Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Get real, do good, be unmissable: HUL's Shiva Krishnamurthy decodes company's marketing strategies

Shiva Krishnamurthy, nutrition South Asia foods and beverages head, Hindustan Unilever, says all brands need to have a purpose beyond just selling the product

Published: Oct 16, 2023 04:02:24 PM IST
Updated: Oct 18, 2023 03:12:48 PM IST

Get real, do good, be unmissable: HUL's Shiva Krishnamurthy decodes company's marketing strategiesShiva Krishnamurthy, beverages and foods head, Hindustan Unilever

The campaigns of Taj Mahal Tea have never failed to entice its target audience. Be it the long-running campaign Wah Taj! that featured tabla mogul Ustad Zakir Hussain or campaigns presenting musical maestros, they have carved a niche for themselves over the years.

The recently unveiled outdoor campaign, Megh Santoor, opposite the Vijayawada junction railway station in Andhra Pradesh is a cherry on the cake. The out-of-home installation, which measures a total surface area of 2,250 sq ft, makes use of the droplets of rain to create the ‘Raaga of the rains’, which is ‘Raag Megh Malhar’.

For this, Taj Mahal brand was honoured with a Guinness World Record certification for a campaign that gained the recognition of being the world’s largest environmentally interactive billboard.

Storyboard18 caught up with Shiva Krishnamurthy, nutrition South Asia foods and beverages head, Hindustan Unilever, who touched upon the campaign’s genesis, the brand’s relationship with Indian classical music, his take on celebrity endorsements and a lot more.

Edited excerpts.

Q. India is regarded as a tea-drinking nation. How has Taj Mahal Tea, as a brand, contributed to this?

Taj Mahal Tea has been around since 1966. It has always had the best of teas from the best of gardens. ‘Hazaroon mein ek’ used to be the sort of the phrase associated with the brand. Whether it is Wah Taj, one of India's most iconic campaigns, which had the presence of tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain, and which ran for decades, or the campaign featuring vocalist Nirali Kartik, we've always communicated with Indian classical music.

So, I'd say Taj has always stood for being the best of India, the best of Indian tea, the best of Indian classical music, and true to its name, it is still one of India's most loved brands.

Q. Could you explain the genesis of the outdoor campaign and the Guinness World Record certification for the same?

The Guinness World Record is a very pleasant outcome. The objective for most brands in mature categories like tea is salience. So we need to become salient for our target audience.

There are basically three parts to Unilever’s marketing credo or construct. One is ‘Get Real’. Then, ‘Do Good’. And then ‘Be Unmissable’.

When we say ‘Get Real’, it means we've got to be real for our target audience, which is why a city like Vijayawada, where a large number of Taj Mahal tea consumers reside, became an obvious choice to do something like this.

Being real means not getting dictated by what is convenient to us or where we are located, but going to where a large number of our target audience lives.

‘Do Good’ is that, in Unilever, we believe that all brands need to have a purpose beyond just selling the product. So the purpose of Taj Mahal tea is to champion Indian classical music. So, that's something we would like to continue building and nurturing as our purpose.

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The third part of ‘Be Unmissable’ is that today, there is so much of an attention deficit. We were looking for something over and above the typical ways in which one communicates, something that captures people's imagination and breaks the clutter. Our approach was to do some kind of a public installation. That's the way we thought about the campaign.

Q. Could you touch upon the consumer research that was conducted to understand the pulse of the consumers and conceptualise the outdoor campaign?

An unconventional campaign like this can't be researched. So, we have to just go with the collective judgement of the people. We weren't expecting as much success as we seem to have got. It has found its way into all the family and school WhatsApp groups, which, I think, is a big marker of virality. We are going to promote the video and get influencer marketing behind it. Hopefully, we will keep the buzz going for a month or two more.

Q. Could you explain more on the influencer marketing part?

These days, people watch a lot of content and there are various social media influencers who say and do things which are useful to our target audience. So there could be some people, for example, who talk about what is happening in Vijayawada. On the other hand, there are people who talk a lot about classical music online. Methods like that is what I mean by influencer marketing.

Q. How has the target audience of Taj Mahal tea evolved over a period?

The target audience of tea or the drinkers of Taj Mahal tea are basically tea lovers. They are tea connoisseurs who really love tea and appreciate what good tea is. The other thing is that they also look at tea as a way to indulge in some ‘me time’.

Typically, for homemakers, when the family has left home for work or school or college, they have some time for themselves to prepare a wonderful cup of tea and have a little ritual going around it. They may go to a little corner of the house, put on their favourite music or watch their favourite TV show.

