Campaign India Team
Jul 28, 2012

Sar Utha Ke Jiyo, A consistent brand thought - and its many manifestations

HDFC Life’s ‘core brand thought’ ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’ lives on, manifesting itself in different ways, even as around 30 per cent of the life insurance brand’s spends have moved to digital, and it continues to invest consistently in properties like the Indian Premier League (Rajasthan Royals) and Spell Bee. The emotional connect delivered by the positioning rooted in ‘self respect’ and ‘dignity’ has paid rich dividends since it was launched in 2005, explains Sanjay Tripathy, EVP and head, marketing and direct channel, HDFC Life, in conversation with Campaign India.

Sar Utha Ke Jiyo, A consistent brand thought - and its many manifestations

It’s a well documented story, but can you briefly take us back to the origins of ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’? What was the market scenario then?

HDFC Life was the first private life insurance company when the sector was opened up. We started operations in 2000, and until 2004, everyone was delivering similar messages – focused on safety and security. But those were category benefits, not brand benefits.

When we researched customer perceptions with a blind test (blanking out the name of the brand), they could not tell one brand’s advertising from the other. And across the category, the first insurance product considered was that of LIC (Life Insurance Corporation), making it a huge challenge for any of the private players to get into the consideration set.

We went to customers and asked them what they thought; we conducted focus groups. ‘Dignity’ and ‘self respect’ were the core thoughts that came through – they did not want their families or themselves to ever go and depend on someone else in future. Deconstructing from consumer insights, we defined that self respect is what they are looking for. We realised that self respect was extremely important to the Indian middle class, the segment we were targeting – more specifically, the SEC AB 25 to 45 wage earning males.

We called for a pitch, defined this as the brief. It was Dentsu then that came up trumps and they created the first ‘train’ commercial. When everyone was talking about ‘tax saving’ and ‘buy insurance’, ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’ was born in 2005.

We made it a point to communicate self respect as the brand thought across consumer segments, and to communicate the linkage of that self respect (brand) proposition to the product (category) benefits.

How did this apply across different consumer segments?

There are different requirements and priorities for consumers in the category depending on the life stage they are in. The category caters to different segments with different products – be it term, children’s plans, pension plans or something else. The idea was to connect each of the segments to the self respect platform strongly - through differentiation and relevance. When the product and category benefits are almost the same, we provided reason for thinking of HDFC Life – creating preference for the brand.

Then we looked at how to extend the thought. In the first phase, we had ‘slice of life’ advertising, communicating the benefit of insurance for ensuring dignity through one’s life and for one’s family, rather than saying ‘you should buy insurance now’.  A year after we introduced the ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’ thought, we communicated children’s plans and pension plans on the same platform.

How did the music video come about? And how did that deliver for HDFC Life?

There was a growing consumer segment of youth that we needed to target. And music as we know is a very good way of connecting with the youth. This was 2008, and a couple of brands had done a music video before. We were looking for ways in which to own ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’even more strongly. We spoke with Shantanu Moitra, who composed the song, and Mohit Chauhan sang it. By then, the jingle for the train commercials sung by Kailash Kher had caught on, and we knew there was an opportunity to take it further.

There was nothing about the brand HDFC Life in the video, but by then ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’ was readily associated with the brand. So the song delivered an association with the brand without even saying the name of the brand.

Polygram CDs brought out the album. The TV channels started airing it. In the spend-versus-mileage equation, we saw very good RoI. Entertainment rates are a lot lesser than advertising. There were other applications. We are a company of, say, 15,000 employees and over one lakh financial consultants, with offices across the country. Even now, when you call our phones, you might hear the ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’ song. The song also played out in cinemas.

We didn’t mention the brand, but the video was all about hopes, needs, aspirations, wants... all the things that the brand stood for. And in 2009, when we tied up with Rajasthan Royals as a sponsor in the second edition of IPL, we created a new video with the same song, with the team featured in it. That again was played in cinemas, besides on television, and there was a seamless continuity it delivered for the brand even on a new platform of Indian Premier League.

The association with IPL and Rajasthan Royals: was it a case of ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’ being adapted to suit a new brand opportunity?

No, we found a fit with Rajasthan Royals – the team was best aligned to ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’. Let me explain the context.

In the 2006-’08 period, many brands in the category started changing to an emotional positioning. In a category where rational benefits are not very differentiated, they had to.

There were some other new players who had slightly higher budgets as they were just entering the category.  There were others who hadn’t been spending up to then who suddenly started spending.

We already had some head start in building an emotional connect for the brand. But we had to build on it. What came out through research was that even when other brands were promoting a pension plan very aggressively, and we weren’t spending much money, we were benefiting as consumers were associating us with the category benefits. This was because of the emotional connect and core thought conveyed strongly by us earlier.

