'The challenge is to differentiate in a cluttered market' : HDFC Life executive VP marketing and direct channels Sanjay Tripathy

HDFC Life‘s advertising spend will stay flat this year as it seeks to turn profitable for the first time.

The insurance company, which ranks No. 4 among the top 10 advertisers in the category in terms of ad volumes, is looking to spend more judiciously and utilise a 360 degree approach to reallocate money across new mediums like digital and OOH.

While 70 per cent of HDFC Life‘s marketing spend goes towards above the line, 50 per cent of this goes towards television. On television, HDFC uses news and sports for advertising as it fits into the 25-45 male target audience.

Print, radio and OOH play a supportive role. HDFC Life has also started using social media to engage the youth.

In an interview with’s Ashwin Pinto, HDFC Life executive VP marketing and direct channels Sanjay Tripathy talks about how insurance companies need to differentiate in a cluttered market and build a brand equity that includes the youth.


Why did HDFC Life go in for a brand makeover last year?

We did a brand equity study as we wanted to see where our brand is and how it is faring versus competition. We had last done a similar study way back in 2005. We wanted to see the changes; we wanted to know how through our cmmunication and marketing activities the brand had progressed in people’s minds.

Consumers found the brand ethical and the service value was strong. Then we asked about the areas where they felt the brand could be improved upon. They wanted it to look like belonging to the same HDFC family; they felt that the brand could look more modern and dynamic.

Indian consumers are getting younger. People work in areas like BPO and they look at life insurance at an early age. A person buys their first insurance product between 23-28 years of age. As a brand, we wanted to attract the youth towards our products; we needed to be in the youth segment. We spoke to our board and got a favourable response.

Also, the word standard only conveyed the basic level of facilities; it was not giving the message of Standard Life being an international brand. We wanted to be seen as being a customer centric brand. Through the rebranding, we wanted customer centricity to come out more strongly for us. The new logo represents a youthful, energetic HDFC brand.

How do consumers perceive HDFC Life as a brand compared to the competition?

Our awareness has gone up by 30 per cent over last year. Our communication has been well accepted.

When marketing to consumers, what challenges do insurance companies like you face?

The market is cluttered. There are over 23 players. The challenge is to differentiate and ensure that consumers can see your service offerings and products.

We need to be seen as having products that are more consumer friendly; the challenge is to see that the consumer understands your brand and products.

How do you build and leverage brand equity in the insurance category which is getting more competitive?

We started six years back to find out why consumers buy insurance. We found that they bought it as they do not want to depend on anybody else; they want insurance for self respect. They do not want to depend on their parents; similarly, the parents do not want to depend on their children. This is how the thought for our campaign came about which is – Sar Utha ke Jiyo. We positioned our brand under the ‘self respect’ motive.

Over time, we took the thought of Sar Utha ke Jiyo across our platforms - be it for children, pension, youth or home loan cover. It gives you a long term solution for pressing needs and self respect. Insurance operates in a long term savings plan; investment in insurance has to be linked to a long term need. This is what we have focussed on and have built consumer segments.

To what extent will your marketing budget go up for the year?

We are maintaining a similar spend as last year. This is the first year we are trying to become profitable. We are looking to spend more judiciously and utilise a 360 degree approach to reallocate money. New mediums have come in like digital and OOH. The aim is to make a more judicious mix of mediums available.

"Our ad spend will stay flat this year. We are looking to spend more

judiciously and utilise a 360 degree approach to reallocate money. New

mediums have come in like digital and OOH"

To what extent was this category affected by the economic downturn in terms of sales and marketing spends?

New companies are spending heavily. Some of the older players who want to go for a public listing and want to make marketing money work harder are keeping a check on their spending. Spending in this category went down by around 20 per cent during the downturn.

Which marketing vehicle is the most effective for you - print, TV, radio, online?

Seventy per cent of our marketing spend is for above the line activities; fifty per cent of this goes towards television as it is the most effective medium for us.

As we are present in over 700 cities, television offers a more cost effective reach. It provides an emotional touch point. You can link the customer with your brand and emotional thought. You can explain your concept in a situation linked to his day to day life.

Print, radio and OOH play a support role. We have started using social media more to engage the youth.

Which genres do you use on television?

News and sports for TG 25-45 males works. Apart from cricket, we also do on-air sponsorship of Euro, Fifa World Cup and Wimbledon. We also spend on regional news and regional entertainment; they are pretty big for us.

The aim is to get the top-end audience in metros and mini metros. The cost of contact may be high but cost of impact and cost to the top-end segment is less compared to other vehicles. This is the most profitable customer segment for insurance.

Do you advertise heavily only during the end of the financial year?

We advertise across the year. Our IPL campaign is running at the start of the fiscal. When schools open, we can run a ‘Children Plan’ campaign. Advertising in the insurance category has moved from just being end of the year to being more spread out.

What about the festive time?

Advertising at that period does not work. People think about spending and not about saving. It could be a counter campaign to do it in Diwali; this has not worked in the past.

