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From Sholapur to Sweden- How India won Spotify the world in just three years!

Taking to the stage on Day 4 of Cannes Lions 2023, Dheeraj Sinha, CEO, Leo Burnett South Asia and Chairman, BBH India, and Neha Ahuja, Director, Head of Marketing, Spotify India, talked about the brand’s journey in India, right from its launch, to becoming the No. 1 music streaming app in the country

Giving a glimpse of the past two-three years during which India has surfaced amongst the top two markets in terms of the user base for Spotify, globally, Dheeraj Sinha, CEO, Leo Burnett South Asia and Chairman, BBH India, along with Neha Ahuja, Director, Head of Marketing, Spotify India, talked about the journey of the brand’s launch and journey at Cannes Lions 2023.

“India is a chaotic market wherein the youth lives with their parents till the age of 35, 45, 55 and so on, depending on their choice. It's a country where everybody wants to go to the IIT and become like Sundar Pichai. Therefore, the whole trick is how do you take a brand which is avant-garde, cool, young, Swedish, such as Spotify, and make it relevant to a market like India without compromising the core of either, which is why in this journey, we ended up flipping almost every rule book in marketing that we'd learnt and almost rewrite the marketing playbook of how do we build the brand’s success in a country like ours,” Sinha said.

Commenting on the brand’s launch in the country, he stated that there is a whole youth stereotype on which advertising is built in a market like India and maybe many other markets as well wherein there’s one guy or cast with curly hair, a lot of tattoos and maybe piercings as well, throwing in a guitar, and so on and so forth, which gets casted in every ad, and then there is the Indian youth who is hustling between friends, relationships, parents, ambitions, etc. on a daily basis, not just in his or her life, but also in the country, so anything and everything can go wrong.

“When we were thinking in terms of what can music be to India and what can be the end benefit or what can be a larger purpose which can change the world, we figured that music helps you hustle on and it's a grease of life and we said can we hang the whole brand on that insight or narrative of the cultural truth,” he added.

Taking forward the discussion, Spotify India’s Ahuja stated that while there is a formula that works for India, which is to have TV in the media mix owing to the huge reach and great efficiencies coupled with a mega Bollywood star wherein the product is plugged right at the beginning, the brand had a feeling that it would not work well for them. 

“That’s when we came up with the insight that music actually greases your life and helps you manoeuvre through sticky or crummy situations, post which we decided to narrow down a couple of those stuck-in situations in different cities, neighbourhoods, etc. basis social listening of traffic intersections and sentimental analysis, and then came up with an idea of actually solving all of it by having a playlist for each of the nuances that we found out,” she stated.

She then went on to add that the brand was launched with a hyper-contextual outdoor campaign, with 1153 billboard creatives, which organically landed on digital in the country, that built on culture and later even became one, by the end of the campaign with the user base gaining absolutely exponential growth with streaming take place in 7500 cities and 13 languages in just one year.

“There is one thing about India and it’s an ambition that we are really greedy for. In fact, in just one year of the brand’s launch, we wanted to take a leadership stance because India is a huge market which could eat up two Canadas and one USA, but with such a large market of 1.4 billion people comes its own idiosyncrasies, of which one of the biggest one is that Indians like standing in the longest queues because we want everything to be tested by others before we want to test it, and therefore, across categories, 90% of market share is explained by top two or top three players and in this context, we were number eight when we suggested to play the leadership game and not look at competition or dissociation but actually try to be relevant to as many Indians as possible,” Leo Burnett’s Sinha added.

Spotify’s Ahuja further added that at the time the brand entered the Indian subcontinent, the market already had a lot of well-established global and some Indian players with humongous telco-backing, there wasn’t a very big differentiator that Spotify entered with in the market, apart from being a global streaming player.

“We then decided to delve deep into what India consumes and found out that despite numerous song launches happening, Indians love going to the repeat mode on merely 20-30 songs and that’s when we decided to sort our own category codes with the best in the latest collection. But we also believe that music isn’t just only for GenZs or only for millennials but for everyone. We then decided to get the two generations together to understand what music solves for Indian households and what happened after this was exponential user growth again, so much so that Spotify became the most-loved streaming platform in the country in just the second year of its launch,” she said.

Post this, thanks to India’s hungry nature, the brand and the agency both decided to take the momentum forward and become the undisputable No. 1 brand and for this, the thought was to go media down rather than insight down, Sinha said.

“We then decided to go back to the basic ABCD of India which essentially stands for Astrology, Bollywood, Cricket and Devotion, literally, and that’s when we decided to ride on India’s Super Bowl- the Indian Premier League, which is extremely cluttered with 136 brands and 37 categories advertising for 80 matches over 8 weeks (in 2022) and that too in many languages,” Ahuja added.

Elaborating further on the IPL campaign for Spotify, Sinha drew attention to the fact that the brand and agency had come up with 20 pieces of work and 60 cutdowns in just a period of one month, by going back to some parts of the pitch work that had happened earlier which were mainly focused on how India is about chaos but music really helps people hustle on.

“This campaign actually brought back the love of classical advertising, because what we did was that we took everyday culture and made it interesting and gave it back,” he said.

Spotify’s Ahuja stated that it was after this IPL campaign that the brand actually went on to become the No. 1 music streaming app, from being the eighth player at the time of launch, in just a matter of three years, more so, India went on to become one of the largest contributors to Spotify’s global user base.

Throwing light on the pillars of success of Spotify in India, Leo Burnett’s Sinha stated that because the brand never gives a creative brief and focuses on a certain business goal in terms of numbers, it’s actually all about being collaborative while being business-led and truly breaking the consumer funnel together.

“When people ask me about what is the formula of success in an agency-brand relationship, I always tell that it's all about building trust and having camaraderie because when a brand builds a space of trust, the agency will die for you, and that the more is the trust, the more risk one can take,” he added.

Stating as to what is the next challenge for the brand to solve in India, Ahuja threw light on the fact that having been the No. 1 Indian brand with most streams, most loved brand and showcasing Indian artists in the top charts, globally, the main challenge for Spotify India is to now get people in the country to actually pay for music.


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