Birla White’s parrot commercial tries to put the brand top-of-mind with a healthy dose of everyday humour.
A parrot has dandruff. His master wonders what to do. Amused onlookers spread the word and suddenly the pet becomes the talk of the town. Media descends upon the sleepy town to unearth the mystery. As the television reporter manfully thrusts the microphone at the parrot owner’s face, the little birdie squeaks at spectators to look at the ceiling. And one realises the traces of dandruff in its head are nothing more than flaking paint falling on the pet bird. The message from Birla White (part of Aditya Birla Group): Using putty as a base coat before painting your walls helps prevent flaking.
Nothing outrageously funny or incredibly wacky; just a healthy dose of everyday humour told in a simple, captivating manner. And the best part is the humour is not misplaced, particularly at a time when there’s a debate raging in the nation about media responsibility, kicked off by the recent remarks of Justice Markandey Katju, chairman, Press Council of India, about the electronic media’s penchant for sensational news.
Using humour to build loyalty in a low involvement category is not uncommon in advertising. In categories such as adhesive and paint, brands have employed this tactic to engage users in the buying decision. Pidilite Industries’ adhesive brand Fevicol, for instance, has given interesting meanings to ‘stickiness’ to build a rapport with consumers. Asian Paints has also used humour over the years to create brand pull.
For Birla White Wallcare putty, which contributes 50 per cent to Birla White’s Rs 1,200 crore turnover, the task was to find a quick way to connect with the end consumer. To this end the brief given to Lowe Lintas was to present an otherwise generic message — wall putty prevents flaking — in an innovative manner. “This was the only creative idea we suggested and it was liked immediately,” recalls Arun Iyer, national creative director, Lowe Lintas. The advertisement was shot in four locations: Mumbai, Bangkok, Mandawa (in Rajasthan) and Jaipur. The ambience created in the advertisement is to appeal to not just people in the metros but also small-town India, which accounts for 50 per cent of the brand’s sales.
The commercial will be adapted in 11 regional languages to connect with people in smaller pockets of India. “Kerala, for example, is an important market for paint manufacturers and putty manufacturers as people get their house painted every year or alternate year,” claims Kumar Pillai, vice-president (marketing), UltraTech Cement.
Birla White has had to relentlessly invest in its putty brand, Birla Wallcare, just to stay top-of-mind in a largely commoditised market. While it is the leader in the Rs 1,500-crore white cement segment by a huge margin — controlling 65 percent of the market — it has to contend with JK Cement which controls 35 per cent of the market. That’s not even half the challenge. The other threat is fending off competition from regional players and me-too brands that sell a similar product at half the cost.
With communication, the over-arching task is to educate consumers about good quality wall putty. “Our differentiation is that our product is water resistant and prevents paint from flaking even if the walls are damp,” notes Pillai.
The other challenge is changing user habits. Until a few years ago, conventional putty (made by painters themselves using linseed oil, enamel and chalk powder) and acrylic putty (sold by paint manufacturers), was common among painters in India. As Pillai says, “Earlier, 70 per cent of the market used conventional putty; now it has reduced to 30 per cent.”
While metros are the more important markets for Birla Wallcare putty, Pillai says tier 2 and 3 markets are becoming equally important. Consumers in certain states have adopted wall putty more strongly than others. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh are key markets for Birla Wallcare. “It has been easy to break into these markets as painters in the region were already applying cement-based putty manufactured by locals. So, when they found a readymade product with superior quality they were ready to make the switch,” notes Pillai.
In other regions like Maharashtra, commercial putty has been more prevalent and it is tough breaking into such markets. And it is precisely for this reason that paint companies such as Asian Paints, Berger Paints and Kansai Nerolac have launched putty brands in the last three years.
Does the Birla White campaign help take the brand to the next level? Vipul Thakker (executive creative director), Mudra (south), believes the idea is interesting but not innovative. He recalls an advertisement for Usha Striker fans where a similar concept (small town India, reporters spreading the message) was used to convey the message of super-fast cooling. Thakker says the brand could draw some lessons from Asian Paints’ Sunil Babu campaign where humour was used in a creative way to bring out the long-lasting effect of Asian Paints.
Pillai says while the individual house builders will be taken care of through above-the-line communication, the company has a strong below-the-line leg to appeal to the ‘influencers’. It regularly organises mason meets and painter meets, which are the secondary target audience for the brand. “We have a mobile school programme which trains paint applicators,” says Pillai.
The brand has been aggressive on the retail front as well. Three years ago, the brand decided to retail wall putty from the paint channel rather than just cement distributors. This has doubled sales, says Pillai. “Painters typically apply putty; so making it available through this channel makes sense,” says Pillai. Currently, the brand is available in 1 lakh outlets in India, and over 10,000 paint outlets. The brand is also available in the 400 UltraTech Building Solutions outlets of the company which sells many allied products.
Pillai is confident of the scope of the product. “Today people are particular about aesthetics. Also, the cycle time of painting the house has reduced,” says Pillai. The influx of real estate projects also spells opportunity. But the key concern is maintaining quality. “With me-too brands jumping in, we are concerned that the wall putty industry might face a similar fate as the mosaic tile industry which died because there was no control on quality,” says Pillai. Pillai and his team will do everything to avoid that eventuality.