The little car from the Tata Motors stable was once the big talking point. It showcased India’s frugal engineering skills to the world. Rebranded and relaunched, can the new Nano revive a nation’s automobile dream?
By Ankit Saproo
The television commercial for Tata Motors’ small car Nano, which hit the small screens in India in 2013, marked the beginning of what has turned into a massive rebranding and reengineering exercise to relaunch the car that many believe was wrongly positioned. There has been a seismic shift in the positioning of the product from its earlier avatars. The new Nano comes in a range of bright colours. The peppy ad jingle is a pointer to the fact that Nano no longer remains targeted just at those buyers the car was originally developed for. What lies at the heart of the campaign is a strategy to woo the urban youth.
In the last one year, the Nano brand has been recast. The ‘Awesomeness’ campaign has been created by the same agency Rediffusion Y&R which created its earlier campaigns. The advertisement is targeted at the country’s growing youth population with its primary focus on the new features that have been added to give it a fresh feel.
“There has been no shift from the earlier strategy of celebrating innovation which is associated with the product,” Sarita Raghavan, business head, Rediffusion Y&R, told WCRC Leaders Asia. She added that the new campaign, launched last year, was about celebrating the ‘awesomeness’ quotient associated with the product. A group of young achievers like designer Masaba Gupta, magician Ugesh Sircar and model-turned-actor Sarah Jane were roped in to redefine the image of the product.
The Nano story began in 2003 when the then chairman of the Tata Group, Ratan Tata, first broached the idea of a ‘people’s car’. Many experts mocked the concept. It seemed impossible to package a car in a lakh of Indian rupees (then $2,500). The idea was to target the section of Indian people that used two-wheelers.
The one-lakh-rupee car looked a tempting proposition for a family of four who owned two-wheelers and found commuting in the city traffic cumbersome and unsafe. The man who brought this dream to fruition is Girish Wagh, vice-president and head of small car unit at Tata Motors. The team led by him deviated from the conventional design and incorporated changes that brought costs down. One of the noticeable changes was to go with a rear engine design.
The idea took shape and finally became a reality in 2009 when the first Nano rolled out from the Tata Motors’ Pantnagar plant in the mountainous Indian state of Uttarakhand. However, It wasn’t a smooth ride for the people’s car as it had to face many bumps before hitting the road. The manufacturing base had to be shifted to Sanand in Gujarat from Singur in West Bengal because of protests on the issue of forcible land acquisition. It was only in 2010 that Nano started rolling out from the Sanand plant.
The brand architects at Tata Motors had decided to build up the image of the Nano by positioning it as the ‘people’s car.’ It was primarily targeted at India’s lower middle class which aspired to graduate from two-wheelers to four-wheelers. It was unveiled at all major auto expositions around the globe. It was seen as an example of India’s prowess in the area of frugal engineering.
It touched a patriotic chord in India. Even those Indians, who were not the primary targets for its sale, took pride in the ‘first-of-its-kind’ product. But the buzz and patriotic fervour didn’t translate into sales figures which were expected.
Many laid the blame down squarely on the marketing campaign that portrayed Nano as a cheap car. Jack Trout, international brand strategist, commented that the cheap car tag that was attached to the Nano killed the aspirational value associated with a car.
It was something that Ratan Tata also acknowledged later in an interview to an Indian news channel. He said, “I always felt the Nano should have been marketed towards the owner of a two-wheeler because it was conceived to give people who rode on two-wheeler an all-weather, safe form of transportation, not (the) cheapest.”
In light of the new rebranding exercise, the new television commercial for Nano Twist is a continuation of last year’s ‘Awesomeness’ campaign. It harps on the easy driveability factor that the new electronically powered steering has brought in.
To promote the new Nano, the agency has planned a number of outdoor campaigns. Masaba Gupta was roped in to design a limited edition model of Nano that was unveiled at the Wills Lifestyle Fashion Show in 2013.
Tata Motors launched the environment friendly variant, CNG emax, in October, 2013 and its latest variant, Twist, followed in January, 2014. Ranjit Yadav, president, Passenger Vehicle Business Unit, Tata Motors, said, “The Nano Twist will redefine customer’s driving experience in city traffic with the EPAS (electronically powered assisted steering). It comes loaded with trendy features, exciting new colours and sporty interiors, which make it a cool, smart city car to hang-out with.”
One of the most basic drawbacks that was felt in the Nano was the lack of a power steering. Every Nano owner’s consistent grouse has been the difficulty in manoeuvring the car in city traffic. With the new Nano Twist, Tata Motors has addressed this by installing electrically powered steering. It promises to address all the previous shortcomings in the earlier variants. The car has been tailored to suit the taste of the youth
Ranjit Yadav expects the sales figure for Nano to rise after launch of the Twist. The sales of Nano have gone down significantly in 2013 with just 13,828 cars being sold from April till December. In the month of December, the sales hit a rock bottom figure of 554 vehicles, a 75 per cent fall on a year-on-year basis.
Tata Motors promises that the Nano “serves many key aspirational but real customer needs at a very attractive price point”. They believe that there was a misconception around the cheap price tag. The idea is to clearly articulate what Nano stands for at a certain price point. With the new Nano, there is a visible attempt to assimilate into the product aspirations associated with different categories of buyers.
Tata Motors is upbeat about the future. A top official told WCRC Leaders Asia: “The new communication is a result of the new Nano which is full of awesome features.” Tata Motors expects to attract all three categories of customers – the first time buyers, the replacement buyers and the additional buyers.
However, automobile marketing expert Raj Sharma has a different take. He says, “It doesn’t seem to be any different from the existing models. Surely, there is a perception that it would be easy to manoeuvre which is an important value proposition for city roads. This may resonate with people here.” He further adds that the current TV commercials so far do not seem to be distinctly defining the ‘WHO’. There should be more clarity on the key target demographic.
The Nano campaign has travelled a long road from the initial commercial describing it as ‘Khushiyon ki Chaabi (Key to Happiness)’
to the latest ‘Awesomeness’ campaign that is inclined towards attracting younger eyeballs.
With the new campaign, the branding agency has tried to erase the cheap car tag that has stigmatised the Nano since it was launched five years ago.
The idea of projecting Nano as a cheap and affordable car backfired. Veteran advertising industry professional Prahlad Kakkar holds the idea of the campaign commercial displaying it as a car with a cheap price tag responsible for its poor sales performance.
With the ‘awesomeness’ campaign showcasing Nano as a smart city car, Tata Motors aims to woo the city slickers and college-goers. Nano is Tata Motors’ symbol of engineering prowess. It offers an attractive option for first-time buyers. Will the makeover change the fortunes of Nano and resurrect the brand? While it may not be entirely unexpected from a company which has turned around the fortunes of Jaguar Land Rover, Only time will tell whether Tata Motors can script a turn-around story at the other end of the price spectrum.