Benita Chacko

Mahindra Thar shuns formulaic SUV advertising; puts the woman in the driver's seat

Colloquially nicknamed 'Sapnon ki Rani', the SUV is positioned as an object of desire. A chat with both, brand and agency.

Whirring sound of the engine, rough and hilly terrain, sharp turns, a dust storm, and aggressive driving. These are some of the typical elements seen in sports utility vehicle (SUV) ads of today.

But there is another stereotype – a man driving the vehicle. Very rarely do these ads feature a woman, and if one is present, it is merely to be the damsel in distress.

Take, for example, the Mahindra XUV500’s ad released in 2018. It features a man driving a woman to safety in the Jordanian desert. Or, the Tata Harrier ad, featuring actors Fatima Sana Shaikh and Siddhant Chaturvedi, where he helps her escape the police.

The all-new Mahindra Thar’s latest ad, titled ‘Explore the Impossible’, has all of these typical elements and yet, it takes a refreshing break from stereotype. While the ad features a man driving the SUV, it also has a woman driving her car competently right next to him.

What’s more! It goes beyond the regular aggressive and macho tone of these ads to depict an adventurous romantic moment.

The ad, created by The Womb Communications, shows a couple chasing each other in their respective Thars in an extreme terrain, while their eyes keep meeting flirtatiously. After they keep circling around each other, they finally pull over and get out of their cars. The man pulls out a ring to propose to the woman. As she takes a moment to react, he tells her that they’ve already taken their ‘pheras’ (wedding vows) around the volcanic mountain.

This is quite different from the usual SUV ads that we see today. The top SUV brands follow a formulaic treatment in their ads, making it hard to differentiate one from the other. They all feature a suave man on the driver’s seat and the woman enjoying the ride as a passenger. Hyundai’s ad for Alcazar attempts to stand out by roping in Shah Rukh Khan and members of the Indian women’s cricket team. But again it is Khan driving the girls.

Kia Carens and MG Astor are other brands that stands out in its communication by portraying them as family cars. While Kia has roped in kids, MG has girls clicking selfies in it.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Navin Talreja</p></div>

Navin Talreja

Navin Talreja, founding partner, The Womb Communications, agrees that SUV brands have rarely shown women driving the vehicle. “But when we met consumers across the country we found many women drivers of Thar. Adventurous and independent, the vehicle was a symbol of their free spiritedness and feeling of empowerment. We were after these mindsets and not necessarily a demographic, but with Thar this was a segment one could not ignore,” he said.

The Thar ad’s treatment, portraying the man and the woman racing each other, highlights the equality in the relationship. Through this it seems to say that irrespective of the gender everyone can drive it effortlessly.

“At Mahindra, we have always celebrated the empowerment of women. Especially women drivers who are not afraid to get behind the wheel and take control of their own unique and inspiring journey,” says Harish Lalchandani, VP, marketing (PV and Pikup), Mahindra Automotive.

“Our film underscores this adventurous streak, while showing that a woman can be as comfortable and confident in her SUV as any man, as she treads uneven ground and encounters the toughest terrain,” he adds.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>All-new Thar</p></div>

All-new Thar

The ad portrays the reality on the ground. It is a common sight these days to see a woman steering a ‘Thar’. The car’s tough and sophisticated build, easy drivability, comfort, and safety make it a preferred driving choice. It has in-cabin tech, like the touchscreen infotainment system. And, the adventure statistics show useful information, like the road’s angle, engagement of 4x mode, compass for direction, etc.

“Over the years, our acknowledgement of the aspirations of the woman car owner has been translated into action, not only with regards to our messaging, but also in how we innovate for this customer. In fact, women driving a Mahindra SUV is not something that we’re seeing for the first time. The Scorpio and XUV500 also saw their fair share of women buyers through the years,” mentions Lalchandani.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Kawal Shoor</p></div>

Kawal Shoor

Kawal Shoor, founding partner, The Womb Communications said, it makes them feel safe as its intimidating presence keeps rogues away. “But importantly, from a product standpoint, this is a breakthrough vehicle. Automatic gear shifts, luxurious interiors, easy driveability and enhanced safety makes the new Thar very appealing for women too,” he said.

