Catalyst

The birth of a youth brand

| Updated on December 27, 2018 Published on December 27, 2018

This book excerpt outlines how saucy, edgy Fastrack was conceived out of the Titan stable and evolved into a standalone iconic brand

I.K. Amitha was horrified. He held the sample watch that his product manager, Kalpana Kar, was showing him: it was a colourful plastic affair, lightweight, with detachable straps and a dial which showed a design in three cube shapes of blue, red and yellow. Then he picked up a solid steel watch. ‘Look at this watch, Kalpana,’ Amitha said. ‘You can feel its weight. This is something you can pass on to your children. What’s this flimsy thing you are throwing in my face?’ As Titan’s senior vice president (the year was 1991, he passed away in 1999), and a man with a special interest in the manufacturing process, he was understandably perturbed. For him, a good watch was a family heirloom to be passed on from parents to children.

Kalpana laughs, remembering vividly how she argued with Amitha that this ‘flimsy thing’ would be a style statement for a whole generation. The entire range of Titan watches came with metal cases; introducing plastic casing and straps would mean a radical shift. Nothing like this was available either in the regulated market or among smuggled watches. ‘We wanted to launch a funwatch for [the] youth, a segment we were not really addressing. The rationale was to expand the reach of Titan. When people travelled abroad they would come back with sporty watches like Swatch that caught people’s attention,’ recalls Kalpana, also a recruit of TAS (Tata Administrative Service), in a conversation at her palatial bungalow in Bengaluru’s Koramangala area.

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There were intense brainstorming sessions on Fastrack and what its profile should be. The debate swirled around whether Fastrack should target a younger segment than the audience it had been focusing on up until then. Should Fastrack set its sights on 15 to 21-year-olds? As was the practice, Simeran Bhasin (the marketing chief of Fastrack) along with Manoj Tadepally, then marketing head for Titan, undertook several consumer immersion studies. Esprit, deemed aspirational by the youth, had just come to India, and at the lower end were a slew of Chinese watches. ‘There was this big yawning gap in the middle where we saw an opportunity to have international designs at Indian prices,’ says Simeran.

The image of a watch was pretty much entrenched in people’s minds: they were regular, round or square, with different-coloured straps, and that was it. Simeran suggested that Fastrack be positioned as a fashion accessory and as such, the watches in this collection ‘should not look like what a watch looks like’. Award-winning designer Michael Foley, who headed Titan’s design studio, was quick to see the potential in this suggestion, and he and his team came up with fabulous ideas, drawing inspiration from clothing to bikes and even science fiction. Designs flowed, inspired even by spaghetti straps and halter necks in the watches for girls. ‘They sold really well and were some of the most distinctive girls’ watches in the country for many years,’ says Simeran.

Simultaneously, the marketing team worked on the design-to-cost exercise and discussed with the manufacturing team which was, understandably, horrified that they would have to produce complex watch shapes. ‘We were given a free hand to develop the brand. So we brought in this concept that Fastrack could be representative of metropolitan India. We took street style as a theme once. Simple things like a manhole on the road became the back cover of a watch; or we would use that pattern to make dials. We even looked at an automotive line. We didn’t look at watch designs alone but at furniture, signage, benches et al; it was just sensibilities of new-age cities,’ explains Michael.

Keeping in tune with the target audience, the prices had to be reduced. Fastrack sold at ₹1,700 a piece on average, this needed to be slashed to ₹1,200. Manufacturing head Shantharam said his team would take it up as a challenge. So, even as zany watches were being conjured and produced, much more had to be done to project the brand as fun and irreverent. This is also when Fastrack’s ‘claw’ logo was born. On the advertising front, Simeran observed that so far the brand had moved from campaign to campaign — that is, one thought outlined in one campaign before moving on to another in the next campaign. She felt it was time to change this strategy. She felt Fastrack needed one powerful thought that would stay for at least three years, if not longer, and that would more effectively imprint the brand in consumers’ minds.

The positioning Fastrack embarked on has endured to this day, proving its relevance and validity. Saucy, iconoclastic, edgy, imbued with innuendo and often overtly sexual — the ad campaigns for Fastrack have been all this and more.

‘There was a lot of positive feedback and some negative too. Some people even thought we were a foreign brand which was showing a lot of sex in its advertising,’ says Ronnie Talati (now CEO, Titan Eyewear) with a hearty laugh. Fastrack had an ad which started with ‘F**K’ and Ronnie had people calling from Bombay House saying that they were impacting Tata’s brand image!

Excerpted with the permission of Hachette India from “TITAN: Inside India’s Most Successful Consumer Brand” by

Vinay Kamath, Associate Editor, BusinessLine. Hardback ₹599

Published on December 27, 2018
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