What would you do when things get tough and you struggle to keep pace with your competition? Most people would turn to their friends. So did the country's largest mobile operator. After reporting lower profits in the first quarter and failing to score with its recent campaigns, Airtel came out with Har ek friend zaroori hota hai ad, and won over several fans if not friends.
Consider this: the ad has had 1.8 million views on YouTube, shared over 62,000 times on Facebook and mentioned in 10 lakh plus Tweets; more than 1.45 lakh users have set it as their hello tune, and some 1.17 lakh people downloaded the tune in August!
"Airtel's manifestation of connection in its latest ad is better than any other brand; it speaks the language of the youth and the entire concept of staying connected with friends has been executed well," says Abraham Koshy, professor of marketing at IIM Ahmedabad.
It's not just Airtel that has rode piggy on friendship to connect with the new-read Facebook-generation of consumers by either using it as a theme in advertising or as a business model. Its rivals Vodafone and DoCoMo, cola majors Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, internet giant Google and liquor maker United Spirits have all used friendship as a model for marketing or building brands.
While the concept itself is not new, it has emerged a big trend of late, thanks to a modern lifestyle where people spend hours socializing, if not in pubs then on social media network sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
"The big difference today is the idea of 'friends with benefits'. Friendship now is almost a currency," says Dheeraj Sinha, regional planning director of marketing communications agency Bates 141.
FRIENDSHIP IS 'TOUCHSHIP'
Two-thirds of young people in India admit that their friends have more influence over their decisions than their families, according to McCann Worldgroup's latest Truth About Youth global study released in May 2011.
A recent survey by research firm Demographix and Know Your Mobile found that 93% participants offered advice and recommendations to their friends and families on mobile phones.
McCann's Truth About Youth revealed that connecting to a broader network of friends has replaced the singular need to belong to a tight-knit group of friends.
Lyricist and McCann Worldgroup Executive Chairman Prasoon Joshi calls it a friendship of convenience, which is less demanding, less taxing and suited to the mindset of consumers.
"We are becoming a more self-indulgent society, and it's reflected in the friendship and the friends that we have. To stay in touch has become the latest phenomenon; therefore, it's no longer friendship but touchship," says Joshi.
Clearly, friendship is no longer only about emotions; it's also about the transaction that this relationship enables. And this shift from emotions to benefits has become a big playing ground for brands.
FRIENDSHIP IS BUSINESS
United Spirits' McDowell's No. 1 has been consistently celebrating the spirit of friendship in its ads and brand positioning over the last few decades. Whether it's Golden McDowell Moments with friends or Dosti Ka No. 1 Spirit campaign, the brand has grown on the friendship plank to become the fastest growing Indian liquor brand in the world.
"For McDowell's No.1, friendship is the language of the consumers," says United Spirits Senior Vice President (Marketing) Mathew Xavier. "The brand has ensured integrating this language in all its consumer communication across all media."