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The Bachchan Gameplan

As part of its feverish brand-building exercise, BPL ties up with ABCL in a Rs 25-crore deal. Will the association pay off?

The Bachchan Gameplan
IT'S fusion all right, but will it produce the Big Bang? When the Bangalore-based Rs 1,700-crore BPL group signed up with Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd (ABCL) in a Rs 25-crore, two-year deal, the tie-up was immense even by BPL's recent frenzied advertising and marketing spend standards. Market-watchers surmise BPL may have spent as much as Rs 100 crore on pushing its brand in the last one year but the group itself puts the figure at a more conservative Rs 60 crore.

 Bachchan has refused all previous product endorsement overtures, including a reported Rs 1-crore offer to growl "A-ha" in Pepsi's Yehi Hai Right Choice baby, A-ha campaigns. But he takes home a cool Rs 10 crore his fee for endorsing BPL products, the highest endorsement fee ever paid in the country. ABCL will also produce films and serials, manage advertising time on TV, work out a media plan and jointly sponsor entertainment programmes and events with the group.

Though the core team which worked out the tie-up is tight-lipped about the spec-ifics, the basic focus of the deal is clear. "It is not going to be conventional product endorsement," explains Rajiv Chandrashekhar, managing director, BPL Systems and Projects. "The concept is to endorse the brand and strengthen its core values." Bachchan, says Chandrashekhar, stands for class, innovation and talent, and these qualities will rub off on the BPL brand through its association with the Big B.

In a way, the BPL-Bachchan deal is the logical culmination of the colossal brand-building exercise—perhaps the largest ever undertaken in Indian business—that BPL launched five years ago. The process has in fact involved far more than brand-building. Call it brand transformation, a high-octane bid to turn a technology-driven ugly duckling into a consumer-focused swan. The BPL brand has come a longway in these five years from the staid hawk-and-rabbit TV spot to the snazzy Home Alone all-in-one commercial or the anything-goes BPL Oye. Group turnover too has rocketed, from Rs 450 crore in 1989-90 to Rs 1,700 crore in 1994-95. This financial year, BPL aims to touch Rs 2,400 crore. Says L.H. Bhatia, director (sales): "We have been concentrating on building the brand to evoke emotions among consumers."

And they certainly needed to do that. A 1990 market survey brought home a harsh truth: BPL was more associated with technology and reliability but failed to come across as a "warm" brand. Arch-rivals Onida and Videocon were seen by consumers as "friendlier" and if the three brands were human beings, the consumer would feel slightly intimidated if BPL came home for dinner while he would chat more easily with Onida and Videocon. The group took notice and decided to take a look into every single aspect of brand communication.

In the early '80s, the sign-off line in the advertisements had been changed from Always the Best to In Pursuit of Perfection, because the former line, the group had felt, was an inward-looking product statement that just said the company was offering the most contemporary consumer electronic products.

However, In Pursuit of Perfection too seemed just another of those company messages, which did not relate to the customer directly. It was then replaced by Nobody Entertains You Like BPL. Even the BPL logo, till now in Roman type, was italicised to make it trendier and friendlier.

But these were subtle changes, working at a less-than-conscious level for the consumer, and relating far more to brand managers and copywriters than to the market. At the same time, Manmo-hanomics was ensuring that it was only a matter of time before the Sonys and Panasonics of the world landed en masse on Indian shores. BPL had to do radical cosmetic surgery on its brand—make it friendlier, and also give it an international feel at par with the Japanese and the Koreans—all in a very short time. The group needed powerful hardsell. So the last three years have seen BPL carpet-bombing consumers through sponsorships, event promotions, presentation of live shows, films and TV programmes. From Bryan Adams to Dandiya Raas, BPL has followed aggressively wherever potential customers have gone for entertainment. This, in addition to the high-frequency heavily stylised advertising that spreads across all TV channels.

An obvious question is whether, with visibility and sales higher than ever before, BPLplans to become a total entertainment group, spanning hardware and software,in the mould of Sony. The Bachchan deal, with ABCL supposed to produce films and serials for BPL, hints at that. But Chandrashekhar categorically denies it.

"We are already in the entertainment business by virtue of pushing our entertainment hardware," he says. "What we are attempting here is to create an excitement around our brand. All this is a part of entertainment lifestyle." Adds Bhatia, "We are not in that game (of entertainment software). Our basic objective is to sell hardware and this is a strategy to maximise that sale."

 For, all of BPL's efforts and investments till now have been really preparations for battle. The war is starting in earnest only now, with the first half-a-dozen brands—Sony, Panasonic, Akai, Goldstar, Samsung and Whirlpool—having either come into the market or slated to appear in shop-windows within the next six months. BPL has been one of the few Indian consumer electronics brands which have consistently catered to the premium segment. Which is where all the global giants will strike first. Says Ajit Nambiar, managing director, BPL Ltd: "All our efforts are aimed at positioning ourselves to take on the transnationals. We are toning ourselves up through a multipronged strategy that involves our product, marketing, sales and service."

And BPL is hardly thinking of ceding ground in the top segments, TNC or no TNC. Says Chandrashekhar: "No company can survive without a foot in each segment of the market. We are very strong in the premier and middle segments and have decided not to go down to the lower segment." Industry watchers agree. Says Bunty Peerbhoy, chairman of the MAA advertising group: "I believe BPL's brand equity in the country today is strong enough to allow it to compete with the global best if it chooses to be in the premium segment." Nambiar too says he is ready for all the global rivals. "We already have a head start over them," he points out. "That is our advantage."

But a doubt remains. Is BPL going overboard with its advertising spend? Sponsoring everything from Jethro Tull to the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, isn't the brand spreading itself rather thin? After all, to most teenagers today, Tull or, for that matter, Deep Purple, another BPL-sponsored rock group, may appear to be over-the-hill has -beens. And, finally, what equity does the Bachchan himself have for under-25s?

Is Rs 10 crore worth it for someone whose last film was released two years ago, whose biggest hits were in the '70s and '80s?While the market will answer that question, whichever way, quickly enough, the group maintains that there is a clearly thought-through method in its brand promotion madness. "People may be under the impression that we sponsor anything and everything," says Bhatia. "That's not true. We go for only major national events that get us national mileage."

And BPL is hardly slowing down. It is hiking its advertising and marketing budget by 45 per cent this year even as it continues to tinker with every little aspect of its brand. Nobody Entertains You Like BPL is being shown the door. And BPL, Bringing You the Best is being welcomed in. Friendly but not frivolous; technology-oriented yet focused on the consumer. And "the best", right now in Bangalore's BPL Towers, stands for the Bachchan.

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