Is boAt all bark and no bite as it takes on Apple and Indian rival Noise?

In the viral combative ad against Apple and local contender Noise, boAt said Think Better, not Different. Experts wonder if it is time for boAt to take its own advice.

By  Aashrey BaligaApr 3, 2024 12:29 PM
Is boAt all bark and no bite as it takes on Apple and Indian rival Noise?
While Apple was unperturbed, boAt managed to rile up social media users and ardent fans with the ad.

The Indian audio wearables category has seen some major moves over the last fiscal year. boAt, "the second-largest audio brand in the world", and its rival Noise have been in constant contention for dominant positions in the market. Noise, founded by Gaurav and Amit Khatri, and boAt, founded by Aman Gupta and Sameer Mehta, are two of the leading homegrown brands in India.

But the recent noise around boAt is focused on its ad targeting Apple. It sparked quite a bit of buzz on the internet with Apple fans up in arms and outraged at the comparison made between boAt and Apple hearables. Furthermore, there was also severe criticisms regarding boAt's sourcing from China, which led some to question the use of patriotism in the brand's narrative.

The ad film was created by popular YouTuber and comedian Tanmay Bhat, Devaiah Bopanna and their firm Moonshot. The team has worked on several viral brand campaigns in recent years including the famous angry Rahul Dravid ad and other ads for CRED.

The print ad, however, was not created by Moonshot.

There is an interesting point to take out from this whole boAt vs Apple scenario though. Experts Storyboard18 spoke to say that boAt obviously knew that a comparison with Apple is “preposterous”. Thus, it targeted the brand’s ardent users - “fanboys”.

But the real question here is why did boAt do it? Was it just because it could? Apple is the biggest brand out there and a jab at the giant does make some sense. It's a classic challenger brand play if you want to make some noise, right? Storyboard18 reached out to boAt for comments. The brand is yet to respond.

While Apple was unperturbed, boAt managed to rile up social media users and "fanboys" with the ad.

Sample these.

Shridhar V, a user on X shared jokingly, “It’s true. Boat’s noise cancellation is much better than Apple’s. When you wear Boat headphones, nobody around you speaks to you, it gets very quiet.”

A LinkedIn user Roy Menezes shared, “Comparing BOAT to Apple is like comparing Tanmay Bhat to Piyush Pandey.?"

So, whether you liked it or not, in a way, the campaign worked. It certainly made a noise.

But there was another play boAt made in the Apple-bashing ad - the challenger brand going after its challenger.

The boAt vs Apple ad had a not-so-hidden jab at Noise. While the Internet’s verdict states that there is no comparison between the boAt and Apple, Noise and boAt are rivals in the Indian market and globally as they take the India flag abroad. Thus, a comparison here seems a lot more plausible. An ad directed at Noise would have been in the same weight class, say experts.

Communications strategy consultant Karthik Srinivasan said in a blog post, “boAt absolutely knows that its products and Apple’s products do not compete at all. They belong to vastly different worlds… And yet, knowing all this, if boAt still seemingly fired a salvo at Apple, there has to be a reason, right? But that reason is NOT to try to convert Apple fans, or even those merely considering Apple’s audio products to try boAt.”

Srinivasan added, “boAt itself knows that it competes with brands like Boult, Noise, and the many similar brands that exist on a similar price range.”

Which brings us to Noise. Like boAt, Noise is a homegrown brand and it is steadily growing and reaching for that paramount position in the market.

Noise has over 40 per cent of the market share in the above entry-level price point, founder Gaurav Khatri told a leading publication this year. In December 2023, the company secured funding of $10 billion from global audio leader Bose, marking its inaugural fundraising endeavor since its inception nearly a decade ago. The funding round valued the brand at $420 million, ET reported.

While Noise still lags behind boAt in the hearables mass segment, as per reports, in the fast-growing smartwatch category Noise has a market share of 25 percent versus 17 percent of boAt’s. The combative boAt ad, smartly, only features hearables.

