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Bajaj Auto: Pulsar & Stunting - Creating India's best selling sports bike
Rohit Balan Warc Prize for Asian Strategy Shortlisted, 2011



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Bajaj Auto: Pulsar & Stunting - Creating India's best selling sports bike Rohit Balan Warc Prize for Asian Strategy Shortlisted, 2011

Bajaj Auto: Pulsar & Stunting - Creating India's best selling sports bike
The Warc Prize for Asian Strategy is Asia’s first competition set up to reward brilliant strategic thinking in marketing. Marketers and agencies across Asia (excluding Pacific) were asked to submit case studies that demonstrated how insight and strategy had solved a business problem. The cases had to show what the problem was, the strategy that was developed, how that strategy was brought to life and the results it delivered. The Prize was judged by a panel of senior clients and agency-side strategy experts, using the following weighting: quality of insight (15%); quality of strategic thinking (40%); implementation (15%); performance against objectives (20%); lessons learned (10%). For more information on this annual prize, please visit Campaign Details Advertiser: Bajaj Auto Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Mumbai Brand: Bajaj Pulsar Campaign duration: January 2005 - April 2011 Country: India Media budget (USD): 10 - 20 million Channels used: Cinema, Events, Internet display, Internet search, Newspapers (national), Newspapers (local), Radio (local), Radio (national), Television (broadcast), Television (local)

This is a story of how an Indian scooter company with an indigenous motorbike and an indigenous proposition took on the global giants. Bajaj Pulsar, the sports motorcycle from Bajaj Auto, faced competition in the performance motorcycles segment from Honda, the leader in the commuter segment, and Yamaha. But five years of consistent advertising on a distinctive proposition – based around the popularity of ‘stunting’ - ensured that the Pulsar didn’t just survive the Japanese onslaught, but instead grew the market by rephrasing performance and grew faster than the competition.

India’s oldest scooter manufacturer, Bajaj Auto had repeatedly tried to enter the motorcycle category but met with success only
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in 2001 when it launched Pulsar, India’s first performance motorcycle. But by 2004, this successful journey had started facing some obstacles. Honda – the world’s biggest two wheeler company - controlled about 60% of the Indian motorcycle market with an unshakeable presence in the commuter segment through its Indian partner Hero Honda. In 2004, Honda increased its presence in India’s two-wheeler market by setting up an independent arm in India – Honda Motorcycle and Scooters India (HMSI) - separate from the already existing Hero Honda venture. This move was a reflection of Honda’s big ambitions in the performance segment. Within its first year, HMSI launched the Honda Unicorn – a globally successful sports bike. It followed this up soon with three other sports bikes – Karizma, Ambition and CBZ. Within a year, the indigenous Pulsar was facing four international bikes with the Japanese badges and international performance pedigree. Yamaha, a fringe player in the market then, had already announced its plans to foray into the performance segment. The performance segment is the most premium segment in motorcycles. Typically, consumers pay about 50% more than commuter bikes to own these machines. Of course, consumers buy into the style, design, power and technology, but most importantly consumers bought sports bikes for their edgy racing imagery and performance. So on the most important criterion for a successful bike, Pulsar scored lowest - it had absolutely no racing credentials. On the other hand, Honda and Yamaha had over 50 years of successful Moto GP racing pedigree. While in India, they had not betted big on racing, it was their domain globally. But the best performance brands in the world, Honda and Yamaha had decided to go all out in India. The home-grown Pulsar had to worry about protecting its base, let alone growing it. The signs were already visible: by the end of 2004, Honda had clawed about 30% of the performance segment, which had been an all-Pulsar domain since 2001. The audacious task for Pulsar was to own performance unequivocally over the Japanese giants, and the challenge was to do this without any racing credentials. We knew that once the Japanese tasted blood, they were going to be relentless. Accordingly, we set equally audacious objectives: 1. Grow faster than the Japanese - outsell Honda and Yamaha combined, annually. 2. Become as big as the Japanese - make Pulsar a billion-dollar brand by 2010.

Honda & Yamaha had two very crucial aces up their sleeves: technological supremacy and racing heritage. Coming from a domestic scooter manufacturer, Pulsar had neither, and this, in years to come, could have proved to be a sales dampener. We not only had to fix these leaks but also ensure we fixed them so that they become impregnable for competition. A quick mode of transport in a traffic-snarled country, motorcycles in India traditionally appealed to the middle-class male aged between 25 and 50 across urban and rural India. Typically, these were commuters for whom a motorcycle was just a means of going from point A to B. Pulsar, being a sports bike, spoke to another set. These are the guys who seek thrills from their motorcycle. To them mileage is important, but not as much as performance. For them, their motorcycle was much more than a means of transport; it was an
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extension of their personality, their thrill machine. This was the youngest set of bikers (18-25 yrs), college students or firstjobbers under A and B Social Economic Class with a monthly household income of INR 15,000 (USD 332) or more. The problem, though, was that being exposed to the best of international technology (cars, phones, laptops, etc.), this breed of Indians was cynical of Indian technology. Given a choice, choosing the glitzy and fast Japanese motorcycle over an indigenous one would be a no brainer for him. Around the world, successful auto brands have invested in creating a technology differentiator – Audi has the Quattro and Honda has the V-tec. On similar lines, the engineers at Bajaj developed DTS-i (Digital Twin Spark – Ignition) as a differentiator that ensured efficient air and fuel combustion for uncompromised power and mileage. But for us, creating a technology differentiator would solve only half the problem. We had to bring alive this differentiator for the Indian biker in ways the Japanese giants couldn’t. And this illustration had to build imagery as well. Japanese bikes contextualized performance on the race track. Investing in professional racing requires an engineering lineage and ocean-deep pockets - both of which Bajaj Auto lacked in 2005. We had to create another handle for performance that was beyond racing. The trouble was that globally, there was over half a century’s biking culture that equated performance to racing. Product clinics with bikers told us that compared to the Japanese models, Pulsar’s strength was its ‘handling’. Usually performance motorcycles were differentiated by their looks, speed or power. ‘Handling’ was a truly unique attribute which helped Pulsar enter and own a whole new world in motorcycling. Wee-hours of the night, torch lights, desolate places and a little help from underground biking gangs led us to a world where two wheels were one too many. This was the world of bike stunting, where a performance bike was put to its toughest test – wheelies, stoppies, donuts, burnouts, etc. Stunting was a visually stunning spectacle, a voyeuristic treat that tested the bike’s taut handling, quick throttle response, rugged build and manoeuvrability. If racing was the ubiquitous expression of performance, stunting was an emerging ritual that was at the pinnacle of performance. Stunting had the potential to rephrase performance by taking it out of the race track and bringing it onto the street. The good news was that the Japanese did not own stunting. The great news was that Pulsar, given its agility, was already the stunter’s favourite motorcycle. This is how stunting became the Pulsar’s weapon against the Japanese.

