We have seen Shahrukh Khan behind the wheels of a Santro or Ranbir Kapoor racing a Duster for a while now. But Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgn promoting trucks? That’s new! Mahindra Automotive, a challenger in the trucking space, bucked the trend by roping in Ajay Devgn as a brand ambassador for its Blazo range of trucks in early 2016. Market leader Tata Motors, too, felt the need to up the ante and roped in Akshay Kumar. The action hero was launched as the face of Tata’s Commercial Vehicle division in late December 2016.
Ravi Pisharody, executive director, commercial vehicle business unit, Tata Motors, says, “Our audience is the driven, ambitious, forward-moving, non-stop pulse of India and Akshay understands the pulse of this audience well”. Tata Motors understandably had to be careful in selecting their brand ambassador this time. Their earlier choice of an ambassador for passenger cars – football star Lionel Messi – failed to make a significant connect with Indian buyers and has been forgotten.
But coming back to the Khiladi of Bollywood, Akshay will be actively involved in a host of marketing and customer experience initiatives to be rolled out by Tata Motors. Brand experts though are not sure if it would connect with the target audience, i.e. fleet owners. Kiran Khalap of brand consultancy Chlorophyll says, “Currently, celebrities are being used to increase short-term sales. It may or may not convince the buyer but the brand comes to the top of your mind. That is the tactical reason why you use a celebrity.”
In developed markets, Hollywood stars have been signed up to promote trucks, but the advertising is intelligent. They are not just poster boys. Van Damme is seen doing an epic split, with his feet on the bumper of two moving trucks and with folded hands, he appears unthinkably stable. The ad says at the end – the test was set up to demonstrate the stability and precision of the Volvo dynamic steering. “It is very dramatic and beautifully done. There the star has been used to demonstrate an attribute of the truck,” says Khalap.
Puneet Gupta, associate directo, at auto consultancy IHS feels that star connect does work lower down the chain to counter rising competition. “The truck mechanic may not be directly contributing to the sale but what he recommends; the small fleet owner may buy that. Whatever the driver recommends, the fleet owner takes that into consideration too,” he says.
Mahindra and Maruti both have entered the LCV space in the past two years and challenged Tata’s dominance. In the medium and heavy commercial vehicles players like Mahindra and Volvo-Eicher have been making a buzz with their new-age products backed by branding campaigns. It is anybody’s guess whether Bollywood stars can change the fortunes of trucking companies but their marketing approach certainly has.