I’m generally indifferent to cars and know them only as a system with four wheels, steering and seating that get me from point A to point B with minimum effort on my part; yet I’m eagerly awaiting the launch of the Tata Nano GenX. The journey of the Nano has such interesting twists and turns that it rivals a Bollywood potboiler, and as a student of marketing, I really want to see how Team Nano manages the tough task of making consumers warm up to the Nano Gen X. ( I’m hoping it succeeds and wishing the Nano Best of Luck, by the way). Meanwhile, in the run-up to the launch (until I have fodder for another post, that is), here’s the story of the Nano thus far :
Phase I: The people’s car The 1 lakh car
Launched in 2009, the Tata Nano was supposed to be ‘a people’s car’, the savior of the Indian middle class family which relied on a scooter or bike to transport all four members, offering them a safer and more comfortable alternative. To ensure affordability, the initial price was brought down to as low as Rs. 1 lakh per car through frugal innovation. Watch this ad to get a taste of what this brand was supposed to stand for and the role it was expected to play.
However, most of the hype around the car was focused on its cheap price and it became known as ‘The 1 lakh car’. For the middle class, both urban and rural, owning a car is a matter of pride and self-esteem. So, rather than gladly discovering that this fantastic upgrade from a two-wheeler actually had a reasonable price, Nano’s portrayed image put the product in the situation of being viewed as a compromise , not an upgrade. “Ek prestige view se thodi down hai,” as one respondent expressed it during a transportation related research a few years ago, while another respondent termed it ‘the No-no’. Dangers of letting a low price be the defining feature of your offering!
Mr. Ratan Tata gives a crisp explanation in this article , “I always felt the Nano should have been marketed towards the owner of a two-wheeler because it was conceived to give people who rode on two-wheeler an all-weather, safe form of transportation, not (the) cheapest,” Tata said. “It became termed as the cheapest car by the public, and [also] I’m sorry to say, by the company when it was being marketed,” he added.
Another problem that the Nano faced was that of high expectations from those who did see it as an end to their transportation woes. During the same transportation related research mentioned earlier, we also found that the same Indian family that would uncomplainingly seat four people on a scooter or bike and balance their shopping bags too, somehow morphed into a demanding set that wanted adequate boot space in their car to keep luggage – just in case they had to drop a relative to the station.
The performance problems with the initial batch of cars did nothing to boost Nano’s image either. Soon after the cars hit the road came reports of some of them catching fire, which was seen as an indicator of low quality and a lack of reliability. While only a few such issues were reported, we’ve found that some people still mention these spontaneously when the Nano is mentioned.
Here’s where the change begins and the marketing team begins explicitly targeting a different TG – young professionals in urban centers ; you can click on the links here , here and here to view the ads and see for yourself the distinct change in tone and style of ads from the earlier people’s car ads. By now, the no-frills car also had some add-ons such as the ‘best – in –class A.C.’ mentioned in the print ad shown below.
Phase III : Launch of Nano Twist – from ‘cheap car’ to ‘smart city car’
This is when an attempt was made to radically alter the Nano’s positioning in order to make it appeal to the new TG of urban professionals. The ‘you’re awesome’ campaign targeted young urban folk and tried to showcase to them the new stylish Nano – new colours, better interiors, a car that could seat a couple of friends , a fun n’ smart car to hang out with. Did it work? I recall discussing this campaign and its effectiveness with a young colleague early last year and she felt that it was having some impact, two of her friends had noticed the ad and actually purchased the Nano Twist. Multiple news reports also mention that the customer profile for the Nano had indeed changed over the years, a heartening sign – the proportion of Nano buyers in the 24 -34 years age bracket had expanded to 40 percent, from the earlier 15 to 18 per cent. Another interesting change happening in the Nano script is the growing base of women. Today, they account for 28 per cent of its customers, a substantial jump from 12 per cent in the earlier ‘people’s car’ phase.
That’s only part of the story though; take a look at the sales data for the rest – as per this article, in the April – December period of ’14-’15, Nano only sold 13,333 units, down 18.64% from the same period of ’13-’14.
What could have limited the impact of such a high decibel campaign? Well, one reason could simply be that the impact of the initial launch advertising and PR campaign in ’08-’09 was so strong that the ‘cheap car’ story could only be over-written over the long haul , and it’s not a task that one ad alone could shoulder. Another could be that while the ‘You’re Awesome’ campaign did have a smarter , more stylish feel to it, there was no over-arching product story communicated about how the Twist was better than the earlier version of the Nano, neither about how it was better suited to city travel than other cars. While some shots in the ad did imply easy maneuverability, it was not explicit enough, and got overshadowed by the messaging on style and aesthetics ; the ‘smart city car’ benefits were explicitly mentioned only in print ads. When a repositioning as drastic as this one is being attempted, consumers probably need to hear that the car has improved significantly too.
Phase IV: Launch of the Nano Gen X
And thus to the eagerly awaited launch of the Tata Nano Gen X later this month! Now clearly aiming for the ‘smart city car’ tag, the Gen X has a host of improved features, see details here , here and here.
But has the 2013 campaign succeeded in erasing memories of the 1 lakh car launched in 2009? Will the Nano get to make a fresh start? Only time will tell…
- Zenobia Driver