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Third Umpire on Branding

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand-comm

Updated: 2018-02-15T13:00:41.080+05:30


Why public relations companies need to be creative


PR persons must learn to think innovatively and provide clients with useful informationThe first word that comes to mind when one thinks of advertising is ‘creativity’. Other phrases or words that might come up are ‘out of the box’, ‘different’, ‘whacky’ and even ‘weird’ (a reference, perhaps, to some of my advertising brethren’s choice in clothes and hair styles). One thing, however, is pretty clear: an agency’s creative abilities help brands get noticed and move the consumer to action. Agencies often get new business only on the basis of their creative talents.My question is, should the related field of public relations also adopt creativity as its very motto in today’s challenging times? This leads me to an important question: what exactly is creativity?Peace activist and artist Mary Lou Cook said, “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”My submission is that PR companies have a strong need to re-brand and reorient themselves as “the other creative communications agency”. Why do I say that?Today’s challengesLet’s step back to look at public relations in today’s scenario. Despite the proliferation of social media and various other platforms, it is still difficult to get a story across in the media. A far cry from the earlier days, when all you had to do was to meet the journalist and, lo and behold, you had a front page story! Those days, there were fewer companies and the media had to hunt for stories. The main skill-set that PR executives needed was the ability to build relations with media and clients. The phrase ‘wine and dine’ was often unfairly used to describe a PR agency’s work.Today, with a bevy of verticals, numerous PR companies pushing their clients’ causes and the media becoming increasingly selective in what it will carry, the challenges have become more pronounced.The power of a storyOne of the main reasons why people love advertisements and, at times, prefer watching them to television programmes, is that advertising has powerful stories driving its content. The Samsung customer service ad for India — where the service engineer faces numerous obstacles, including a tree-blocked road and mountainous terrain, to get a TV repaired so that blind children can watch their hostel-mate participate in a singing contest — topped the list of most-watched ads on YouTube in 2017, with over 150 million views! width="320" height="266" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>What sets it apart? It is simple, has an element of surprise, is touching but does not go overboard, and isn’t soppy. I believe the power of the story made it hugely popular. So, where’s the analogy for PR companies and what must they do?What’s your pitch?Today, to put it mildly, journalists lead stressful lives. They work under myriad pressures and ever-shrinking deadlines, even as they compete with their colleagues to break stories or move up to the front page of their respective newspapers. Then, why should they read your pitch? They will read a press release if it is well-crafted, caters to the current interests of the reader and is brief. Remember the saying ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.I wish our PR executives would write to the point and better so that they capture the essence of the content in a few, well-chosen words rather than in voluminous paragraphs that sorely tempt the recipient to press the delete button.The way forwardSadly, the PR industry does not train its young people as well as it ought to. So, the bright young people manage on their own initiative and ability while the rest just about get by. While maintaining relationships is important, it is difficult for youngsters to build a rapport with older, more experienced journalists. But there is a silver lining. The media will welcome you if you are an expert on your client and their vertical. It[...]

The campaigns, they are a-changing


A lot of brands keep changing their ad campaigns, even before they have outlived their usefulnessWhen do clients change their ad campaigns? Usually when they believe that their consumers are getting tired of them. The reality, however, is that clients and agencies get tired of their campaigns much before the consumers do. That’s because clients see their own campaigns so many times — in their conference rooms, as part of agency reviews and every time they have a visitor.Consumers, however, have a million other things on their mind. They don’t spend time in conference rooms. They are too busy standing in queues, ensuring their family has three square meals and in figuring out their children’s homework! And throw in around 900 TV channels they have access to, and it’s a miracle that they actually remember their house address, much less your brand!And yet, brands keep changing their ad campaigns, sometimes even before they have outlived their usefulness.Pugs multiply, creativity diminishesHow many of you remember ‘Hutch’, the mobile service? Or their advertising? Well, it is difficult not to remember the dog, a pug, that the brand introduced. Clearly, the advertising had created a brand property in the pug, which I am sure would have scored highly in all advertising recall studies. allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">While the pug featured in more commercials than a few Bollywood stars (and even escalated the price of pugs in India, if rumours are to be believed), it was part of several memorable commercials. This ad shows the boy’s faithful friend following him everywhere and ending up on his bed, the final message being the network follows you everywhere.Let me once again reiterate my peeve with the brand’s advertising, which is true of all mobile service providers in India — ‘It has no relation to the actual level of service or coverage in the country!’ Sadly, as a consumer of Vodafone, I cannot really believe the claim of the network following me everywhere, as it has not been my experience with the brand.Most recently, Vodafone came out with another commercial, that features another young boy being followed by a whole group of pugs. And the commercial has an astonishing claim — that it adds a tower every hour! Wow! Some clock! This claim seems as outlandish as saying Afghanistan is the greatest cricket team of all time, just because it made it to the Under-19 World Cup semi-finals in New Zealand. allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Where is Hari Sadu?Do you remember the old Naukri ad? It features an ill-tempered, evil boss who is universally hated and aptly called Hari Sadu. The boss’ assistant tells him the restaurant he wants reservation at, is on the line. Even as he tries to book a table for two, the man on the other end of the line seems to have a problem getting his name right.At this time, one of his subordinates offers to help and does so by giving a cheeky expansion of the name — H for Hitler, A for arrogant, R for rascal and I for idiot — to the absolute delight of his peers and the shock of the boss. The tagline from the brand said, ‘Guess who has just heard from us?’ allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Clearly, a lot of young people leave their jobs because their immediate supervisor is insufferable. And while the ad may have offended a few employers, I think it was quite popular with younger people, whose bio-datas populate the brand’s website.The brand recently changed its commercial for a more functio[...]

The advertising year in retrospect


The best advertising is simple, has a powerful idea — and makes you wish you were in itHow was 2017 as a year for advertising?The industry did grow, particularly in areas such as digital, but I won’t focus too much on the business side of advertising. Rather, I will look into the business of advertising, which is all about making ads and TV commercials.As an avid consumer of TV advertising (I strongly believe that the advertising in India is better than the programming), I have my own views about them — some of them are quite strong, even if I am not the target audience for many of the products being advertised. Which means that I can be truly objective about them!If I have missed out some nice ads (which is inevitable in an exercise of this nature), you can put it down to a combination of old age, selective amnesia and boredom.Broad trendsWere there any broad trends that were observed? Was there too much reference to sex and sexuality, openly or obliquely?Actually, though certain categories like deodorants and fragrances continue to use sex to sell their products, the references seem a lot more muted now. Even Fastrack, which has a reputation for being in-your-face, is only mildly flirtatious in its commercials. allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">There has also been the emergence of hitherto unadvertised categories, such as perfumes, making their presence felt. Here is a commercial for Fogg, which talks about how a perfume is a great gift that reminds the recipient of the giver. allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">It is also worth noting that Fogg, the deodorant, went back to its earlier advertising of ‘Fogg chal raha hai’, showing how the deodorant brand is actually a phenomenon sweeping the country — even at the borders, if the advertising is to be believed!It’s a woman’s worldFor too long, we have lived in a man’s world, as they seem to call the shots in the world of business. Consumer marketing is all about women, who make decisions for household products. But 2017 was different — we witnessed it as being the ‘year of the women’, especially in advertising.There were a number of commercials that spoke up about women’s equality and portrayed them as equal to the men in the household. There was an initiative by Star Plus, the channel that ran the ‘Nayi Soch’ campaign, which showed Aamir Khan as the owner of a sweet shop. In the ad, he acknowledged the role his two daughters played in taking the business to the next level.The commercial’s message, that your daughters can scale up your business even better than your sons, is brilliantly captured in it. allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">The right to a halfTwo other ads stood out for me. The Benetton ad is forthright and says women have a right to half of everything — including the power to decide, which has been denied to them for ages. But then, the brand’s advertising has always been about attitude, and this commercial only reiterates that. allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Tata Tea, another brand that has believed in exhorting its consumers to act, addresses gender equality, and shows how it is learnt and is not inborn. In the ad, a mother allows the son to go to play badminton, while she asks her daughter to stay back and learn to cook, because otherw[...]

What an Idea, Sirji!


