Ather Energy on using Indian sports sponsorship to make electric vehicles mainstream
India’s leading electric vehicle (EV) maker is using sports sponsorships to sell younger audiences on the new vehicle category. The Drum speaks with Nilay Chandra, vice-president of marketing and charging infrastructure.
Ather Energy is betting big on sports
Founded by IIT Madras alumni Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain in 2013, Ather Energy launched one of India’s first intelligent electric scooters five years later. It has been building its portfolio and the category ever since, as well as installing a public charging network – making it one of the few original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to invest in building charging infrastructures.
The founders decided to take a traditional marketing path for selling the non-traditional product, and sports was identified as a key pillar of brand building in its growth and expansion journey.
One of the first integrated brand campaigns was launched by Ather in 2020, during the India-Australia T-20 series. The idea then was to reiterate its credentials as a ‘made in India’ company established to bring about a transformation in India’s EV category, shares vice-president of marketing and charging infrastructure Nilay Chandra.
More recently, the company opted to get on the Indian Premier League (IPL) bandwagon when it became the principal partner of the newly-launched Gujarat Titans team. Interestingly, the team emerged as the grand winner in its launch year itself (Gujarat Titans, along with Lucknow Super Giants, were the two new teams added at the IPL auction in 2021 that played in the tournament this year.)
The IPL association involves the brand logo presence on jerseys and merchandise, in-field branding, access to player footage, social collaborations and a lot more, shares Chandra.
The brand, for IPL 2022, launched its ‘Invisible Scooter’ campaign comprising a series of ad films that highlighted key features of its flagship scooter, including theft and tow detection features, over-the-air (OTA) updates, document storage, navigation and home charging.
This was followed up by a brand film to celebrate its successful partnership as the principal sponsor of the new IPL franchise.
How (and why) sport fits well with the brand’s expansion plans
It is well established that IPL is more than just a media property, with an unparalleled reach both in terms of numbers and demographics. Thus a sizable number of brands have started looking at IPL spending as a substantial part of their marketing budgets on the marquee property.
Chandra agrees that the benefits of associating with an IPL franchise are many, but puts in a word of caution as well, since the critical part is the content that is fed to the consumer.
“The ROI from such a partnership will be high if brands can engage with the consumer and deliver key messages to meet business objectives,” he adds.
Overall, IPL remains a great opportunity for brands looking for mass awareness and a platform to break through the clutter with the right creative approach.
How associating with the winner team has helped the brand
The IPL association fitted well with the brand’s overall expansion plans, says Chandra. “As a brand, we were embarking on the journey of scaling up from being in two cities when we launched, to an ambitious 100 cities by this year-end.”
A scaled-up platform like the IPL seemed like the right choice and association to reflect the fearlessness and positivity with which the brand aspired to grow, he adds.
While the impact of such associations is long-term, the brand has already seen an immediate response from consumers on the back of the association. Chandra says: “In May, we registered our highest ever monthly sales, delivering 3,787 scooters – a fraction of the total pre-orders due to supply chain constraints.” In addition, the brand is witnessing an increase in awareness about its scooters in newer markets, he adds.
Addressing the EV category marketing challenges
One of the key challenges for all the players in the EV category has been on moving the needle from being seen as niche to becoming mainstream.
Partnerships with the India Australia T-20, the IPL and Kerala Blasters FC 2021-22 have been working well, says Chandra.
The other category challenge has been around the perceptions of the safety of the EV 2-wheeler battery. To build on that narrative and highlight safety and reliability, Ather has launched multiple consumer-connect initiatives including a brand campaign that answers consumer questions regarding the safety of battery packs.
Going forward, the key task for all the EV players – including Ather – is to continue building and expanding the category while resolving the issues around pricing, charging and logistics.