If you are trying to figure out how to rattle the market leader or at least shake consumer confidence in the leader, here is one advertising strategy that you could try out. Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) major Hindustan Unilever has done it with a host of its products-from Vim to relative newbie Pureit; Volkswagen Group subsidiary Audi has dabbled with it with some success; and now Mahindra Two-Wheelers has also made a dash for it to show that it may be a late entrant in the two-wheeler market but it is no pushover.
We are talking of communication built around the theme of a challenge - or challenge advertising as we will refer to it here - which is turning out to be a quick way to get into the consideration set of the consumer for whom the reference brand is usually the market leader or a brand that has been around for some time.
Consider these two examples of challenger brands in their respective segments: HUL's water purifier brand Pureit and Mahindra Two Wheelers' Mahindra Duro DZ, Mahindra Rodeo RZ and Mahindra Rodeo Z Std models.
Pureit, first introduced to the market in 2004, had its pan-India launch in 2008. Around 2009-10, the company put forth a challenge that has by now become a marquee case study in the challenge advertising space: the Rs 1 crore challenge, accompanied by some strong claims. In one of the advertisements, our average man in the street takes a glass of muddy, grime-filled water from a ditch which is then put through the Pureit water purifier by a representative of the brand. Out comes a glass of sparkling clean water.
Speaking of the campaign, Badri Narayanan, general manager, water business, HUL, says, "The Pureit Rs 1 crore challenge was based on the insight that consumers think that all purifiers are the same. But that is not true as only Pureit water purifiers meet the stringent germ-kill criteria of EPA (Environment Protection Agency) of the United States."
Another challenger brand in its own space, Mahindra Two Wheelers ran the 'Zip Zap Zoom Challenge' in its key markets in the months of April and May this year. The challenge was simple: every customer who test rides a Mahindra two-wheeler will succumb to the temptation of buying the brand. If, however, a customer test rides a two-wheeler from the company stable but still chooses to buy a competitor brand, Mahindra will give away Rs 500 on the submission of requisite proof of course.
Sarosh Shetty, vice-president, marketing, Mahindra Two Wheelers says, "The campaign was aimed at establishing our superiority in a confident manner. Hence we put out a challenge. If you test ride our scooter you will surely buy it. To communicate that we chose the challenge route."
While Mahindra specified the models for which the challenge was applicable, Pureit defined the three characteristics for its claims of superiority. It said, one, no other brand clears the germ-kill test of EPA, USA; two, no other product has an auto shut off mechanism that switches off the flow of water when the germ-kill property of the purifier is exhausted; and three, no other product runs without electricity and running water. Such clear demarcation is essential if only to fence the challenge and narrow the field on which the battle will be fought. In short, you play according to your strengths, the ones that are most defensible against competitor's claims.
For marketing initiatives that throw a challenge to competition or the fence-sitting consumer, it is imperative to forge a fine balance - between the challenge and the reward. "Challenge marketing catches the consumer's attention," says Narayan Sundararaman, director, beverages, candy and gum, consumer insights and strategy, Cadbury India. "It becomes the starting point in a new brand evaluation process for the consumer," he adds.
The 'award' amount has to be picked carefully to demonstrate the superiority and trust you repose in your product. That is a matter of judgment. Narayanan adds: "The amount on offer needs to represent the marketer's confidence."
Mahindra's Shetty says till date no one has come back to claim the Rs 500. In fact, in its key markets in the south, Maharashtra, Gujarat, North East and Punjab, Mahindra test rides increased by 30 per cent on a month on month basis. Conversions were around 40-45 per cent.
HUL's Pureit challenge too remains unclaimed for four years now.
Challenge the leader
Traditionally, challenge advertising works best for challenger brands. Then, there are leaders that have used it to build an aura of invincibility around them. Consider this recent sales promotion by No 1 Luxury car maker, Audi. It had put out a rather enticing proposition for consumers: an upgrade offer, promising to give the best possible exchange value. The two-week offer period upped its game through a challenge. If a consumer found a better exchange price for his/her car than the one being offered by Audi, the car maker promised to give away Rs 1 lakh to the said consumer.
Prima facie, the offer backed by the giveaway of a lakh of rupees works as a major confidence booster and one is bound to think twice before dismissing the offer as just another marketing scheme. Scratch the surface and the dreaded 'terms and conditions' start appearing: offer valid only for drive-in customers, residual value of the car must be minimum Rs 5 lakh etc. Not very scary on their own but some flags are surely raised from a customer's standpoint. Questions like do I need to get the valuation done beforehand or does drive-in customers mean that you either take the offer on the spot or don't at all must be answered. And once the doubts creep in, it is back to square one for the marketer.