It is very difficult to build a brand property which could be a campaign idea, a tune or a tag lineI have an unreasonable liking for Idea, the mobile services brand. And this proclivity has to be understood slightly differently. I used to head the advertising agency that launched Birla AT&T in Pune. It was great fun and a challenge to work with a demanding American client, who was solidly behind the agency.Those were the early days of the mobile phone in India and people frantically called each other from the cheaper landlines, when they got calls on their mobiles — the rates were that prohibitive!Things moved for the brand once Lowe Lintas, as it used to be called in those days, started working on the account. I started following it even if I didn’t subscribe to the service. One of the first things that drew me to the brand was the signature tune, that had a piece composed by Ilaiyaraaja.For my generation, he was God. Here’s one of the earliest commercials, showing a variety of people using the mobile phone. For me, what made the commercial memorable was the music and that signature tune, which became the ringtone for Idea users. For the brand, it became its property that it has held on to steadfastly over the years. allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Social messagesOne of the ad differentiators, that set Idea apart from its competitors Airtel and Vodafone, was the focus on social messages. They used Abhishek Bachchan to great effect in quite a few commercials.But here is one of my favourites. This one is about children from the village, who are unable to get admission into a city school because of paucity of space. In such a situation, Idea steps in and helps the children get the best education, thanks to its network.It has a fairy tale ending, with a bright village girl becoming the student of the year to the absolute delight of the school principal, who is Abhishek Bachchan, the face of the brand for several years. This commercial had the ‘What an Idea, Sirji!’ theme. allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Nothing is more delightful for a copywriter than for his line to become a part of the editorial in every newspaper. How often is it that something innovative in the news been headlined with the brand’s line? To me, that is a testament to the creative product’s excellence and how much it has become a part of the mainstream. And this element, of having a social message, has continued to differentiate the brand.Walk when you talkI could talk about several commercials of Idea that I liked, but I will stay with one simple, highly-effective commercial that again features Abhishek Bachchan. This one exhorts people to walk while they talk, thus creatively ensuring that people stay fit even as they keep talking endlessly on the phone! allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">One never knows why agencies lose clients, especially when they have been handling the same brand for years. However, I believe in the adage that clients are won on great creative and lost by poor servicing. The Idea account has moved to another agency after several years. Here’s the new commercial. allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">It’s interesting how, sticking with the social message genre, it talks about subjects that are getting incr[...]

Can a personal brand win an election?


Superstar Rajinikanth is the latest silver screen hero to take the plunge into politicsDecember 31, 2017 was a day for fireworks, celebrations, and popping of champagne corks in most parts of the world. However, for the political leaders in Tamil Nadu (or at least for some of them) alarm bells began ringing!Rajinikanth, known around the world as “Superstar”, finally announced that he will launch a political party. Mind you, he has been threatening to do this for as long as I can remember, so the announcement didn’t come a moment too soon. Let’s not forget that Rajinikanth is from the South India , where there is a unique culture in which people from tinseltown make it big as political leaders; whether it was NT Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh, or MGR and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu.At the risk of being slaughtered, thanks to the internet, I think Rajini is perhaps a bigger brand than the doyens of old. But the question is, will his personal charisma and brand lead him to power, even as he vows to contest from all 234 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu in the forthcoming elections?Political leaders can be brandsThe world has seen several political brands, be it Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Gandhi, John F Kennedy or more recently, Narendra Modi, they all had strong brand associations. Lincoln stood for equality of blacks; Churchill was stubborn and refused to give up; Gandhi stood for non-violence, and so on.Rajinikanth’s strongest association is his ‘style’, which may or may not cut much ice with the political masses. But I am sure he has the following to cause some disquiet amongst his opponents. He has to refine his positioning and offering, which has a greater relevance for voters.Promise, big promise, effectively worded is what moves the masses. Remember “blood, sweat and tears?” “Garibi hatao”, that Indira Gandhi used to great effect, “Labour isn’t working” which swept Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party to power, or “achche din aane wale hain” that ensured a Modi landslide (even if there is no talk of that now).Similarly, if Rajini is to follow in the footsteps of MGR and Jayalalithaa, he has to craft his own positioning that will be a much lower common denominator than the spiritualism plank that he has taken to launch his party. I am sure the king of punch dialogues that Tamil Nadu loves will come up with his own slogan for the future of his party.The time is rightSuccessful brands always seem to gauge a gap in the market. There is a crying need for them; and that’s where Tamil Nadu is right now. With the passing of Jayalalithaa and the continuing illness of M Karunanidhi, there seems to be a complete void in leadership.The people of the south India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, seem to strongly believe that they need film heroes and heroines to save them! What bigger hero than the ‘Baasha’ to save the people of Tamil Nadu?It is also in the same breath that we need to speak of another film star — Kamal Haasan, who has also started a political party, perhaps only on Twitter. But I am sure he realises the opportunity and the gaping void in Tamil Nadu politics that is yearning for leadership and direction.What of the future?I am hardly a soothsayer and we all know the hazards of making forward-looking statements, particularly in the stormwaters that Indian politics can be. Merely launching a new party or great credentials may not be enough. Rajini has to demonstrate that he understands politics as well as he understands films. He needs to find a position that is better crafted than the interesting platform of spiritualism. He needs to have a proper team, as fans might give you loyalty but they are yet unproven in politics or administrative capability. Rajinikanth needs a strong promise that will click with the people who may be disillusioned with the Dravidian clique and the fact that Tamil Nadu is no longer the dominant state it was. Clearly, the Dravidian[...]

A brand new logo for a struggling old city


Designing a logo isn’t going to save Bengaluru, a city that is bursting at the seamsOn December 24, Bengaluru got itself an extremely interesting and striking new logo. This had several firsts to its credit. It’s the first time an Indian city has had a logo. Many cities in other countries already have distinct logos and identities. (Remember, the “I love New York” logo and campaign that made its way onto T-shirts, caps, pens and mugs?) Another feature of the new logo is that the design was crowd sourced and chosen from 1,350 entries. The design, with its blend of English and Kannada, also subtly draws attention to the tagline ‘Be U' or be yourself.The State government, while feeling justifiably proud of its latest creation, talks about creating and marketing merchandise to the bevy of tourists, both local and international, who flock to the already crowded city. Let me state upfront that I find the logo distinctive, colourful and striking, which are all laudable qualities in choosing and identifying a logo when multiple alternatives are presented.But, as someone who has lived in Bengaluru for almost my entire working life, I have certain suggestions to the city and its administrators on the branding front as a brand is not only about a logo or colours. I really love this city, or at least what it used to be, so all my comments should be viewed in the spirit of the anguished cries of someone who is getting increasingly frustrated living here.Brands need strong logosA logo is the visual representation of a brand and the first thing that brands invariably do when they have a name in place is to design an identity that is distinctive, has certain strong colours, and stands apart from its competitors.Companies have also discovered that consumers remember shapes and when reinforced often, they will creatively recall them in the context of that brand. Who doesn't remember the Nike swoosh that is so powerful, you may not even have to write the name Nike when you are referring to the brand.Children remember the “golden arches” of McDonalds and are drawn to it when they are anywhere near a mall; never mind the brand’s current problems in the North and East India.But these brands and the many other successful ones we have come across, have more to them than a strong logo and a visual identity. This is precisely my bone of contention with the Bengaluru logo. While it is commendable that the administrators have finally realised that Bengaluru has the potential to be a brand, they are, in my opinion, a bit late to the party.The most recognised city in the worldBengaluru has always had several tags. It was initially, rather derogatorily, referred to as the “pensioner’s paradise”, as many old people, suitably clothed in mufflers, were seen walking in the gardens of the city. The widespread greenery soon earned it the distinction of being the “garden city”; something that I quickly realised the truth and value of when I came from a parched Madras in 1980.Then, with the emergence of software majors such as Infosys, Bangalore, as it was known then, became the “software capital of India”. People who lost their jobs in software got used to the expression “Bangalored”. The city was a boom town and grew on its own accord with capricious politicians who allowed even greedier builders to build anywhere and gave away lakebeds for development.The traffic is a nightmare, roads non-existent and garbage reigns everywhere. Any outsider who comes to Bengaluru complains about the roads (or lack thereof) and the traffic. The city spawns jokes such as: “In the US, people drive on the right side of the road, in the UK, on the left side and in Bengaluru, on what is left of the road”. But the government was secure as Bengaluru next became the “start-up capital of India”.Mind you, it is important to remember that a large part of Bengaluru’s development happened without any special [...]

