THE communication industry has often been dominated by a particular category for a long time. Rules, codes practices are evolved from the categories that dominate the landscape. The packaged goods domination created the famous product window and a complex product demonstration.
The automobile industry took the product window forward and created long-winded demonstrations of the product. Automobile advertising was surprisingly narcissist in approach as the world always revolved around their cars or bikes or trucks or buses. The cellphone and cellular network domination brought a lot of tech mumbo-jumbo to mainstream conversation. Thanks to this industry we know a lot about processor, screens, apps, speed and many
more such things that should have no connection to why someone buys or chooses a cellphone or cellular network.
Cellphones sold the tech babble much more successfully than the PC brands!
The last two years seem to have been the age of e-commerce brands. Most of these brands have bottomless resources, play the game of dominance in media, and have created an eco-system of their own. This is a very large bunch of brands that span categories such as fashion, technology, automobiles, books, groceries, housing, buying and selling, travel, food delivery, bill payment, furniture, dating, art, auction jobs, and almost every other thing that you cannot think of. What it means that the category called e-commerce is a misnomer; almost the entire communication industry is a part of it.
Yet there seem to be something that defines that you are being engaged by a brand that belongs to the new-age category and somehow is rewriting the old rules of communication. Here’s my quick look at what the world of e-commerce is teaching us.
First, it is obvious that if you are an e-commerce brand you will redefine the concept of pricing. Normally a brand will build a sense of ‘brand’, as to what values it stands for, what is the reason for consumers to trust it and then eventually give an offer to bring ahead the buying decision. E-commerce brands have collapsed the whole cycle, in fact, sale communication is now not tactical, it’s strategic. Three brands have turned the entire ‘sale’ communication on its head.
Snapdeal, a brand that has been built on the premise of saying ‘never pay full price’, has signed up Aamir Khan as its brand ambassador and made the search for discounts and deals into a memorable appeal. The brand audaciously even implies that Mr. Khan is proud to hunt for deals for himself. Flipkart turned the sale communication into a self-indulgent look at creating communication. The whole set-up of agency executives struggling to create one more ad for a never-ending sale on Flipkart helps in consumers engaging with the brand.
Amazon is the third brand using the sale as an aggressive brand building activity. The initial ‘Aur dikhao’ idea was about setting up the fact that the platform has hundreds of products at the best possible prices. Price is used as a strategic tool, and not as a tactic to drive shoppers to site. The new communication by Amazon to push the sale has a very different tonality and treats price as a tactic to drive conversions.
Secondly, humour is a big part of the e-commerce brand arsenal. Often, to sell concepts or ideas that are different or difficult to fathom, humour is used to create the brand appeal. The entire bunch of brands in the services category such as Freecharge, Paytm, Ola Cabs, Quickr, Olx are using humour in different ways. The Freecharge ads are delightful in the way they portray the generational gap between father and son to sell phone recharge is phenomenal.
The brand uses the insight that middle class fathers think their sons are frittering away money and sons need to prove that they are smarter in a delightful way. They get the cultural context absolutely correctly.
The Olx commercial of the harassed-by-snoring wife and seeking a way out has a ring of human truth, again in a delightful way. Both brands also end up using price as a strategic tool. The Ola cab ads, to my mind, miss the mark completely with their tale of forgetful protagonist who needs to escape sticky situations. The ads could have been funnier if they were crafted better.
Thirdly, many brands are dipping into the old world of demos by packaged goods brands to educate users on how to use their app or service. Perhaps they have a reason to do so; perhaps the intention is to widen the user base; but I think they seem to miss the mark completely as they create no engagement with potential users.
In contrast is the fourth bunch of ads that use strange animals as mascots to create appeal. Now a mouse can get you a job, a dog can get you a car, a panda can get you a meal and even a humble owl can be a reason to get food delivered home. Mouse is about the rat race, dogs run after cars, panda is always in an active grazing mode and knows about food, owl perhaps has highly developed taste buds, but all are funny.
There is a fifth bunch of brands, maturing in the way they use communication, going beyond price, humour, demos and brand mascots. These brands tell compelling stories about who they are and what they do. Make My Trip’s ‘Dil to roaming hai’ is a wonderful take on what travel can do to family bonding. For a brand that built itself as the most efficient travel site, the focus away from efficiency is a welcome move. The second is Jabong’s ‘Be You’ campaign that celebrates individuality and turns that into a fashion statement. I wish more e-commerce brands turn into compelling storytellers.
E-commerce as a category is relatively new; the brands face two big challenges of seeding new habits and of creating an alternate way of living, something that didn’t exist before. These are early days, and they will evolve in more exciting ways in coming days.
The author is managing partner and chief strategy officer, Bang In The Middle