Arati Rao
Jul 03, 2012

Q&A: Sangeetha Aiyar, on marketing 'The Greatest Indian'

We spoke with the general manager - marketing, History TV18, on marketing the property, focus on social media and sustaining the momentum

Q&A: Sangeetha Aiyar, on marketing 'The Greatest Indian'


The top ten nominees for the title of ‘The Greatest Indian’ were announced on the night of 2 July, on History and CNN-IBN. After three weeks of voting and 70 lakh votes polled, the final contenders are: JRD Tata, BR Ambedkar, Lata Mangeshkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sachin Tendulkar, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Mother Teresa, AB Vajpayee, APJ Abdul Kalam, and Indira Gandhi.

We caught up with Sangeetha Aiyar, general manager - marketing, History TV18, earlier in the evening, to discuss the marketing of the property. There has been a lot of action on social media aiding phase one of voting, and it remains to be seen how the property sustains interest through to the second phase - there’s a month to go before the finale. Edited excerpts:

CI: What was the potential you saw in the property to bring it to India?

Sangeetha Aiyer (SA): One, the legacy of the show. The BBC format has panned out well in 22 countries so far. It has found astounding success in every country. Two, the format itself is so tight, it kind of takes away all the biases that there may be when you run this property. Three, which was the most important reason for us and why we saw potential for it here, History is a channel about people doing extraordinary things and we thought why not put this one question out to India today: that who is the greatest Indian ever? We are such a heterogenous market and we saw great scope for debate and discussion, and points of view that will come out across demographics. It also provides a great platform for youngsters of today to know who the architects of India have been.

CI: Has the marketing campaign drawn a parallel from the other countries the show was telecast in?

SA: We don’t have much information about the marketing campaigns of other countries; we just have some on how UK did it. They did it in 2002, and that was a decade ago; the dynamics of media platforms were very different back then.

CI: Tell us about the marketing strategy you’ve adopted here.

SA: We’ve chosen social media and online to be our primary marketing media vehicles, and everything else has been support. If you want a person to vote or leave them with a thought, that cannot happen with a hoarding or a print ad – there has to be a conversation around that. We’ve supported social and online with television – on History and the other channels of the Network18 bouquet. The one big objective which we wanted to achieve, which is engagement and participation through votes, happened through social media.

Watch the ‘Vote Now’ promo that went on TV (the interview continues below)


CI: So what has been the social media strategy and which agency did you partner with?

SA: The social media agency in this case was Hanmer Digital. Firstly, we adopted the ‘early bird’ strategy. We launched the campaign on 4 June and 10 hours prior to the show, we started talking to key influencers among the Twitterati – popular Twitter users like Twilight Fairy, internal users at Network18 who have a huge following like Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose and Raj Nayak, plus the jury. Secondly, we made use of mailing lists and community boards, and we also made numbers go viral through BBM messenger. Some of the nominees have active fan bases and we micro-targeted them. Lastly, the environment around us also affected the campaign - for example, in a span of three days, we saw votes for Kalam increase by three million; that was pure market forces at play because the Presidential elections were happening and there was a genuine push for Kalam for our property as well. We also pushed the strategy through SMS - if you voted, you got a text back acknowledging the vote.

CI: Did History have to do some damage control for the groups that perhaps confused the ‘Greatest Indian’ property with other developments - such as Kalam’s name coming up for the Presidential election and Vallabhbhai Patel’s for appearing on currency notes?

SA: I don’t think people mistook it. There were certain happenings and that influenced the online marketing campaign. The timing was perfect. We were doing the campaign, and Kalam was at the second position with the gap between him and first place being pretty wide. People stumbled upon this campaign and thought they would go and make their vote clear – that he’s the ‘Greatest Indian’ and he’s fit to be President as well. The same thing happened with the article that came out in Bombay Times on how there should be faces besides Gandhi on currency notes. These were just coincidences that worked to our advantage. So we didn’t have to clarify our stance as such, because our campaign was not juxtaposed with any of these coincidences.

CI: After the top ten are announced, there will be panel discussions on History and CNN-IBN and it all culminates in August. How will the team keep interest alive in the second phase of voting and for the final announcement?

SA: We’re already working on the social media strategy. The big challenge is that people don’t discuss a topic for a long time on social media – it creates a wave and goes away. So we’re finding ways and means to re-engage audiences for the voting, including through trivia and factoids. What has also worked for us on social media is simple quizzes; the TGI quiz has trended twice (of course we gratify the winners). On TV, you will see a huge surge of promos going out again. There will be televised panel discussions which will be led by Rajdeep Sardesai, and people’s points of view will be taken through call-ins. You’ll also see interesting short-format profile videos of the top ten, almost a mini biopic of these people. Most important for us is to live up to the name of History, and that needs to come across in all the creatives we do. At some point, there will be outdoor going up in this month. We have a finale show which will be aired around Independence Day. 

All the creatives will be done by Cell18. The spends for the marketing campaign will be in the range of Rs 60-70 lakhs.   

Campaign India

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