Is E-commerce Advertising a Sea of Sameness?

19 Oct,2016


By Alpana Parida


Over the last five years, e-commerce has consistently clocked double digit growth. With 300 million active internet users (and growing), e-commerce in India is still at an approximate 1.7% of the total retail sales (by revenue). The opportunity is massive and investors are betting big on the category and are pouring in money on marketing and customer acquisition.  E-commerce is one of the biggest spenders on advertising today.


With Snapdeal spending upwards of Rs 200cr, and Amazon spending Rs 250cr for the advertising of their annual Diwali sales, you would imagine their brands would benefit – and that they would acquire new consumers, create a preference for their brands and thus cause retention of these consumers for the future.


Actually, this high-spending category is still unable to create brand loyalists. The problem lies with the medium. At brick and mortar establishments, a customer, once in the store, finds store-hopping painful as he/she needs to walk or find transport and physically go to the next destination. E-commerce, however, allows infidelity with a click as choice has no cost and a better deal is just a click away. The entire category has largely played on deals and discounts – a strategy that is inherently at odds with online shopping.  When Big Bazaar says “Is se sasta kahin nahin”, the consumer finds loss-leaders that are cheap such as sugar, atta and other staples and the store benefits because not everything is discounted. The consumer buys into the store and then proceeds to buy discounted AND full-price products. In contrast, for e-commerce, every product can be compared across stores and the lowest price means just that. Lowest price. The entire industry has abetted in creating this unfaithful consumer who only seeks the lowest price.


The communication strategy of the key players, thus far, has largely been about a deal or choice. Both have been category promises and have done little to build the brand. While Snapdeal, Amazon, eBay, Flipkart, Myntra and Jabong became household names, they did little to distinguish themselves uniquely. With the notable exception of Flipkart, who while also making category promises of genuineness, easy returns, lowest prices etc, broke through the category clutter with its masterful use of kids to subliminally register ‘child’s play’ to the initiates into the category.


When all promise the same thing, the brand that is the most differentiated benefits the most. Memorable advertising does not translate into long-term brand loyalty. Rather, creation of a distinctive brand that has a distinctive promise and a unique selling proposition requires consistent reinforcement and manifestation of the brand visually and experientially.  They have to engage, provoke and delight.


Thus, the recent move away from mere category promises to create a deeper connection with the consumer emotionally by all the key players was a much needed shift away from the pure deal/ choice/ exchange based undifferentiated communication.


But the scourge of undifferentiated communication continues. The eBay ad has an old woman skipping rope, the Amazon ad has a badminton racquet send to a young mother and the Snapdeal ad sends ghungroos to an older lady to help them rediscover their passion. Jabong goes a step ahead, urging consumers to be comfortable in their skins, and boldly expressing themselves. While each one is visualized differently with Snapdeal calling it ‘Unbox Zindagi’, eBay claiming that products do not judge and Amazon exhorting mothers to be a girl again – each is playing on the same theme of rediscovering yourself being true to yourselves and reliving old dreams. Web only ads of Myntra also ran a series of 4 ads that cover homosexuality, single motherhood, career and notions of character. These were cast in the same mould. The exception is their current TV campaign using theuber cool couple – AbhayDeol and Ira Dubey as Myntra shoppers raising the fashion quotient of the brand. Myntra would do well to use them for a longer term – much as Idea telecom had created an association with Abhishek Bachchan.


What is remarkable in each of these stories is the power that is vested in the self.  Over time, similar ads show a blurring of recall and do not attach clearly to a single brand unless a brand stands out. The red Snapdeal box is clearly distinctive – and if the idea of ‘Unbox Zindagi’ comes alive not just with an evocative box but across all consumer touchpoints – then the brand gains traction. The others, well, will have the satisfaction of creating the category and see some of that growth attaching to themselves.


The ecommerce space is becoming increasingly cluttered and similar consumer insights have led to similar advertising. When the brand proposition is the same and not differentiated, brands need to stand apart through a clearer definition of their personality and tone of voice. In another category – Axe remains a funny pied piper every single time or an Indigo celebrates the joy of flying in a tongue in cheek way. They tell you that consistency is important and it need not be boring. Ecommerce brands need to learn that before burning more cash. Fast.


Alpana Parida is Managing Director, DY Works. A graduate from IIM Ahmedabad and St Stephen’s College, Delhi, she has spent over 30 years across various marketing functions in the United States and India. As part of the steering team at DY Works, she espouses the use semiotics to both decode consumer and category and encode the solutions in design. Brand Matters is a new column by Alpana Parida for MxMIndia. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of her organisation.


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