Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Marketing

"Brand not widely known as premium in India; important to spell it out": Pallavi Singh, MG Motor

As British-born car brand Morris Garages launches its first celeb-led advertising campaign in India, we ask marketing head Pallavi Singh about the unusual choice of brand ambassador - Benedict Cumberbatch.

MG Motor (Morris Garages), the 95-year-old British-born automotive brand is about to launch its vehicles in India. As it gradually unfolds its marketing plans for the country, the brand's marketing team just announced English actor Benedict Cumberbatch as its face for India.

Founded in the UK in 1924, Morris Garages’ vehicles were known for their sports cars, roadsters and cabriolet series serving British Prime Ministers and even the British royal family. Chinese automaker Nanjing Automobile Group acquired MG in 2005. The group later merged with SAIC, China’s largest car manufacturer, in 2007.

"Brand not widely known as premium in India; important to spell it out": Pallavi Singh, MG Motor

Morris Garages TVC

In India, MG Motor has already commenced its manufacturing operations at its plant at Halol in Gujarat. The first of the MG cars in India – the Hector – an SUV, will be made available to customers in the second quarter of this year.

Almost a month back, the brand splashed its teaser ads across various mediums clarifying that Morris Garages is a car maker and does not build garages.

"Brand not widely known as premium in India; important to spell it out": Pallavi Singh, MG Motor

MG India's digital film with Benedict Cumberbatch.

However, what didn't add up was the brand's choice of endorser for India. In India, Cumberbatch, the 42-year-old English actor is probably best known for his lead role in the Hollywood superhero movie Dr Strange, followed by Avengers and the TV series Sherlock. That makes him relevant to a very niche target group. With Cumberbatch, the brand is not only stressing on its British lineage but also clearly aiming at the ones who are familiar with the endorser's English background and don't consider him another white model/Hollywood actor. That's a really specific upper-SEC group. Also, the association is currently limited to the Indian market only.

"Brand not widely known as premium in India; important to spell it out": Pallavi Singh, MG Motor

Pallavi Singh

Pallavi Singh, head – marketing, MG Motor India, says, "While MG Motor is an iconic British brand, we are relatively unknown in India. It was crucial to select a brand ambassador who not only fits into the brand narrative but is also well recognised and revered."

Singh matches Cumberbatch's versatility as an actor with MG’s "commitment towards differentiation."

"In fact, as part of our initial research, we found that his Indian followers comprise the highest percentage share of his global fan base," Singh says.

She elaborates that for its target audience, the brand is looking beyond age groups and focussing more on "mindsets, attitudes and psychographics."

"This is the first time that the MG brand is being introduced to Indian audiences through a TVC. Identifying how we said what we wanted to say was a big challenge. The brand is not widely known as a premium carmaker in India, so it was important to spell it out. We wanted to clearly establish MG as an iconic British brand that builds cars and to set the groundwork for MG Hector’s upcoming launch. All this information had to be creatively packaged and communicated in less than 15 seconds. This is why we decided to keep it as simple and as direct as possible," Singh says about the brand.

Turning to experts:

"Brand not widely known as premium in India; important to spell it out": Pallavi Singh, MG Motor

Vijay Subramaniam

Vijay Subramaniam, co-founder Kwan Entertainment & Marketing Solutions, a talent management company, says, “The reason why brands use international faces is to build an idea of premiumness around them and to appeal to urban clusters. It is used to target the premium, niche sort of audiences.”

"Brand not widely known as premium in India; important to spell it out": Pallavi Singh, MG Motor

Manish Porwal

Manish Porwal, MD, Alchemist Marketing & Talent Solutions opines that the brand’s roping in of Cumberbatch only for India is certainly a bit strange.

“Similar questions were raised when Micromax got Hugh Jackman on board. They did that to stand out of the Indian-Chinese idea and create a more global image,” Porwal says.

However, he points out that global celebrities are also showing a lot of interest in India because of the country being a new market and geography.

“Such an association (MG - Cumberbatch) doesn’t look like it’s based on data and study. It looks more like a decision that was taken over a top-level discussion in a board room. However, there is clear logic behind this. MG is interested in a very niche target audience in India; the kind of ‘well-travelled and seen-the-world’ sort of an audience who would be okay with such a brand face. Also, it’s a win-win for the celebrity, who would be interested in the country and would like to make his presence felt here. The celebrity gets a great brand along with a new geography. In MG’s case, such retrofitting makes sense,” Porwal explains.