Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Indian Advertising Review - 2

The Curious Case of Mahindra Two Wheelers

By Gaurav Parab

Shakespeare once said, “The attempt and not the deed confounds us,” after mulling over a thousand beer gulps, I gave up and moved on to simpler Paris Hilton words, or as she would call it ‘wrds’.

“BFF forever. Wait a minute. The Second F is forever right? My bad.” 

Yet Shakespeare sounds Shakespearean and academic enough to discuss the confusion that seems to be Mahindra Two Wheelers. So we will use it.

Mahindra Two Wheelers – Good deed, bad attempt.

First the context in a deep voiceover.

The 7 Billion dollar Mahindra group has morphed into a dynamic animal. It is trying to acquire iconic brands, invest in new verticals (aircrafts! Beer gulp) enter new geographies and be at the edge of business – as close to the customer as possible.

They understand wheels like few do, so they naturally entered the two wheeler market.  Perhaps a tad late, but better now than never. Kinetic was cleverly acquired and distribution was put in place. Anand Mahindra, aka Vijay Mallya in a business suit, even bought a MotoGP team.  Unlike Mallya though, the racing team is not about vanity, national pride, or a love for the sport – it just makes pure business sense since the MotoGp travelling circus goes around the world and to places where Mahindra can build a brand and hopefully sell a few bikes. It is after all a sport of the big boys, defined by technology and innovations that eventually filter down from race track to the cul-de-sac.  With its fan following and a lifestyle that promises thrills, speed, competitiveness, overtaking, and spills - it is indeed a brave and visionary decision.

Now, the confusion. 

Enter the Stallio – an entry level bike with Amir Khan as its ambassador.  The message is safety, and not taking chances.  Drive well, and go back safe to mother who probably bought the bike for you.  Amir, in spite of his talent, surprisingly comes across as an irritating Smart Alec who looks down at competing campaigns that promoted masculinity, reaching places on time, and trying to fetch caps out of a hurricane for no particular reason.

We are different. We are sensible. We are damn irritating. Instead of talking about our new bike, we are taking potshots at others. And beta please be careful when you ride.

In their defense they could have done worse.  Imagine Abhishek Bacchan telling you to drive safely.

See the disconnect with MotoGP?

Even if the Stalio is targeted at the 18-25 age group and the juiced up Mojo is for a slightly older customer - a message that is so different only damages whatever campaign the group has planned for Mojo. Unless they can pull off what Hero Honda has done with the CBZ or Passion, and built different bike brands instead of building a bike maker brand. Which they should start ideally start with.

The foray into MotoGp to establish the Mahindra brand is a good step. A technology demonstrator can create an identity for the group that is ingrained into the Indian mind as a maker of jeeps and quality SUVs.  You see Anand Mahindra’s touch here.

Make no mistake about it. As of now, Stallio will become a dud.  If no correction is done, the customer might even do to the Mahindra’s what they did to LML. Remember the days when the biggest joke on the road was the Adreno rider? Mojo when it comes along may meet the same fate.

Will I be willing to buy a Mojo for a premium, when I can get a Bullet which stands for something? Or better, a new CBR with proven technology and a history behind it.

And that is the key. History. Legacy. Track record. Not the racing track record – at least for the first few years unless Mahindra can pull of a stunning first season and juice it for all its worth.

When the informed Indian buyer goes to buy a motorcycle, he knows his stuff. It is not an impulsive decision. He has dreamed about the motorcycle he would buy for months, even if it is a 100 cc puppy – he is still in love.

When the uninformed Indian buyer wants to buy a motorcycle, in any market – rural, semi-urban, urban, Mars – he asks his friends, his uncles, and anyone who knows bikes. Even the greasy mechanic looking for an extra buck puts in advice. With the burden of history, family and friends will always recommend the build quality of a Hero Honda, or the improved performance of a Bajaj.

The rebel would buy a second hand Yamaha two stroke or a Bullet if he wants a girlfriend real bad. He may not get dinner for a few days, but they will come around to it and forgive him.

Which brings us to what can new entrants do? History cannot be made overnight, can it?

TVS, which had a Suzuki behind it initially, took the simple way through Victor after some iconic bikes like the Samurai and Shaolin. Smooth ride quality, assured performance and value for money. A well thought about campaign riding on India’s most trusted brand – Tendulkar. They were clever to use the next pan India superstar Dhoni in the Star campaign. Apache only happened later.  

Bajaj had the Kawasaki name and the timeless Hamara Bajaj message to sing out loud. It was new to motorcycles, but it will forever be the king amongst two wheelers for an entire generation. When it really got serious about bikes, it made the Eliminator to show technology and invested heavily in R and D. It made some mistakes along the way, but it even gave the Baap Hero Honda a run for the money for some time.

All is not lost for Mahindra though. They can actually go the Bajaj way and leverage their tremendous success with four wheelers.  For starters, get some four wheeler hands to identify gaps in the market like they did with the Scorpio and Xylo to catch the Tata’s and Toyota napping.  Talk about travelling distances with Mahindra, instead of travelling them safely on a Stalio.

Use the aspirational value small car customers have for a Scorpio to sell your Mojo.  In rural markets, ride on the Mahindra tractor wave. And more importantly, for Stallio create a simple value proposition like Hero did for the Splendor with their Fill it Shut it Forget it message. Petrol prices are going vertical so do a Discover.

Remember men or even today’s Facebook boys don’t like to be preached – if they wanted to be safe and all that, they would have bought an Activa or an Access. A motorcycle is a part of growing up and even if they are sensible, men cringe when they are told about being sensible. Especially if a woman is around.

To close this, the mind goes back to the old CBZ ad when a young man sneaks out with his elder brother’s CBZ at night. He does it for the experience, carefully parking the bike after he is done. An emotional connect. Now, that is what you want with your bike! That is what men want.  A good bike as a partner. How they ride it is up to them.

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Anonymous said...

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Gaurav Parab said...