Consistency in advertising is key to brand recall


Whether it takes digs at competition or uses poignant narratives, a brand must advertise regularlyBrands constantly strive to challenge leaders and gain noticeability and market share against the well-entrenched competition. This is a universal occurrence across categories. Pepsi by, constantly trying to challenge Coke, has acquired the status of a challenger. In the early days, Apple used to take digs at IBM, which was a leader, and then continued to make fun of Microsoft with its deficient Windows program that was full of bugs. Advertising has always been a means for brands to get the consumer’s attention and eyeballs. They use radical means to attack their competition , usually a leader.They often use comparative advertising as a strategy. Here’s an ad that Apple did in its early days, welcoming IBM. People might have been forgiven for thinking that Apple was the bigger brand, welcoming a smaller player! The truth, of course, was different.Pepsi has always tried to tell its consumers, subtly and not so subtly, that it is the young, hep brand and Coke was the fuddy-duddy one meant for older consumers. Research too has shown that Pepsi is a brand for the young and the young at heart and their advertising, over the years, has carefully perpetuated this image of youthfulness.Here’s an old ad featuring the famous Hip Hop recording artiste MC Hammer, who suddenly starts singing like Frank Sinatra when his Pepsi is swapped for a Coke. allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Playing with emotionsI must be one of the few people who used Savlon in a Dettol-dominated market. Who has not used Dettol for his knee wounds after a game of football or after early morning nicks and cuts?If my memory serves me right, Savlon, the minor competitor, used to be a brand made and marketed by ICI, a company which no longer exists in India. My dad used to work in ICI and we had an affinity for their products. Imagine my delight when I recently saw an ad for Savlon, a product that I thought no longer existed!Unlike the Apple and the Pepsi commercials that were in-your-face and cocking a snook at their competition, this ad is a warm, emotive commercial built on the basic emotion of a mother’s love. It features several children who, after falling in a heap after jumping over a relay or falling while doing gymnastics, cry out in pain, always call for their mothers. The commercial talks about how Savlon is like the mother’s love, that you can always trust. allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Does advertising work for brands like SavlonWhen brands wish to grow, there two big marketing challenges that they must overcome — that of reach and resources.Fortunately, Savlon is now a part of the ITC stable, a company that is well-served on both these fronts. We all know it is a major force in the FMCG segment, thanks to its enormous distribution and the range of its products.Savlon, which earlier used to be with Johnson and Johnson, sees a great opportunity in the hand wash market, where it competes with the likes of Dettol and Lifebuoy. Both of them are well-entrenched brands that have a tremendous brand salience and very visible advertising.But ITC will back Savlon and support it with what it needs.Consistent advertising is the keyEven as I watched the Savlon ad, it struck me that this was perhaps the first commercial I was seeing of the brand in ages — and therein lies the rub. Advertising cannot be on a stop-start mode if brands are to survive and flourish.They need to be nurtured through a smart strategy a[...]

Will your ad be remembered thirty years later?


Whether today’s ads will be reminisced about in the future is the challenge ad agencies face“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it” - George SantayanaMy first session for students of advertising management or people who join the advertising industry fresh is one titled “The times they are a changing”. It’s a historic look at ads from the last thirty years, particularly in India; as I strongly believe people should have a sense of history of the industry to which they belong. The reactions are two-fold from the audience, which is usually made up of young students and budding professionals in the advertising industry. “Oh I remember this ad!” is one nostalgic response, and people generally sing along with some of the jingles. After all, we were a radio generation before we graduated to black and white television. The other sobering observation, particularly from those about to join the industry, is interesting too: “do you think we would be able to make ads as good as these so that people will watch them thirty years later?”It is this reaction that inspired this piece you are just going to read. Let me also quickly tell you that sometimes we tend to view our past through rose-tinted spectacles as we are aided and abetted by nostalgia and a sense of “those were the days”.A peek into the pastSince I entered advertising in 1983, I have very strong memories of a few ads — none of which I was involved with, but which I still liked as a consumer of advertising and more importantly as a student of advertising. The first one, which you have all seen and which I have personally shown a few hundred times, is the ‘Liril girl in the waterfall’ ad. I also remember that this ad was shown primarily in cinema halls and I know people who would go early to the theatre to watch this ad! People knew the model’s name, the waterfall where the commercial was shot and just about every possible detail about the ad! Amazing, considering this was in a day and age when the internet was unheard of! Watch it once again: allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Another ad that I really liked was the ad for Rasna. While there were several, the cute girl eyeballing the camera and saying “I love you Rasna” was special to me. Perhaps because I worked for Mudra in those days and we were particularly proud of our work for the brand. Here’s the ‘coffee, tea, or Rasna’ ad, the idea for which might have been borrowed from a titillating book titled “coffee, tea or me” which featured the adventures of an airhostess. Strategically this ad was designed to promote drinking of Rasna when people returned from work tired, on summer evenings. allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Mile Sur….Here’s one more commercial that every one of us must have watched hundreds of times. The commercial “mile sur mera tumhara” must have been aired thousands of times on national TV, and featured some of the greatest musicians of the time along with actors and cricketers who ruled the roost then. Arguably one of the best public service campaigns of the eighties and nineties, the ad certainly made us feel nostalgic and made us realise the complexity of our country and its diversity which could still lead to unity. allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">So where do we go from here?Let me q[...]

How different is your brand?


A cause for concern is that most of the brands’ differentiations happen only in advertisingWhat makes brands successful? How is it that certain brands have managed to remain strong over the years? While a multiplicity of reasons can be attributed to the success of brands, they usually have two important characteristics — they are relevant to their customers; and they are different from their competition.The most important word in branding in my vocabulary is the word ‘different’. Sadly, brands find it easier to talk about differentiation than to actually make it happen. The really successful brands keep differentiating themselves all the time and are not content to sit back and lean on their past laurels.Not a mere sloganIt’s difficult to have a discussion on successful brands without talking about Apple. Its ‘think different’ slogan was much more than just a motto— it was a way of life that permeated the company’s culture and its functioning. It challenged the status quo and changed the way the world computed, listened to music and used the mobile phone.During my childhood, the Sony Walkman was a market leader. But then, the iPod, which enabled you to have around 1,000 songs in your pocket, was launched and the Walkman became history. It was certainly different and the market lapped it up.Closer home...While India has always been viewed as an attractive market by MNCs, they still struggle to come to terms with certain basics about it the country. It is true that the absolute numbers are much larger than several countries of the world, but the fact is that India is a price-driven market. Indians will patronise acceptable quality at affordable prices.We don’t want sophisticated or over-engineered products with fancy prices. We will buy shampoos, but prefer the sachets, with its low purchase risk and affordability.This is the difference a brand like Chik brought to the Indian market. Soon, the single-serve revolution spilled over to almost every other FMCG product, and today, multinationals too have realised the value of this difference, thus jumping on the bandwagon.Seconds matterIndia has witnessed a tremendous surge in mobile demand over the years, and today, it has overtaken the US in terms of smartphone sales. It was in this market that Tata Docomo (as it was known then) introduced the concept of per second billing and asked the consumer to be smart by not paying for more than what he actually used.This made the larger competitors follow suit, thus benefiting the average consumer, and helped the fledgling operator get a foot in the crowded and yet vast Indian mobile services market. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">The brand was noticed by consumers because of this difference. It made the competition sit up, take notice and reluctantly follow suit.Advertising: the only differentiator?Traditionally, advertising agencies are paid to think out of the box, and to come up with differences in communication strategy and execution which makes their client’s brand stand out from the competition.But my reservation is that the clients are abdicating their responsibility of doing things differently by leaving it exclusively to the advertising agency. As a consequence, the only ‘different’ thing that happens with brands is in the area of advertising! Very little can be seen on the brand or on the service delivery front.This cannot be a long term proposition and brands need seriously introspect if they are actually doing something different.Are we living in the past?There is another side to the coin too. While some companies do innovate and try something different, the results so far have been mixed. An important question we as[...]

Why Brands Need A Larger Purpose?


