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Commentary: TOI teaches Lesson 1 in marketing to The Hindu

A steely message is hidden beneath the "fun" side of TOI’s front page ad: the Times is digging the trenches for a protracted battle for Fort St George By Kalyan Kar, Editor-in-Chief, Best Media Info February 6, 2012
The Times of India published this advertisement on Friday, February 3, 2012

Far removed from bottled drinks but akin to the cola wars, something fascinating has been unfolding deep down South, in Chennai. You may call it the masthead war. With the HT vs Times skirmishes in the Delhi market having run their cycle a few years ago, it is now Times vs The Hindu. For now it is a marketing battle within the creative arena. Or is it?

Round 3 was unveiled on Friday last, February 3, when the Chennai edition of The Times of India carried a front-page solus ad congratulating The Hindu. The ad header read: “We congratulate the competition for finally waking up to The Times of India”. The body copy was tongue in cheek but filled with sarcasm: “Four years ago, Chennai woke up to the Times of India. Finally, our competition has, too. We enjoyed their new campaign reacting to our success in Chennai. We now look forward to them emulating our approach to connecting with readers, led by a new editor and CEO who’ve cut their teeth at the Times of India. We wish them good morning and good luck.”

Strategically, The Hindu may have thought it fit to come out with a counter to TOI’s campaign a few months back to protect its hallowed bastion. And their recent campaign was creatively a good one. But then, this is not about checkmating a good campaign by a rival with your own good TVC. Advertising is just an aspect of a bigger battle known as marketing – and that is where things tend to get serious. And it did last Friday. What The Hindu may not have reckoned with is that for the Times, marketing is not a small game of creative ad campaigns; for them it is a mantra, a war at all times, a war that needs to be fought to the end and won. And they know how to dig in their heels for a long battle – with all stops pulled out. They are masters at providing news according to the market/reader pulse, but more than that, TOI is all about the muscle of “brand and marketing”.

Let’s not forget that, in keeping with this mantra, TOI is perhaps the only newspaper house in the country that has a full-fledged, empowered Chief Marketing Officer whose job is to protect and build the brand, come what may. Rahul Kansal, Chief Marketing Officer of Bennett, Coleman & Co. (BCCL), may have passed off this solus ad as a bit of “fun” and “a quick rebuttal to The Hindu's campaign”, but there is no mistaking the steely resolve when he also says that “we don't intend to do more of it, unless of course, the Hindu gives us a reason to”!

TOI has done it with great success in Delhi in its long, bitter war with Hindustan Times. It has done a very successful job in Kolkata, and is today breathing down the neck of the ABP Group’s The Telegraph. The redoubtable The Statesman has been reduced to a reminder of an era gone by with its Gothic masthead. The reading is clear: it is now digging the trenches for a protracted battle in Chennai.

Perhaps the marketing officials of The Hindu did not take into account the fierceness with which the Times would hit back. In this context, a tweet from Malini Parthasarathy, former Executive Editor and part owner of The Hindu, is revealing. She tweeted: “This is why some of us didn’t like the tenor of our ad campaign. TOI turns us, the market leader, into a follower. By making fun of the ‘dumb’ TOI readership, how does the Hindu hope to win the affections of these mocked readers?”

Lloyd Mathias, Former Chief Marketing Officer of Tata Teleservices, wrote in his Facebook page: “I think the Old Lady from Bori Bunder – now more like the hottie from CST – has done pretty well with this comeback. Also, Hindu's poking fun at readers doesn't seem like a long term winning strategy.” Let’s not forget that Lloyd is among the most respected marketing honchos around these days.

Another top-notch marketing honcho, Harit Nagpal, MD & CEO of Tata Sky, made a tongue-in- cheek comment on Lloyd’s Wall: “Expensive faxes exchanged between two media houses via paid media”!

There is no gainsaying that Times has drawn first blood, and it is preparing to storm Fort St George! It has built solid, impregnable walls in Mumbai, the North is taken care of, the East is within sight. Now it is time to grab the South. It’s going to be an interesting war in the months to come.

The Hindu TVCs:

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Comments (1)
  • Tanni- 9 years ago

    Battle for legspace: The TOI and Hindu war reminded me of the great Indian "detergent" war a year back... waiting to get more inputs and updates from BestMediaInfo.