Cleartrip strategically announces Dhoni as brand ambassador during IPL season

In an exclusive chat with Storyboard18, Ayyappan Rajagopal, CEO, Cleartrip talks about advantages of having MSD on board as an ambassador, long term plans for the brand, travel hitting pre-pandemic levels and domestic travel trends.

By  Tasmayee Laha RoyMar 30, 2024 3:09 PM
Cleartrip strategically announces Dhoni as brand ambassador during IPL season
We needed a celebrity who embodies trust and can say, 'This is the brand I use and endorse’. There’s no better person than MSD to do that for us: Ayyappan Rajagopal, CEO, Cleartrip

Earlier this week, Cleartrip CEO Ayyappan Rajagopal announced a new captain on board on social media, keeping the identity under wraps. This strategic teaser campaign sparked curiosity and got people talking, perfectly aligning with Cleartrip's plan to generate buzz. The brand is onboarding Mahendra Singh Dhoni as their long-term brand ambassador to attract new customers and win back past users.

"We needed a celebrity who embodies trust and can say, 'This is the brand I use and endorse’ and there's no better person than MSD to do that for us,” said Rajagopal.

In his conversation with Storyboard18, Rajagopal also discussed plans for the long-term Dhoni partnership, new product launches, upcoming campaigns, travel trends, and the growing "You Only Live Once" travel mentality across generations.

Edited excerpts

We saw your campaign teaser where you talk about onboarding a new captain and its none other than Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Why him? Tell us a little about this campaign that you are launching?

Firstly, this is a very critical campaign for us because it's the first one since onboarding hotels. We were wondering who would be the ideal celebrity to endorse our brand. ClearTrip is an OG (original) brand in the travel space and when it comes to anything related to established brands, you need someone who cuts across geographies and is a true legend. Mahendra Singh Dhoni (MSD), as we all know, is a legend and one of the very few personalities who connects with people regardless of whether they follow cricket. He cuts across demographics, ages, and geographies – every single target audience out there would say they can connect with Dhoni. Additionally, the online travel agency (OTA) space is all about trust. We needed a celebrity who embodies trust and can say, 'This is the brand I use and endorse’. There’s no better person than MSD to do that for us.

The timing of the campaign and getting MSD on board is interesting because its also the IPL season? Is this a coincidence or did you plan it this way to make the most of the craze around MSD?

It's a very interesting story for us internally. We always wanted to do this campaign but were divided on the timing. We debated whether to go for the summer season sale (typically April-May when bookings surge due to school vacations). After internal discussions, the entire campaign, from concept to execution, was completed in just one week. It was an all-in-house effort, with some help from external directors. Everything, from script to implementation, was done internally. Coming to whether it is a coincidence or a planned one on timing, yes its planned because of MSD and IPL. There is a lot of buzz about MSD right now whether its going to be his last IPL season or not, so there is going to be crazy noise in and around IPL across social media and it's very evident from the huge response we’ve gotten from the teaser.

What is the nature of your association with MSD? Is this a one time endorsement or there is a longer partnership in the picture? Also, what is the media plan around the campaign?

This is a long term association. Anything with MSD has to be long. As a brand we are here to stay and we are here with MSD with a longstanding partnership. We have a strategy in place around how we’d work with him. There are multiple campaigns planned with MSD for Cleartrip. With respect to mediums, considering we are a digital player, the over indexation will happen a lot more over digital medium starting with Insta, X, Meta and all the other platforms on digital medium. Of course there will be some amount of ATL as well but predominantly this will be a digital led campaign and considering the huge monthly active user base that social media has been garnering. This year we are hearing IPL is hitting it off the charts with respect to digital viewerships. We believe digital is the right platform and will give us enough new customers.

Every new campaign comes with KPIs and expectations on ROI. What do you want this campaign to do for the brand?

What we have realised is that the stickiness of customers on Cleartrip is always very high. The moment customers come and book a ticket with us along with one of the flexibility constructs that we have, people know that we are here to back them through their entire booking journey. So if anything goes wrong with the booking we are here to support them and ensure they get the complete refund when they book with products like Cleartrip Flex Choice Max. So these are the products that have helped us to retain customers and hence this campaign has been designed to bring in a lot more new users which is a lot more top of the funnel for us. So people who would have never used Cleartrip in the past or have used it a long time back and not come back for whatever reason, we want them to come back to our platform. So this is about reactivation and the second metric being onboarding new users.

What else will we be seeing from Cleartrip through the year? Walk us through our marketing strategies for 2024-2025.

