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HDFC Bank will spend heavily on digital, go slow on TV

In a conversation with, HDFC Bank's Chief Marketing Officer Ravi Santhanam shares why digital is the first choice for the brand. He discusses how they have evolved into one of the most valuable brands over the years

HDFC Bank, one of the leading advertisers in the banking category, is directing most of its spending on digital while going slow on the other mediums. 

In a conversation with, Ravi Santhanam, CMO, HDFC Bank, said, “During the pandemic, we actually went into zero-based budgeting. Whichever medium we spent on we saw the return on investment for the brand. We began with this approach from April, and it was a very conscious call to get into this frame of marketing. There is no restriction to what we could spend on or what we cannot spend on,” he said. 

“Sometimes we go ahead for the mass appeal and at times we have to be more specific and much targeted. Digital allows you to have a much-targeted approach. Also, media mix is always a question of what objective we have at any point of time.”

Last year, the bank had done a lot of OOH and radio too.

But this year, it mostly has been digital, because, in his words, ‘traditional media didn’t had any role to play in the last six months.’

Asked how the brand plans to increase its marketing budget for the next FY, Santhanam said, “Too early to say. First, we want to end the year on a bigger note and there’s too much to be done for this year.”

With the onset of the pandemic, the brand had launched #SafetyGrid campaign in April to encourage social distancing. It was conceptualised by Leo Burnett.

Apart from this, it was also one of the associate sponsors of IPL this year on Disney+ Hotstar.

He said this collaboration was rather a coincidence.

Explaining how, he said, “Nobody expected IPL in the festive period. Last year, we started off with our first version of Festive Treats. For this year, the timing was right in terms of us wanting to do in the festive season and IPL being a bigger festival than any other in the country, we thought why not take this in our media mix at this point of time.”

The brand is highly known for some of its positive change social good campaigns and its agency partner was also recognised and awarded at the 2020 APAC Effie Awards for its campaign #StopMithani. 

Santhanam highlighted the importance of closely working with the agency partners.

“Agencies are our partners. They might be ‘agencies’ in common parlance, but for me, they are my partners and we are together in what we do. They are as much passionate for the brand as we are and this working relationship is extremely important for us. And many of these things come together from the closed cooperation and collaboration with the partners,” he said.

It also recently had released ‘Hum Haar Nahi Maanenge’ — a song of strength, hope and togetherness in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic with A.R. Rahman and Prasoon Joshi to pay tribute to the indomitable spirit of India. 

Apart from this, HDFC Bank for the seventh year straight has been ranked the most valuable Indian brands in Brand Z list by WPP and Kantar.

So what kind of factors has helped the brand to be at this position?

Sharing the brand’s promise, he said, “We at HDFC Bank are very clear about the space we operate in and we consistently have been expanding our product portfolio to ensure that the consumers’ need for money is taken care of. We want to remove their complexity when it comes to dealing with money. As per the need and life stages of every customer, the kinds of products we provide are different. And we are one of those companies that can actually take care of the customer from the time they are born till they leave. We have been doing it diligently from a very long time. We are bankers for retailers and customers and we bridge the gap between them.”

Sharing his experience of dealing with the current crisis from the marketers’ point of view, he said, this is ‘like how the demonetisation was for the banking sector, out of the blue’.

“The current Covid-19 crisis is something new which nobody has seen before or experienced of this situation. And whenever there is a new vocabulary that comes in, like ‘lockdown’, ‘social distancing’, marketers’ antennae should be up in terms of how this vocabulary will change customers’ actions and reactions. There is no white paper for this; it is out of the blue. You have to take notice of this and learn, un-learn on a daily basis and have the agility to learn it at scale and also you then have to extend it to the wide organisation. It is not only about you, but also your organisation learning to cope with this pandemic across,” he said.

He added, “We always have our crisis management but this is not one of those situations like demonetisation for banking. One of the things that always remained salient is to go back and see how it impacts customers. Watch the situation, understand it and see how you can actually be a part of the change that you want to make happen.”

Asked if the company had to lay off any of its employees in these few months, Santhanam said, “HDFC was very clear from day one that there won’t be any layoffs.”

Tags: HDFC Bank
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