Which brings us to three important questions: First, what is the best way to design a challenge ad? Second, what does the fact that Mahindra did not have to hand out the Rs 500 as promised or that the Pureit campaign stays unclaimed really mean? Do they indicate the two brands are superior to competition? Third, does the consumer really care?
It does take a certain amount of faith in the product to put out challenges such as these. But on that off chance that you may be caught on the wrong foot, it is important to cover all your flanks. The way brands do it is via the long winding terms and conditions list. Be sure, it is only competition or that stray crusading consumer will make an effort to read through the fine print.
Sample this: Pureit's challenge terms and conditions states: "Any in-home water purifier offered in response to this challenge must be commercially sold in at least 5 cities with population of 1 million and above in India, on or before January 1, 2011, and continues to be sold during the period of this challenge. The product should also have been regularly advertised on national and regional TV during the six month period ending January 1, 2011. Television Audience Measurement data shall be adopted as the basis for determining period and regularity of advertisements. The advertisement shall be specific to the claimant's purifier under challenge and represent the above three features attached to the purifier." That is more than a few hoops for the consumer to jump through.
Mahindra's challenge is no different. First, if the consumer is to buy another two-wheeler brand it has to be "correspondent to that of the offer period only". Further, "to avail the amount... the purchaser should submit valid invoice copy in his/her name, insurance cover note of the same gearless Non Mahindra Scooter above 105 cc meeting the above requirement along with the test ride form duly stamped by authorised dealer of Mahindra Two Wheelers Ltd." That is too much work for just Rs 500.
That may be one reason not too many consumers respond to such challenges; the fine print also makes things suspect. The claim validation process even though conducted in the presence of independent auditors is rarely made public. As final calls are invariably taken by an 'expert panel' or jury as appointed by the brand, the average consumer is likely to give them a pass.
Another, more subtle form of challenge marketing - which is considered better by many experts - is to challenge your own brand. Consider HUL's brand Vim bar's challenge in its various forms--whether it is in the 'can clean the dirtiest, greasiest vessels' avatar or the 'will surely last a month' one. Then there is Reckitt Benckiser's toilet cleaner brand, Harpic. Think of its long running 'Harpic challenge' campaign, where a brand representative visits people's homes and turns soiled toilets into squeaky clean washrooms.
You could also club the Bournvita Taste Challenge in the same bracket, wherein consumers in select markets were asked to buy a pack of Bournvita and sample it at home; if they didn't like the taste the company promised to return it. The challenge was carried out in markets where the brand wanted to drive trials. It came on the back of research through consumer tasting, which gave the brand the confidence in putting out the challenge.
Here, the brands are putting themselves at the mercy of their own performance and not pitting themselves against the competition, opening the floodgates for a media fight. For instance, HUL's Fair & Lovely versus L'Oreal's Garnier. The first salvo was fired by HUL which proclaimed in a television commercial, "Fair & Lovely hai unbeatable. Lagi Rs 5 crore ki shart?" L'Oreal hit back saying, "Sirf hum dete hai complete fairness. Toh Rs 5 crore kab milenge?" HUL's challenge has been running for close to three months now. There are no winners yet but given its market leader position many deem the move unnecessary.
Another suggestion to brands looking at challenge communication is to steer clear of price-based challenges. "Price war is a bottomless pit, especially if you are at loggerheads with an MNC leader. It can keep its flagship brands insulated from any pricing war, using the flanker brands to get down in the trenches," says Saujanya Shrivastava, CMO, Bharti AXA Life Insurance, who has worked previously with some leading FMCG companies.
Consider Big Bazaar's original price challenge, endorsed by actor Vidya Balan. What started with "Isse sasta aur accha kahi nahi", has metamorphosed into properties like "Sabse sasta din", the cheapest shopping days around public holidays and "Hafte ka sabse sasta din", lowest prices on Wednesday to shore up the footfalls. It is easier to keep challenging your own prices than lock horns with the competition, which will be a lose-lose for all concerned.
The Strategist's verdict: Challenge ads are hardworking, yes. Effective, perhaps. Exciting, most certainly not.
A look at some recent brand challenges
Challenger: Fair & Lovely
Slogan: Fair & Lovely hai unbeatable. Lagi Rs 5 crore ki shart?
b Lowe Lintas + Partners
Company: Mahindra Two Wheelers
Challenger: Duro DZ , Rodeo RZ and Rodeo RZ Std models
Slogan: Zip, Zap, Zoom
Agency: Interface Communication
Company: Future Group
Challenger: Big Bazaar
Slogan: Big Bazaar Price Challenge - Isse Sasta Aur Acha Kahi Nahin
Agency: DDB Mudra
Slogan: Rs 1 crore Ka Challenge
Agency: Lowe Lintas + Partners
Company: Reckitt Benckiser
Slogan: Take the Harpic Challenge
Agency: Havas Worldwide