Ecommerce is that juiciest slice of the retail pie of which everybody wants a bite. Over the last 5 years the sector has consistently clocked double digit growth figures. With 300 million active internet users (and growing), ecommerce in India is still at an approximate 1.7% of the total retail sales (by revenue). The telecom giants are vying to woo the remaining 900+ million junta with affordable data plans. Now with Jio in the fray, rules of the game are bound to bend. Numerous mobile handset manufacturers, aided by jaw-dropping pricing by ecommerce platforms, have brought the greatest tool of this century within reach. The rural population is just beginning to open up to the pleasure and leisure of online shopping. Exposure drives aspirations and democratization of internet is driving both. Statistically this market is in its nascent stage and is set to grow exponentially.
The market is predominantly driven by deals and access – products that you don’t get otherwise at prices that you once could only wish for. The giants of the industry – Flipkart, Amazon, ebay, Snapdeal, Jabong and Myntra – have played to these tunes. So much that they have become hygiene. Also breaking into profitable figures is a steep climb and no brand has achieved it yet. A brick and mortar store or a mall has physical boundaries and needs efforts to reach to. The buyer subconsciously and compulsively makes a choice in order to avoid another visit. *In addition the enclosure enables the brand(s) to create a unique experience of its proposition.* On the contrary ecommerce suffers the phenomenon of click infidelity. A website is just another tab in the browser window. An app is just another icon on the mobile screen. Pulling the consumer to the online store thus relies on the larger entity – the brand story.
The key to register a difference and create a connect lies here, in this brand story. Ecommerce brands have flirted with dominant and emerging discourses of behavior in order to catch the pulse. Amazon and Flipkart have been consistent in establishing their identity. Snapdeal has realigned its core and is building upon it. Myntra, Jabong and recently ebay have made bold statements through great creative expression but still seem to have missed the brand story. This article is an attempt to decode recent communications by these brands and look closer at these stories.
*Brand building is a function of two variables – service and proposition. Service is experience of buying into (rather from) a brand and is long term. On the other hand, proposition is the story woven around the brand and the people, told through communication.*
If we look closely, these communications follow a common framework of storytelling.
• Self is the receiver of the communication, the one who is required to take the action of buying. The whole intent is to make him/her relate to the person in the ad. This self is defined as soon as the ad opens – through characters, settings, atmosphere – before the protagonist comes into picture.
• The protagonist, interestingly, is not a person. It’s the product. Everything is centered around it. The product creates the situation or conflict.
• Situation or conflict is the problem. It could be functional – variety, affordability, reach – or emotional – identity, self-expression.
• Resolution is answer to the situation or conflict – a functional or emotional benefit.
• Medium is the brand or platform itself. This is the call to action that is expected as a result.
These elements are tied together by a narrative – the story. The narrative creates a subliminal need of the product and purchase. The narrative also defines the hero who solves this conflict. It could be the product, the brand or the self. This is where the play happens and differentiation is created between stories that appeal to the right set of people.
Broadly, all these narratives fall into 3 major spaces.
1. Anything Anyone Anywhere – solving the problem of variety, affordability and reach.
2. You deserve – justification of purchase, directed towards the middle class.
3. Establishing individuality – honoring individual behavior, needs and preferences.
Different brands straddle different spaces, often more than one.
The Fun Part – Decoding the Ads
Few facts and frameworks later, begins the fun part. In the last 3-4 months almost each brand has launched at least one TVC. Not to mention the numerous digital only AVs. This article closely analyses communication from 6 brands – ebay, Snapdeal, Jabong, Myntra Anouk, Flipkart and Amazon.
ebay’s recent TVC is turning heads. The visuals are striking. A lean boy wearing ghunghrus and dancing on what seems like a Lucknow rooftop, a muslim woman lighting diya at her doorstep, a man on his knees proposing to his boyfriend with a ring, an old woman skipping rope, a girl in salwar kamiz amid others in dresses. The narration says how things don’t judge unlike others. This is a very interesting contrast. This is not just personification of the product but also juxtaposing it to cultural conditioning, the conflict. While others judge you, the product is becoming an active part of what you are. It not only acknowledges your individuality but respects it. And by the end of the AV you know that ebay’s inventory has over 10 crore products in different categories.
The semiotics is strong with this one. Individual stories in the AV explore what each product signifies and stops at that. This is the point where stereotyping generally begins and each story challenges them. The ring and act of bending on your knees signifies love, commitment not gender. Diya at the doorstep signifies festivities, celebration not the religion. Ghunghrus signify dance, not the dancer. As a society we are beginning to accept our conditioning and shedding the stereotypes. Though, this is still a phenomenon among the urbane and the globalized.
