Teaming up with Barista Coffee Company, Hitachi has become the country's first air conditioning brand to launch a special summer drink...
FMCG has been having a very unconventional year in India. We've seen paan-flavoured snack bars, chaat-flavoured chewing gum and even gulkand cookies. Now, Barista has taken unconventional pairings to another level by teaming up with Japanese air conditioner brand Hitachi to introduce Alphonso Mango smoothies. What really got our attention about this partnership is the fact that Hitachi, as a brand, is lending its name to something completely out of its category. Imagine Nescafe launching a soap or Sunsilk launching a variant of potato chips.
To find out more about this partnership, we contacted both brands involved - Barista Coffee Company and Johnson Controls-Hitachi Air Conditioning India.
We caught up with Puneet Gulati, CEO of Barista and asked him why the two brands decided to team up. He shared, "The brand attributes of Hitachi fit well with the proposed smoothie we wanted to launch. While devising the summer strategy, we came up with some innovative beverage options. While we were brainstorming about what flavours to use, what the recipe should be etc. we were also in talks with Hitachi. Once we realised that their brand positioning was similar to the smoothie we were trying to sell, it was almost like a readymade marriage for us."
Partha Sen, head-Marketing, Johnson Controls-Hitachi Air Conditioning agreed, telling us via email that the idea of a "co-branded chilled drink was that one will beat the heat from the outside while the other will provide respite from the inside. Soda-based drinks and multiple variants of smoothies were the options which Barista's chef presented us with and we went with the 'Hitachi Alphonso Smoothie.'"
Gulati also mentioned that the end product came from the brainstorming efforts of both marketing teams.
The press release mentioned that the TG is a mixture of millennials and young adults and emphasised on the fact that Hitachi and Barista had the same target group. We asked Gulati about this, he explained, "If you look at young adults who are in the transitional phase of their careers, they are high spenders, decision makers and belong to nuclear families. We see a similar TG visiting the Barista store as well."
Gurmeet Singh, chairman and MD, Johnson Controls-Hitachi Air Conditioning India, pointed out that India will be the world's youngest country by 2020 and that millennials will heavily influence trends and market patterns. "These millennials might not be the end buyers as of now, but they are the influencers in all buying decisions and end-users of the products," he states. Singh also emphasises on the millennials' spending power by pointing out that the main objective was to emerge as the preferred air conditioning brand amongst the group entering their prime spending years.
In order to understand the confluence of the two brands more clearly, we spoke to Tejas Mehta, founder member-director Strategy & Account Management at What's Your Problem.
He pointed out that consumer lives are very cluttered with brands at every media touchpoint and that the creation of new touchpoints was becoming as important as relaying information through existing channels.
Mehta explains, "This is why brands are creating avenues through which they can have a conversation with the consumer when they are in the right mindset, in the right moment (without banking on traditional media)."
He stated that the amount of money one has to pay to convey a message through traditional media also plays a role in the selection. "These days, the brand only cares if the message is delivered or not. If you need an air conditioner when it's hot outside - that's the message that Hitachi cares about. If that's the association that the brand wants to draw, then that reminder while drinking the smoothie is an association that definitely gets established," he expressed.
Mehta told us that he was unsure if this association would work for consideration, even though it would create awareness. "It's a way of saying, if you're thinking of ACs in the summer, think of Hitachi - it creates that awareness. But just because they've created awareness this way, doesn't mean the consumer will suddenly consider it and put it in their preference set."
He points out that he's not sure what's in it for Barista. "I think Barista is just lending its environment to the cause. Everybody these days want to create a cluster of audience and eventually monetise it. Similarly, Barista has already aggregated the audience and they will make money off selling the smoothie to people," he explained.
We asked him about how the target audience of the two companies overlapped and he shared, "If a consumer can afford a Barista, he/she can probably afford an AC too - thanks to a rise in the spending power among people. Some products which were classified as luxury products are now moving into the necessary category. Therefore, one way the audience overlaps is the one that's seeking relief from the heat. That's the audience Hitachi wants to talk to and that's the audience Barista is catering to."
Saransika Pandey, strategic planner at agency Brave New World felt that Hitachi's new partnership is unusual on the surface. "An ideal brand partnership is based on alignment - mutually benefitting goals, audience that they serve, vision that they both share and such - which intuitively explains why they are working together. Here, both brands help you keep cool during the summer seems to be the general intention behind the partnership and the association with the warmer months that they're trying to drive - but a farfetched connect like this is not apparent and there's definitely a bit of laddering required to appreciate it. Even so, why Barista Coffee Company, in particular, as a brand is not clear. It's not a natural fit," she tells us.
She commented that at an age where communication has to stick in a matter of seconds, this might not land where it's supposed to.
We asked Pandey why Hitachi could be trying to target millennials, who don't always have purchasing power and she replied that it could be because of the sheer amount of information they have at the palm of their hands. "ACs are a more involved purchase. Even if they're not the ones making that final purchase, looking up options online, checking reviews and suggesting brands is their domain of expertise. The older millennial bracket does have sufficient purchasing power, and ACs are becoming essential during summer. Perhaps this was why they're targeting this group," she signs off.