Aishwarya Ramesh

First Cadbury's Dairy Milk and now, ITC positions cookies as 'meetha'...

It's a scene we are all familiar with. In movies, when a couple agrees to get married, the elders bring out a box of Indian sweets (such as barfi, peda, laddoo, etc.) These sweets have a very dear place in the hearts of Indians, with them being commonly associated with joyous occasions and positive emotions in general. Sunfeast's newly released ad is a play on these same emotions. The ad features actress Alia Bhatt and is in line with the 'can't wait, won't wait' theme that all Sunfeast Dark Fantasy cookie ads have had.

Commenting on the TVC in a press release, Paritosh Wali, chief operating officer, biscuits and confections cluster, Foods Division, ITC said, “We endeavor to elevate the dessert indulgence experience of Sunfeast Dark Fantasy by positioning it as the ‘new meetha’ for all celebratory focusing on special moments with family and friends in this TVC. Sunfeast aims to make an impact in the indulgent biscuits segment by entering the space of meetha.”

However, we couldn't help but notice that this isn't the first time a brand in the FMCG space has tried to substitute a traditional Indian 'meetha' with a chocolate. Previously, Dairy Milk's 'Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye' campaign made references to the chocolate being used on happy occasions or to mark a new beginning.

One such ad featuring actress Waheeda Rehman uses a setting similar to the Sunfeast Dark Fantasy ad. It is a post meal setting and everyone is waiting for a bite of dessert, or in this case, the chocolate being positioned in the place of a 'meetha.'

We spoke to industry experts to get their opinion. Shivaji Dasgupta, chief strategy officer, Havas Group India agreed that the strategy for both Dairy Milk and Sunfeast is fundamentally similar. "The idea is to fit a new age format in an age old tradition. It is common to eat sweets after a meal in India and Dairy Milk presented chocolates as a logical and aspirational substitute, appealing to the whole family," he said, over e-mail.

Shivaji Dasgupta
Shivaji Dasgupta
"Sunfeast is riding on the increasing acceptability of western desserts, mostly chocolates. They're trying to break through to the next level with choco-filled cookies."
Shivaji Dasgupta, chief strategy officer, Havas Group India

He points out that this is yet another consumer trend - increasing attractiveness of form even for classical consumption content. He takes the example of the aesthetic popularity of Sushi or carefully plated food at restaurants. "The unchanged and uncool desi mithai is slowly but certainly losing its sheen," he says.

Rajesh Sharma, VP - strategic planning and planning head, McCann Mumbai thinks that the positioning of these products make sense. "For long, the category has been about personal moments of indulgence. I believe the shift to the cultural space of shared consumption would have been seen as strategic requirement for the brand’s future growth," he explains.

Rajesh Sharma
Rajesh Sharma

We pointed out to him that the cookies and traditional Indian 'meetha' are generally consumed in different contexts (sweets after a meal and cookies, generally as a snack), but Sharma is of the opinion that the Sunfeast ad is agnostic to meal times. "It is placed in the cultural space of shared consumption. This is a departure from the world of personal indulgence and that might make a cookie part of the universal set of mithai, and meetha."

He further states that the lines between a traditional mithai and western sweets are blurring, and that chocolate is finding its way to being a sweet too. "A case in point being – naan khatai or even thekua (a traditional fried sweet cookie from Bihar and Jharkhand). While the thekua is necessarily a home-made pakwaan, naan-khatai and barfi are neighbours in a mithai shop. Good marketing can change consumer expectations and – chocolates not only became a meetha, there was also a chocolate rosogulla activation in Bengal during puja some seasons ago. Also let's not forget the chocolate modaks during Ganesh Chaturthi." he tells us.

"Good marketing is expected to help consumers make new connections."
Rajesh Sharma, VP - strategic planning and planning head, McCann Mumbai

He pointed out that Cadbury was the first mover in this space with their 'Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye' campaign and that it has worked very well for them. "It’s a tried and tested route to greater consumer acceptance and consumption. I believe it’s the first time a cookie brand is doing it. Both approaches are similar but the consumer will ultimately decide what they really want on such occasions – Barfi (chocolate) or Naan Khatai (cookie)" Sharma states.

We also spoke to Ramanujam Sridhar, founder and CEO of brand-comm – a communications consultancy headquartered in Bangalore. He pointed out that traditionally, Dairy Milk and other chocolates were marketed to children, but that these days, advertising rarely features the children in these ads.

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"The whole idea is that brands in their marketing efforts are trying to make these products universal – it’s not particularly for a young person or an old person. The more generic the communication, the higher are the chances of it appealing to more people. This is the idea of the Dairy Milk commercial and this is what Sunfeast is trying to do as well. The point is to make everybody in the family consume the chocolate,"he says, referring to the fact that in both ads, the whole family is sitting for the dessert and the brand is being passed around.

"If I'm a brand marketer who's trying to expand my market, I'm trying to make you look at chocolates as an alternative to Indian sweets."
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Brand-Comm
Ramanujam Sridhar
Ramanujam Sridhar

In the case of Dairy Milk, he tells us that the brand tries to find new ways to advertise itself since by and large, the product itself remains the same (apart from a few new variants.) "In India, when people don't have ideas, the easiest thing do is get a celebrity," he says, indirectly referring to Waheeda Rehman in the Dairy Milk ad and Alia Bhatt for Sunfeast.

"When you normally say kuch meetha ho jaye, it's a reference to a peda or a gulab jamun or a traditional Indian sweet. The idea is to take that share of consumption in the market and make Indians think it's perfectly acceptable to have chocolate as a dessert - it's equivalent to, if not better than an Indian sweet," Sridhar tells us.

It is the same positioning that ITC is trying to replicate now. "Youngsters in India don't think there's a huge difference between a western sweet and an Indian sweet. It's possible that they believe a sweet is just that - a sweet, irrespective of the origins of the palate," he signs off.