The first in the Medianews4u-Dastaan Hub festive stories series, an initiative of the Association of Indian Magazines (AIM), features Anil Viswanathan, Mondelez India and Ganapathy Balagopalan, Head of Strategy at Ogilvy. In conversation with Shripad Kulkarni, Marcom Advisor and former MD, Vizeum, and V. Umanath, Editor-in-chief, MediaNews4u.com.
The series will feature conversations with the brand custodians to analyse how brands are using festive shopping opportunities strategically and not just tactically.
Shripad Kulkarni: Placing Cadbury Dairy Milk in the Mithai basket was a brilliant idea. It did more than just expand the chocolate market and build a huge connection with Indian consumers. It has three milestones, broadly speaking. The first was when you looked at being part of celebrations. The second is when you bring in the festive celebrations, which obviously are very big mithai occasions. And the third one is where you extended the goodness and generosity with “Kuch Accha Ho Jaaye, Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye”, What were the factors that catalysed this concept?
Anil Viswanathan: When the conversations began in the Cadbury team, the feeling was that it could be a daunting task and that it could be a task which may or may not work.
When you hit upon something, you may think, ‘Why didn’t we do this all the while ago?’ Or conversely, you look back at the work you’ve done in the past and discover that it always existed, you just didn’t call it out. Those two things give you a little bit of a penny drop moment to say that, it always existed, we are just kind of refining it in a manner which will now inspire behaviour.
Ganapathy Balagopalan: We started with a misstep. We tried to create interesting moments by picking on little happy moments, small joys by calling us Meetha. But we realised people wouldn’t act on those small occasions. Then we went back to actual Mithai occasions and realised it could just as easily have been a chocolate. That actually unlocked it. So, finding behaviour is to become part of culture rather than trying to transform or change culture.
The second thing is to have the courage to keep going even when things don’t succeed at first. To Cadbury’s credit, they persisted with ‘Kuch Meetha…’ strategy for multiple decades now.
Anil Viswanathan: In the initial few exchanges, we had picked up moments that were slices of life. But it took some time before we got to ‘Pappu Pass Ho Gaya’, and we got to a very, very universal occasion as the unlock there. We realised that we needed to select (A) actionable moments to which consumers can relate and (B) moments worthy of celebration. So, one huge aspect of unlocking was actionability.
And the second unlock, almost the flip side of actionability, is really the fact that creating new behaviour is always difficult. Riding on current behaviour is much easier. We are talking about behaviour change, switching from sweets to chocolate.
I think these two aspects became critical in the journey, for people to start accepting that instead of celebrating something with sweet, let me celebrate with chocolate.
Staying committed, is a huge thing. Our approach has always been this notion of fresh consistency. So, we’ve stayed consistent with the strategies, because it takes time. You need to keep telling stories in a refreshing way, because consumers do get bored of hearing the same story. That was the journey that began in 2003- 2004. And we stayed the course. Somewhere around 2007-2008, we also went in and did a seminal study. And that study continues every five years. We try and understand what has happened, which are the areas where chocolate has got into, and which are the areas that still haven’t found acceptance. What are those insights? What are those occasions? We created what we call internally called the ‘Meetha wheel’, almost like a menu card of insights.
A unique part of our culture, compared to the rest of the world, is the fact that festivals play, and continue to play, an important role, even in our urbanised lives. We have all moved, migrated to different cities and are now embracing different cultures. Yet festivals bring people together, bringing in a notion of celebration, feeling, and a sense of goodness,I think that has become a very important chapter.
Ganapathy Balagopalan: And when you put in occasions like festivals and celebrations, that consumption context is social. Something that’s not consumed as a part of your daily life. This creates acceptance; the social context creates acceptance.
Anil Viswanathan: The journey has been to start with the most actionable ones, pick up the ones that are, which are the largest occasions, and two of the biggest festivals where people go out and celebrate, are Rakhi and Diwali. Not just in terms of the Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye and the messaging, but also in terms of the gifting of sweets. Rakhi is special because it’s a unique festival, largely among siblings, where there’s a little bit of mischief and naughtiness. The households then carry those memories as they grow up.
And then, of course, Diwali is such a large occasion across the country.
We started through the emotions. And then we started to take our share of the occasion by executing well, making our product distributed well, making a product acceptable from a value standpoint, and building a premium chapter.
And then, over the years, we continued building these and discovering new occasions.
Today in a teenager’s life, Valentine’s Day is as big a festival or event as any — a momentous chapter in their lives. Today it’s become as big as Rakhi. Strategically, it also makes a lot of sense. It’s the first quarter of the year, very different from the festivals. So, we started activating Valentine’s and now it’s become so huge.
And then the second big festival, which is on right now in quarter two, is the IPL.