According to a report by the International Data Corporation (IDC), 134.2 million wearables were shipped in India in 2023. This includes smartwatches and earwear such as truly wireless earbuds (TWS) and neckbands. The TWS segment was led by boAt, which reported a decline in overall market share from 38.5 percent in 2022 to 33.9 percent in 2023.

Noise is also rocking the boat, clearly, as, in a reverse marketing tactic, the TWS category leader boAt took a shot at the challenger in an unprovoked attack.

So, is the brand war on? Or is boAt waging battles across too many front-lines? Does its armada have enough firepower to take on not just the mighty Apple but also major homegrown players like Noise, Boult and Fire-Boltt?

But unlike Noise, Boult and Fire-Boltt, boAt has a special weapon of mass marketing. Its celebrity co-founder Aman Gupta.

Aman Gupta rocking the boat

Gupta seems to be everywhere. He has appeared on the red carpet in Cannes and the stage at the Bharat Mandapam where he received a National Creators Award from PM Narendra Modi. Aman Gupta’s celebrity status and mass popularity as a Shark Tank India judge has helped amplify everything boAt does on the ad front.

It’s interesting to note, Gupta is not the only Shark who has used the comedic and ad services of popular YouTuber Tanmay Bhat. Peyush Bansal, founder of Lenskart, has also employed Bhat and his firm Moonshot to create ads featuring Karan Johar. Bansal too featured in one of the early ads as himself.

Abhishek Asthana, founder of a leading marketing solutions company GingerMonkey said that there are three months when Shark Tank India is telecasted and these are the three months when sharks too go on an overdrive with advertising their products, both on the show as well as on mainstream media. Lenskart launched their Karan Johar ads during the three month period and Peyush Bansal wears his famous glasses on the shoe as well. Similarly, Anupam Mittal launched an ad previously during the show's airing period.

“This is the time when sharks promote their products. And they use all the TV glare to promote their respective companies. Aman Gupta hadn’t really done anything yet. And with Shark Tank just ending, they thought let’s launch something now. So, I think that’s why they went to Tanmay Bhat and the team to create something that makes noise,” he added.

Asthana also said, “Tanmay and team are not marketers, they’re content creators. They’ll create stuff which will make noise and they do a good job with that. They always manage to create something which creates flutter but will it be great marketing? I doubt it. They are very good at spoofing and roasting stuff. That’s their forte. They must’ve thought, why not roast Apple? It is the big daddy.”

Easy targets?

Any marketer would advise them against it, say experts like Asthana. What is the objective? Is boAt trying to get an Apple customer into the boAt-fold? “That’s not going to happen,” he added.

An Apple customer who can spend around Rs. 20,000 on AirPods would never buy a boAt AirDope, “which even sounds like rip-off ”, said the CMO of a leading brand who wished not to be named. “These are discerning consumers used to the best quality, design and innovation that a brand like Apple has perfected. It’s not Apple “fanboys” and upper-end users who are outraged at the ad, it’s sensible consumers who know the difference between a me-too and the real thing,” the CMO added.

Similarly, a consumer who buys Noise or boAt or any other brand in that category would never go for Apple AirPods. Ultimately, boAt has to convert users from Noise, telling them that boAt is better than Noise or any other contemporary.

“But they went for Apple, the easier target - the sitting duck,” Asthana said.

Comparing yourself to Apple AirPods saying your quality is “better” is mockery, said an independent brand consultant who works with several leading tech companies. He added, “It’s just for fun. But you put yourself forth as a non-serious contender. The downside to this is that people then assume that you are a non-serious brand leading to consumer trust reducing. At the end of the day, it is your hard earned money that you are spending on a product.”

He pointed out, “Nuisance value doesn’t work in the electronics category which is very feature driven and value driven. boAt should stick to what it did. It should ramp up its cool quotient instead of taking potshots at other brands and acting like a cheap challenger. It has the cool factor, but boAt seems to be losing its cool.”


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    First Published on Apr 3, 2024 10:32 AM

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