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Illustration: Martin Haake
Saffron Route Photos: Debarpita Mohapatra
Green Route Photos: Shrindhi Hande
White Route Photos: Sankara Subramanian
Company: Tata Motors Ltd.
Event: Tata Motors Nano Superdrive
Objective: After production delays, notify the Indian public that the highly anticipated Tata Nano is available for purchase.
Strategy: Send three convoys of Nanos on a 26-day, multiroute promotional blitz across India, beginning at Tata's new production plant and stopping for customer events at 36 cities and numerous landmarks along the way to a final rendezvous point in Mumbai.
Tactics: Use social media and local radio to raise awareness of the tour. Stage appreciation events for existing customers at each stop to help ease bad feelings from the long wait for order fulfillment. Collect referrals.
Results: Drew more than 25,000 people to promotional activities along the journey, while collecting 5,688 leads and gaining 117,298 Nano Facebook fans.
Creative/Production Agency: Shobiz Experiential Communications Pvt. Ltd.,
Budget: $290,000
n your average American city, a family of four riding a small motorized scooter down a busy lane of traffic is likely to turn heads - and police headlights. But for India's 1.2 billion citizens, it wouldn't cause most to even look twice.

With an average per-capita income of only $1,000, purchasing a car with even a Kia Rio-sized price tag has long remained a privilege reserved for India's elite. Today, only a little more than 1 percent of Indians own a traditional, four-wheel automobile. So to make due, Indians have relied on other modes of personal transportation: bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, horses, and even their own two feet. Sales of motorbikes and scooters in India, which typically cost less than $1,500, top out at around 10 million annually.

"While urban India has seen an increase in cars, you can still see a family of four or five dangerously perched on a two wheeler, since these have been the only vehicles that would fit the budget of an average Indian family," says Sameer Tobaccowala, chief executive officer of Mumbai, India-based marketing and communications firm, Shobiz Experiential Communications Pvt. Ltd.

But in March 2009, one of Shobiz's long-time clients and India's largest automobile maker, Tata Motors Ltd., stood ready to change all that. Despite a plethora of naysayers, years of research, and a slew of setbacks, on March 23, 2009, Tata unveiled the world's cheapest four-wheel car at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. While the car was named the Tata Nano, it was quickly dubbed "the people's car," and the price tag for a base model of the 122-inch auto was a low $2,300. Tata trimmed costs by going bare bones on Nano engineering; the car excluded common features such as automatic transmission, airbags, power steering, and passenger mirrors.

While the additional cost-cutting measure of providing only one windshield-wiper blade drew snickers from international commentators, introduction of the Nano marked the culmination of a truly revolutionary five-year effort to bring automobiles to everyday Indians at a price many could finally afford. "The Tata Nano was the car India had been waiting for," says Virat Khullar, assistant general manager for Tata's Nano Product Group. "Right from the moment of the Nano's official launch, it was clear that all expectations had been surpassed. The quality of the product and the price tag were simply far beyond expectations."

The Price is Right

It was little wonder then that Tata received more than 200,000 orders for Nanos during a two-week introductory purchase period in April 2009. However, a costly political debacle the prior year forced Tata to abandon a near-complete Nano production plant in eastern India. That meant most of those customers faced a wait of more than a year, as Tata hurried to finish building a new plant in Sanand, a city in the west Indian state of Gujarat.

Working at warp speed, Tata completed the Sanand plant a year after the Nano launch, and by spring 2010 was on the cusp of finally rolling out the long-overdue cars. For Tata, completion of the plant and the start of mass production was a huge victory, but the delay and backlog of orders had taken their toll on consumer excitement for the Nano. Skeptics wondered if the car's tiny 12-inch wheels would ever traverse the country's roads en masse.

With production a go, Tata needed to reignite enthusiasm for the Nano so it could once again fill its order books. It turned to Shobiz to launch a large-scale awareness campaign to get the word out that Nanos were finally available for immediate buy-and-drive purchase.

"The completion of the Sanand plant was the perfect juncture to boost the Nano's image and erase the bad vibes, which the waiting period of the start-up phase had caused," Tobaccowala says. "We wanted to spread the good news that the Nano was now available." But in doing so, Tata and Shobiz agreed a razzle-dazzle marketing campaign wouldn't help sell Nano to the low-income Indians for which the car had been made.

