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CRED’s campaigns – decoding the method behind the madness

IPL has once again cast its spell on the country. 
 
Colleagues have started mingling once again. Pubs and lounges have re-started witnessing festive cheers with each boundary and wicket.  
 
Life finally (and hopefully) seems to be limping back to normalcy. 
 
Brand teams and marketing enthusiasts, however, look forward to IPL for a different reason altogether. IPL is India’s very own Superbowl- and serves as a debut platform for some of the most remarkable pieces of brand advertising, which at times become almost as noticeable and talked about as the matches themselves. 
 
In this context, a brand whose campaigns have grabbed numerous eyeballs and triggered massive conversations since IPL 2020 is CRED. It’s a brand whose advertising truly lives up to the adage of ‘love it or hate it, but you cannot ignore it.’
 
So, in this edition of FreeFlowing we will talk about CRED advertising and the method behind its apparent madness.

First, a bit of personal story and a realization
 
As typical Bangaloreans clued into the startup world, we have been part of the early adopters of CRED. Given the apparent aura of exclusivity (remember, you need to have a credit card to be able to use CRED and penetration of credit cards in India is under 5%), CRED came across as a brand for the urban elite.
 
Hence, the IPL 2020 campaign of CRED came as a surprise (and shock, if we may add), as it appeared to completely turn the marketing playbook on its head. In fact, one of us even expressed our displeasure publicly:

After all, how can a brand that appeals to suave sensibilities and plays in a category that thrives on cues of prestige and aspiration launch such a flippant campaign and that too on a platform like IPL? Where is the insight? What is the strategy? Isn’t it a waste of precious marketing dollars?
 
Our questions were answered very soon and through our own consumer work.    
 
Post-IPL, as we talked to consumers of brands in categories ranging from tea and skincare to crypto exchanges and fashion jewellery, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that many of them discovered these brands on CRED. In fact, CRED seemed to be becoming a great platform for sampling many new-age D2C brands. And these consumers were fairly diverse- across genders and town classes.

We realized that CRED’s awareness and usage were no longer limited to an urban niche. In a nutshell, something about its marketing seemed to be working. 
 
This naturally got us curious- what’s working with CRED marketing and what can we learn from it?
 
Putting it in perspective- CRED’s journey from conventional mistakes to unconventional marketing 
 
CRED did not start off its marketing efforts with a bang. Its first print ad in Jan 2019 was criticized for being illegible, prompting CRED’s founder Kunal Shah to admit the mistake and promise to do better.

CRED’s next major attempt came nine months later, with an explainer video starring Jim Sarbh. It was just another well produced explainer video, and received a lukewarm response.

At this stage in their marketing journey, CRED decided to kick things up into high gear. Kunal Shah, who had gone on record saying that marketing was not needed if the product was good enough, decided to change tracks. 

CRED invested roughly Rs. 120 Cr for a three-year affiliation with IPL, and decided to go all-in on advertising. It launched a series of TV ads in IPL 2020 featuring yesteryear Bollywood stars and singers, including Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit and Bappi Lahiri with a campaign cheekily titled: “Not Everyone Gets It.” 

Contrary to the campaign title, going by social media chatter, many consumers seemed to have got it…

CRED followed it up next year (IPL 2021) with another series of ads, this time featuring stars like Rahul Dravid, Jackie Shroff and sportspersons like Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad. 
 
The “Great for the Good” campaign became one of the most talked-about ads during the 2021 IPL:

A common thread anchoring all these campaigns is that they sought to break the clutter and invoke nostalgia by featuring yesteryear stars doing activities completely opposite to their public persona. The only exception to this was an ad they aired with Neeraj Chopra – a concession to topical relevance since he had just won the Olympic Gold Medal. 

In the current IPL season, CRED is back with more ads centred around invoking nostalgia. This time they are parodying old advertising gems that many of us have grown up with (like Nirma ad and Antakshari), under its “Play it Different” campaign.

And the consumer adulation continues to pour in…

In summary, with these 3 successive IPL campaigns, CRED has scored a hattrick of launching viral campaigns.
 
Unconventional methods, but seemingly conventional success
 
CRED’s marketing seems to have delivered much more beyond just warm social media adulation.
 
Seemingly a large percentage of the relevant target audience noticed, downloaded and installed the app, as per this tweet from Shailendra Singh of Sequoia:

Further, per CRED’s claims, over 20% of India’s credit card bills are paid via CRED. 
 
So, is there a method to the madness?
 
CRED’s marketing may be unconventional, but there is no denying the fact that so far it has worked for them. 
 
We summarize some interesting learning and takeaways from CRED’s marketing playbook:
 
Identifying the Category Challenge to set Communication Imperative: 
 
As a business, CRED faced 2 key challenges.

First, no doubt CRED makes timely credit card bill payment simple, seamless and rewarding, but the virtues of this service are best realized through actual experience. To achieve this, it’s imperative that consumers download and use the CRED app. 
 