Being a new visual concept, we decided to adopt a seed-and-scale approach while showcasing stunting in the brand’s advertising. 2005: Pulsar’s ‘Overtake’ TVC debuts stunting as a performance differentiator. This is the first time bikers would see a stunt action being done by an Indian motorcycle, an unbelievable and equally exhilarating experience. 2006: Pulsar’s ‘FreeBiking’ TVC reinforces stunting as a distinct brand language. Met with tremendous enthusiasm by bikers at large.

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2008: Pulsar Mania TVC creates a new stunting vocabulary – a stunning ballet of bikes featuring the world’s best stunters performing spectacular moves on their Pulsars. Such was its impact that online, many bikers dubbed it as ‘The Best Motorcycle Commercial in the World’. By this time, most bike brands started to look like clones of Pulsar’s communication. While others were catching up, we decided to change the game. We wanted to experiment with different avenues and mediums of exhibiting stunting. 2009: Pulsar decides to venture into branded content, created Pulsar MTV Stuntmania – India’s first bike stunt reality show, pitting the country’s best amateur stunters against each other in a series of death-defying bike stunts on prime time TV. 2010: Year that reaffirmed the prowess of stunting as a performance platform as Pulsar MTV Stuntmania Season 2 successfully replaced conventional advertising in Bajaj Auto’s marketing plan. 2011: Pulsar becomes the official sponsor of India’s first professional stunt riding team – GhostRyderz. Over the last six years, Pulsar has not just adopted and owned stunting as a differentiator but truly evangelized it. Stunting has moved from the dark by-lanes to national prime time television. From being a fringe ritual, stunting has gained legitimacy and respect and is today considered as the ultimate test of a skilled rider.

Objective: Grow faster than the Japanese - outsell Honda and Yamaha combined, annually. Result 1: Pulsar outsold Honda and Yamaha combined, despite them having nine brands against our one. Despite being only one brand, the Pulsar sold 771,275 units in 2010, whereas Honda and Yamaha, together with their nine brands, deep pockets and international pedigree, managed only 545,286 units combined (Source – Bajaj Sales Data) Objective: Become as big as the Japanese brands - make Pulsar a billion-dollar brand by 2010. Result 2: Pulsar became India’s first billion-dollar sports bike. Within five years, Pulsar sales grew sevenfold - from a USD 0.2 billion bike brand in 2004 to a USD 1.4 billion brand in 2010 – without substantial product upgrades, deep advertising pockets or an international pedigree (Source - Bajaj Sales Data) Apart from delivering on the specific objectives, the sustained success also helped Pulsar achieve the following results: Result 3: Pulsar justified a price premium of 33% over the past five years; the competition could manage only 6%. In 2004, the Pulsar 150 variant was sold at INR 45,000. Today it sells at about INR 60,000 - a hefty 33% increase in price in one of the most price-sensitive markets in the world. Result 4: Every Pulsar stunting campaign had a substantial increase in the average units sold per month. In 2005, there was a 56% increase. In 2006 there was a 33.3% increase. In 2007, there was a 32.4% increase; in recession-hit 2009 a 26% rise, then 29% in 2010. Result 5: Pulsar’s sustained success changed Bajaj Auto’s branding architecture. Bajaj Auto is a 60-year-old name synonymous with two-wheelers in India. The success of Pulsar made Bajaj Auto decide on dropping its name as an endorser. Today, the decade-old Pulsar stands tall as a power-brand in its own right.

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Result 6: Pulsar’s branded content platform on stunting replaced mainline advertising in 2010. In its second season, Pulsar MTV Stuntmania provided an opportunity to 50,000 biking innovators and early adopters and draw a stellar viewership of 5.2 million in 2010. Such was the impact of this branded content that Pulsar volumes doubled over 2009 despite any mainline advertising support.

Asian youth loves to go against the establishment. Asian markets are younger than their Western counterparts. Most brands have a sizeable proportion of the young as their target audience. Brands that talk to the young need to have a distinctive tone of voice. The Asian markets – typically younger – are looking away from the establishment, which stands for the old. When fighting established brands in a category, new entrants can have an upper hand in the Asian youth-heavy markets by adopting a counter-establishment stance. When Honda and Yamaha stood for speed and racing and tech specs, Bajaj Pulsar adopted ‘attitude’ and countered the established notions of biking. It’s interesting to draw a parallel to the era when Apple succeeded in the United States. With the Baby Boomer Age, Apple was able to create a strong market for itself by countering the blue-collared Microsoft.

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