By Jason Overdorf
Monocle (March 2009)
For almost 30 years, you couldn’t get married in north India without a Bajaj Chetak scooter. The reason: no dowry was complete without the classic workhorse. But today, India’s scooter business – like the country – is in the throes of a revolution. Stricter laws are slowly wiping out the dowry system. And it is future brides, not grooms, who have become the scooter makers’ target audience.
In the early 1990s, women on scooters were so rare that riding one earned my wife the nickname “scooter walli madam”. Nobody would have predicted that top scooter companies such as TVS Motor, Hero Honda and Kinetic Motors would soon be wooing India’s newly liberated women with snappy jingles, women-only showrooms, and a battery of colours as extensive as any lipstick rack. “At stage one it was establishing the relevance of the product,” says McCann- Erickson’s Dileep Ashoka, who leads the ad team for TVS Scooty. “Then it moved into a more emotional territory of being the girls’ ‘first keys to freedom’ and then into a more assured attitude to appeal to free- spirited girls.”
In one 2006 Scooty ad, a group of roadside Romeos taunt Bollywood actress Preity Zinta’s character on the way to college because she is riding a pink scooter. When they arrive at class, they find that Zinta is the professor. “Never underestimate the power of pink,” she says.
Publicis Ambience raised the stakes in its ad in 2007 for the Kinetic Flyte made by Kinetic Motors in association with Taiwan’s SYM (managing director of Kinetic, Sulajja Firodia Motwani, is pictured above on the right, with executive vice-president of SYM, Harrison Liu). Bollywood actress Bipasha Basu fronted the campaign which spoofed the Scooty with pink-clad Barbies singing, “We’re bubbly like our scooters, we’re girlie like our scooters.” Basu tells viewers: “Today’s women aren’t girlie like dolls, they’re smart and confident.”
Hero Honda’s Pleasure has pushed the envelope even further. The ads for the Pleasure hint at the fact that owning a scooter means freedom from chaperones. For instance, the bride and groom exit their western- style wedding ceremony to find a robin’s-egg blue Pleasure. This time, though, the bride takes the handlebars and the groom straddles the pillion. The message is clear. The days of the dowry are fading fast. And where scooters are concerned, women are on top.