An educative/serious communication that extols the virtues of making timely credit card bill payments can feel preachy. Further, most players in the financial category rely on “safe and serious” communication, often resulting in undifferentiated campaigns that look and sound the same. 
 
As a new-age brand that’s out there to disrupt the established behaviour, CRED’s communication had to reflect the youthful irreverent tonality of a young upstart that wants to challenge the status quo.
 
Second, as a business, CRED’s real moat is data. Specifically, the tons of personal financial data it can collect from its consumers. This data will allow it to customize solutions, cross-sell, upsell, and even run its e-commerce platform (CRED Store). But to get this data, it needs lots of consumers to download, install and engage with its app. And in a world where app weariness is becoming a reality, it’s not easy to convince consumers to install yet another app.

This is where the curious case of CRED’s campaigns becomes clearer. If CRED needs more data and downloads, it needs more awareness. 
 
Hence, the brand communication imperative to create campaigns that not only create high brand awareness but also generate strong word-of-mouth and intrigue that in turn leads to higher app downloads and exploration.
 
Playing it like a Content Company:
 
Setting the communication imperative is one thing. Executing it well, on the other hand, is a different ball game altogether. 
 
What CRED did very well is that they quickly realized that merely coming on the IPL platform and spending millions of dollars wasn’t going to give them results. In fact, brute-force marketing today will be greeted with consumer revulsion. Consumers today expect engagement, not interruption. They always have the power to skip the ads if they want to.

In the world of new age brand building, share-worthiness is critical. Brand content today is competing with content from a whole host of sources (including user generated content), and hence the bar for what consumers consider shareworthy has been raised considerably.
 
With its IPL ads CRED isn’t playing an advertising game anymore. 
 
Instead of behaving like a brand advertiser, CRED played the game like a content company. It did this by creating intriguing, entertaining, and shareworthy content where the brand is seamlessly baked in.

When seen from this lens, what appeared to be unconventional before suddenly starts to look obvious. CRED is in fact not advertising. It is creating shareworthy content that delivers on its core communication imperative.  
 
Pitching it to the right TG:
As per CRIF Bureau data, the largest share of credit card holders falls in the age group of 36-50 years (37.1%). This is followed closely by the age group of 26-35 (35.8%). These are also the consumers most likely to have high disposable income and regular credit card usage. 
 
Incidentally, these are also the consumers who grew up in the 90s, and have fond memories of Anil Kapoor, Javagal Srinath, and the Nirma ad. CRED ads played up the nostalgia factor very strongly to relate to these consumers. Further, icons like Rahul Dravid have appeal spanning across generations and continue to play a pivotal role in their respective fields.
 
Interestingly, even younger audiences, who do not belong to this era, resonate with the sheer entertainment quotient that CRED’s content brings to the table.

Seeding conversations to take charge of the narrative:
Conventional marketing stops at producing and airing a TVC, and the “360 degree” amplification is often limited to slapping screengrabs of TVC in static ads, banners, app screens and even print & outdoor hoardings. However, content companies have a different thought process.
 
CRED didn’t just stop at creating highly shareworthy content and letting consumers take the charge of amplifying them. Rather, it treated every piece of its content as a “property” with a solid amplification plan around it.  
 
It brought in a galaxy of high-profile influencers with solid social media reach to generate instant chatter and human conversations (note: not brand conversations) around each content piece, thereby enhancing its reach multifold.

In addition, influencer spiel seeded favourable talking points for its content which eventually started reflecting in the consumer narrative around its ads.
 
Avoiding the curse of campaign fatigue:
Perhaps most importantly, CRED has adhered to at least one established conventional marketing principle- that of keeping the idea ‘freshly consistent’. 
 
It is easy for marketers to fall prey to what we call the ‘curse of campaign fatigue’- where they feel the need to change the campaign idea routinely to “keep it fresh,” simply because they (mind you, not their consumers) start finding it monotonous.

However, while marketers may be too close to their campaigns and thus the novelty may wear off for them, consumers don’t really spend hours thinking about an advertisement. They want to be entertained, and if a formula is working consistently, all marketers need to do is to retain the creative construct and introduce fresh takes on it with every successive campaign. 
 
CRED has adhered well to this time-tested principle, with each of its campaigns adding a new dimension while keeping the broader creative arc consistent (a fun tribute to 90s nostalgia).

To sum it up…
 
CRED’s campaign is yet another reminder that the traditional brand building playbook is being rewritten and in the new-age marketing playbook, there are no fixed rules. 
 
When it comes to advertising and communication, playing safe is no longer an option. Consumers being indifferent to your ads is the worst possible outcome for a communication. 
 
Finally, it is important for every brand marketer to stay curious and open to new things. When we see brand communication that challenges our beliefs, a deeper analysis instead of blind criticism can yield valuable lessons that help us become better at our jobs.
 
What do you think of CRED’s communication? Which other brands do you think have broken the unsaid norms in their respective category? 
 
Let’s keep the discussion flowing at: freeflowing@winnerbrands.in. We read all your emails.

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