Shreyas Kulkarni

A glance at the ads which defined Amazon's first decade in India

Some set it and the category up, a few were tear-jerkers, and now they are helping the marketplace win in allied categories.

One day an Amazon ad appears on television screens asking Indians to shop from its website. It is a first. Viewers meet the ad with mirth, disbelief, and some with a bit of curiosity. Time passes by and without drawing any attention to itself, that day is nearly 10 years old.

“Amazon had never advertised anywhere in the world. It advertised first in India,” says Rajdeepak Das, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett. The agency has created work for Amazon for over six years.

It’s quite a startling revelation considering the ubiquity of Amazon’s ads in India, and how accustomed people are to them today.

The American company started its India operations in 2013, a few years after rivals Flipkart (2007) and Snapdeal (2010) took off. The trio along with other players have built the now $150 billion Indian e-commerce industry from scratch.

Getting people to shop online, in a cash transaction and kirana-loving India is easier said than done, but advertisements, which were a mainstay in Amazon’s India 10-year reign in India, helped make the change.

Some of the earliest ads on Amazon India’s YouTube channel – from nine years ago – talked about shopping for everything you love.

Following them was a series of ads which aimed to spread awareness about itself.

The first breakthrough ad campaign, however, was released in 2015. ‘Aur Dikhao’, made by Leo Burnett, was built on a simple insight of India’s love for options. “… it made people believe Amazon understands what they want,” remarks Das. The ad was broadcast during the Indian Premier League.

Shopping online, by this time, was no longer a blue moon event and was on its way to becoming a common act. The next big Amazon India campaign in 2016 focused on its best features which mimicked the ones of a kirana dukaan.

Three ads, each focused on Amazon’s on-time delivery, easy returns, and genuine products. “With ‘Apni Dukaan’, we Indianised it, this brand is not a cold e-comm brand, it is exactly like your household kirana shop who knows you and understands you,” Das explains the insight behind the campaign.

Need some love

When Azazul Haque worked on Amazon India for the first time, he headed Ogilvy Bangalore, and the e-commerce company had earned a place in the Indian consumer’s mind and wallet. “Initially it was category building, then it shifted to brand love,” he says explaining the state of Amazon India.

He is at present the chief content officer of Media.Monks.

He is behind one of the e-commerce brand’s most famous campaigns (2017) – Chonkpur Cheetahs. A mini ad series detailing the life of a T20 cricket team in the fictional town of Chonkpur and how Amazon saves their day every time; this campaign too detailed Amazon’s many features but the humour aspect stood above and painted the brand as one of the best things in life.

Haque has also worked on many of Amazon’s ads for its festival sales which have become a staple.

“… There were deep dive briefs into what to be done, what verticals to touch, and which are the categories to touch, is it going to be discount or ease of purchase, EMI, it was always around how to help the shopper buy more,” he explains the behind-the-scenes actions before a festival campaign.

He, however, adds that Amazon was clear it never wanted the shopper to indulge. They are anti-indulgence and wanted the shopper to be wise.

The festival campaigns were also part of the supposed e-commerce battle with Flipkart. “Beyond a point, year after year, it gets tough to find a unique strategy, because, at the end of the day, it boils down to who gives better discount and has more relevant brands,” states the Media.Monks CCO.

Leo Burnett’s Das, speaking on this, says Amazon realised it can't be the reactive brand. “You behave like a leader, you don't react.”

The sellers

Most if not all brands focus on their consumers, Amazon has steadily focused on its sellers and so have many of its campaigns. In 2019, Amazon StoryBoxes (2019) featured the faces of sellers on its boxes and told customers their stories. Leo Burnett had to struggle for nearly three years before getting approval to work on this idea.

The tear-jerkers

Whilst building the e-commerce category, Amazon India developed a reputation for doling out enjoyable as well as tear-jerker ads around festivals.

“It's very interlinked with the behaviour of the nation. If you look at what happens during Diwali, everyone is either looking to upgrade, redo their house, there's also a need for people to go ahead, and want to buy new things,” says Neville Shah, senior executive creative director, Ogilvy, on the festival ads.

Having worked on the sale ads too, he says “the sale is an attractive proposition not just to adopt people but to bring newer people into the category, to make people comfortable with the category.”

Haque has worked on some of its Raksha Bandhan campaigns which tout the brand’s ability to deliver everything but love.

In an earlier interview with afaqs!, then Amazon India creative head Kunj Shah said it all comes down to expressing the warmth of Amazon as a brand in the grammar of their communication. “We do work that appeals to the head and work which appeals to the heart. Both are important.”

The brand’s 2021 Raksha Bandhan ad, made in-house by D1 Creatives, received much-deserved acclaim.

“We want the narrative to appeal more to the (individual’s) head. Then, there are those special days of bonding that are an ode to relationships. Here, we look to appeal to the heart. We tap into real, authentic emotions and make narratives that are honest and heart-tugging. Interestingly, by their sheer design, authentic narratives have the potency to cut through all the noise,” she’d told afaqs! on how they came up with this idea.

That very year for Diwali, Amazon released another tear-jerker on how strangers turned angels to help each other during the second wave of the Coronavirus.

“We wanted to remind the country that this is the time you can say thank you and it will mean a lot for them who played such an important part in your lives,” said Ravi Desai, Amazon’s director of brand and mass marketing about the ad.

Talking about category building, Haque says “What advertising of so many years couldn't do, few years of the lockdowns did.” People had to trust e-comm because everything was delivery-based.

The diversifications

Amazon India, today, is no longer about the shopping website. It has forayed into devices (Kindle and Alexa) and is trying to build its leadership into niche categories such as fashion and grocery.

As its adoption has increased, today Amazon plays at different ends of the marketing funnel. "There's someone who is just about entering the category, and then there is someone who has been with the category for long," says Neville Shah.

“Fashion of late has been a challenge for Amazon because it's not seen as a fashion brand, it's seen as a retailer. There is, unlike other brands like Jio with different app (Ajio), just one Amazon app,” remarks Haque right as Amazon has released a couple of ads promoting its fashion game.

When Prime Video was being introduced to India, Leo Burnett was behind its creative duties and it realised, as per CCO Das, “India's Prime Time was between 7-9, but with Prime, India's Prime Time could be anytime; waiting for a bus, it's Prime Time, sitting on the toilet, it's Prime Time, waiting for the doctor to call, it’s Prime Time. Your waiting time became the new Prime Time.”

The agency chose to first educate the Indian consumer about the Prime Video product and then talk about the content on offer.

A recent campaign once again introduces Prime Video to India following a price hike.

What's next?

Amazon’s recent ad a few months ago portrayed it as a marketplace where one shops for everyday essentials, and it is by design.

“The category has matured. The brief came from a simple place where people think of Amazon when they are looking to buy big-ticket items, but that's not true. You can buy everyday things on Amazon, that's what became the ad,” explains Ogilvy’s Shah.

The challenge, as per Haque, lies in where Amazon will go now because the building of Amazon ‘Apni Dukaan’ has happened. “New business challenge is where the next challenge lies.” And the ads will find their place as the e-commerce giant builds its next decade in India.

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