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With Bingo nothing was planned
Financial Express - 09 Oct 2007

The launch of Bingo represents ITC Foods’ fifth major line of business after the highly successful staples, biscuits, ready-to-eat and confectionery products. In just over six months (introduced in the market in March 2007) Bingo has become a case study for FMCG product launches. It demolishes many myths. With this launch, ITC Foods ended up blowing 30-40% of its media budget on new media campaigns—something unheard of in a market where the Internet is used mainly for lead generation and rarely, if ever, for brand-building. In an exclusive interview to FE’s Radhika Sachdev, Ravi Naware, divisional chief executive (foods) ITC, shares his company’s gameplan:

What’s your experience—is the digital media more effective than conventional advertising planks? What metrics do you employ in measuring the impact of such tools?

The metrics obviously would be the number of hits/eyeballs on the portal. We did choose the unconventional way and spent nearly 40% of our media budget on digital media, because we felt this would be the best way to connect with our market. In a way, we did break out of the mould. We used digital media for brand building, which is not what most Indian companies do with this media.

In any case, in the initial few months of a launch of an FMCG product, you do end up spending as much as 80%-100% of your turnover on media purchase. That’s indeed necessary as there could be 300-plus ads hitting consumers every day! In this clutter, we wanted to be dramatically different.

Experts contend that the biggest contributor to Bingo’s scorching pace of growth is its Indianised flavours. How did you crack the complex Indian palate?

Two things were important here. One, consumer insight, which we invested heavily in. We put a lot of resources on finding out what tickled the Indian consumer’s taste bud, what turned him on etc. The second is the manner in which you launch your product, that is the communication/execution part. The distribution strategy also matters a lot in this game.

In our case, since we have a strong exposure to the hospitality sector, we put a whole team of ITC chefs in place to craft new flavours for this category. During the research, we figured that the best way to approach our consumers would be to tempt them with flavours that are exotic, but not strange. They should be somewhat different from what is currently available in the market, but not fundamentally so. The process got kicked off two years ago and we spent a few hundred crores on this exercise, including plant and equipment.

We followed this up with a strong distribution strategy. Our retailer network is probably the strongest in the country. We are present in 100 markets and over the next one year, we plan to expand to about 300 more.

Also, we evolved a completely new and modern merchandising solution for this launch. Our retailers are happy with the attractive stands and other display material for Bingo. In the end, our communication strategy with a heavy dose of humour has also been different and daring, which struck a chord with our target customer.

And who is this target customer?

To be honest, anyone from 10 to 60 years of age. But to establish a new brand you have to position it somewhere; so we decided to target it at the young Indian consumer. This comes out very strong in our campaigns.

How did you hit upon a brand name like Bingo? The entire range—Live Wires, Mad Angles and Tedhe Medhe is a little hatke…

That was precisely what we had aimed for. We had some terrific flavours and we wanted to go the whole hog in connecting with the young consumers. Mad Angles and Tedhe Medhe are hot, intriguing names. These names, we thought, would resound with today’s youth and that hunch has turned out to be true.

Any specific challenges you faced while foraying into a new category, knowing that you would be pitted against formidable competition?

One of the biggest challenges we faced was playing in a pure impulse purchase category. From the beginning, we knew we would have to make our product really stand out in the clutter. Also, it’s a category where you have to deliver very convincingly on the promise made, as soon as a packet is opened.

How fast is the salted finger snacks market growing in India? And what’s Bingo’s share in this market?

The total market size could be to the tune of Rs 4,000 crore, of which Rs 2,000 would be organised, growing at 25% per annum. In the market that we are in, we could be holding anything between 15%-50% share at various geographies. And the unorganised sector could be growing faster than the organised sector. Every time I walk down a street, I spot a new chaat-papriwala doing brisk business.

Product analysts say you took customisation to the limit with Bingo. How wise is the move to keep so many SKUs (stock keeping units)?

We came out with 16 variants (priced at Rs 5, Rs 10 and Rs 20 a pack). A good majority of these are region-inspired. So we have mustard for east India and paneer tikka for the north Indian market. But we do have some generic national flavours, such as premium salt, tomato and chilly formats, which go everywhere.

You had strategically timed the launch of Bingo to coincide with the Cricket World Cup. India, as we know, performed nowhere near expectation. How important is the time factor in the launch of a new food product?

As product launches go, wherever and whenever there is a good opportunity, marketers make the best use of it. With Bingo also, nothing was planned. It was indeed a happy coincidence that when we were introducing these products, the World Cup was on. So we made the most of that opportunity. I am sure, had something else been happening, we would have timed our launch to that event. As marketers, we just plough whatever terrain we are presented with.

So far, which is the most successful line of products for ITC Foods— staples, biscuits, ready-to-eat, confectionery or salted finger snacks?

Although exact figures are difficult to guess, the atta segment contributes as much as 35% to the overall sales, confectionary 15% and the rest make up for the balance. Thankfully, all our product segments are going great guns at the moment.

Finally, please crack this mystery code for us. What does ‘Bingo Tick Tock Boing!’ mean?

You would have heard it on an FM radio channel. It’s an interactive game, wherein before a buzzer gets sounded, if you say ‘Bingo Tick Tock Boing!” you win a pot of money! Play it, its loads of fun! This game has attracted high participation (running into a few million) in Delhi and Mumbai and now we are running it in Bangalore.