Rewind. Playback. Payback.

The retro radio making waves

When a portly Shammi Kapoor yodeled “Yaaahoo” in Junglee in 1961, he didn’t think it would still be playing in the hearts and minds of fans nearly 60 years later. Music is a record once, sell multiple times category. Audiences grow up, change, and come back time and again to the music they love. The songs that awaken emotions long-forgotten. They consume it in several forms, through a number of devices and streaming platforms. And while they don’t do it intentionally, they end up paying for the same music several times over as they transition from one device or platform to another.

Music time travel

The time music became portable
Pic: Tubemonger

Go back in time 40-50 years ago and the advent of Sony’s Walkman signaled a huge change in the way music was consumed. Making music portable was the first step to expanding the audience through different devices. Today, young people look at the audio cassette and wonder how their parents got their music fix through such antiquated methods. They can’t comprehend the time and effort it took to get music recorded from the radio or a player and then writing playlists to keep track of the songs on the tapes. No screens to help you navigate.  Record, fast forward and rewind were physical buttons, not virtual ones. You could not rewind to the precise point of the start of a song. Tapes got stuck. Riffling through cupboards where cassettes and CDs have been consigned to eternal negligence, a clumped picture of a generation emerges. Now, it seems weird. But at the time, it was among the coolest things to do. 

How do you serve technophobic customers?

The generation before the internet was invented
Photo by Naren Morum on Unsplash

Indians over 50 have learned to use smartphones. Reluctantly. They will search for ‘Good Morning’ messages and motivational debris to send to friends and family groups on WhatsApp, maybe even go through Facebook and scroll through photographs. But that’s where they draw the line. Music apps can tweak their UI and UX and make it insanely simple to play music or listen to it on the devices. But, they get the cold shoulder.

In Indian society, elders are like the scriptures – energised by faith and focused on salvation. They are supposed to transition into a phase of life to welcome the afterlife. The films and the songs of their teenage years – the classics as they have been branded, have a powerful pull because they signify some of the best years of their existence. But the package that they would buy into has mystified companies who have tried all kinds of marketing methods to lure them. Innovation can take many routes

Enter Saregama Carvaan

The digital revamp began with a website that sold a single digital download for Rs. 2.00. Legal music at this price was a big draw. But then, the collections still had to be created and playlists made. Younger generations could not be bothered to do it because the music was not part of their growing up unless they were inoculated with it on road trips and family parties. Selling ‘Collections’ on thumb drives was also explored and while that did increase revenues, it wasn’t a breakout hit – more of a steady shower of loose change. It still meant that the drives had to be plugged into computers and played through a program. It cut one navigation step, but it wasn’t enough.

The genius leap was to go back in time, literally. Create a physical ‘radio’ that was stuffed with 5000 songs and navigate with real knobs and buttons. No virtual stuff. The big knob could switch to major singers, composers or films with the twirl of the dial. Now, that seemed counter-intuitive but it was exactly what the target market was looking for. They wanted their old songs in the package they were used to. Carvaan, the name also resonated because it was a super hit film with blockbuster songs. And given the Indian mentality of throwing in some ‘extra’ features, FM and AM radio were included as well. Plus a slot for an additional SD card. Priced much higher than any radio – at Rs 6000 (about $90), it literally took off, selling close to 400,000 units in the first year, 2017.

Oldies are goldies

The new ads for Saregama Carvaan

As one of the few products aimed at the Senior population, the innovation worked in reverse.  Older people are seen as ‘retired’ and in love with the nostalgia. Young people find it hard to understand why they don’t like ‘virtual’ buttons and navigation – to them, it is the simplest of ways to go from one program to the next. But to a segment that believed that the world was growing too complex too quickly, they wanted to hold on to what they prized. They are a big segment and more importantly, have the money to spend. There’s not much in terms of innovation that is designed or tailored for them. They didn’t grow up on Karaoke, they had Anatakshari’s – a version of Wordplay, with songs

The surprise for the company was that very little advertising had to be done. The moment the product was displayed in stores, it went straight into hundreds of thousands of homes. With some playing non-stop for 6-7 hours every day. It was like going back to a simpler world where the radio played in the background while the daily chores got done. It wasn’t just music, it was a form of companionship. And listeners built bonds with the ‘announcers’. That’s what they were called back then, not radio jockeys. 

The advertising brings back memories

The ‘Thank You’ ad for Carvaan captured the complex family dynamics in Indian homes of the generation that grew up in the 60s and 70s.  The father was a stern, distant figure and was rarely if ever spoken to directly by the children. The son, who gifts the Carvaan, says ‘Thank You’ to his father, who does little more than nod. There is an awkwardness, a stilted response from a father who does not know how to reach out. The emotional exchange is with the mother, whom children poured their hearts out to. She was the arbiter of family disputes and the core around whom the home revolved. That insight portrayed in the advertising would have resonated with the sons and daughters who could have been meeting with their parents after years and still maintained the distance with the father. It is wonderful when advertising acknowledges the journey and its obstacles as well.

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Author short bio: I head Ideascape, an agency that I started over 14 years ago. I have over 35 years of experience in building brands in businesses as different as fairness creams, cycles, HR services, hospitals, hospitality and project management.

We’re a boutique creative agency but we provide the full range of branding services in partnership with several associates in digital marketing, web development, and event management. This blog is a collection of my experiences and my point of view on marketing and advertising