Oh my! Oh my! The Big Billion Days sale at Flipkart, slated to start on 10 October, 2018 and go on till 14 October, 2018 has undoubtedly become the single biggest parade of celebrities for any one single brand as one single campaign. At least in recent memory.
The star parade kicked off with a one-minute commercial featuring Amitabh Bachchan, ‘Sirf sale nahi … yeh hai sale ka Big B’ last week. The media is now full of Flipkart commercials featuring Bollywood stars Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor and Diljit Dosanjh; sports stars Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sunil Chhetri and Saina Nehwal; and regional superstars Prosenjit (Bengali), Tamanna Bhatia (Tamil), Yash (Kannada) and director Mahesh Manjrekar (Marathi). It is almost as if the stars themselves were on sale: available cheaper by the dozen!!
I don’t recall any single campaign in recent history for any single brand, that too for a sale, featuring so many celebrities. There are two schools of thought on why Flipkart has gone overboard on star power for the Big Billion Days sale this year. The most obvious view is that with new owners Walmart in place, Flipkart is flush with funds. After all Walmart paid a mind-numbing USD 16 billion recently to buy the Indian e-commerce company. Flipkart is now out to make an emphatic statement versus Amazon that it really is India’s No. 1 destination for e-shoppers. So, all fire-power has been harnessed in one big heave to push the mother-of-all-sales, the Big Billion. The contra-view is that Flipkart’s new owners, Walmart, have set a sales target of USD 1.5-1.7 billion for the five-days sale, double of last year’s actual sales. This is obviously a target not very easy to achieve. Hence, Flipkart is spending an inordinately large amount of money to pull in celebrity heavyweights who may help sell the volume and value that is being targeted in the Big Billion. Now, does that signal a strong unified star strategy? Or does it point towards nervousness?
This is especially important as global rival Amazon too is opening its annual festive season sale on exactly the same dates, but its campaign has no stars, no celebrities and no endorsements. The Amazon campaign, ‘India ki khushiyon ke beech, budget nahi aayega’ is actually quite close to the Flipkart campaign line, ‘Ab India hoga budget se mukt’ but the Amazon advertising features big joint families in small towns, married couples and young consumers all portrayed in slice-of-life situations and addressing day-to-day issues of budgetary constraints in the purchase of festive shopping lists. The Amazon campaign, sans star power, uses the mnemonic of a musical brass band, one similar to the one that plays at Indian weddings, for creative continuity and uniformity of messaging.
So, this is a nice little case study shaping up right before our eyes: Flipkart with a dozen top celebrities versus Amazon with just ordinary folks as endorsers. Who will win? I am not really sure that despite this stark contrast, it is merely a game of star power. My personal belief is that star endorsers may have very marginal impact in the decision making of potential consumers. A festive sale is really about the products/brands on offer and the deep discounts being offered thereto. If there is, for example, an i-Phone on sale on both Flipkart and Amazon with exactly the same specifications and features, and it is cheaper by say a couple of thousand bucks on Amazon, I doubt if Deepika Padukone or Tamanna Bhatia can coax me through even a million watt smiles and thousands of TV spots to pay a higher price to Flipkart.
The over-arching argument in favour therefore of using an army of celebrity endorsers would therefore surely be that the stars would attract customers first to Flipkart. Even granting that as a possible plus, I would still tend to believe that almost all e-shoppers today are savvy enough to compare and contrast offers across sites before narrowing in on the best bargain for the product of their choice. So, being the first port of call for e-shoppers may actually not be a winning advantage for Flipkart for long over the sale period.
My more charitable view point is that if the sales target is USD 1.5-1.7 billion, then we are talking of sales well in excess of Rs. 10,000 crore. With that kind of target spending a piffling amount of say Rs. 40-50 crore to rope in Bachchan, Padukone, Kohli, Dhoni and the rest, is really peanuts and does not really even count in the rounding off of figures. Flipkart is said to be spending anywhere between Rs. 200 crore to Rs. 300 crore on media to support the Big Billion sale. The normally accepted cost of creatives is about 10-12 percent of the campaign cost. The star parade at Flipkart could have ended up with creative costs of about 20 percent of the campaign cost. Not really too much out of range. Especially if the stars do actually deliver the Rs. 10,000 crore in sales. Then, of course no one would ever grudge the stars their endorsement fee.
In any case, we shall find out soon enough in the week ahead, who will win. I would earnestly like the stars to prevail, rather than fail. This Flipkart Big Billion jamboree is surely going to be a big test for stars as stimulus to sale, and I am sure many many brand managers across businesses and geographies will be tracking the Flipkart versus Amazon sales numbers this festive season to see if Bachchan-Padukone-Ranbir-Kohli-Dhoni-Nehwal-Bhatia will deliver a box-office blockbuster. The punters would surely back the superstars. I would hedge my bets this time around.
(Sandeep Goyal keenly tracks the celebrity advertising space. He is a PhD in the subject.)