Shreyas Kulkarni

Zippo looks to relight its path in India; away from the smokers and towards the aspiring youth

The iconic windproof lighter brand, in its second stint, wants to be seen as as a lifestyle fashion accessory.

The brand of Zippo lighters has transcended commerce to become a cultural zeitgeist, an artefact of cool, and an heirloom passed down generations. It’s a cult that is now looking to “relaunch” itself in India.

It entered the Indian market in 2009 and despite its aim for steady growth, the road lighting up its path wasn’t the strongest.

Zippo in India had two distribution partners in the late 2010s and named, in 2018, William Penn, a writing instrument and gifting brand, as its new distribution partner. Today, the Bhawar Sales Corporation holds exclusive distribution rights to the Zippo brand.

Zippo looks to relight its path in India; away from the smokers and towards the aspiring youth

Lucas Johnson, associate vice president, Zippo global marketing, tells us the company runs wholly-owned subsidiaries with Zippo employees working at the offices.

Otherwise, it signs exclusive and/or non-exclusive distribution agreements. He tells us they’re operating in India with a hybrid model; it has the Bhawar agreement but has also appointed Sunil Moses as director of sales and operations.

One of the biggest challenges for the brand in India and across many countries is the prevalence of counterfeit and lookalike products.

It, recently, with the help of authorities conducted raids at the manufacturing facilities of such places. “We're putting people on notice. We know this is an issue and now that we've our own people in the market, we are coming after it aggressively,” remarks Johnson.

The AVP also believes they need to give the Indian consumer confidence that what they’re buying, offline or online, is a genuine product. “We've been in talks with Amazon and Flipkart and Tata CLiQ Luxury to help them identify counterfeit products and sellers on their sites and then delist them,” reveals Johnson.

Coming to offline purchases, he makes references to QR codes on packs which a customer can scan to check for the box’s authenticity. Once out of the box, you can examine the product for specific markers like “the bottom stamp, the chimney in the 3-2-3-hole pattern, the curved lid…”

“Zippo's primary focus, in India, will remain on lighters,” remarks Johnson when asked about the brand’s extensions such as clothing or pet apparel making their way here. But, he does tease us when he says “we are developing products for the Indian market.”

What’s important to note is Zippo’s plan to appeal to the aspiring youth. “From a marketing standpoint, we are working to make Zippo as a premium lifestyle fashion accessory,” remarks Arneeta Vasudev, national head, PR & Influence, Ogilvy India.

She tells us that it's not a product or a brand that wants to be associated only with smokers because there are many other uses for this pocket lighter: Camping, and lighting candles… "the uses are multiple and that's where the product becomes a lifestyle fashion accessory".

The Zippo pitch took place in 2020 and concluded in February 2021. Ogilvy was globally announced as the agency on record for PR, creative, and social and the agency’s PR and influence teams lead this mandate.

Influence is paramount to getting a product off the shelves and Ogilvy plans to make use of influencers for Zippo. Vasudev tells us actors or actresses do not fit the bill and that they’re looking to choose the right fit from the various influencer groups: macro, micro, nano, and celebrity.

She also tells that the kind of assets and films they are creating will speak to the TG through social and PR and that they’re looking to stay away from “spaces where a cigarette brand or a pan supari brand would be visible”.

One can expect to find Zippo lighters at places like Willian Penn, Beer Café, CCD, and Spencers.

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