Branding Gains Traction in India

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Traditionally Indias lubricant market may not have put much energy into branding, but it appears that marketers have begun working harder to cultivate positive images for their products. Analysts say suppliers are investing in strategies ranging from sports sponsorships to television commercials to build emotional ties with potential customers. The trend means new business for companies that assist in such campaigns.

The increase in the brand spend is witnessed across all categories of automotive lubricants, Priyanka Chandra, an analyst with Dolat Capital, told Lube Report Asia. Profitability is higher in the personal mobility segment [four-wheelers and scooters] compared to other segments. Hence lubricant manufacturers are focusing more on this segment and creating marketing strategies to lure customers in this segment.

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Cricket, a religion in India, is being used by multiple suppliers to market their products. Gulf Oil Corp., which is based in Hyderabad, India, enlisted M.S. Dhoni, captain of the national cricket team, to serve as its brand ambassador. Castrol India, part of British energy giant BP, had former cricket captain Rahul Dravid as brand ambassador and cinema star John Abraham as brand ambassador for its motorcycle oil.

But cricket is hardly the only sport companies lean on. Racing sponsorships are a popular branding vehicle in many countries, and India is no exception. One of the latest examples was a Jan. 16 announcement of a multi-year partnership between Formula One racing team Sahara Force India and Mexican engine oil marketer Roshfrans. In exchange for an undisclosed sum, Roshfrans logo will be displayed on the rear wing endplate of Sahara Forces VJM07 car, as well as on the drivers suits and helmets and team clothing.

Dolats Chandra contended that appeals like this are becoming more important in the Indian market. Branding efforts are gaining critical prominence for the lubricant sector as it helps [differentiate products] from the consumer perspective, she said. Consumer choice is gaining importance as consumer intervention has increased across channels of the retail trade. Hence, lubricant manufacturers spend money on creating a brand to give the buying decision to the end consumer, rather than being dependent on intermediaries like dealers and mechanics.

Sports are not the only way to engender good feelings. MAK Lubricants, a brand of Bharat Petroleum Corp., has launched a television and Internet commercial built around the slogan MAK makes it possible. Created by Havas Worldwide, the commercial follows a group of children on an inspired cross-country journey from their rural home to Indias coast.

We believe the commercial [will] have universality of appeal as it speaks to the diversity of India. Having children in the commercial was a way to depict that tomorrows generation will carry the same flag of optimism as today, said Vivek Rao, executive creative director for Havas Worldwide, in Mumbai.

Anuj Kumar Singh, an India-based consultant with Kline & Co., said decision-making criteria for lubricant purchases are indeed changing in India. Brand name, price, accessibility and services offered are becoming the deciding factors for choosing between brands, he said. The industry players are thereby increasing advertising spending with a lot of focus on development of brand image and improving brand equity. They are using both above-the-line promotions such as print, online media, television and cinema advertising, and below-the-line promotions such as sponsorship, brochures, personal selling and direct marketing. Marketers are now adopting a mix of promotion mediums to reach out to the consumers.

As lube marketers increase the money that they spend to bolster their brands, industry experts said it broadens the range of companies that stand to benefit from the countrys growing market.

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