industrial creative needs of our customers. It is this philosophy that led us to develop products like the Memory Craft series for the inventive fashionista or My Fab Barbie (launched in 2016) - a sewing machine that spurs young minds to experiment and explore their potential for ingenuity."
Answering a question about geographical pain-points, Singh insights, "Sewing machines sell across the country at almost the same level; there is no specific geography that does better than the other... and this includes the North East."
About his media mix, he adds, "Given that it's a mobile-first digital economy, our lead medium of communication is digital - even when it comes to media spends. Besides digital, which takes the lion's share, it is BTL and ground level events that we focus on to generate sales. The TVC (Mumbai Indians) was a part of our latest campaign to leverage our association with the franchise during cricket season. It was part of our larger, overall campaign."
Admitting that over the last two-three years, the sewing machine industry, as a whole, has "remained stagnant" when it comes to the straight stitch category of machines. Singh nevertheless shares that he has witnessed "marginal growth" in the domestic, industrial and automatic zigzag machine segments.
About moving with the times, he acknowledges the digital universe as "the realm where our customers reside" and admits that his team has tried to "evolve to analyse data and trends in the digital world."
Vineet Trakroo, CEO, chief evolution officer, Evolution Strategy Advisors and former CMO of Usha International (2011-13), spoke to us about the way the brand has been responsible for building the sewing machine category over the years. They did this through multiple touchpoints including press, TV, in-store displays, and on-ground - including setting up 'silai' schools in the interiors. They even had CSR activities in villages to build rural demand and set up the experiential Haberdashery the 'Hab' Bandra, Mumbai.
Usha has now upgraded to automated sewing machines and these white machines are from Japan, the result of a tie-up with Janome. "The company has been taking the art and hobby route to the high-end consumer for this product and conducts home demos with a direct marketing team," Trakroo says.
"They have evolved the business from the mechanical machine to the automatic over the years. The advertising evolved to display creativity through sewing as a hobby or art form. They are a strong brand in the home consumer segment and there are no close competitors, except Singer. The category has been growing steadily," he adds. Trakroo was also head of marketing and business strategy for Usha Internationals' portfolio of products including fans, sewing machines, appliances, pumps, and water coolers and dispensers.
Strategy consultant Lubna Khan feels the category and product have been framed for a long time as a functional, domestic device, a woman's individual, often lonely, labour. Still, it remained essentially a womanly tool, equivalent to the domestic stove and, as such, it had a lower status and charm. "It's refreshing to see a new direction for the brand and the category. Sewing is now a way to have fun; an avenue for non-purposive creativity - so simple, even kids can do it. Anyone can learn and do, regardless of gender," she says, in context to the latest ad film and its implications.
"Without innovation that further reduces time and effort and offers never-before-thought-of avenues for creativity, this category will not grow to its potential," she explains.
Aditya Kilpady, national planning director, Dentsu Impact, reminds us of Usha's 2009 campaign 'Usha hai to Asha hai', which tried to empower women. In 2014, the brand made an exchange offer-based ad for Usha Janome, wherein one per cent of the sales went to ushainitiatives.com, a women's empowerment initiative. Since then, the category has struggled to be relevant, he highlights.
"Moreover," reminds Kilpady, "Usha also began to get more recognition in other categories like ceiling fans and mixer-grinders. The attempt to move to a potentially richer territory of 'creativity' sparked off with the 'Create your World with Thread Art' campaign. While the selection of Mumbai Indians as a partner is questionable, Usha has at least managed to retain the flavour of 'learning and creativity'." He likens the ad to Danish toy-maker Lego's efforts to stay relevant after decades of slump. "There is a joy to 'old technology' in the new world..." he says, going on to discuss how radio and arcade video games have found a way to retain their relevance in today's digital-led times.
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Usha, he opines, could try and stay relevant by highlighting some of their offerings like the zigzag sewing machine or the WiFi/iPad compatible Memory Craft machines. "Some other interventions like online sewing lessons and sewing schools could also be communicated to bring back the love to 'learning and creating with sewing'," he suggests, adding, "The world is moving towards innovative sewing machine designs and technology innovations like intuitive sewing machines, Robotic tailoring (or SewBot?!) - this could become the future of fashion and sewing machines over time and bring back interest in the category..."