Do you use brand ambassadors?

No! HDFC Life is a product for the common people. The thought is powerful when you connect to people; they want to see communication where people like them are investing rather than seeing somebody who does not need life insurance but is still talking about it.

What campaigns have been done recently?

The last campaign was a rebranding one. You don’t need to spend Rs 3-5 billion for this if you realise the core thing that you need to convey. It is not that overnight you have to change every single collateral and signage. The consumer has to be convinced that your rebranding is actually being delivered on the ground; they look at rebranding more in terms of on-ground delivery rather than on just an image or a design change.

We also did a children’s plan campaign. We used more persuasion which was different from what was done earlier. We explained that while the child is doing fine, seats are limited and competition is severe. Parents need to plan properly; it will help the child reach that goal and get into the institution they like. The aim is to make a parent see that while things are happening normally, they still need to do something.

As a platform, how has the Rajasthan Royals deal worked out for you?

We look at associations where there is a good brand fit. In case of Rajasthan Royals, while Shane Warne is the captain, ordinary Indian players who people might not have heard of are given a platform. Warne helps them think like winners. If you look at the premise of believing in yourself, this goes well with our tag line ‘Sar Uthake Jiyo’.

As a team they support youth and some of them have started playing for India. Shane Watson’s career also got revived with this team. It helps youth to think that they can beat world beaters.

In terms of activation with that IPL franchise, what innovations did you do this time around?

We brought a social angle into our activities for the home games. We used to take employees and distributors to meet players. We also used players for ads. We gave fans the opportunity to get tickets to enjoy the match and spend time with the cricketers. We took fans for the toss. This was run on Facebook. We also gave tickets to underprivileged people.

Last year the franchise got into trouble with the BCCI. Did that force you to temporarily change tack in terms of your campaign?

Not really! The IPL was over by the time these issues came up. The team management kept us informed about the steps they were taking and why they believed that they were in the right. They said that there were no issues and kept us in the loop all the time. We have a one year deal with them.

Rajasthan Royals has not fared well during the IPL. Are you concerned at any negative brand rub off for HDFC Life?

No! For a while, they were in the top rung of the points table. You have to look at the core strength of the association rather than one off wins or losses. The youth looks at ‘Sar Uthake Jiyo’ in a different light. The team has more youngsters compared to the previous year. So we came up with the tag line ‘Sar Utha ke Jeene ka Naya Andaaz’.

How many campaigns do you do in a year and are there new audiences that you have started to address?

We will do four to five campaigns and are looking at new audience segments. We have done a lot of research on this.

The rural areas have a lot of potential but the marketing vehicles that work in the major metros might not work there. So how do you connect with those consumers?

More than just marketing, the basics of the business have to be in place. Insurance is a long term business – and you need to understand the rural area. We do pilots to understand the rural area much more; this has multiple models that have to be run simultaneously.

You need partners like microfinance institutions so that you can reach out to them in a much more cost effective manner. The rural areas consist of the rural rich and poor. You need different products for them while their aspirations are similar.

We are trying to do partner marketing at the moment. We do below the line activities with partners who have the trust factor in that area. The aim is to make the brand relevant and differentiated at a local level. We do things like street plays. We need somebody to carry the message and explain it. That is why below the line activities are important.

Could you give me examples where experiential marketing has worked for you?

We do ‘Spelling Bee’ in 35 cities. Children in classes six to nine participate. We have 300,000 children and over 1500 schools taking part. It allows children to understand things like vocabulary and sentence formation. Parents encourage children to do this. It is a good engagement activity. Parents are also engaged in terms of helping the child spell correctly.

Somewhere your brand rub off is also very high. The parent thinks that HDFC Life has brought a competition which they want their children to participate in. Consumer engagement is key for our category. The consumer should keep engaging with you over a longer period of time. What we are seeing is that people buy five to six insurance products over a lifetime.

People like a brand but the decision may be deferred. I need to stay engaged constantly. I may create an engagement now, but later you may buy competition. The engagement has to be done through different methods. That is why we look at a 360 degree approach.

Could you talk about the growing importance of OOH for you?

This has really increased. In metros and mini metros, consumers spend time out of home. TV viewing time has come down. There is innovative media available. Obviously, hoardings have been there for a long time. Airports and stations have OOH media. You have to figure out how you can catch your TG when they spend time away from their home.

But isn’t lack of measurement a problem?

This is why it is a support medium. If you utilise it for the right reason and use it to support the main communication, it works well. As a support medium, it gives good ROI. OOH always complements the TVC. I can measure ROI better that way.

Do you address women?

In India, most homes have a single income. The male is the breadwinner; women in the working segment are still small and their needs are similar to working men. Their media consumption is similar. The campaign for men works for them also.

We addressed upwardly women through an endowment plan campaign. The only segment that is different from men is the unmarried working woman. Other categories for women are similar to men; so I do not need to do a separate campaign for them.

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