Shreyas Kulkarni

upGrad's new ad suggests an alternative way to move ahead in your career...

... Instead of resorting to kissing a#@. Yes, the ad has people licking a donkey.

'To lick ass', was and is the most hated and yet omnipresent aspect of career growth. We've seen so many people do it and in some cases, we had to do it too. It's become such an integral part of the corporate world that it is hard to wipe off.

However, upGrad, an ed-tech firm, in its new campaign offers an alternative. It tells you that instead of licking ass, why not get a specialised degree from its many offerings; one that actually teaches you industry-relevant stuff and makes your boss/potential boss take notice instead of the regular one you own. It says so its new campaign 'Sirf Naam Ki Nahin, Kaam Ki Degree/#DontLickAssKickAss'.

While it is a fact that the popularity of online courses and certifications have spiked, it may also lead to a situation shortly where every one of three or five office workers possess an online degree. What happens to the upGrad advantage then?

"If you look at the market today, that is not what is happening," responds Arjun Mohan, CEO, upGrad. He explained that the whole idea of doing specialised certifications or degrees to improve one's skilling, it is something not everyone has picked up. "I'd say we have hardly scratched the surface of the market... out of 100 million total addressable markets (TAM) you've got, less than 1 per cent of the people have taken serious attempt..."

Arjun Mohan
Arjun Mohan

He further said that due to COVID, people are "checking out" courses, they're seeing what is this all about and when you do that, you try to take a free course but a large number of these people don't complete it. "The completion rate of a free course in any one of those MOOC platforms is less than 2 per cent," says Mohan. He insists that what you actually need is an ecosystem that, "mimicks a university-style of education which is what we are providing."

The biggest challenge

We asked Mohan if his biggest challenge was to get more people to sign up or to have the ones who've signed up for a course complete it. His response was towards the former. "I don't think that out of 10 people, nine are signing up," he remarks and says that the whole premise of the ad was to tell guys who're sitting out and thinking about their careers growth that, "boss, what you are thinking now is not what it is. You really need to up your game for which you need to go and do specialisation." He says that a large number of people are at home now and have liquidity too..."It's all about market creation and telling the fence-sitters to check this out."

Too many players

With so many players in the ed-tech space, it's an all-out battle for supremacy among them. For Mohan, this is a good thing because, "when you have competition, the market grows," and also when more and more people advertise, the market grows as well. "Today online education is considered as a serious market only because it has been communicated by multiple people," remarks the CEO. Rather than be alone and develop the market, let everyone do it. Right from your primary classes, all the way to your professional and lifelong education, it (online education) is great news.

We (afaqs!) asked Mohan about the fact that schools are shut and it seems they won't open anytime soon. It presents a great market for upGrad to enter into and dominate. He replied that his "complete focus is in penetrating that 100 million TAM market and ensuring every professional thinks about upGrad when he thinks about upskills."

A marketing or a product challenge?

When Mohan mentioned the 100 million target, we wondered if he was looking at marketing or a product challenge to meet the target; ed-tech companies are a mix of part-content, part-technology, and part-product.

"At upGrad, when we're doing the delivery, it's a combination of three things: content, technology, and I'd add marketing to it," says the CEO. He states sales and marketing are crucial to communication while talking to customers. While our partners and content team help us in building this product, it is not just about the university part, we also factor in employability. "Every course we do, it has a lot of individuals who're practitioners in the industry. They're taking 30%-40% of the content and teaching students the latest of what is happening from an application point of view."

He says that it's important how you deliver with technology. There's a lot of offline university aspects that need to be mimicked. "How do you test ensuring students don't copy," he asks. And he emphasised the marketing aspect too because without reaching the right consumer, there's no way you can make a product successful.

The placement challenges in today's times

Most people don't sign up for online courses without checking the placement support page. In today's scenario, how's upGrad coping? "upGrad is the only higher ed online company which has career services and an alumni organisation," he touts and explains that how the services team helps learners get ready for interviews and build Cvs that focus on skillsets companies want. "These are challenging times and yes there are a lot of firings but for a good employee, there is still a lot of opportunities," signs off Mohan.

While upGrad's CEO sounds upbeat about the ad campaign, we were curious to learn how did it come to life. After all, when was the last time you saw someone licking a doney masquerading as an ass in an ad?

Kawal Shoor
Kawal Shoor

Kawal Shoor co-founder, The Womb, the agency behind the ad told us that we (agency+client) worked on the brief together. He remarks it wasn't the usual 'client calls for a pitch, the agency responds... presents pitch...' because we (The Womb) do not do that kind of a thing. Instead, both had conversations with each other to see if their minds and hearts meet rather than any specific thoughts or solutions.

Shoor reveals that they spoke to a few ex-students of upGrad before signing up and the feedback received was that it's a great product. He also told us that upGrad must have seen The Womb's work too and that's how it started.

He says that upGrad steers clear of lightweight courses and come with serious intent. So, they (The Womb) had to come with a clear proposition as to why students and professionals should come to upGrad. "To answer why people should come here, we developed 'Sirf Naam Ki Nahin, Kaam Ki Degree'.

Shoor further tells us that with 'Sirf Naam... Degree', they wanted to highlight the substantivity of upGrad's offering; it is not a lightweight course and they take a lot of effort into conducting it. "As we do other campaigns for other courses in the future, what we intend to do is carry forward this core idea of 'Sirf Naam...'.

Talking about the script, he says these thoughts and phrases (licking ass, ass licker, chatna) set the ball rolling and we had to present it in context of specialisation because that's the core of upGrad's courses.

"We felt we had to show the need for specialisation," said Shoor. If you don't want to do this (ass licking), then you might as well do these courses. He reveals that during the brainstorming, "... we ourselves were a bit uncomfortable thinking of a script like this with the donkey."

Shoor then mentions two old campaigns they did: 'Kya chal raha hai, Fogg chal raha hai' for Fogg deodorants and a campaign for Saregama Carvaan where the brand had come with a business problem to an advertising creative company and we returned to them with a product solution. "New ideas make you uncomfortable," remarks Shoor.

He says they had to remain cautious because someone licking a donkey was unimagined... "The thought of it may have been good but the way it was shot was done with a lot of finesse."

Shahanka Chaturvedi
Shahanka Chaturvedi

Shoor says the shooting was done during the lockdown with director Shashanka Chaturvedi (Bob) in Goa. The film was shot with Indian origin actors who went to Estonia from the UK. As to why Estonia? Shoor tells us the production house (Good Morning Films) must have had some tie-up with a local production unit in Estonia and so it was convenient.

He didn't miss the donkey and getting it to act. He says, "From making his forehead lean forward for one shot to turning and looking back at the camera... you could only marvel at it."

In the end, he gives a shout out to upGrad and the eclectic mix of people running it. If the campaign is successful, he says the client deserves all the kudos.

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