Cobra Beer Helps U.K. Drinkers Discover New India

Added Value's Jerry Clode Looks at How a Sultry, Vibrant Culture Builds Interest in Brand

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Cobra's "Splendidly Indian" campaign represents the vibrancy of life in India, specifically Mumbai, to sell a British-made beer in the U.K.

Jerry Clode

Karan Bilimoria, an Indian immigrant to the U.K., launched the brand in 1989 and sold a majority stake to Molson Coors Brewing Co. in 2009. That led to a bigger marketing budget and the aim of becoming a top-10 U.K. beer brand. Brewed in Burton-on-Trent, U.K., Cobra is an increasingly popular choice in Britain's South Asian restaurants.

Developed by Beattie McGuinness Bungay, the TV campaign broke this month and is supported by a YouTube channel and Facebook brand timeline.

The spot takes viewers on a fictional train journey that exposes the cool side of India as passengers wait for the beer trolley to bring them a fresh Cobra. Built on the growing familiarity with Indian imagery, brought to Western viewers by movies like "Darjeeling Limited," "Slumdog Millionaire," and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the ad suggests the excitement of a subcontinental journey, minus the stress and confusion. Helping the good times roll, a relaxed brewmaster revels in socializing with passengers and savoring the quality of his own creation. Just like the beer, he is "superbly smooth."

Cobra brewmaster in TV spot
Cobra brewmaster in TV spot

Although Cobra is not strictly an export brand, how it evokes contemporary India is an interesting use of culture, reminiscent of the way Corona leveraged associations to Mexico in that beer marketer's old "Change Your Latitude" campaign.

As interest in India's dynamic economy increases, so does the opportunity for brands to go beyond cultural stereotypes to create more emotional engagement. The Cobra beer spot depicts a lush summer, presenting the brand as a conduit to a novel cultural experience and experimentation. You may not be on the train, but you can still take the journey.

Its Facebook page says: "Cobra comes from today's India, an incredibly exciting country steeped in tradition, but where a new generation is rising and making a unique mark on the cultural landscape."

To further bring the energy of Indian life into its marketing, Cobra has highlighted Mumbai residents. In collaboration with The Guardian newspaper, the brand shot three short films featuring India's first street -fashion blogger, Manou; visual-arts collective Blot (Basic Love of Things); and food writer Vandana Verma.

Each film has a cast of local heroes seen through the lens of young Indian artistic talent -- including fashion directors, DJs and legends of Mumbai's street food scene. The Guardian's website features the work in a City Guide to Bombay's styles, cuisine and music.

The street portraits by blogger Manou form part of the brand's timeline, posing the eclectic fashion of creative Mumbaikars against dynamic urban backdrops. The Facebook page also features a "curry locator" introducing some of London's Indian food outlets, along with reviews and recipes. And offers the chance to win a trip to the country, with fans invited to "leave preconceptions by the elephant and see today's India for yourself. Get a fresh take on Indian music, fashion and food with our Splendidly Indian Adventure."

Cobra's refreshing engagement with contemporary India creates symmetry with the brand's positioning as a distinctive brew in a jam-packed U.K. beer market. By anchoring the brand so genuinely in the new India, Cobra can own a cultural piece of a nation that is increasingly prominent in media and the popular consciousness.

Jerry Clodeis associate director at WPP's Added Value, where he focuses on cultural insight for Asia-Pacific.
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