So, when you look at festivals, we need to look at them beyond just religion. Look at occasions that bring families together, create a certain ritual or maybe an important lifestyle event, which allows us to build our unique category aspect that makes us own that occasion, in a very unique way.
In the third chapter of this deep ethnographic study, we did just a few months back, there was one very interesting thing that we discovered. What makes chocolate so universally accepted and democratic, is that it is able to transcend. It has currency across all facets of the country, it almost becomes a unified currency for something that can be transacted across religion, social strata, culture, and the spectrum of conservatism to traditionalism.
Ganapathy Balagopalan: Chocolate is the most democratic mithai.
Umanath: I have experienced first-hand that the tagline “Sweet Edu, Kondadu” is widely used for any celebration moment. What explains the kind of recall that this campaign was able to generate? And, how do you plan for the festivals throughout the year?
Anil Viswanathan: When it comes to regional, we have to go back to the region and understand how I can build an entry into that region? It could be through a festival, it could be through communication, it could be through a product, or through an activation. Fortunately, there is so much variety in our regions, but unfortunately, it means that we have to create separate activities. It cannot be ‘one size fits all’. We go back to the consumer and pick up whichever festivals we think could be actionable.
Ganapathy Balagopalan: I think the fact that it’s such a diverse country with so many unique celebrations that are specific to different geographies creates its own complications, when you’re a big brand. For any brand, for that matter, you want scale, and you want to make it as simple as possible to execute your brand idea in a way that is able to impact the largest number of people. We’ve tried on various occasions, some of those initiatives that we gradually kind of expanded upon.
Anil Viswanathan: From a regional activation standpoint, possibly the most successful experiment of ours was the ‘Mishti campaign’.
Through ABP and the Mishti chains, we got a simple idea: get into the mishti, not through a message but into the product. So, we said, “Hey sweet chains, we want to partner with you.” We said, make a chocolate sweet, where people who eat it will celebrate the best sweet every year. And we’ve seen a dramatic jump in penetration of chocolate in the East.
V. Umanath: Cadbury Oreo has connected well with the consumers and today you can see the Oreo finding places in the menu cards of the milkshakes, which is a kind of extended version of the core product. Would you be looking at expanding such initiatives? And also tell us the success story of such kind of initiatives.
Anil Viswanathan: Consumers want a very nice expression, they want the snack, they’re not bothered by the definition. The single largest performing flavour across many food categories, be it milk food, breakfast cereal, desserts or ice cream, is chocolate. So, the boundaries keep getting diffused. The challenge for us is to not get caught up in boundaries.
Commerce is not the motive, but really owning one’s taste is the motive. So, you will definitely see us getting into adjacent categories, directly or through partnerships.
Shripad Kulkarni: I want to come to the third stage of the ‘Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye’, where you have added very nicely, very, in a very synchronised manner, ‘Kuch Accha Ho Jaaye, Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye’. Let us just talk a little bit about that, because that’s really a beautiful synergy.
Anil Viswanathan: From a global perspective, as an organization, we had started dialoguing amongst ourselves the need to elevate and start talking about playing a larger role in the consumer’s life and in the society around us. We also felt that it was something we’ve been saying in an implicit way, and we felt that we could do an explicit role as well. So, we picked up generosity as a broad purpose platform for the brand Cadbury. Now, generosity as a value is intrinsic to Cadbury. It’s in the founding roots of the Cadbury family and the way it manifests in the way the Cadbury family expanded across the world and the way they ran the category.
As we got into the research, we were very clear that we didn’t want to let go of the ‘Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye’. In our Indian or Hindi vocabulary, there’s no actual word for generosity. It doesn’t translate directly because it is so intrinsic in our culture, so inherent in our culture. The closest we could come to it was ‘Acchai’. Eventually, ‘Kuch Accha Ho Jaaye,Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye’ got articulated.
We think about the notion of acknowledging the unacknowledged in a country that is growing at different rates in different parts of the country. And then, of course, he turbocharged what’s happened in the last three years in COVID. There is a sense of gratitude that we have, that we are where we are, and we are not as badly impacted by many others. I think it swept the nation with a sense of gratitude. And you only felt that this was the right time to be generous.
So, I think, a few things have come together to give us the clarity of how important this chapter is in our lives. While constantly pinching ourselves and reminding us that we are only a chocolate, we said let’s not stop at ‘Accha’ because then you get instructive, we get directive, we get prescriptive.
So, we said, let’s do our small bits to make the world a more generous place.
Ganapathy Balagopalan: Meetha and generosity are so complementary. When you eat something sweet, it brings out the goodness in you and brings out the generous side of a person. That’s probably fitting beautifully in the context of what’s been happening in society in the last two years; the pandemic needed people to be nice to each other, and that’s fuelled the work that comes under goodness, and that’s where this brand comes and manifests as Thank You, as the work we did for Diwali, and as the work we did for retailers.
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