Why do brands exist? Because they help companies make money? Because consumers’ lives are better by using them? Because investors want to invest in those companies that have successful brands? While there is an element of truth in each of these statements, the reality is that many brands and businesses have existed and even prospered historically because someone had started them in the first place, and the next generation of entrepreneurs continued to do more of the same, at times improving their processes and ending up making them more successful. Yes, there are many brands that have been successful and have been so for years now. But if we look at the really successful brands (some of which have even become iconic) there is a larger truth about them. They all have a purpose clearly articulated by the founders that drives the brands, its employees and which impacts the consumers too as they continue to remain loyal to the brand. Let’s look at some of these brands that we have grown up with, used and admired.A life without Apple?No discussion on branding is complete without a fleeting mention at least of Apple. What did Apple do? It’s not only that they produced superbly-designed products that consumers fell in love with. They challenged the status quo. They changed the way people looked at computers, the way people listened to music and later challenged the way consumers looked at mobile phones. Here’s a commercial that best embodies the philosophy of the brand and its visionary founder.  frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="background: rgb(255, 255, 255); border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; color: #2d2d2d; font-family: Roboto, sans-serif; font-size: 16px; margin: 0px; max-width: 100%; outline: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: top;" width="100%">This leads me to make a fairly important point, a larger purpose impacting humans can make a big difference to the long term future of brands and what better example than Apple to demonstrate this.And where will you go for your cup of coffee? Another interesting modern day brand is, Starbucks, and the purpose? Schultz being inspired by the coffee shops in Italy and realising the integral part the coffee shop played in the average Italian’s life thought about the USA and creating a “third place” in the average American’s life, knowing fully well that the American merely alternating between work and home. Why not create a “refuge” he thought? And then went on to create “rewarding everyday moments” in each one of his outlets all over the country and the world for that matter.Matha, Pitha, Google, Deivam An ancient Tamil proverb says: “Father, mother and guru are good.” In today’s world, one might have to include Google!Can you think of a life without Google? I for one can’t. Even if I have to travel to far-flung places like Mayiladuthurai who do I rely on? I rely on the lady with the American accent who reels off tongue-twisting Tamilian names that have foxed many Punjabis, with great aplomb. And that’s just one app. How can a student get through college without Google and here we were who studied masters without access to calculators for exams! And what’s their mission, “to organise the world’s information and make it universally-accessible and useful”.So where do we go from here?While examples are always inspiring and often reassuring, they might not be of much use if one has been in business for years, making money year-after-year repetitively, often doing more of the same. It’s perhaps time to step back and ask why we are in business. Very often, in today’s world of preoccupation with the performance of the quarter, are we missing the bigger picture? It’s perhaps time t[...]

IndiGo manhandling incident has little impact on the brand, business


Though the incident triggered social media anger, there was no immediate commercial fallout, say expertsMUMBAI, NOVEMBER 21:  On November 8, India’s biggest low-cost airline IndiGo found itself in the middle of a PR disaster. A video doing the rounds in social media showed the airline’s staff allegedly manhandling a flier after a Chennai-Delhi flight. What followed were jokes, memes and calls for boycott, all of which a public apology from the airline’s CEO didn’t appear to stem.But now, more than 10 days later, IndiGo doesn’t appear to have suffered commercially from social media anger. The online travel agents that BusinessLine spoke to said that in the days since the video became public, bookings on the airline — which enjoys close to 40 per cent market share in the domestic circuit — remained as strong as ever. Agents say there have been no requests by passengers to cancel their IndiGo flights or reschedule to another airline; neither has the airline had to drop fares to retain passengers.So was #saynotoindigo nothing more than an empty threat? How much does negative PR affect the commercial aspect of a business? “Almost never in the short run,” said Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, BrandComm. “The brand might take a beating for a while, but it’s still a good airline. Our sentiment for how we see the airline as treating its passengers is separate from the airline’s performance in getting you efficiently from one point to another. For a business to lose customers, there needs to be repeated negative experiences. Right now, I think most fliers see this incident as a one-off for IndiGo.”IndiGo did not respond to a request for comment.It’s even tougher for customers to express their unhappiness with a business in an oligopolistic industry like aviation, according to Paresh Vaish, Partner, EY. “IndiGo has among the most comprehensive coverage for domestic routes; so for a lot of fliers, the airline is sometimes the only option. Also, customers tend to separate the individual’s experience from the brand itself. So while Rajiv Katiyal (the passenger in the video) might choose to never fly IndiGo again, the chances of everybody else following the same way are slim.”The only exception, Vaish added, is when passengers are concerned about safety. “Take Malaysia Airlines for example. After the MH370 disappearance, there was a significant drop in bookings which brought the carrier close to bankruptcy.” Brand guru Harish Bijoor concurred. “Sometimes, we may not like the brand but still use the product because there aren’t any other options available.”Mahesh Reddy, Secretary General, Air Passengers Association of India, believes while the immediate commercial fallout of such incidents might be negligible, they don’t bode well either for a brand or the country’s image. “We’re speaking to airlines and asking them to train their apprentices and staff better. We’re also pushing for this with the ministry. Such incidents must not recur.”Mature markets“I think a commercial backlash is more likely in mature markets in the West where expectations of customer service are much higher,” Sridhar said. “Indians are slowly getting there. Right now, when we take to social media to complain, we’re just trying to shame the brand into doing better. We want to say that the behaviour is not acceptable; we’re not going to take this lying down.”[...]

When will IndiGo learn from its mistakes?


It must remember that training is crucial; every single employee is a brand ambassadorI am no great admirer of IndiGo Airlines, let me state that up front. They are too full of themselves, constantly telling us how they are on time, once again. I must confess that they are generally on time and that is a great boon if you live in a city like Bengaluru, where the air traffic is as unpredictable as the weather and even a few minutes delay can throw your entire schedule out of gear.Yet, they become strangely silent when they are late, blaming the air traffic control.And they are reasonably inhumane as they ruthlessly offload passengers who come even a few seconds late, without bothering to look at the genuineness of the case. Yet, even their detractors might hesitate to gloat over the airline’s current predicament, after the recent fracas in which a passenger was manhandled by staffers. The sorry incident demonstrates, more than anything else, that companies obstinately refuse to learn from the mistakes of others and insist on making fresh ones themselves.It can’t happen to us!Crises are not new, nor are they ever going to go out of fashion. If anything, they are going to multiply in the digital world. But it seems to be a bit like our attitude to death. We somehow seem to think that it’s not going to happen to us, even when we are attending someone else’s funeral!Airlines, by the very nature of the industry, with frequent customer contacts, multiple moments of truth and the shared use of several common services such as airports and air traffic control, which are handled by others, are more prone to trouble than other industries.In the latest case, of course, IndiGo doesn’t really have an excuse as its employee and ex-employee are clearly to blame, even if there was severe provocation. Yes, it was not a flight attendant but a logistics person. This brings to mind what Disney used to talk about: every employee is either “on stage” or “off stage”, depending on whether he/she is facing customers or not. A janitor in a theme park is equally important because the visitor is going to ask him/her for directions. They are, therefore, all brand ambassadors, so it’s not enough to merely train the stewardesses and the people at the counter. The person who guides you on to the bus is perhaps more prone to the stresses and strains of customer contact and its risks. Though, in this case, it seems the passengers are the ones who are at the receiving end of the violence.How prepared are we?Every business, whether it is an airline, a mall, a hospital or a garment factory, is prone to crises. In the age of social media, the crisis can actually put forest fires to shame, so ruthlessly and violently does it spread. Speedy response is of the essence and IndiGo has been lethargic in this respect, given that the incident happened quite some days ago.The smarter companies work closely with their communication agencies to catalogue a list of crises that can besiege their business and have a contingency plan to minimise the risk. The focus is on damage control. How can they keep the crisis from trending online? Can the PR company make sure that the ticker of a news channel does not include the company’s brand name? Can they move the news from page 1 to page 7 of a newspaper over a period of time? Can they hope for a bigger crisis to happen to someone else so that their crisis is forgotten?Don’t gloat over someone else’s crisisWhile it is natural for competitors to gloat over IndiGo’s crisis, my suggestion to them is this: look out for a similar or an even larger crisis that can come back to bite you. It may seem cute to create memes or send funny WhatsApp messages mocking the other company but we live in crisis-filled times an[...]

Is Virat going soft?


