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Betting on the Big B
Govindkrishna Seshan
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August 21, 2007

Soft music plays in the background even as Amitabh Bachchan's distinctive baritone dominates the film. Dressed traditionally, in a kurta-pyjama and shawl, he walks down a busy market road, addressing the audience.

"They say life is like dust. Perhaps. But hold it together firmly, and it can be a mountain peak." Another actor breaks in here. It is Jaaved Jaffrey, acting as "Vijay" from Bachchan's superhit film Don. He compares Bachchan - "Big B" - to the peak. Ignoring him, the superstar continues: "All we leave behind are our memories and our name."

"That's what the 'Big B' does," pipes up Jaffrey again, this time dressed as "Anthony" from another Bachchan-starrer, Amar Akbar Anthony. Bachchan walks on, saying everybody wonders what they will leave behind, a fistful of dust or a towering peak. "Let's toss, like Big B," says "Jai" from Sholay.

Now, Bachchan is irked: "Do you even know what is 'Big B'?" "You are," says Jaffrey. Bachchan drags the younger actor to a fortress wall with the Binani Cement logo and exclaims, "This is the real Big B, which converts dust into heights." The 40-second film closes with the tagline: "Binani Cement. For generations."

It's been a year since the Rs 780-crore (Rs 7.8 billion) Binani Cement advertised. The last campaign from the Binani group's flagship company was a humorous dig at politicians, palmists and real-estate agents, with a simple message: you can't trust their promises, but you can rely on ours.

This year's campaign - which has been on air for a few weeks now - is different not only in tone, but in treatment as well. The mood is introspective (although the humorous touches are still evident) and this is only the second time in Binani's decade-long history that it has used celebrities to promote the brand. The last time was in 1997, when the company was founded, and cricketer Sunil Gavaskar was signed on as brand ambassador.

Why now and why Bachchan, whose face appears on advertisements for virtually everything from chocolate to chyawanprash? "We felt that somebody with a strong and well-known image, such as Amitabh Bachchan, would give the brand the boost it required," explains Rahul Gupta, managing director of agency IBD, which has handled Binani's creatives from the start.

Why did Binani feel the need for brand-building just now? So much so that although its main markets are in Gujarat, Rajasthan and parts of North India, it has opted for a high-decibel, nation-wide multimedia campaign?

To understand that, take a look at the workings of the cement industry in India. Consumption of cement in India is mainly by three groups. The largest is the government sector, which doles out contracts for buildings, roads and bridges. Then come the industrial and consumer sectors (home owners).

As the economy booms, there has been a huge impact on home construction and refurbishment - the looming apartment complexes apart, there are millions of owner-built houses as well coming up across the country. Binani's campaign is targeted at this end-user-driven segment of the cement market.

But there are two other drivers of this campaign. According to industry experts, the cement industry has witnessed a bitter price battle with company after company squeezing its margins to drop prices. In such an environment, only well-known brands possess the ability to command a premium. And Binani aspires to be among them.

Moreover, in March this year, the company almost doubled capacity at its Sirohi, Rajasthan, plant from 2.25 million tonnes per annum to 5.3 million tonnes. Naturally, it now needs to find new consumers for the increased production.

"Cement is no longer a commodity, and to ensure long term profitability every company today has to build its brand. Binani needed to build top-of-mind recall," explains Gupta.

The planning for the current campaign began in March.

Working on a brief to extend and strengthen Binani's brand presence, the client and agency hit upon roping in Bachchan as brand ambassador - the actor has a 12-month contract to endorse the brand. (Incidentally, this is not the first time Bachchan has promoted a commodity - he has previously acted as brand ambassador for Nerolac Paints.) Ad-film maker Prahlad Kakar of Genesis Films then shot the commercial at a Mumbai film studio, after two weeks of set construction.

The Binani campaign is lavish in almost every way: from the choice of celebrities, the elaborate set design and the choice of film maker, to how the final advertisement is being promoted. Over 1,000 spots have been booked on 30 television and cable channels, including business, news, sports and general entertainment.

Interestingly, the choice of edit depends on the channel on which it will appear. While the 40-second original film and a 20-second edit are being broadcast on mass Hindi entertainment channels such as Doordarshan, Star Plus and Sony, a 30-second version - minus Jaffrey's humorous dialogues and impersonations - is being aired on only news channels as well as CNBC and NDTV Profit. The thinking? The first two commercials are aimed at the end-consumer, while the last is clearly a corporate brand-building exercise.

Reaching out to the masses is still key, though. Which is why Binani is making extensive use of outdoor media and also reaching deep into the country. More than 500 hoardings across the country feature images of pots and orange bags of cement.

The film is also being shown at over 300 rural cinema theatres, while distributors have been given scooter-tyre covers emblazoned with the company's logo. "This campaign is a giant leap. We want Binani Cement to be recognised everywhere," says Gupta.

Now, even as the commercial completes its television run, a print campaign is already on in magazines like India Today and Business India.

A second print campaign, meant for newspapers this time, has just come off the drawing board and is likely to be released in the coming few weeks. Gupta believes the campaign has worked well for Binani Cement.  "We have received positive feedback from everywhere. In fact, sales volumes have started surging," he says.

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