Q. Could you explain the difference and similarities in consumer trends in 2022, compared to 2023?

Tea is a mature category. The mega trends, like in any mature category, is upgradation. As India becomes more affluent, as the footprint of modern trade stores increases, as urbanisation goes up, as more people join the workforce, there's greater aspiration and premiumisation.

So consumers move from a less expensive or a lower quality product to a more expensive and a higher quality product.

A mega trend in foods and beverages is health and wellness. The way in which it has been addressed best is with green tea.

So, five to seven years back, only very few people had even heard about green tea. But now, everyone has not only heard about it, but is also convinced about its benefits, which is vital for weight management and overall health and well-being. We're quite proud of having driven it through our Lipton brand. So health and well-being is a big trend. Home remedy that has always been part of Indian life and folklore is what is known as the kada (herbal concoction).

And that's what we have done with it through Red Label Natural Care. It is India's only tea, which is clinically proven to increase immunity and relies on our age-old Ayurvedic wisdom. It's got a clinically proven combination of ingredients which is Ashwagandha, Muleti, Tulsi, etc.

The other trend is experiences. People these days crave experiences more than products. Taj Mahal Tea House is an experience that our brand Taj Mahal creates. So in many ways, when one visits the tea house, they visit the brand Taj Mahal. That's where the brand lives. It offers great tea, it is set to Indian classical music, and it also lets one take a pause and indulge.

Taj Mahal Tea and classical music share a special bond. How has classical music and the presence of musical maestros in campaigns enhanced the brand image and value of Taj Mahal tea?

Taj Mahal tea is an expertise brand. Its values are expertise, sophistication, connoisseurship, rigour, craftsmanship, etc. I think all these values are embodied by Indian classical music. And the maestros that practise Indian classical music stand for these things. In many ways, by becoming associated with the art form and with the artists, we are able to create the sort of imagery that we want to.

There is also a larger purpose around championing Indian classical music. A lot of people in India, their only real experience with Indian classical music might be through Taj advertising. Because of the scale at which we operate, millions of people see, say, an ad of Taj every week. So, they experience classical music and we effectively propagate classical music by doing that. So, I think it's a wonderful symbiotic relationship that we have with Indian classical music and we intend to keep strengthening it.

Q. For Taj Mahal tea, which has been the most tried and tested marketing technique, what has helped strike a chord among the audience?

I don't think there is any Taj Mahal-specific marketing technique. It is just good consumer marketing techniques -- whether it is having a great product, charging a price that is appropriate, backing it in a way that consumers are able to enjoy and then promoting it through distinctive brand assets.

I think Taj particularly stands out in a few things. We spoke a lot about advertising in Indian classical music. But if we also look at our packaging, our design philosophy is inspired by the monument itself. The monument Taj Mahal stands for exquisite Indian craftsmanship.

It also stands for symmetry and for all that which one can see on the Taj pack. If one sees the motifs and the dome and everything else on the pack, it's something that probably is quite distinctive in the tea category. So that's one thing that works.

I think Taj is also fortunate enough to have a distinctive brand asset as we call it in the phrase ‘Wah Taj’. So ‘Wah Taj’ is an expression. Even today, if a dignitary visits the Taj Mahal, a newspaper would have a caption called ‘Wah Taj’ or something to that effect. So, it's just part of the popular lexicon, and it's a wonderful asset for a brand to have. Because if one says ‘Wah Taj’, it's just instantly recognisable.

Q. What is your take on celebrity endorsements? How successful has this strategy proven to be for the endorsement of the brand?

I think it's very case-specific and depends on a lot of things. For example, if we stay with Taj, it is going to have a celebrity in Indian classical music because it's such a distinctive association. If I look at other tea brands, like Red Label, which is about warmth and togetherness, it depicts an everyday slice of life. So it's very brand-specific. I think celebrity endorsements work for many brands, but they are not needed for every brand.

Q. Could you touch upon the e-concert 'Sur Ke Saath' campaign that was launched in 2020. How did that enhance the brand image of Taj Mahal tea? Does it still continue?

This is something that is quite close to our hearts. One of the things that was happening during COVID-19 was that people were denied or people just could not have live experiences. Everything had come to a halt from the viewer or the listener's perspective. But more importantly, from the perspective of the musicians, which is where we come in, for them, a lot of joy is derived from live performances.

For some of the artists, live performances are also a big source of income. So, if we put all that together, the COVID-19 period was very harsh on music lovers and musicians.

And we felt that, as Taj, we had to do something about it and which is why we tried to bring the magic to the internet. I think we did it with a fair amount of success. Now, it is perhaps less relevant and we want to get back to live concerts at our Taj Mahal Tea house. We are already in the process of reviving and want to increase the frequency and intensity of concerts at the tea house.