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MARKETING MUSCLE

After years of using white, English-speaking models, Micromax now wants you to be proud to speak Hindi

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Micromax
Not white-washed anymore.
This article is more than 2 years old.

An Indian mobile phone maker is telling customers that those well-spoken in English needn’t carry a chip on the shoulder.

In a series of commercials for its Canvas Unite series of smartphones, India’s second-largest handset maker Micromax is promoting local Indian languages. In the process, it is brushing aside the over-emphasis on the English language in India.

Canvas Unite lets users switch a dozen Indian languages for interface, and its commercials feature popular stand-up comic Kapil Sharma, who has had a successful run till now without having to speak English.

The idea is to address the large non-English speaking population of the country, said Shubhajit Sen, chief marketing officer at Micromax India. “We are just up against the sense of elitism, where speaking in English is seen as a marker of your talent. The language can either include or exclude you,” Sen said.

The campaign is in contrast to some of Micromax’s earlier commercials that often featured foreign models in foreign locales, and, speaking English. Sen says those campaigns were for a different series of phones. The problem, he says, is not with the use of English, but with the walls it creates.

Though only 10-12% of India’s population speaks English, it is seen as an empowering tool in the country, giving job-seekers an edge over others.

The non-English speaking population is often placed at a disadvantage—both in the job market and in terms of social mobility. Such distinction has often turned into a class barrier, fuelling resentment.

So, Micromax is looking to strike a chord using local languages.

Hugh Jackman to Kapil Sharma

Micromax began selling phones in 2008, when India’s soaring 2G-user population was lapping up foreign handsets such as Nokia, Samsung, and Blackberry. Micromax placed itself as the local, cheaper variant through its low-cost handsets and popular features, soon even outselling large foreign brands.

As its popularity soared in India—and abroad—so did the need to establish itself as an aspirational brand.

In 2013, the company splurged millions of dollars to feature Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman in a slick campaign. It sought to upgrade itself from merely being a maker of affordable smartphones to a company that manufactures more aspirational models.

“I don’t want Micromax users to know Hugh Jackman because they are already my users. I want to influence those guys who know Hugh Jackman, but not Micromax, and who are the opinion-makers,” Micromax co-founder Rahul Sharma told Hindu Business Line in 2013.

Clearly, Micromax wants to straddle across segments—both the aspiring Indian middle class and the working class, even as it expands in global markets.

“When Micromax entered the market, it went firangi (foreign) with a vengeance. At that time it was trying to break away from being just a cheap smartphone(maker). Up until recently, too, they’ve had the affinity for foreign models, speaking in English,” said Raghu Bhat, founder of Mumbai-based advertising agency Scarecrow Communications.

Now, however, people are more comfortable with owning up to who they are, so it helps that Micromax is reaching out to them, Bhat said.

The company, however, has retained Jackman as brand ambassador because different products need a different kind of marketing approach, Sen said.

Flexing muscles

Gurgaon-based Micromax’s latest campaign comes at a time when it is trying to regain the market share lost to Samsung, Xiaomi, and others in 2015. Handsets such as the Canvas Unite series, which was first launched in 2014, will help it reach more users. Micromax has sold over 2.5 million Unite handsets so far.

In April, the company said it will invest Rs300 crore to build three more factories, taking the total to four, and create 10,000 jobs by 2017, according to Forbes magazine. It wants to trump market leader Samsung to become the biggest smartphone vendor in India, and enter the “top 5” worldwide by 2020, company officials said.

To give wings to its soaring ambition, Micromax has decided to take a cool dip in India’s deep pool of local languages.

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