Cricket is precisely what our TG engages with. And it’s a medium that binds the entire country. This was in the second season of IPL and T20 cricket had already caught the fancy of Indian audiences. IPL 2009 edition moved to South Africa, and several teams spoke with us.

We did not pick Rajasthan Royals simply because they had won in the previous edition. As a team, it was full of youngsters, there was a mercurial captain, Shane Warne. It was a relatively unknown team with not many established stars, but a young team that was playing above its potential and winning appreciation for its performance.

And with IPL, it’s very expensive to get on as an on-air sponsor, and also expensive to become an on-ground sponsor. Relatively, it costs the least to become a team sponsor. But if you have a plan for activation of that sponsorship, for leveraging the association, we found that it can deliver disproportionate returns.

We started the association in 2008 and it has continued up to now. Going by TAM studies, ours is one of the top IPL associations. Our sponsorship of the property is in keeping with our faith in consistently building properties over time. Yes, TV ratings have come down, but overall viewership including that on digital media has gone up. With IPL, even if your team does not get into the semi-finals, you only lose out on visibility of two matches.

Tell us something about the school contact programs – Spell Bee is now another televised property...

Every year, the intent has been to do something new. We believe it is important as a brand to own your own properties. When Times Group brought to India the franchise for Spell Bee, we knew it was a hugely successful property abroad. From an activation point of view, it allowed us to address a key concern of parents – the development of their children. The consumer insight here was that proficiency in the English language is seen as an integral part of professional and personal development in India. This segment is exactly whom we try to address through the children’s plans.

But there is no hard sell at all. The association with something that parents and teachers believe helps in the development of the child builds preference for the brand subconsciously. We’ve built it over time; we realise that a property cannot be built in a year. We have been associated with it for four years now. When it started, it was taken to 12 cities and was aired on NGC. This year, it covered 30 cities and travelled to 30 cities, allowing us to reach 5 lakh children; it was hosted by Derek O’Brien this year and was aired on Times Now.

This year, we also associated with the ESPN School Quiz, extending ourselves to the sports space. That has 37 televised episodes.

Has there been a conscious focus to engage through BTL activities amplified through mass media?

Today, BTL, or as I call it experiential work, has to be a strong 360-degree idea. We advertise on television to attract participation for Spell Bee, or announce tune-in promos. Those are essential for the success of the property.

On the other hand, has the share of above-the-line advertising, especially television, come down?

Television spend in our media budget today would be less than 50 per cent; this is down from a peak in 2005-’08 of around 75 to 80 per cent. Digital accounts for 30 per cent of the budget today, and it was less than 10 per cent two years ago.

Across the industry, marketing budgets have been cut, and RoI is an increased focus area. Engagement is important, and the one-to-one connect that digital delivers has started paying dividends.

We look at a campaign today and evaluate what paid, earned and owned media will deliver for it. In the last five years, paid media and earned /owned media have become equally important. The definition of earned media was that of PR value in media stories earlier. Today, the earned part is much bigger.

Digital accounts for 30 per cent of spends... is buying of insurance online catching up?

Digital, we believe, is the future. Digital engagement can lead to the off take of e-commerce and we are starting to see it already. It allows for two-way interaction that is also one-to-one. That can lead to closure on the Web itself.

We have an online reputation management programe on right now, where in any consumer query is responded to in 24 to 48 hours. We have invested in Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, among other sites.

We realise that video is another critical media with which to interact with consumers online. We have recently tied up with Bangalore-based Propaganda for digital content in this regard. Videos can help a segment of online users understand insurance and buy insurance online.
We believe life insurance will move from a push category to a pull category. Even today, our online term business is greater than offline. This March, we should close with 5 per cent of overall business coming from e-commerce.

For the same brand, the strength of the brand offline doesn’t necessarily translate into online equity. What has HDFC Life’s experience been?

There are studies to show that the strength of a brand in the offline space and its strength online can be quite different. Across the world, most big offline brands are unable to create the same value in the online space. That gives rise to different leaders in the online and offline spaces.

We always used the internet as a brand building medium, not just as a lead-generation medium like many of our competitors. Today in life insurance, according to, our brand is the strongest in the private life insurance space. We see that as proof of our efforts to build the brand online.

Will it be possible to retain the core thought ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’ in the online space as well?

We will maintain the core thought. It will be different doing it in a social media context, because you are interacting with people. There will be different ways of doing it, but the core thought doesn’t change. The brand has to remain consistent.


The ‘train’ commercial that launched the ‘Sar Utha Ke Jiyo’ brand thought (2005, Dentsu)


One of the many endearing father-daughter ‘slice of life’ situations that built on the thought (Leo Burnett)


Pension plans, with a dash of humour (Leo Burnett)


The association with IPL team Rajasthan  Royals has grown  since 2009  (Leo Burnett)

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