Shephali Bhatt
Sep 28, 2011

Live Issue: Why are Indian auto ads using foreign faces?

Shephali Bhatt finds out why hiring foreign male models for Indian automobile commercials has become the in-thing

Live Issue: Why are Indian auto ads using foreign faces?

A fair face will get its praise, though the owner keep silent, reads a Danish proverb. Incidentally, quite a few Indian automobile adverts have been conspicuous for roping in foreign male models in their TVCs of late. Audi India’s last two campaigns (Audi A8L and Audi A6) had foreign faces, and so did the recent TVC for Hyundai Verna. The same phenomenon was most recently observed in Tata Aria's TVC where the foreign male model masqueraded as a secret agent with almost Bond-like traits. So, what is it about Indian automobile ads and foreign male models? Why do they seem to be clinging onto each other a lot more these days?

Arvind Saxena, director, marketing and sales, Hyundai Motors India says, “It definitely adds to the value of the product. Using a foreign model for your ad lends it a high-end value and the consumer acknowledges a positive change in the image of the brand. The idea is to ensure that the viewer gets an esteemed feeling after watching the ad.” Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy notes, “In some cases, using a foreign model serves a specific purpose. In one of the Tata Manza ads, the Japanese engineer was there to explain how Manza is the envy of even Japanese car makers. But in luxury cars (Audi, the new Mercedes ad with a foreign woman, et al) the use of foreign models seems to reflect our colonial hangover, that “the best is still in the west”.

Vikram Gaikwad, partner, executive creative director, Creativeland Asia, says, “It’s not really about using a foreign model. It’s about using someone with a neutral nationality. You wouldn’t look at the models we have used in the Audi ads and say that he is Asian, or European or Indian. He could belong to anywhere. He isn’t blonde, or dark-skinned or too fair-skinned. He is confident, affluent and aspirational. A world citizen.” Shashank Srivastava, chief marketing officer, Maruti Suzuki adds, “ It’s a phenomenon with top-end brands that they’ll use European models even if the ad is meant for China. Somehow, the uniform model seems to be that a European face is globally acceptable and hence beneficial if the brand desires a global positioning.

When BMW wants to communicate ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’, it can do so with just one TVC with that European model throughout the globe and hence ensure a lot of cost can be saved at the same time.” He added that while it is acceptable if an Audi does it in India, he is not too sure how Tata Aria’s MI-6 agent can connect with Indian audience.

To this Anup Chitnis, executive creative director, Ogilvy India says, “We only use a foreign model in an ad if the script demands it. The Tata Aria story required someone who could exhibit a suave performance while unveiling that he’s a secret agent. Now it’s a bit hard to find an Indian model who can have a Bond -like personality to pull this through. Therefore, since the script so demanded, we had to cast a foreign model. While casting the model also, we were certain that we didn’t intend to make the viewer believe that he was an Indian.”


Arvind Saxena


Arvind Saxena, director, marketing and sales, Hyundai Motors India

“I think it’s relevant only for a luxury brand to use foreign models in their ads. For a brand in the middle segment, if , for instance, you want to showcase the cost utility of your product, it would be a bit inappropriate to use a foreign face in the ad because that’s where your targeted consumer might find it difficult to connect with the communication strategy. Anyhow, this certainly is a fresh concept but I don’t really see it shaping into a trend anytime soon. ”


Vikram Gaikwad  


Vikram Gaikwad, founder, executive creative director, Creativeland Asia

“The Indian audience is perceptive of class and aspiration. They buy a luxury brand like Audi as much for its foreignness and exclusivity, as for its technology and quality. A well-chosen ‘neutral nationality’ model only adds to the exclusivity. I don’t think cost is a factor. Unless we are talking about celebrity endorsers. Choosing a foreign model is a choice you make on the basis of the brief you get, the strategy you put down and the idea you come up with. And that’s how it should be. In advertising and communication, one size doesn’t fit all. ”


Shashank Srivastava  


Shashank Srivastava, chief marketing officer, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd

“Casting a foreign model is a decision that depends on the type of car and nature of its positioning. If the brand is differently positioned in various cultures and economies, you can’t use the same European model globally. In India, I don’t think using a foreign model in automobile ads will become a trend. But over a period of time, this could become one of the more prevalent practices than it is at the moment. ”


Anup Chitnis  


Anup Chitnis, executive creative director, Ogilvy & Mather India

“If one wants to showcase that they are an international brand, or that they feature higher up in the luxury segment, then it’s highly likely they will use a foreign model since it adds onto the international quotient of an ad. You see a lot of fashion and apparel brands doing the same. Cost doesn’t have much to do with this decision. But I’d like to add that it’s a big task to find some foreign model who can perform as well as an Indian model to suit the Indian style of story telling.”


Anand Halve  


Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll, Brand and Communications Consultancy

“Even product categories like shampoo and skin creams are using foreigner models , so I don’t think it is - or will be - limited to luxury brands. However, one of the key elements of building a brand-customer relationship is that the customer must relate to the communication. I think the use of foreigner models actually detracts from this . After all how many foreigners do most of us have as friends? So, I believe it will serve to boost the cachet of a brand where the foreign pedigree adds something e.g. Audi or Louis Vuitton or Calvin Klein. ”

Campaign India

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