A still from the ad
Jabong isn’t very far away from ebay. Codes of dressing probably suffer the most from gender stereotyping. Jabong, being a fashion brand questions these conflicts. In the world where feminine beauty is measured in zero figure and muscles mean masculinity, this ad breaks the equation. It goes a step ahead, urging to be comfortable in your skin, accept yourself and be bold to express it. The visuals are as direct as the attempt to break social constructs of gender. They are removed from reality and superlative but again that is the nature of fashion. The product is the protagonist, silent but active part of each identity. In this case it is an expression of your true self and you must embrace it as you embrace your individuality.
The narrative is topical to the appeal of gender equality, body shaming and gender stereotyping. Though the visuals strongly adhere to few stereotypes in themselves, it is a refreshing change, at least a positive step. The power of visuals ensures that one does not forget Jabong easily.
A still from the ad
Myntra – Anouk
A few months back Myntra launched a series of web only AVs in partnership with Anouk, a women’s ethnic wear brand. A set of 4 stories that touches upon homosexuality, career, single motherhood and notions of character. What is remarkable in each of these stories is the power that is vested in the central character. It is the step next to acceptance of self where the women establish their position on each of the above topics and challenge the antagonist – representatives of present society. In all of this, the product, traditional Indian wear, is used as a great metaphor for the ‘rooted-modern’ duality of present day Indian woman.
A still from the ad
Myntra, Jabong and ebay address the larger context of individual choice in their respective smaller subsets. Their communications rest on the common emerging social discourses of equality and empowerment. The tool to achieve this is what they offer – range of products. The society at large may not be able to connect with them yet for these constructs are still being widely debated. We still cringe at the first sight of an anomaly before we question ourselves on our reaction and course correct. However, Myntra, Jabong and ebay have definitely managed to ensure recall.
Snapdeal have recently realigned their core. ‘Unbox zindagi’ is a possibility to explore life or restart something that is forgotten. The visuals, the lyrics and the metaphor of open sky through the box all come together to bolster this thought. Snapdeal has given a spin to the meaning of purchase. It is not only an acquisition but also a start to something new. The joy associated with buying something new is redefined as the joy of achieving something that the product facilitates.
Unboxing is a popular term now associated with opening and exploring a new product. Unbox zindagi extends this exploration to life. It gives a new meaning to the otherwise mundane box, making it a tool to this exploration. The red colour named Vermello (a possible derivative of vermillion) is a metaphor to auspicious beginning. In the recent communications for their Diwali sale Snapdeal further narrows life to the various facets – swag, love, joy. It works in two ways for the audience. On one hand it is an acknowledgement of desire of an individual. On the other hand it is an assurance that ‘you deserve to pursue your passion.’
Snapdeal seems ready to extend this through various touchpoints and it will be interesting to see how they do it.
A still from the ad
Flipkart has been consistent with their strictly functional propositions of affordability, ease and exclusivity. It is the great leveler of demographics. The metaphor of kids as adults works really well in conveying the idea of ease. It is a literal manifestation of ‘bachcho ka khel’. If we look at all the communications by them so far humor is the constant element. Affordability is shown through the choice of subjects that are from every walk of life.
A still from the ad
With their deep pockets and resolve to rule Indian ecommerce, Amazon has been bombarding the audience with online and offline content at staggering frequency. The notable fact is that they have maintained a consistency in all of them. Amazon has identified the middle class sensibilities and is constantly approaching them with their platter of offerings. While the recent deals ads talk about affordability of dreams, the digital campaign urging moms to be girls again kindles lost passions. One common factor is the middle class. Address doesn’t matter.
Amazon woos the middle class in many ways. The stories are beautifully relatable. Their pivot is human relationship and they nudge the lover in each one of us. One significant commonality is the dual gratification – the joy of gifting and the joy of receiving. The buyer is never the one who uses the product. Sometimes (s)he is not even seen. The buyer is ALWAYS the giver. But the joy of gifting is always apparent. This is a beautiful representation of buying habits of the middle class. The decision to buy something for self is always rational while gifting something to a loved one is an emotional act.
Their narratives do not promise a socio-economic movement. Instead they acknowledge that one deserves to have what they aspire. In communications of other brands the product is the hero and the brand is the means to get it. Here Amazon is the hero that provides resolution to the conflict that is the product. This ties back to the prevalent sentiment of growth in India. India is growing and the middle class is the one that is in the driving seat. In its narratives this hero that seems to say that ‘you are the ones who run this country, you are the ones who drive it forward. You deserve. You deserve to ensure smiles of your loved ones and we will make it possible. We will make it affordable.’
A still from the ad
The ecommerce space is becoming increasingly cluttered and it is mandatory to make ones voice heard. While communications that challenge stereotypes are thought provoking and contextual, they need to be extended and sustained. If a brand stands for a certain change, it needs to ascertain it through actions. On the other hand are brands that address practical and emotional needs of their buyers. Amazon and Flipkart have established their tone of voice and extending their communication to the emerging audience in rural and tier II/III markets will be a natural progression. Snapdeal seems to have found their foothold and it will be interesting to see how they extend it. Equally interesting will be to see whether ebay, Jabong and Myntra shift their focus from the urban to sub urban and how will their communication manifest in that event.