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CarDekho, a tech-driven automotive brand, has come out with a campaign to safeguard elderly drivers from impatient and hostile drivers on the road. The brand explains how, due to the health risks associated with public transport, elders have been driving themselves since the pandemic. But that the commute has been made difficult by people honking at them or trying to rashly cut around their car.

CarDekho suggests a simple solution. It recommends that elderly drivers indicate themselves with an ‘E’ on the windshield like learners do with an ‘L’. This way, others on the road will know to treat them with caution and give them space – much like how they do with learning drivers.

While the campaign is comprised of clips from its brand ambassadors (Akshay Kumar, KL Rahul, Mahesh Babu, Rahul Dravid) explaining this concept to CarDekho’s audience, it is hinged on the brand’s film about a sweet, old couple relaying the message to viewers as they label their car with an ‘E’.

The film:

This isn’t the first time CarDekho has focussed on the needs of the elderly. Six months ago, it came out with a long-format ad that shows a retired doctor preparing to volunteer during the pandemic, much against his son and daughter-in-law’s wishes. When they are unable to stop him from stepping out, they buy him a car to ensure a safe commute.

‘The Everyday Hero’:

A year before that, in September 2019 (pre-pandemic), CarDekho released an ad about an elderly father frustrated by the absence of his wife at social gatherings because his son wouldn’t replace the car she had trouble getting in and out of.

Kabse bol raha hu car badalni hai’:

So clearly, this positioning as the spokesperson for the elderly hasn’t emerged out of the pandemic. The brand had set it up much before they launched the ‘E for Elderly’ campaign. And it is worth noting for two reasons.

First, to go in for such positioning is radical. Brands are usually advised to target the youth and not the elderly (no one above 40 anyway) since they make up more than half the country’s demographic. Even insurance companies are now trying to catch their consumers young (by telling them they must not leave such crucial planning to the last moment). Moreover, youth are seen as the primary spenders. To represent the perspective of the elderly – especially as an automotive brand – is nothing short of surprising.

Where cars are popularly associated with the youth, CarDekho is, in part, tying its image to the opposition of that consumer category. It doesn’t place itself in the context of slick and young professionals who party wildly, camp and off-road with an adventurous spirit, and drive the car as a badge of their independent identity and a sign of modern life.

It positions itself as a facilitator of the elderly who sees cars as serving a purely utilitarian purpose. There is no glamour in driving a car obtained through CarDekho. But the offering does come with a high level of functionality and a hassle-free experience.

This positioning is not a one-off, bold attempt at differentiation – also the second reason it deserves a close study. It has not been restricted to a single campaign or a communication format. It hasn’t been treated as one of the many ideas needed to periodically market the brand afresh, nor has it been pursued through only branded content and left out in a product sell, or vice versa. CarDekho has ensured that it consistently resurfaces through its messaging.

Such synergy is ideal for brand building. It ensures recognition and recall. Unfortunately, given the foresight and meticulous planning required, it doesn’t occur as frequently. But since it has in CarDekho’s case – a relatively young brand at that – the execution is certainly worth learning from.

The five elements that recur to create harmonious messaging

Just because it is representing the elderly, the brand doesn’t portray them like we are used to seeing elders on screen – a stationary and/or feeble presence that doesn’t do much aside from nurturing blessing and issuing orders. These are new-age elders who have retired as working professionals.

Across the three pieces of communication, they are shown moving about with a desire for change, recreation and purpose, just like any other age group. They have lives of their own; time hasn’t reduced them to passive observers of the younger generations around them. It is as the old man declares in ‘E for Elderly’: ‘Hum retired hain, museum piece nahi! Humari bhi social life hai’ (We may be retired but we aren’t museum pieces. We too have a social life).

The people and situations in CarDekho’s communication are all characterised by playful humour, friendly banter and an endearing tinge of goofiness. ‘E for Elderly’ and ‘The Everyday Hero’ both feature the kind of gentle verbal sparring that goes on within a family, between two generations or between a couple. In contrast to them, CarDekho comes off as a subtle and supportive presence that makes it happen while remaining in the background.

Aside from this commonality in personality and behaviour, the characters all belong to the upper-middle class. They live in spacious homes, play cards among a well-dressed group of peers, are shown possessing an SUV and, on another occasion, parked in the driveway of a well-maintained double-storey house.

Another way the brand brings consistency is through its style of putting together the videos. It takes its time to flesh out the narrative through thematically similar scenes that lead to an incremental build-up in the story. Especially when creating branded content.

In ‘E for Elderly’, for 40 seconds out of the minute-and-a-half long video, the viewer listens to the old man complain, sees him get harassed on the road and watches his wife taping up an ‘L’ on their car. It is only after that 40-second mark that the viewer learns about CarDekho’s new safety initiative. In ‘Kabse bol raha hu car badalni hai’, 20 seconds of the 30-second-long TVC are spent showing the different scenarios in which the elderly man finds himself lonely without his wife before the ad comes to the solution.

The last commonality we found was in the usage of celebrities. Both branded content and the ads feature the same set of celebrities to advocate the cause. But more importantly, regardless of the format, the brand designs the communication around the cause and not the celebrity. Take Rahul Dravid’s placement.

In both ‘E for Elderly’ and another CarDekho ad featuring him, Dravid’s celebrity status is used to emphasise the point and spice up the narrative. The latter especially shows how his character could have been played by anyone else and it wouldn’t have changed the video one bit.

Additionally, neither of the ads is like Cred’s collaboration with Rahul Dravid that was pointedly framed around a complete contrast to his real-life character. As a disruptive piece of communication, it couldn’t have worked without the context to his personality. While the ad certainly generated recall for Cred, it is likely that the cause was outshone by Dravid’s presence.

Wrapping Up

CarDekho’s example is a lesson in how brands can bring synergy between branded content and advertisements. Just because the two formats serve different requirements and may be used to address different segments within the brand’s audience, doesn’t mean they need to differ in how they build the brand.

Staying true to the creative demands of a product sold through an ad or a cultural stance through branded content is undeniably important. But it is also necessary that both methods of communication harmoniously sit together through some elements of commonality. Only then can the brand achieve resonance in consumer memory.

While CarDekho still has a long way to go, it has been able to disrupt the automotive category by positioning itself as a spokesperson for the elderly, and ensuring that this positioning gets repeatedly reinforced across communication formats and over time.