Recent ads featuring Virat Kohli show a hitherto unknown side of the cricketerWhat comes to your mind when I say Virat Kohli? Champion, competitor, intense, aggressive, in your face, loud, brash... You could reel off these adjectives and for most part, you wouldn’t be off the mark. The overriding impression, in my mind at least, would be of unbridled aggression.In fact, Rahul Dravid, who is the quintessential well-behaved cricketer, said in a recent interview that some of the things that Kohli says before a series makes him cringe!Whilst Rahul Dravid may might have effectively signed himself off any major coaching assignment with the BCCI with this statement, it raised my own estimation of him for speaking his mind and echoing the sentiments of people like me. But what’s all this got to do with Virat’s alleged softness?The king of celebritiesVirat is not only the undisputed number 1 in One-Day batting rankings, but he is also one of the richest sportsmen in the world, as per the latest Forbes list. So he’s clearly a hot celebrity endorsing a whole range of brands, including the tremendous Puma deal.Yet, most celebrity advertising is similar looking as it focuses on the celebrities, their demeanour and achievements. Using Virat’s example, a usual ad would show him celebrating, shaking a triumphant fist or smashing the ball over the ropes as despairing fielders watch helplessly. No one is really sure whether this advertising and the celebrity, who is so highly paid, is actually helping the brand, given the number of ads and brands the same celebrity endorses.So how does one break the clutter? The answer, as always, lies in the script: the often ignored component in celebrity commercials. Can we show a new dimension of the celebrity rather than the clichéd, similar ships-that-pass-me-in-the-night visuals? Yes, we can. How? By showing a side to the celebrity — Virat, in this case — that was hitherto unknown. The following commercials demonstrate this.Are you a younger sibling?If you are a younger sibling like me, you know what it is to be ignored, to be taunted and be asked to get lost by your elder brother or sister, as they carry on with their secretive business! Although the situation itself is not new, one can easily relate to this commercial.In this ad, the game begins with the picking of teams. And guess who is left out? The youngest kid in the block. As the older kids speak to him derisively, Virat solicitously asks him whether he would want to open the batting for his team. And in a surprise twist, the kid belts out runs all around the park. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">The new improved ViratThe commercial that really caught my fancy, however, is the one that shows Virat in a completely new light. In this, he is wearing a kurta, and talks about common themes that you and I can relate to. He says how he does nothing on Sundays and just as he is about to take off in his car, he is called for a game of cricket by kids who, cheekily, ask whether they should give him batting. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Mostly, the commercial shows Virat’s softer side as he talks about traffic jams and playing antakshari with his family.Do they? Don’t they?The romance-rumours of Anushka and Virat have been doing the rounds for years now. Now, there are rumours of their intended wedding!This commercial is set in an actual wedding, and has Virat and Anushka d[...]

After Tinder, Happn stepping up the dating game: Here's how


With 14 million swipes per day, the dating app is garnering popularity globallyChallenging the concept and the market of are many dating apps, which are targeted at freewheeling millennials in India. The most popular app in the country, is also the global favourite, Tinder with 14 million swipes per day. Breaking expectations that it will cater mostly to millennials, a large number of Baby Boomers are using the app, along with users from Tier-II and Tier-III towns, indicating its unchallenging popularity.“People do not call it Tindering but it is just as popular. Any new brand that comes will have to create the same kind of appeal, ubiquity and applicability. New apps might match the depth that they have in terms of database too, because the ability to match depends on the number of users which is already high in India,” believes Harish Bijoor, the founder of Harish Bijoor Consultants, a private label consulting firm.Yet, the market of dating apps, is buzzing. A large number of global and local apps, be it Woo or Truly Madly are making ripples in their own way. The most notable of the challengers is the French dating app, Happn which launched last year. The app came in with a big-bang ad campaign featuring Hrithik Roshan. The app is built on the concept that a chance meet with a person can turn into a possible date, with a little bit of help from technology.Unlike Tinder which matches people based on age, location, common friends and interests, Happn romanticises meetings, in a truly French manner. It matches people who would have met otherwise too, and brings them together based on the grocery stores or laundromats or coffee shops that they visit. Their India ad, narrated by Roshan, shows two people bumping into each other, getting attracted and walking away hoping to meet later.Experts believe that Tinder and Happn occupy different market segments and cater to different needs. “Tinder has a USP which few other apps can match. Happn’s USP is different and might not appeal to Indian sensibilities where reservations are higher. In India, the odds of a person one sits next to on a bus, not having the best of intentions on mind, is much higher,” says Anil Patrick, CEO at Thinking Hat Corporation, a branding and content management company.Happn too seems to realise this. The app which launched last year, set a target of a million users in a year, even as they kicked off to a good start with 200,000 users. Tinder, on the other hand, came to India after it was an established brand abroad, and also had the first-mover advantage unlike Happn. “Any later entrant will have to play the catching-up game. Even when global majors like Uber and Amazon came to India with established players like Flipkart and Ola, they had to work towards being seen as an Indian brand catering to Indian situations and emotions,” feels Sridhar Ramanujam, CEO at Integrated Brand-Comm.Tinder has failed to Indianise itself and its so-called ‘Sanskari’ ad failed to connect with its users, though it did not have any devastating effect on the usage itself. The ad, which came under considerable online ridicule, shows an Indian mother approving her daughter going on a Tinder date, with a tagline, ‘It’s how people meet.’ This is starkly different from its American ads, as one of them shows two people getting bored on a date and simultaneously searching for others during the date, with a tagline, ‘The only dates that matter.’In India and abroad, Tinder has earned the repute of being popular for casual dates and hook-ups, which users seem to have taken to, even in India. Happn successfully occupied the sweet spot of romance in the many countries that it launched abroad, setting i[...]

Will nostalgia work for Nokia?


Considering new phone buyers are young millennials, can the handset maker recapture market share?Last week, I bought a new mobile phone. Now, before you dismiss this news with a ‘so-what’s-new’ flick of your hand, let me tell you — it was a Nokia . And I was very excited about this phone.But before that, I need to tell you that this is not my main phone but my second phone. Like many diehard Apple fans, my first phone continues to be an iPhone with its ever-dying battery! But back to the excitement. A few months back, I was a judge at a case-study competition in a business school, and the brand being discussed was (hold your breath) Nokia. I heard millennials say that the greatest thing going for Nokia’s revival was the nostalgia factor.I was intrigued, as I knew for a fact that many people who are currently in their 50s had Nokia as their first phone. As they grew in affluence (and also in waist size), they moved up to the more expensive Nokia models. But I wondered if the recommendation was feasible, considering that the primary phone buyers in India today are youngsters. Would the young user have the same nostalgia towards the iconic brand of yesteryear? But let me tell you my own story.Remember the mid-nineties?Even earlier, I had a special affinity for mobile phones. The agency I headed then was responsible for the launch of Birla AT&T (this brand later became Idea) in Pune. Working with the AT&T team was a great experience. If memory serves (and, I must confess, that it is today almost as reliable as the Australian batting middle order), we paid a princely sum of ₹17.88 for a minute of talk-time and ₹8 for incoming!People used mobile phones primarily to give missed calls so that the recipient would call back from the landline. The generation had mixed feelings about mobile phones, assuming it was a luxury and an encroachment into their privacy, among other things. But amidst all this, one brand stood head and shoulders above the rest — Nokia, with its Indian sounding name.With Nokia, they could manage to send SMSes and give missed calls. In fact, the brand had, at one point, a dominant market share of over 80 per cent if reports are to be believed. Unlike Motorola which, despite being the inventor of the mobile phone, struggled in India (due to its practice of shipping those phones that did not sell in the US), Nokia actually created phones for India and Indians, which sold like hot cakes.Here is the ad for one of their top selling models of the past — the Nokia 1100. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Back to the presentSo, the weekend before Diwali, I asked my colleagues which phone they would recommend in the ₹15,000 range. I got a number of recommendations like Moto G, Samsung, Redmi and even Nokia. I strongly believe that timing is everything in marketing and, on the same day, there was a huge ad for the new Nokia phone series in the newspapers.I went to Reliance Digital to check out the phones. I must say that the service across the board in retail outlets in India has improved phenomenally — including Reliance Digital. The sales girl kept pushing Oppo, making me wonder if she thought I was PC Sreeram without hair, as she kept talking about the camera.I asked for the Nokia and ended up buying it. My wife, who is the techno wizard in the family, reassured me that the interface with Google was very clean. Like most husbands, I have this enormous propensity to agree unconditionally to what my wife says and ended up buying the Nokia phone for less than ₹13,00[...]

