Indian Insurance sector ad spend around Rs 1.8b in 2002

MUMBAI: It is finally out - the insurance sector spent around Rs 1.8 billion on advertising in the previous year.

The Indian ad fraternity is slightly disappointed as everyone had considered the sector to be the next sunrise industry which would expand the declining ad pie. Optimists made grossly inflated claims about the ad spend of private insurance companies. But, conservatism has been the name of the game for all the existing and new players who launched their services - LIC, ICICI Prudential Life, Birla Sun Life, Bajaj Allianz, ING Vysya, SBI Life, HDFC Standard Life, Tata AIG amongst others.

Media analyst and former Carat Media Services India CEO Meenakshi Madhvani says: "Insurance, which was heralded as the 'sun rise' sector didn't really live upto expectations. People were talking of spends in the region of Rs 5 billion. Even at that time, I predicted that it would be in the region of Rs 2 billion and current statistics indicate that the figure is slightly less than the Rs 2 billion mark."

Star India senior VP - ad sales Monica Tata claims that the Insurance sector is yet to bloom fully. She says that the ad spends of insurance companies have been curtailed due to the fact that all the private insurers have been very rigid in terms of adhering to the Irda (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority) guidelines in terms of creatives and foreign exchange norms. In the case of several satellite channels, another issue is related to the fact that payments have to be made in dollars.

However, the fact of the matter is that the biggest domestic player LIC (Life Insurance Corporation of India) upped its ad spend to tackle competition and succeeded in forging way ahead. "LIC has advertised in satellite channels as well as terrestrial channels. LIC has to reach out to non-resident India policy holders as well as its other corporate customers who are based abroad. However, the key is to work within the parameters clearly defined by the Irda," says Media Direction senior vice president PRP Nair who has played a significant role developing communication and choosing the right media vehicles for LIC.

Abhishek Bhatia of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance (which has sold 300,000 policies and crossed the Rs 5 billion premium mark) says: "ICICI Prudential has advertised on several channels from the Star TV bouquet, Zee Network and Sony. We have spent about Rs 50 million on TV advertising last year. There are no Irda restrictions on insurance companies advertising on satellite channels. The ads must be approved by our compliance function; and be in line with Irda regulations."

A Birla Sun Life Insurance spokesperson also says that Irda norms have affected spends to a certain extent. "Compliance is the key. Despite this, we have focused on establishing the umbrella brand through the medium of TV, print and below-the-line activities," adds the spokesperson.

What is interesting is the fact that insurance companies have realised that TV can give them tremendous mileage. "With the geographical expansion, TV became a viable medium and the corporate campaign for ICICI Pru Life was run on TV, because the medium lends itself well to an emotional type of films that strike a chord with the audience. Product advertising, which needs to impart information, was largely done through print and outdoor channels, as these are appropriate for rational type of messages," says ICICI Pru Life's Bhatia.

The advertising idea which was encapsulated in symbols of protection from the initial print campaign, culminated in the corporate film where sindhoor was used as an endearing and lasting symbol of protection," adds Bhatia.

An earlier press release from ICICI Prudential Life Insurance states that the campaign contributed extensively to raising brand awareness of the company and was short-listed as one of the 12 most effective campaigns for the year 2001 in the EFFIE awards. According to an ORG MARG study, the ICICI Prudential brand name and advertising had the highest recall amongst all private players, and was only marginally behind LIC.

"When ICICI Prudential Life Insurance first began operations, the task was to present the visiting card of the company to the public at large and build credibility and stature and to give the consumer the confidence that 'here was a company that could be trusted to invest funds with'. This required a corporate campaign, which started with advertising to establish the brand, build awareness and give the brand a larger than life image. Lowe (Lintas) has been the creative advertising agency for ICICI Prudential Life since the beginning and we have stuck to the strategy," says a Lowe spokesperson.

It looks as if the ad spend will definitely rise but not phenomenally. Most of the new players have finished the introduction phase; and are now making a bid to eat into the share of LIC as well as expand the market with new products. Experts say that the spend will increase when pension products, group insurance products and health insurance products are launched. Also, the non-life players haven't really made a big hue and cry as yet.

Madhvani says: "LIC reacted brilliantly and put its act together quickly. The market actually expanded and the increased "noise" created by the private players benefited LIC. One must remember that ad spends decrease in the case of a market expansion scenario and increase when one has to grab the share of other competitors."

Interesting battle seems to be on the cards but it is difficult to say whether the ad industry benefit in terms of increased spends. Lets wait and watch.

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