As cashless becomes the new buzzword among Indians in the wake of demonetisation, brands are leaving no stone unturned to make the most out of it
Delhi | December 8, 2016
In last one month or so, India has learnt two new words. Both can be treated as a stimulus, the response to both has a deep sense of patriotism. One is ‘surgical strike’, the other is ‘cashless’. The two are interconnected. It’s the surgical strike that has aided the rise of the narrative of cashless. Surgical strike has not made it to the brands’ arsenal as yet, cashless has.
We know that India loves cash. Our cultural reference to riches is golden chest with piles of cash in it. Our symbol of someone being rich is someone who sits on piles of cash and carries not just a golden hue, but wears a lot of real gold. With such cultural reference, it’s tough for brands to build narratives around being cashless. What is helping the brands is the context. The country has gone cashless, not by choice, but driven by circumstances.
Cashless is new tactical opportunity
Snapdeal is running large print ads for what it calls ‘unbox cash free sale’. For all e-com brands, sale is a strategic reason to advertise, unlike brick and mortar brands that treat sale as a tactical activity. The cashless sale is mere branding for another of many sales that Snapdeal keeps announcing. The promise of keeping the transactions alive even if you don’t have cash is but brand speak. It would have made far better sense if it had it made it so transactional. Did the brand miss a big opportunity by not being strategic about it?
Toyota is the other brand that has made cashless the theme of its advertising. Every day, finance offers are tactical activities for an auto brand and that is exactly how Toyota has treated the subject. Car brands have offered 100% financing for a long time, even if they don't offer 100% financing, they rarely accept cash. The brand has just used the plank to be in the current context. Make My Trip has jumped on the wave of cash crunch, and like the others just mentioned the word.
Government’s public service ads
Surprisingly, it's the Government ads that seem to be doing a better job of connecting the issue with how it impacts people’s lives. The series of radio ads detailing how the phone can be used for everyday transactions are doing a good job. The Government’s entire campaign is to connect with the lowest common denominator and instil a sense of confidence. The campaign may have started late, but does the job. The narrative currently for all the ads is instructional. All the ads are about one urban erudite person telling the other person about how they can make use of the phone to transact. Maybe, the next phase of ads will become more conversational and less instructional.
The windfall for wallet brands
The wallet brands have seen unprecedented growth. The wallet brands have responded by being aggressively building traction. In the last two weeks, Paytm has stolen the lead. It has almost become the default mobile wallet brand. The three options that most merchants today give are cheque, card or Paytm. This is making life tough for MobiKwik or PayU or Freecharge or even MasterCard who have been spending money. As the category moves on and becomes big, brands will have to occupy distinct spaces. This is the time when the category is in infancy and often the early leaders tend to become stronger. It’s time for all the mobile wallet brands to step up. The challenge for them is tougher with Paytm launching a payments bank and UPI becoming the new protocol of payments. The category called mobile wallets itself will mutate into something else. What will become even stronger is payment on the go. This is where the opportunity for brands exists. This is the edge they need to build; this is the long-term asset they can build.
May be there is a new wave of communication coming from wallets.
Today going cashless is driven by extraneous factors. Brands have the ability to impact culture, change behaviour. Can they do the same with the need for cash?
(Naresh Gupta is Managing Partner and CSO of Bang in the Middle. The views expressed are personal.)