Understand your consumers to create powerful ads


Consumer insights are waiting to be observed and acted upon. The key is observationIt’s no secret that India (particularly, its youth) is addicted to mobile phones. According to Nielsen, the number of smartphone users has risen from 130 million in May 2014 to 180 million in May 2016.It’s hardly surprising, then, that every mobile maker in China and his brother-in-law is in the country! Whatever be the political tension between these two Asian superpowers, there is no shortage of selfies being taken on Chinese phones in India. Even as the customer beams at the camera, the manufacturers and marketers of the brands in question smile their way to the bank.If mobiles are growing at such a rate, can services be far behind? The overall smartphone usage has been multiplying, with the Indian consumer spending 178 minutes (on an average) a day on shopping, banking, entertainment, music and other activities.As a consequence, the mobile services category is one of the most exciting advertising categories to work on today, replacing the Cola of my times, in terms of attraction to creative people.I’ll give you a missed callThe easiest way to open a conversation when you are in a room full of strangers is to talk about your mobile services. You’ll suddenly discover how the room is full of similarly aggrieved customers, who complain about call drops being worse than Indian slip fielders, networks being as sluggish as the Australian batsmen’s footwork against Indian spin, and a service that is best not spoken about.In a nutshell, all brands are equally bad when it comes to service. The only differentiating factor is the advertising. So what do you do when you have to advertise a product that is similar in features and service to its competition? You look for consumer insights. And what does is this oft-quoted, yet misunderstood term in marketing, mean? According to brandgymblog, it is: “A discovery about your consumer that opens the door to an opportunity for your brand.”And just how do you make this discovery? By observing the consumer and playing back your observations creatively to her via different communication media, so that when she sees the ad, she says, “Hey, is this about me?”How often do we pay attention to something when it is about us? Almost all the time. So here’s a quick jog of your memory to Airtel’s youth campaign that resonated extremely well with the youngsters — every young Indian could relate to the heros and their friends in these ads. Even though the two commercials were aired years ago, they still work. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560"> allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">Oops! I dropped my phone againOne of the most commonly distressing habits of people is their amazing propensity to drop their phones. Samsung latched on to this and offered a ‘one time screen replacement’ for all of us casual, careless mobile phone users.Here’s a commercial, which has two distracted young men bumping into each other and promptly dropping their phones. One of them is fortunate enough to have a Samsung phone and is secure in the knowledge that the screen can be replaced; the other, unfortunately, can only look on in horrified silence. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;"[...]

Why Uber should walk the talk


The company should be more about consumer experience and less about advertisingLet me quickly tell you that I like Uber. I wish I could say ‘I love Uber’, but I am just a selfish consumer, warts and all. I liked Uber because it is so much cheaper than the Airport taxi that people in Bangalore are used to.I didn’t need to count my change for the toll, nor did I have to fret and fume when the driver didn’t have the difference amount at 11.30 pm, when I was tired, angry and sleepy. I liked Uber too as the cars were newer than Ola’s, and drivers seemed less surly. Ola drivers, whom I bumped into, usually launched into a diatribe about the company and its policies — or the lack thereof.Of course, these were the hey days of cab drivers when some made ₹80,000 or more a month, even as cab companies bent over backwards to get drivers on board and incentivised them as though there was no tomorrow. Why should I have worried that these cab companies were losing money left, right and centre, as long as I was getting pampered?All goods things endOf course, the Utopian days could not last — and indeed, it did not. Today, there are more cabs, poorer service, unhappier drivers and consequently, dissatisfied consumers. It is not only the users but the drivers too who reminisce about those ‘good old days’ that may never come back.To counter the simmering discontent, Uber, which is certainly giving Ola a run for its money in India, is doing what many multinational brands do in our country — use mass media advertising. So here’s the new Uber ad, which some of you may have seen. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" style="border-style: initial; border-width: 0px; margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" width="560">We can’t pay you, so we’ll praise youAs you can clearly see, the ad is a tribute to the Uber driver, of how sensitive, considerate and caring he is in the way he drives the car, in how he handles himself and even how he handles your vegetables!Sadly, service brands seem to forget that ‘service’ is all about delivering expectations — and all this commercial does is fuel them. Despite my preference for Uber, I am getting annoyed by drivers who are constantly on the phone.They are so busy complaining about the complexities of incentives to other drivers that they scarcely pay attention to the passenger — this is hardly what is being portrayed in the commercial! But in the same breath, I need to tell you that I find drivers in smaller towns like Vizag a lot more courteous and considerate than in the larger cities like Bangalore.What are the moments of truth in cab travel?All of us are familiar with the five moments of truth that Jan Carlzon spoke about in airline travel which are:~ Making a reservation~ Getting Tickets~ Boarding~ Flying~ Retrieving BaggageWhat are the ‘moments of truth’ in a cab ride? How often have we been annoyed by the driver cancelling the trip and you getting charged for it? How often have we met surly, rude or badly turned-out drivers who are unmindful of everything you say?Yes, Uber does have a system where both passengers and drivers can rate each other.But can something more than advertising be done? Can we have mystery passengers who rate drivers objectively and give feedback to the company on the actual state of consumer service and the on ground — or in the cab, if you will — experience? Incentives could also be considered for softer factors like customer experience and delight, not so much on the number of trips or mileage that is clocked during the day.Blinding flash of the obviousVery of[...]

Why celebrities have turned the tables on brands by ending their endorsements


Key highlights:Virat Kohli decided recently to stop endorsing cola brand PepsiHe said he would not ask people to consume something that he himself does notAmitabh Bachchan ended his 14 year association endorsing the brand Pepsi in 2014While it has seen several times where brands dump their celebrity brand ambassadors over certain controversies or scandals, Virat Kohli's decision recently to stop endorsing cola brand Pepsi despite being offered a lucrative deal came as a change.In the past we have seen even cola brands ending ties with their celebrity endorsers due to controversies. This was seen with Salman Khan when cola brand Thums Up decided to end their association with the star who at that time had was steeped in controversies. Even Snapdeal had ended their ties with Aamir Khan after a controversy regarding his comments on rising intolerance in the country. allowfullscreen="true" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="450" scrolling="no" src="" style="background: transparent; border-style: none; border-width: initial; box-sizing: border-box; list-style-type: none; margin: 0px; outline: 0px; overflow: hidden; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline;" width="100%">International tennis star Maria Sharapova who had admitted to doping later resulted in an exodus of brands from her portfolio. The same was with Tiger Woods after news of his several affairs came to fore.However, Kohli's decision to dump Pepsi is one of the few but growing examples of how celebrity brand endorsers are today taking it endorsement seriously.He refused to renew the contract which ended in April this year saying that he would not ask people to consume something that he himself does not.Besides this, Kohli will no longer endorse fairness creams or products of that genre, an official who works with Kohli told PTI.This is definitely a bold stand taken by the Indian cricket captain to endorse brands and products he utilises and believes in. This is considering that cola brands can offer very lucrative deals. While his deal with Pepsi was not disclosed, his deals with Puma and MRF itself are worth Rs 100 crore each and the deal with cola brand was expected to be somewhere along the same line.But Kohli is not the only celebrity that has dumped a brand selling a product which is unhealthy or frowned upon in society.Actor Amitabh Bachchan ended his 14 year association endorsing the brand Pepsi in 2014 when he was confronted by young schoolgirl about being the face of a product that is full of negative ingredients. This he said made him brake off his association with the cola brand.Other Bollywood actors such as Anushka Sharma, Kangana Ranaut, Ranbir Kapoor, Nandita Das and Randeep Hooda have all dumped the fairness creams category as a whole and have taken a stand that they will never endorse such brands or products. Many of them are reported to had even turned down deals to become the brand ambassadors of such products.Another sports celebrity that has shunned endorsing cola brands is Olympic medal winner at Rio PV Sindhu. She clarified soon after winning the Olympics that she would not endorse cola brands or anything harmful for health.Even the one time king of brand endorsements, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, had turned down a group of advertisers saying that he would never endorse any alcohol or tobacco brands. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="450" scrolling="no" src="" style[...]

How much public relations does a brand need?


