Abid Hussain Barlaskar

Meet Liberty Shoes' Hijabi Biker

In a new digital spot, the brand takes up a sensitive subject. Will it help sell more shoes?

The hijab, sports-shoes and a dedicated woman - what do these three have in common? Perhaps nothing at all, or they could be at fore of a new brand commercial for a new Liberty Shoes line of sports footware - LEAP 7X's latest campaign #ChalBadhChal.

However, should you venture a Google search with keywords like 'hijab', 'sports-shoes', 'woman', and 'commercial' together, you'll find results for Nike's ad film - "What will they say about you?", for its Pro Hijab headgear designed for Muslim women involved in sports activities.

Meet Liberty Shoes' Hijabi Biker

Liberty's campaign #ChalBadhChal featuring Roshni Misbah aka Hijabi Biker

The campaign #ChalBadhChal for Liberty Shoes features Roshni Misbah, who's become quite popular as a hijabi biker. As the ad propagates, Roshni, a woman biking enthusiast, is seen 'riding' against social odds to pursue her passion for riding motorcycles and maintaining good health while still practising her religion. All the ads visuals are packaged quite neatly; complete with those of her performing her morning namaz and then slipping into her sports shoes to start training.

Meet Liberty Shoes' Hijabi Biker

Nike: What will they say about you?

It begs the question - didn't Nike already have a product, communication and category connect with its Pro Hijab campaign?

However, this campaign, while it's riding on the 'cause-vertising' wave, might also be the brand's boldest attempt at advertising in recent times. And instead of going with a mainstream star, Roshni gives the campaign a certain credibility that's believable, perhaps more so than just established faces would do.

Meet Liberty Shoes' Hijabi Biker

Liberty Shoes ad featuring Hrithik Roshan from 2012

The ad has been conceptualised and crafted by the brand's in-house team led by the marketer and lacks the involvement of an advertising agency. Like many recent ad films by other brands, Liberty Shoes has also overstepped the traditional agency setup.

We got in touch with Barun Prabhakar- marketing head, Liberty Shoes, to find out more about the campaign.

Meet Liberty Shoes' Hijabi Biker

Barun Prabhakar

"The brand 'LEAP 7X' is about passion. We are sensitive to beliefs and faiths of all kinds and our intention has never been to hurt any sentiment. For us, finding the right story to tell was vital to our campaign. The biggest marker of an inspirational story is the amount of passion involved in it. That's where our confidence came from while we decided to get Roshni on board. She is breaking gender and religious stereotypes and aims at something bigger than herself," Prabhakar says confidently.

Prabhakar maintains that #ChalBadhChal is different and the first of its kind of initiative taken by any brand so far (at least in India). "Chal Badh Chal has no similarities whatsoever with Nike's campaign. We will soon be coming out with our next film, followed by others because it is not a one-off idea," he shares.

Meet Liberty Shoes' Hijabi Biker

This RR Kabels' campaign was conceptualised in-house by the brand

Speaking about specific risks that the marketer was wary of before going ahead with the campaign, Prabhakar explains, "We knew what we were doing, right from the start. If you're making something that you believe in, you're putting endless hours-days-months into developing the idea, executing it and then presenting it to the world - there's always a risk. A risk that maybe others don't see it the way you do. The main risk always was hurting particular sentiments."

Meet Liberty Shoes' Hijabi Biker

CARS24's ad film featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui was also conceptualised in-house

Roshni Misbah's is the first story in a series and will be followed by others from different parts of the country as part of the campaign.

So, how does the ad fare?

Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy, brand and consumer expert considers the campaign opportunistic for taking on a cause but maintains that many brands are doing it.

Meet Liberty Shoes' Hijabi Biker

Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy

"In this case, the brand was previously known for its happy-clappy or shall I say flappy TV commercials. Further, it has been out of the public eye for a couple of years now. So, this is a case of jumping on the 'fem-vertising' bandwagon without any historical commitment to the cause of female empowerment," shares Swamy.

"I doubt that the Hijab narrative will harm the brand. The brand has cleverly used the 22-year-old Misbah, who is making waves locally as a hijabi biker, to quickly garner eyeballs for themselves. Will it help the brand? - Only time will tell. Young people (especially women) may recall the brand because of the strong protagonist, but I'm not certain this will aid brand purchase, especially because the category (shoes) is somehow not fundamental to motorbike riding. I wish a motorbike brand had done this ad, that would have boosted bike sales amongst women," Swamy adds.

Swamy continues, "For those familiar with the Nike 'Believe in more campaign' for the Middle-East, where women in hijabs are shown horse-riding, fencing etc. the Liberty Shoes campaign seems to be following in their footsteps. The Nike campaign is relevant to its audience and the market it is rolled out in, inspiring them and showing people what is possible despite the hijab. In a country like India, women who wear a hijab are relatively few, so the rest may see this as an attention seeking, irrelevant ploy. The category and market relevance are pretty abysmal in the campaign."

"I wish that the Liberty Shoes campaign had focused on the extraordinary possibilities of Misbah's life rather than turning it into a typical soap opera of a woman versus the rest of the tyrannical world. Women today are out on a limb and not just on a motorbike. By her own admission, Misbah's father has been very supportive and people stop to shake her hand and admire her. She is a hero, rides with guys and celebrating that in an ad would have been much cooler," Swamy signs off.

Rajesh Lalwani, CEO, Scenario Consulting, maintains that the ad is perfectly timed and the choice of protagonist is also perfect, in terms of a real hero.

Meet Liberty Shoes' Hijabi Biker

Rajesh Lalwani

"The feminist movement is reaching a crescendo globally and India is no different. Women are coming together and making sure their voices are heard as they demand an equal world, rid of disparities in social order that have curbed their freedom for centuries. They will no longer be stopped by glares or jibes for they are too busy breaking stereotypes and taking leaps as they move forward," Lalwani says.

"Brands either create waves or ride them. Cultural brands like Nike come in the former category, but the disquiet among women and their desire to stand tall, even among the most repressed parts of society, is evident to everyone. The campaign is an attempt to catalyse masses to join the movement showcasing relevant leaders like Roshni Misbah, who are breaking many stereotypes overcoming the monster of social diktat," Lalwani adds.

Speaking about the risk the brand has taken for the campaign, Lalwani says, "There is no question of harm for there is a clear buy-in among the audience for the message. The hijab plays a pivotal role in the story and gives credence to the message that breaking stereotypes and being respectful to our cultural values aren't mutually exclusive."

With regard to the similarity to the Nike campaign, Lalwani states, "The difference between the Nike approach by launching Pro Hijab and Liberty's campaign is of markets and their ability to respond to products, both in terms of acceptability and price. Liberty caters to a mass market and has chosen the storytelling route to reach its audience. There are similarities in approach by both brands and Liberty does seem inspired by Nike. However, Liberty caters to a different market, at a price point that the audience can afford and will likely benefit from this campaign."

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