Shoor said the task for communication was not to ‘sell’ the car, but to make people want it.

"The task for communication was not to ‘sell’ the car, but to make people want it."
Kawal Shoor

“There is a certain western grammar — glitzy vehicles and of course ‘supers’ calling out multiple features — in the way SUVs are advertised. The outcome of that is wallpaper work. Second, India is a land of stories, and we connect with brands that have a certain story and myth around them. In this instance we had to find a story which would capture the spirit of exploration and adventure that the Thar has always stood for. A story, which had the product and the human in equal measure. We spotted the Thar stories when we met users, and looked at the millions of music videos featuring the brand. The relationship between an Indian, and a Thar is not like a regular SUV-owner relationship. It has adventure, style, and the joy of driving at the core of it,” he said.

"There is a certain western grammar — glitzy vehicles and of course ‘supers’ calling out multiple features — in the way SUVs are advertised. The outcome of that is wallpaper work."
Kawal Shoor

Lalchandani says the film is based on the insight that the typical Thar customer feels the need to explore new frontiers, challenge oneself and do what no one has done before.

“It enables our customer to fulfil these needs, with its powerful 4x4 off-roading capability, spirited performance and unmissable presence. These attributes have made the all-new Thar a mainstream SUV offering. It is as much the preferred choice for urban adventures as it is for off-roading, but one that also stands out from the rest for its authenticity.”

Mahindra’s brief to the agency was to spur 10x growth in sales per month. Through the ad, the brand also intends to widen its appeal and emotionally connect with the audiences.

Beyond women, the film also wants to reach out to the millennials, a growing customer base for the all-new Thar, and those who seek an adventure-filled lifestyle. It is also targeted at a growing cohort of Thar buyers who see their vehicle as an extension of their personality and a medium of self-expression.

“We believe that the aspirational value that comes through the film, will also continue to endear the brand to its huge base of fans and loyalists that populate the Thar community at large. Thar is a unique brand in that regard. It is the first choice for its intended audience. It leaves an indelible mark on its owner – one that compels him or her to hold on to it as a prized possession and even pass it down from generation to generation,” says Lalchandani.

"It (Thar) leaves an indelible mark on its owner – one that compels him or her to hold on to it as a prized possession and even pass it down from generation to generation"
Harish Lalchandani

Created by Good Morning Films, Shashank Chaturvedi aka Bob has directed the film. It features a modern rendition of the iconic Bollywood song, ‘Mere Sapnon ki Rani’, that connects back to Mahindra’s SUV heritage. The original song had Rajesh Khanna wooing Sharmila Tagore in a Mahindra 4x4 vehicle.

Speaking on the choice of the song, Shoor says that many Thar lovers refer to the vehicle as ‘mere sapnon ki rani’. “It is a brand that first lives in a person’s heart, very often for years, before it finally adorns his garage. It is a brand of desire. ‘Mere sapnon ki rani’ was a unanimous choice. The challenge was to make it contemporary, but without losing the abandon of the original. Mika Singh’s voice has that in abundance, but his voice also has a touch of virility which suits the brand,” he said.

But even here there is a touch of inclusivity. Unlike the original, this rendition also has a female voice, sung by Anushka Manchanda. “The addition was a stroke of inspiration from Bob. That makes the rendition even more contemporary, and inclusive,” he said.

Watch the making of the film here:

The film was shot during the first lockdown in the difficult terrain of Ladakh. Speaking on the challenges of creating the ad, Talreja said, “This was a large production by any stretch of imagination. It is a combination of live shoot and computer graphics and involved six months of hard labour and back and forth with a CG-house based in Poland. This indeed was a labour of love. But the credit for approving a concept like this and having the faith and patience to ensure it was executed to 100% quality must go to the client. Often such films don’t see the light of the day.”

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