Take it to the People

"The Nano is called 'the people's car,' and is very much about practical sense and incredible value," Tobaccowala says. "We felt this message was best communicated in a down-to-earth manner rather than by a glitzy launch and the hope of some media attention. We needed to take the Nano message to the streets and dirt roads of the hinterland and give the product exposure in markets where its true potential lay."

So Shobiz and Tata devised a plan to take the Nano to the streets of India. Over a 26-day period in June 2010, Tata would send three teams of three Nanos each on a 9,000-mile journey across the country, a large amount of terrain to cover for a car with a top speed of 65 mph. Each team would take a unique route, stopping for promotional events at landmarks, shopping centers, and major cities along the way, all en route to a rendezvous in Mumbai.

"Since the little Nano itself was such a phenomenon, this event needed to befit the stature of the product," Khullar says. "We decided on this highly visible nationwide 'yatra,' or journey, to communicate that the Nano was now ready."

To smooth things over with customers who'd been waiting for a year to finally receive the life-changing Nano, Tata also decided to throw appreciation events for existing customers during evenings on which each Nano team stopped over at major cities. "The objectives for the customer-appreciation events were twofold," Tobaccowala explains. "First, we wanted to celebrate the trust and loyalty of the Nano owners in that area and thank them for their patience in waiting for the vehicles. Second, in addition to inviting existing customers in the area, we would encourage them to bring interested friends to help us collect referrals."

Social-Media Success

But simply driving a fleet of Nanos across India wouldn't help generate excitement if no one was aware the cars were coming. So to spread the word and rev up interest for the pending journey, called the Tata Motors Nano Superdrive, Tata and Shobiz adopted a social-media strategy to pique anticipation. "We needed an active social-media outreach to spread excitement and to allow even more people to share the adventure of the Nano Superdrive," Khullar says.

So in the weeks prior to the Superdrive, Tata launched aggressive advertising for the event through its Nano site and a new Facebook page, highlighting the planned Superdrive route and tour stops. In addition, the company reached out to radio stations and popular bloggers throughout the country to help promote the event.

"Influential bloggers and radio DJs were invited to drive the Nano for a day on selected legs of the journey to bring the Superdrive experience to those not attending in person by sharing their experiences on-air and online," Tobaccowala explains.

Keeping with its goal to bring "the people's car" to the people, Tata rounded out its social-media outreach with a genius concept to put everyday Indians in the Nano driver's seat while seamlessly collecting potential leads. Prior to the Superdrive, Tata held a series of online and radio contests in which players could win a chance to test drive the Nano as the cavalcade passed through their area by correctly answering trivia questions about the car.

While most Americans consider a test drive a standard element of the car-sales pitch, the majority of Nano prospects had never even set foot in a four-wheel automobile. The chance to do so lit up radio-station phone lines and drove swarms of potential customers to the online contest on the Nano-specific website.

"In India, test drives are only given to customers whose intent to purchase is determined by the dealership's showroom staff. Plus, they are rarely given without a credentials check," Khullar explains. "Here was a chance to test drive the car that made the world sit up and look at Indian motoring with newfound respect. It was almost like a chance to be written into the history books, and therefore generated a great deal of excitement."

Aside from ramping up Superdrive anticipation and putting a slew of Indians behind the steering wheel of the 32-horsepower Nano, all entrants in the online and on-air contests were required to provide contact data through the Nano website, via SMS, or through paper mail. "All this data allowed us to create a large, centralized database of prospects for follow-up post event," Tobaccowala says.

Start Your Engines

With test drives lined up, social-media coverage a go, and a pocket brimming with potential Nano contacts, Tata was ready to start its engines for the Nano Superdrive. On June 2, 2010, Tata Motors chairman Ratan Tata inaugurated the Sanand plant as he flagged off the three Nano teams for their 26-day trek to a frenzy of media fanfare.

"Each team was named after our national colors," Tobaccowala explains. "The saffron team, the white team, and the green team would each complete a unique route to the north, east, and south of the country, respectively, and rendezvous at the financial capital of the country, Mumbai." Routes were selected to maximize PR potential, "so special attention was paid to locations with picturesque scenery and monuments of national significance, as well as population centers," he says.