Companies need to be smart about their positioning in the way they handle media relationsAs I write this piece, a public relations adage that comes to mind is “Any news coverage is good”.In this column, I am going to focus some of my observations on what recently transpired at Infosys and the hit its image took as a result of ineffective media management. Before that, I must state upfront that I have benefited both personally and professionally from the company. I was fortunate to own a few hundred shares in the company and to have spent time with the founders, for whom I have great regard; they have featured in my books and classes as role models in not only managing media but also in transparency and ethics.But now, uncomfortable questions on corporate governance and ethics are raising their heads, causing some of the people in question to look elsewhere as the media focusses its attention primarily on the company, its founders and its erstwhile CEO.Media relationsIn this background, let us look at the possible learnings for other companies, especially those seriously looking at public relations as a means to communicate with the external world.Let’s be very clear about one thing: public relations works. And the principal reason is that it generally has a greater source of credibility than paid advertising. Infosys, in the early years, used this ploy to great effect, as it had a better strategy than its competitors and was actually able to change its positioning over the years through astute media relations.This is normally done by the traditional companies that adopt more expensive, but largely controllable, routes of advertising. Infosys has been following the media route over the years, even if it has come to grief with the most recent fiasco.So let’s look at what other companies can do if they’re looking at media relations seriously.Does being an eager beaver help?There are enough people ready to offer their opinions and advice on a variety of topics, some of which may even be outside their areas of competence. While this is a great strategy for start-ups and even standalone consultants, this is something you will need to revisit as you grow in size. Be selective in offering your point of view. And, when dealing with the media, keep in mind that you are perfectly within your right to walk away from story opportunities that you are not comfortable with.What are your own value systems?I have a great friend in the corporate world who runs one of the most successful marketing companies in India and has a clear guideline on the sort of media that he wants to be part of — “I will agree to any story on the company, but no personal profiling. I don’t want to talk about my holidays, my hobbies, my clothes or my interests”.That clearly means no low-hanging fruit for the PR company, and it also establishes the company culture, as far as the media is concerned.What’s the company’s life cycle?Clearly, start-ups and nascent companies are hungry for coverage, any coverage, and we don’t blame them for that. For who knows where the next round of funding will come from? But as companies grow in visibility and stature, they need to do some serious introspection as to whether the company or its executives are too ‘in your face’ in the media.The same applies to social media as well. I have stopped following CEOs who tweet several times a day. Clearly, the activity is outsourced and lacks the personal touch. So review your entire offline and online strategies periodically.CSR should not be personal profilingToday, many compani[...]

In-depth: From trusted to busted – when brands lose consumer trust


Johnson & Johnson recently lost its fifth court case in the US, which has understandably lent a blow to the brand’s image world over. Several legacy brands from McDonald's to Volkswagen have been taken to court for selling ‘substandard’ products. How do they deal with such situations and how difficult is getting back?What do global Giants Volkswagen, Tata Motors, Nestle and Johnson & Johnson have in common?All of them have lost market share in respective industries because of controversies surrounding quality issues or faulty products.Germany-based Volkswagen lost its dominant position in Europe because of manipulating with fuel emission norms. Tata's Nano car could never pick up after a number of cars caught fire within a year of launch. Nestle fought the Maggi battle with Indian food regulators after lead above permissible limits was found in its two-minute noodles brand.And just last week, a Los Angeles jury directed Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million to a 62-year-old woman who has blamed the company and its talcum powder for her ovarian cancer. This is the fifth case that the baby care giant has lost. Johnson & Johnson, which faces a staggering 5,550 claims in US courts, has lost four previous cases in St Louis amounting to $300 million in all.While J&J will appeal the verdicts, its brand image has taken quite a hit. It is not just in the US that the brand is facing a tough time. Johnson & Johnson used to enjoy a market share of about 80 per cent in the year 2008 in the baby care segment in India and today the brand holds over 50 per cent of that market. The difference is huge and this is despite the brand investing huge monies in marketing.As per Kantar Media, the brand invested $1.12 billion in marketing in the US alone in the year 2015 and an estimated $2.5 billion globally, according to spoke to a few brand experts to try and understand how popular brands are impacted because of that one mistake and how do they get back on track.Harish Bijoor, Brand-expert and Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, believes that in case of J&J, the stigma from the court cases the brand is battling in the West is the reason for its declining popularity in India.“Stigma is strange and it has the habit of following you from shore to shore. In today's viral environment, no one is an ignorant person. Word of digital spreads faster than word of mouth! I do believe J&J has suffered an image hit with the global controversy on its talc. Bigger than the compensation payout claim is the hit on brand image, value and credibility. This has affected the brand badly in India for sure. The brand needs to undertake very quick and effective surgery on its image,” said Bijoor.However, experts feel that trusted brands do get a second chance from consumers. "In case of Maggi, you see Nestle is back with a strong product line with different flavours. Now they're offering more value. It won't be easy to reinstate the dominant leadership it held earlier but it still is the most selling instant noodles brand," a brand consultant said. The consultant didn't wish to be named as he works with a conflicting brand.However, the impact on brand revenue is huge because of less than expected sales and huge marketing budget to reinstate its position.Volkswagen despite losing market share is trying to rebuild its position in Europe on the back of the strong marketing campaigns. In the campaign launched last year, post the emission scandal, the company said, “Volkswagen is more than[...]

KBC and how brand ‘Bachchan’ gains from it

2017-09-01T13:49:23.423+05:30 speaks to a few brands and industry experts to understand what the return of KBC means for the starRoshni Nair  Mumbai, September 01, 2017When Kaun Banega Crorepati was launched in India in 2000, both Amitabh Bachchan and Star Plus (the channel on which the show was originally aired) were struggling. Bachchan, the superstar of the 70s and 80s, fell on rough times with his finances and there were neither good movies nor any endorsements coming his way.Immediately after the show was aired, it broke all rating records (the show did the same when it moved to Sony Entertainment Television in 2010) and proved to be redemption for Bachchan, shooting his brand image sky-high. The star returned to Hindi movies with solid roles and was seen selling almost everything on TV.Today, Big B is indeed a big brand and every time he comes back with a new season of KBC, his brand image gets a further boost.The show has made a comeback after a hiatus of three years. The last season of the show that aired in the year 2014 didn’t bring in a lot of viewership and it reflected on brand Bachchan as well.Close on the heels of launch of the show, Bachchan has been roped in by Lux Industries Limited as brand ambassador for its two brands, Venus and Cott’sWool. While the senior Bachchan has endorsed everything from ‘agarbatti’ to cars, this will be the first time people will see him endorse an underwear spoke to a few brands and industry experts to understand what the return of KBC means for the star and brand Bachchan."KBC will have a positive impact on his brand value and affinity," said Surendra Bajaj, Vice-President Marketing, Lux Industries. “Amitabh Bachchan is a celebrity who can reach out to the masses and therefore, any brand that is associated with him will also benefit from any kind of exposure that he will get," he said. Both Deepika Tewari, General Manager, Marketing, Jewellery Division, Titan Company; and Sam Balsara Chairman, Madison World, agreed with Bajaj that the effects are going to be positive. While Tewari called Bachchan a positive, positive brand; Balsara was of the opinion that the three-year break might help KBC do well this time around.“Remember – Absence makes the heart grow fonder!” Balsara said.Tracing the KBC’s journey from the beginning, B K Rao, Deputy Marketing Manager, Parle Products, said, “When the show first aired on Star Plus, there were empty streets at nine in the night because people rushed home to watch the show. The phone lines used to get chocked because people were trying to participate in the story and it turned the tide for Star Plus as a network. But there was also the discussion that Amitabh Bachchan coming on the small screen will have a lot of negative impact on his image but it gave him huge equity.”Rao also pointed out the fact that the property is 17 years old and with the pace at which media has grown, there has been a lot of fragmentation and this makes it all the more difficult to hold the viewer’s interest.“Three years ago when the eight season of KBC was on it looked like the show had lost it aura and numbers were flat. It was probably why Sony Pictures Network (SPN) took a break. But with this new season it looks like things are falling into place. I personally believe that this new season will do good for both brand KBC and brand AB (Amitabh Bachchan),” added Rao.Ramanujam SridharRamanujam Sridhar, Brand Expert and Founder, Brand-comm belie[...]

How much do you love your wife?