In the last few quarters we have been launching several new product initiatives on both air ticket booking and also hotels booking. Our hotels catalogue is completely revamped and our ratings have become one of the best in the industry. It is completely Gen AI generated, it is not a typical manual rating and reviews system. That makes it a lot easier for consumers to understand which hotels are good for them. Even with buses the flexibility contracts we have launched is one of a kind. So all of these put together, the three critical lines of business are air, hotels and buses and there is a lot of work that has gone into these aspects. Secondly, we’ve always worked on affordability where we bring in the low cost EMI construct. These are the product led initiatives we are focussed on. When it comes to marketing we have always stood out with our campaigns. Our campaigns have been a lot more clutter breaking. We see ourselves as a challenger brand, and to effectively cut through the crowded marketplace, our messaging needs to be impactful.

Every three months we will come up with something new that the market has not seen, it could be digital led campaigns, it could be social campaigns, it could be word of mouth campaigns but it will be one of a kind. That's what we’ve been focussed on and the next twelve months will not be very different from that.

Moving on to overall market performance, can we say travel has touched pre-pandemic levels?

Travel has been one of the few categories that has been able to grow year on year in the last two years. Post covid everyone was talking about revenge travel. That definitely came up, no debate on that. We were all internally wondering whether it would be just an initial spike. However it wasn’t. The numbers have been stacking very very well. Last winter was very good. The current summer season bookings look very good and this is in spite of average prices shooting up like never before.

So the prices have gone up, the demand has gone up, the supply hasn’t gone up exactly in the same pace. So if you look at the number of aircrafts that are available both for domestic and international use, it is not the same as what it used to be pre pandemic. In Spite of that the number of flying passengers have hit the pre-pandemic numbers. It just shows that the aircrafts are running full and the prices are high but people are still travelling.

Initially it was just the GenZ who were going by the YOLO (you only live once) rule, currently we are seeing not just the GenZ but millennial and everybody out there saying YOLO, lets all travel. So overall the industry is looking very good. If supply comes up in the next few months, the numbers will look even better than what it is today.

The government, especially our Prime Minister, has been very bullish about domestic travel. What are your observations on domestic travel?

We are very clearly seeing good upside on domestic traffic as well. And two trends are very clearly coming out. The first one being spiritual travel, which is to Ayodhya, to Puri and all these treasures across the country. The searches on Google and on the platform have all gone up. Again it's not just the senior citizens but across age groups and this trend is not going to die down anytime soon.

The second part is about unexplored places and Instagrammable places

The number of social media creators who make content on travel is crazy. They don’t want to talk about your Agras and Jaipurs, they want to talk about hidden treasures and that has been going up tremendously. Creators are busy saying things like “Hey you know I found this hidden treasure, 80 kms from Mumbai”.

That is what people want to talk about. Influencers finding unexplored territories is a big trend people are following. Coming back to the domestic travel bit, people have realised that there are a lot of places in the country unexplored and not just the top two or three locations that have always been in focus.

First Published on Mar 30, 2024 3:07 PM

More from Storyboard18

Brand Marketing

Marc Andre Palm on how hansgrohe is revolutionizing bathrooms for the discerning Indian consumer

Marc Andre Palm on how hansgrohe is revolutionizing bathrooms for the discerning Indian consumer

Brand Marketing

This Indian D2C brand launched the 'Kachra Awards'. Find out what it is

This Indian D2C brand launched the 'Kachra Awards'. Find out what it is

How it Works

Amid quality & customer service concerns, Zepto raises $665 mn at a $3.6B valuation

Amid quality & customer service concerns, Zepto raises $665 mn at a $3.6B valuation

Brand Marketing

Rapido partners with PubMatic to enhance advertiser engagement

Rapido partners with PubMatic to enhance advertiser engagement

Brand Marketing

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2024: Bhumi Pednekar named as brand ambassador for Dimensions Mumbai

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2024: Bhumi Pednekar named as brand ambassador for Dimensions Mumbai

Brand Marketing

Swiggy launches initiative to tackle staffing challenges in restaurants

Swiggy launches initiative to tackle staffing challenges in restaurants

Brand Marketing

Ayushmann Khurrana returns as brand ambassador for Nexus Select Malls

Ayushmann Khurrana returns as brand ambassador for Nexus Select Malls

Brand Marketing

Nykaa Fashion’s latest campaign ‘Stay Stylish’ draws inspiration from reverse fangirling

Nykaa Fashion’s latest campaign ‘Stay Stylish’ draws inspiration from reverse fangirling