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The basics of marketing remain the same: Kedar Apte, VP - Marketing, Castrol India

Apte talks to about the challenges of advertising for the lubricants category and what he thinks about the future trends in marketing

Kedar Apte

Castrol, one of the leading lubricants brands in India, recently launched the innovative Castrol Super Mechanic contest to provide a public platform for independent two-wheeler mechanics to showcase their talent and skill. The initiative, that seeks to bring about a change in how people perceive mechanics and the prejudice people attach to the profession, saw thousands across the country sign up to participate in the contest.

Ace Indian cricketer Ravindra Jadeja was in Mumbai recently to unveil the Castrol Super Mechanic contest trophy. On the side-lines of the event, caught up with Kedar Apte, Vice-President, Marketing, Castrol India. Apte joined Castrol as General Manager for the motorcycle engine oils category in the year 2011 and was elevated to the post of Vice-President, Marketing, on 2016. Apte, who is an alumnus of Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai, spent nearly a decade with Hindustan Unilever in sales and marketing roles. Apte talks to us about how the basics of marketing never change, the challenges of advertising for the lubricants category and the future trends in marketing.



When in HUL, you have worked with brands such as Hamam, Breeze and Rexona. How different is the experience of working with Castrol as compared to HUL?


I think the basics of marketing remain the same because there is a consumer and a need. The biggest difference between a field like soaps and a field like lubricants is that in lubricants, there is no touch and feel factor. With a soap, the consumer can feel and smell it but a consumer cannot feel a lubricant. Only when a rider rides his/her vehicle and there is no breakdown or there is an increase in performance does the rider realise the importance of a lubricant. So, for us, explaining the proposition of the product becomes more difficult. Therefore, when we talk to consumers we do not speak in a very technical language, we speak in a language that the consumer will understand. Having said that, in this category the mechanics and dealers play a very important role. Hence, when we talk to the mechanics, we talk to them about the technology. So, I believe there are just more variables to marketing.

What are the challenges of creating communication for this sector?


One challenge is that it is not an impulse category. In a lot of other categories, when you put an advertisement on air, immediately there is a spurt in sales. However, for us it is genuine consumer building and sustained efforts at brand building. That is definitely a challenge.

Do you think consumers really ask for a specific brand in case of lubricants? Is it not true that whatever brand the mechanic gives, the consumer is okay with it?


We measure something called CIY, which is ‘Choose It Yourself’ and we have seen that in most of our categories the consumer influence is very high. So, not only do they go and ask for Castrol, they go and ask for a Castrol Activ 4T. This is actually very pre-dominant in the category of bikes where consumers come and ask for a specific brand.

As one of the leading brands in the category, do you think the category is over dependent on the news genre?

We see a lot of categories advertising on news channels because most of the target audience is currently male and news channels have more viewership from the male population. Of course, it is just one of the mediums and if the concept is engaging then you can also look at other mediums. Having said that, the target profile is also changing. Now-a-days in big cities one out of three scooter riders is a woman. In big cities, you also see so many women driving cars. So, things are going to change.

How important it is to explain features of the product in ads? Do you think the category has matured enough that storytelling will be more important than explaining the USP of the product?

When we talk to consumers we don’t really talk about the technical story. To give an example, in cities there is stop-start traffic and that causes stress on the engine. So, we have introduced a product called magnetic stop start. Now, when someone talks to me like that, that is something I can relate to rather than talking about molecules and so on. Therefore, when we talk to consumers we try to talk about something they can relate to. However, when we talk to mechanics only that is not enough because they will ask why your engine oil is better. There we need to take them through the technical detail about the molecules and the technology. We also need to demonstrate why our product is better and that really is the difference when it comes to targeting the consumers and targeting the mechanics.

Other than TV, which are the other important platforms for Castrol?

We do a lot of BTL activation. In our commercial category – trucks and tractors and so on – a lot of truck drivers are always on the road and they do not watch television often, so we need to go to their aggregation points, where they rest and eat and so on and find an opportunity to engage with them through BTL activities. Therefore, that too is a very important medium for us.

You have been instrumental in building a strong presence for the brand online. How do you think digital marketing has helped the brand?

In a lot of consumers, not just in lubricants, when they make their purchase there is a lot of influence on their friends online. There is a lot of discussion. When someone doesn’t like a product, they go and post about it online and similarly when someone loves a product they become the advocate of that product. As per data, in this generation, the youth is spending as much as three hours on digital every single day and most of it on social platforms. So, I think digital has become very important in all our campaigns. Earlier, it just used to be one of the mediums in a 360 campaign but today, it is no longer a medium. Now everything needs to be integrated. For example, we recently did Castrol ‘Girl in the city’, which was branded content but mainly through digital. It created a lot of emotional engagement and affinity for both scooters and for our brand as well.

Do you think Indian brands are using digital to its full potential?

I think even the medium keeps on changing and a lot of discoveries keep on happening. So, I think all of us are in the phase where we are learning.

Will Castrol, in the future, focus more on digital when it comes to marketing? What is your marketing strategy for the coming years?

Absolutely! I think it is already playing a big part. I think the importance of digital and the integration of digital in the old communication will only keep on increasing.

What according to you are trends in marketing that one should keep an eye out for?

Customisation. Earlier there would be three or four products and the consumer would choose from what was available. Now consumers want customised products. There are digital platforms that help you customise a product for yourself. So, not just products, customisation is going to be true when it comes to servicing as well.

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