Abid Hussain Barlaskar

“We got 3x value of IPL slots”: Amul’s RS Sodhi on ‘lockdown TVCs’ during Ramayan-Mahabharat

While most advertisers were re-evaluating their media spends Amul decided to invest more in advertising. We spoke to GCMMF's MD RS Sodhi about Amul's timely move on lockdown viewership.

We weren’t surprised when we recently came across a statement by RS Sodhi, MD, GCMMF (Amul), where he said that the leading dairy brand should be doubling its advertising during lockdown, instead of cutting it down. The fact that Amul bumped up its ad communication was pretty visible on ground and, in fact, it stood out. What actually caught our attention was that this was happening at a time when most other advertisers across categories were cutting down on ad expenditure. Advertisers, in general, were either withdrawing ongoing campaigns, or postponing them altogether. This was triggered primarily by the need to restructure operations, drop in consumption across sectors, ban on film production, and the need to conserve resources.

Amul, on the other hand, decided to put more muscle into advertising. The brand has strategically kept its ad spends (0.8 per cent of the turnover) low for years. Reportedly, GCMMF had a turnover of Rs 38,500 crore in FY 20. Sodhi reveals that apart from a few minor bumps, there hasn’t been much change in Amul’s advertising efforts, post lockdown. Amul’s choice of media is diverse, given its ‘massy’ nature, and its wide range of products that cut across demographic and economic segments. TV makes up for 65-70 per cent of its overall media pie, followed by print (20-25 per cent), and the rest goes to digital. On TV, Amul advertises on general entertainment channels (GECs), children’s channels, news, movies, and also ‘internationals’. The choice of channels varies, depending on individual products, or target geography. For example, ingredient products, like butter or cheese, are seen more on GECs (to target housewives) and chocolates go for children’s channels. Milk ads cut across channels. Amul ran 33 regular product TVCs, and as many as 101 classic ads (from 1969-1990s) during ‘Ramayan' and ‘Mahabharat' on Doordarshan (DD) over the last month. DD later announced that ‘Ramayan’ became the most watched entertainment show in the world, with 7.7 crore viewers on April 16.

Print presence in English dailies nationally is coupled with a strong presence in regional newspapers. Regional schemes of ice creams would be advertised more on regional newspapers. OOH is primarily of two types: The over 50-year-old ‘Amul girl’ butter topical campaigns, and then the product specific ads that are region specific and seen across mediums, like bus stands and train stations. The ‘Amul girl’ topical campaigns are often extended to the print and digital mediums. The share of digital, though small at the moment, is increasing.

Amul also bets big on its sports partnerships, and has been gradually increasing it over the last few years. It extends not only to India, but also globally, with international sponsorships. By Sodhi’s admission, Amul has been “moving a lot of money out of general entertainment to sports and news”. The brand’s latest sports investment is its advertising on Bundesliga, a German football league, with games currently being played in empty stadiums (behind closed doors). Amul had also planned for the Indian Premier League (IPL), but later diverted spends to TV news channels, and went for the retro ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’ sponsorships.

"It was already the financial year ending month, and all the channels wanted to get more business"
RS Sodhi

“We met our media and advertising agencies in the first week of March. COVID-19 was spreading pretty fast globally and people were watching news. It was the correct time to spend money on news – regional, national and international. It was already the financial year ending month, and all the channels wanted to get more business. At the same time, other advertisers, be it auto or consumer durables, were leaving. We got very good deals from all the channels,” Sodhi says.

It was during the second, or third week (of March) that Amul’s media agency Lodestar UM came up with the idea of advertising during ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’ – since people were at home with their families and would rather watch family-oriented programs that lay emphasis on values. “We got a great deal there, too. We chose to go ahead, and right after the first couple of episodes, we got a lot of great feedback. Along with the retro serials, people also wanted their retro ads from the time when they were young. It was a signal for us, and we started running ads from several decades back. We got 10 times the benefits of what we would usually get from similar advertising investments. The viewership was 3-4 times of the IPL finals, and what we paid was many times lower than the IPL investment,” Sodhi reveals.

"The viewership was 3-4 times of the IPL finals, and what we paid was many times lower than the IPL investment"
RS Sodhi

He equates the situation to investing in the share market, where one invests when a particular share is available for minimum value. He explains that a brand is not in the business for year 2020 alone. “A brand is a long term investor, where today’s investments will reap returns decades later. There are many brands that are older than us. We have three generations of Amul consumers today. So, if a brand has to live for generations, then why not advertise,” Sodhi asks.

"We haven’t reduced our spends on any of our summer products"
RS Sodhi

Amul has its portfolio of summer brands, including ice creams and beverages, like lassi, buttermilk and Amul Kool. Like colas, these brands also see a spike in advertising around the summer months every year. “We have come up with TV commercials for these, and are going full throttle. We haven’t reduced our spends on any of our summer products,” Sodhi reveals.

"It does not matter if you are unable to sell ice-cream immediately."
RS Sodhi

On being asked about the result of advertising when the availability of products in the market is affected, Sodhi says, “Advertising is not necessarily sales equity. It is brand building through communication. You don’t stop communicating when consumers are in distress, or you are in difficulty. You don’t have to reap benefits overnight. It does not matter if you are unable to sell ice-cream immediately. You have to keep advertising to capture the top of the mind.”

"It was the best time for advertising when none of the competitor brands were advertising"
RS Sodhi

He believes it was the best time for advertising when none of the competitor brands were advertising. “You are also getting a great deal from your media. It is like maintaining the relationship. You want your consumers to buy your brand when they go to the market. Consumers understand that if Amul isn’t available in the market immediately, it is because of the lockdown. It would have been different if things were normal, and you were not present on the ground. Fortunately, we were also present on the ground. Our supplies did not stop. Our sales have been more than average, except ice cream, because the shops were opening only for a few hours. None of our product categories have registered negative sales compared to the previous year,” Sodhi signs off.