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Valvoline has adopted a digital-first marketing strategy: MD Sandeep Kalia

The shift led by the company's focus on the consumer-centric approach in the post-pandemic world.

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Founded in 1866 by Dr John Ellis when he discovered the lubricating properties of distilled crude oil, Valvoline oil – the world’s first petroleum-based lubricant was officially trademarked in 1873.  With such a historic legacy backing it up, Valvoline has been a key part of the global landscape ever since and this role is at the centre of its latest ‘Original Motor Oil’ campaign.

Valvoline Cummins Pvt Ltd (VCPL) has recently launched its TVC, 'Baccho Jaisa Junoon', conceptualised by Leo Burnett, to celebrate its child-like passion to stay original, innovate and stay ahead of the curve while maintaining its 150-year old legacy.

IndianTelevision’s Anupama Sajeet had an extensive conversation with Valvoline Cummins Pvt Ltd managing director Sandeep Kalia who steered the company right from its onset days in India in the 1990’s. Kalia talked about how the engine oil company’s marketing strategy and media mix has undergone a nearly 360-degree reversal during the pandemic and turned to digital-first. From not being known as a “consumer-first category,” the brand is now reaching out extensively to its customers through digital marketing and social media channels, in a bid to connect directly with them.

Edited excerpts:

On Valvoline India’s aggressive marketing strategy during the pandemic

Valvoline Cummins has always concentrated more on its long-term vision. Over the last one year, all efforts of our teams and channels have been directed on how to reach out to our customers during such a difficult time. It was not only to do business but about understanding their needs, and their wellbeing. We launched several small, digital campaigns on staying safe, and also how to maintain their vehicles during lockdowns, because vehicles have typically been standing for months. We gave tips to our consumers, who were running CV vehicles, or trucks, tractors, cars or bikes, on ensuring their proper maintenance. We connected with them with much greater rigour via video calls, vocal interactions checking on their well-being, while also educating them- all of this was to ensure that the connect with our customers is long term.

Hence, when the markets opened up around October 2020, we saw a lot of rewarding customers come to us. And that’s when we thought it will be a good time to launch a new campaign. That’s how the two campaigns came about. For this latest one, we wanted to start absolutely afresh, so we started with the global campaign on ‘the Original engine oil- stay original’ and went ahead and launched the ‘Baccho Jaisa Junoon’ campaign.

On dealing with the multiple Covid waves

During both the waves, the industry has been badly hit by recession- not just ours, but every other industry. We saw profits falling as vehicles were not running, nearly all across the lubricant industry. Looking back, the recovery was pretty strong after the first Covid wave, around last October which continued till March this year, although there were revenue losses. But the second wave hit closer home- our channel partners, our employees and our customers, all were affected and cash management was tighter because people wanted to retain cash with them. This was the main difference between wave one and two. Now, even though markets are opening up- especially in the regions where restrictions have eased- they are still not up to the levels where it was pre-pandemic. However, one can say about 80- 85 per cent recovery has happened.

-On the latest campaign ‘Baccho Jaisa Junoon

The brief given to Leo Burnett was simple- how do we best convey the brand’s 150 year plus legacy, while also stressing on our passion to continuously innovate. So the ‘Baccho Jaisa Junoon’ concept went very well with the theme that we were talking about- that Valvoline does not shy away from dirtying our hands, being innovative and full of curiosity. That this is a company which has been standing tall for the last fifteen decades, and our backbone for success has been this passion or junoon for continuous innovation in each and every employee we have at Valvoline.

- On the brand’s marketing strategy & media mix

If you look at our industry, this is not a consumer category- we have a lot of retailers which sell spare-parts shops and mechanics who are the big influencers in the industry. And finally, are the consumers. Our research found that TV news channels and GECs are very much part of the viewing habits of retailers and mechanics, so we’ll definitely continue with it. Print has not been much in the mix earlier as well, as there wasn’t much returns on it.

But, now as we want to reach out to more consumers and talk to them about our heritage and vision, we have to go the digital way. In the next coming weeks, we will go big on digital platforms in tune with our larger emphasis on the light-duty vehicle category, such as motorcycles and cars as compared to the heavy-weight category comprising trucks and tractors.

-On the impact of the pandemic on the brand’s media plan

Primarily, the difference in pre and post pandemic strategy is that now we are trying to use more and more platforms to go digital- Moving from the traditional TV channels to catching up with the many new OTT platforms that have come up- how do we engage with them, how do we ensure good content which is meaningful for the brand as well as consumers see value in them. Till last year, our ad-spend was 60 per cent on TV and 30-40 per cent on digital. This year, with our focus on digital, it looks like it will be vice-versa.

Valvoline has adopted a digital-first strategy both in terms of content creation and media mix from a continuous engagement point of view. Today, our consumers across the chain are connected on various digital platforms via smartphones, hence it becomes imperative for us to have a robust digital approach. Our digital media contribution in the overall media pie is 1.5x-2x that of our competitors.

However, from an overall media mix perspective, TV plus Digital, and retail visibility remain our pivots. The pandemic sure skewed our digital investments a bit more, and our efforts our social and search platforms have gone up vis-à-vis pre-pandemic times. For new campaigns of course, TV continues to be the largest reach builder.

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