A bunch of tough looking middle-aged men sit atop a herd of elephants. The beat of a motorcycle, which is distinctly familiar, plays in the background. The camera then cuts to the sound of a speeding Dominar 400 swerving effortlessly till it catches the attention of the men. As it approaches the elephants, it brakes easily and weaves through the herd before zooming away again. The voice-over says ‘Haathi mat paalo’ before closing the advertisement with ‘Dominar 400, go hyper riding’.
This is clearly Dominar, a motorcycle from Bajaj Auto, taking on the well-entrenched incumbent Royal Enfield. Sukesh Nayak, chief creative officer, Ogilvy, says the ‘Haathi mat paalo’ line was a reference to the frequent trips to the mechanic. “It is important to engage, entertain and make a point,” he says. Understandably, Nayak does not want to speak about barbs aimed at Royal Enfield but the comparison is impossible to miss.
Dominar was unveiled in December 2016 and this commercial went on air last August. It had a short burst of good fortune with this ad — within a month of airing it, the bike’s sales went up to 2,250 units from 1,900 units. But, a year later, this September, it was selling only 1,200 units. Perhaps, the humour did not sit well with the target audience.
Other brands too have tried such jokey campaigns and been burnt. More recently, this April, ITC’s B Natural had put up hoardings and ads inviting competitors Real and Tropicana to take a pledge to “abandon concentrates”. Competitors did not respond with a laugh. PepsiCo India Holdings, maker of Tropicana, filed a plea in the Delhi High Court and the newbie juice brand had to pull out the ads. Internationally, Samsung launched its ‘Ingenious’ ad campaign this July. It showed an Apple store attendant frustrated by customer queries on the phones’ lack of features when compared to the South Korean brand’s latest Galaxy 9 series. The ads were shared and liked, but it did little to change iPhone’s sales figures. It sold 41.3 million in June quarter this year, up from 41.03 million the same quarter last year.
Over the last one-and-a-half years, three big brands were given the brush-off when they tried comparat