Each cavalcade included two drivers per car, two Shobiz representatives, and a Tata Motors salesperson. The Shobiz reps blogged about the journey along the way, posting pictures and daily updates on Nano's Facebook page to help keep the larger online community engaged.

In addition, a dedicated support vehicle followed each team of three Nanos. "This vehicle was fully equipped with first-aid supplies, spare parts, and qualified medical and technical personnel to attend to any problems with man or machine," Khullar explains.

With teams on the road, the media blitz continued. A day prior to each team reaching one of the dozen or so major stopover cities on the journey, radio-jockey mentions on popular FM radio stations alerted residents, providing an approximate arrival time, schedule of visits to landmarks, and the location of promotional displays at shopping malls in the area.

Macro Turnout

Coupled with online mentions, the strategy proved a huge success, as residents clamored to get a firsthand look at the tiny car Tata promised would revolutionize their country's transportation. Many snapped photos with Nano teams at local landmarks, while others viewed the car's interior during promotional stops at local shopping areas. Along the way, Shobiz and Tata reps collected contact data from prospects and handed out a plethora of takeaways. "There was a broad range of Nano collateral, including branded pens, mugs, and coasters," Tobaccowala says. "The rule of thumb was that anyone engaging directly with the vehicle or Superdrive staff was given a piece of collateral as positive brand reinforcement and a memento of the epic journey."

Lucky contest winners also got the thrill of test driving the Nano for short distances on each route. "Following the test drive, contest winners were interviewed live on air by radio jockeys in the area to relay firsthand experiences to a wider audience, helping further stoke excitement," Tobaccowala explains.

At evening stopovers in the dozen major cities visited by each Nano team, Tata staged appreciation events for 400 to 600 customers and prospects. Here, Tata treated guests to a carnival of local entertainment, games, and food, circulating to collect contact information from prospects while thanking customers for keeping faith in the company during production delays.

"The highlight of the customer evening was the variety of entertainment programming," Tobaccowala says. "Games, Nano-related quiz contests and puzzles, and impromptu interaction with the event emcee helped make the evening an engaging and enjoyable experience for all." In total, Tata staff visited with more than 16,000 Nano owners at the appreciation events.

The morning following each stopover event, local Tata dealers held Superdrive promotional events at dealerships to draw in potential customers. After each event, dealership owners waved racing flags that sent the Nano team speeding along to the next stop on the tour. Nine-thousand miles later, that journey came to an end as the Nano teams met once again for the final stopover in Mumbai on June 26, greeted by chairman Tata and senior management.

High-Yield Yatra

With the rear-mounted engines of the nine Superdrive Nanos quieted, Tata took time to gauge results for the $290,000 road show. Though the company doesn't attribute every subsequent Nano sale directly to the event, sales figures shot up to the highest monthly total recorded since the two-week pre-sale in the month following the event, with 9,000 Nanos rolling off dealer lots in July 2010.

Apart from pumping some gas into sales figures, the Tata Motors Nano Superdrive also resulted in a freight-truck-sized haul of contacts, Facebook fans, and media mentions. Over the 26-day cross-country journey and related promotions, Tata generated 5,688 leads for post-event follow-up, had contact with more than 25,000 people, and averaged 14,000 daily Facebook views, ending up with a monstrous 117,000 total Facebook fans.

"Tata generated awareness, quieted negative publicity, and took 'the people's car' directly to the people, allowing them to be part of this truly historic event," one Corporate Event Awards judge said. "They took traditional elements that American and international car companies use to launch their vehicles, but tweaked the strategy to make it relevant and impactful to their target audience, while also incorporating text messaging, online contests, and the like to really extend the reach. I think that's an ingenious marketing move," added another.

The Superdrive proved so popular and successful for Tata that the company launched Superdrive 2 in May 2011, this time doubling the number of Nano teams, and expanding the trek to six routes and 62 stopover cities, covering more than 11,000 miles.

While overall sales of the Nano haven't yet amounted to full-on roadway revolution, the microscopically sized and priced automobile continues to fulfill big dreams for average Indians, providing a product at a price point many couldn't even dream of only five years ago.

"Nobody but Tata has been bold enough to address the need for better transportation for average Indians," Tobaccowala says. "And it's paid off - not only for Tata, but for citizens in every part of India." †E

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