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Airtel strikes gold with 4G girl Sasha Chetri

The ad campaign has come to own the entire category with its high recall value; revenue marketshare hits six-year high of 31.4%


Malini Bhupta  |  Mumbai 

Sasha Chettri
Sasha Chettri

Sasha Chettri, Airtel’s 4G girl, is the ad world’s newest poster girl. Chettri has gone viral on social media, ever since Airtel kicked off its 4G campaign last July, and, in the process, has delivered for brand Airtel what no other campaign has - high recall value. With her unconventional and provocative approach, 21-year-old Chettri has firmly put brand Airtel on the country’s 4G landscape.

Today, 4G in India means Airtel just the way years ago Coca-Cola staked claim on the entire soft drinks category through its Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola campaign with Aamir Khan.

Read more from our special coverage on "AIRTEL"

Given that the next generation of mobile broadband, or 4G, is about speed, the television commercial showing two girls racing their phones on a terrace in Lucknow was an unusual way to break the clutter on television. Given that other telcos have not come up with such high-decibel campaigns, Chettri has become a shorthand for 4G as a category.

In advertising parlance, the success of a campaign is measured through top-of-the-mind awareness and Chettri has helped Airtel increase this score by 13 per cent compared to other campaigns such as Har Ek Friend Zaroori Hota Hai.

Airtel strikes gold with 4G girl Sasha Chetri
It isn't just the brand recall value that has shot up, Airtel's revenue market-share touched a six-year high of 31.4 per cent in December 2015. In the five key data markets - Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala - Airtel increased its marketshare by 140 basis points in the nine months ending December 2015. According to CLSA, Airtel is upping the ante on data offerings. On the ground, Bharti Airtel has stepped up its 4G data offering through a slew of industry firsts on product as well as distribution. The company has deployed long-term evolution, or LTE, using carrier aggregation in Kerala, enabling speeds of up to 135mbps on its 4G network.

The campaign has many firsts to its credit. For starters, Airtel went with an unknown face to launch a big shift in broadband technology and secondly, it showed the gumption to use a young woman for this.

Explains Chettri, “In India, women are still used to endorsing soaps and shampoos but not technology as stereotypes still exist.” Agnello Dias, chairman and co-founder of Taproot, the agency behind the campaign, says: “Sasha is right and she is both loved and trolled at the same time for breaking stereotypes, but there is little doubt that the campaign has embedded Airtel's ownership of 4G in the public consciousness. While the campaign has resonated strongly right through several SECs, it has allowed the brand to own 4G like no one else.”

The success of the 4G campaigns has even given Airtel the courage to take a pot shot at its own self. The latest commercials is about the 4G girl holidaying in a remote place and is getting surprised to find the network there too. To this end, the Twitter trolls have only helped the campaign stay on top of the mind because it made it impossible to ignore either the campaign or the face of the campaign. Young Chettri, who is also a musician, is often accosted in malls and restaurants by people who either want to shake hands with her or complain to her about the state of the telecom networks in the country.

Last July, when Airtel became the first telecom operator to launch its high-speed broadband services across 350-plus cities in India, it was looking convey to consumers the arrival of not just a new technology, but a new way of life. With 70 per cent of India accesses internet through the mobile, speed and coverage are going to be big differentiators and Airtel wanted to drive home this point with its story boards. Explains Srinivasan Gopalan, director (consumer businesses) at Airtel: “What we wanted to demonstrate through our advertising was a step change in broadband experience. Therefore, we could not be rational about it. When you are rational, it does not land well with the consumer; so, we had to be provocative and fresh.”

Instead of using a Bollywood star or a cricket sensation, Airtel chose to go with a young girl. “This was a welcome change I felt,” says Chettri.

Chettri was both provocative and fresh with her unconventional appearance. She managed to break through the clutter and stand out. She was a step up from all existing offerings thanks to the ‘speed’ aspect. Obviously, this required an over-the-top and provocative approach, which drove home the message.

This was no accident. Given that the category is mired in scepticism, the creative team felt using a celebrity for the 4G campaign would have been a predictable advertising approach. Hence, they chose a fresh face.

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First Published: Sun, April 24 2016. 22:01 IST