That cue to a strong ad line for pressure cookers resonated with its middle-class audienceSo, do you really love your wife? Now isn’t that a leading question? Almost as bad as ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’. But to someone who started his advertising life nearly three decades ago, it’s a cue to a strong and hardworking advertising line which said ‘Jo biwi se kare pyar, woh Prestige se kaise kare inkaar?’. It’s quite likely that what I’m saying means nothing to you, so let me try and jog your memory by directing you to an old TV commercial that created waves when it first aired. width="320" height="266" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>Matter of ‘Prestige’With all the razzmatazz, bells and whistles that today’s advertising is full of, this simple commercial, set at a dealer outlet of a multi-brand pressure cooker company may even be considered ordinary, but it certainly had its value then. It is a focused TV commercial set in a dowdy shop, with a typical middle-class couple going to purchase a pressure cooker.The main character is a dealer who, in his typical frank and forthright way, asks the man: “How much do you love your wife?”. (In those days, and probably even today, people in India asked even strangers the most pointed of questions, such as: “So, what is your salary?” or “Why don’t you have a child yet?”.)The dealer quickly explains that if the customer loved his wife even a little, he would give her an ordinary pressure cooker; if he loved her more he would give her a better one; but if he really loved his wife, he would give her a Prestige pressure cooker! When the bemused husband asks the dealer why Prestige, the latter explains that ‘the unique gasket release system of the Prestige pressure cooker was designed for husbands who really love their wives’.Today, when we look at this ad, we might be bemused and wonder how it could have been so successful then (I can vouch for its success). One must not forget that this was when television advertising was in its nascent stages. It was before the days of computer graphics designed in London and television commercials shot in New Zealand. The ad had a strong idea that resonated with its middle-class audience and a tagline that, when carefully-handled, became brand property over the years.But I am getting ahead of myself.Good ads do the disappearing actOne of the greatest challenges with clients and advertising agencies is that they get tired of their campaigns long before their consumers do and are anxious to change them, even when the old ones are delivering results. After all, it’s boring to run the same commercial, however effective, year after year.So, for quite a few years, Prestige went ahead with a variety of commercials, offers, and products, each different from the other, that bore no theme holding them all together. The advertising did not have the single-minded appeal it had in its initial years, even if the brand continued to do well.Let’s not forget that Prestige was a dominant brand then, particularly in the Southern markets, where mothers continued to gift their newly-married daughters Prestige pressure cookers. It was not uncommon for the humble pressure cooker to make its way into elegantly designed houses in New Jersey or San Jose. And yet, something was missing and that was[...]

Bisleri invests Rs.60 lakh in local language labels; "Consumer in villages should not be cheated" says marketing head


 Bisleri's marketing director, Anjana Ghosh, tells us the effort is a move to tide over problems like counterfeit products and language barriers in the heartlands.'Bhaiya, ek Bisleri dena' - you've probably said this yourself or heard someone else say it when asking for packaged drinking water. If you are a consumer from a metropolitan city and can clearly read the packaging then you won't be fooled with any counterfeit product but what about a person who can't read English?Recently, mineral water brand - Bisleri, in an attempt to connect with local consumers, mainly those who are not comfortable with reading in English, announced that their bottled water will soon be available with labels in regional languages. Phase one will see regional labels being rolled out in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, parts of Maharashtra and UP. Within the month, the brand will have presence all over India in its new avatar.Packshot of Bisleri 1 ltr bottle with labels in Hindi, Marathi and Telugu languageCounterfeit products have been in the market for a long time. afaqs! spoke to Anjana Ghosh, director, marketing, Bisleri International and asked her the reason behind this move.Packshot of Bisleri 500 ml with Marathi labelGhosh says, "We all felt that when you do something in the local language there's a better connect with the consumer. Even in Maharashtra, every dealer would need to have the name in Marathi, so this bi-lingual thing is very apparent now. So we thought that's how we can touch the consumer's heart - by doing something in their local language."Is it something to do with the fact that not every Indian knows to read and speak English?Anjana Ghosh"Yes," admits Ghosh, "and we want people at every level to be able to read the name, Bisleri. This helps us ensure that our consumers in villages can read the brand name correctly."The brand has 122 bottling plants present across India. Ghosh adds, "All label manufacturers have to change the plate on which they are printing the label and that's an investment we've had to make, which is around Rs.60 lakh."Adding about how the new move will help the brand fight with counterfeit products, Ghosh says, "Now shopkeepers can't just hand any bottle of packaged water when a person, in a hurry, asks for a "bottle of Bisleri". We don't have this problem in the metro cities but at the local level, people do struggle."Talking about how people in rural areas and smaller towns are cheated with counterfeit products, Ghosh says, "Our consumers, who can't read English, identify us by our packaging, the green colour and the font style in which Bisleri is written. The trouble is there are many other brands with similar packaging, making it difficult for them to recognise what they asked for. My consumer at the village level should not be cheated."Currently, the brand is ready with production and distribution, and once it goes on the shelves across India, Bisleri has plans to promote this new offering via communication in various states in local languages.The brand certainly hopes that this move will solve the problem of counterfeit bottles in the hinterlands. We asked our design and brand experts if it really will tackle this problem.Ramanujam Sridhar, founder and CEO, brand-comm, a brand consultancy, says, "Bisleri is a huge brand. You can almost say it's a category and the challenge the brand is facing is that when someone says "Bisleri dena", it actually means a bottle of water, a problem that even Xerox and othe[...]

When ads cross the line


Why ad makers are moving away from modesty to sell their productsToday, we are living in a world small enough to bring everyone close to each other no matter the distance. Well, not literally but virtually.Gone are those days when we had to wait to know about the things happening on the other side of the globe. With a click of a button, we can see things happening live.Everything has progressed, and in the midst of these changes, so have advertisements. Remember the cute commercial of Dhara cooking oil where a kid pretends to leave his home, only to return back on the mention of the sweet ‘Jalebi’? Or for that matter the jingles of Nirma washing powder which we till date hum away. However, they say: nothing is permanent, and so is the case with our advertising field.Now we have a celebrity making lustful expressions while enjoying a fruit juice, or a man attracting a fleet of women on a mere spray of a deodorant.So, why has this change happened?As Harish Bijoor, brand domain specialist and CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, says that ads reflect a nation's changing attitude and that’s why they have been different for each era, starting from the time we got independence where they were more patriotic in nature and giving precedence to the concept of ‘Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisan’ to the Seventies and mid-Eighties where the concept was the ideal family of four and the ads were around the concept of ‘Hum do, hamare do’. “The change as per him started around the Ninetees when people became more aware about themselves and the nuclear families emerged. The mentality drastically changed in the 2000’s when narcissism became the calling and that is when the concept of ‘sex and sensuality’ came into being.”“Although sexuality was still sold in the adult ads but sensuality stated overtaking the day-to-day things and even commodities like deodorants and juices took the form of sensual ads for those 30 seconds,” he said.Yes, agreed we are progressing and the fact is that sex does sell, but does it mean that ad agencies and brands add sexual appeal in every advertisments made just to sell a particular product or service. “Nowadays, the emotional connect with the audience has diminished,” says KV Sridhar, founder, Hyper Collective, adding that due to the emotional connect going missing, people are crossing the line and making mindless concepts. According to him, “With the evolution of e commerce and social media, everyone wants to do things quickly and in the process, the relatability factor which one had with the ads earlier has gone missing.”Says Sridhar, “With the advent of social media, each one wants to share their story and that is why it’s all about ‘a story lived is better than a story told.” This makes advertising more concentrated and meaningful in telling a three-minute story on the social media than on TV in just 30 seconds.Ramanujam Sridhar, founder and CEO, Brand-Comm, says that ads in India are changing also because of the liberal and progressive attitudes of its people. “What was considered a taboo around 20 years ago is very easily acceptable in the modern times. Hence, one can see more of sex, lust and sensuality in ads.”But do these ads have a future? Would they continue to be more lustful and sexually progressive in the future too? Sridhar does not see a change in the situation and just hopes that good sense prevails when one is back to making more family-ori[...]

In the same league?


Indian management education needs to market itself better so that it is in the thick of it rather than merely on the outside As an alumnus of IIM Bangalore and someone who is a visiting faculty at a few IIMs, I have always been intrigued by this question.How do Indian management schools compare with those globally? Are they in the same league? Here are a few thoughts for your consideration.Yes IIM and ISB are good but… The problem in India is the proliferation of management institutes of all sizes, shapes and hues, many of whom have dubious credentials even if they are housed acres and acres of real estate! So, I think for purposes of this discussion, we must stay with just the top IIMs and ISB when we speak of comparison with the topflight management schools.So the important point that we need to keep reminding ourselves before we get carried away is the fact that we have less than a handful of topflight management institutes in the country and that´s a sobering thought.So the challenge for educators is how to make the other institutions comparable with the global ones.One of the biggest differences in favour of global schools is the diversity and experience of the students.It is not uncommon for students to interact with people from over a dozen countries, with many of them having commendable work experience.This improves class participation enormously and promotes cross cultural discussion.A student from India is interacting with students from Germany and Japan which gives him a completely different perspective of the consumer in these diverse markets.The scope for learning from one´s peers is truly enhanced and consequently the quality of education.It is truly global in that sense.There is a sameness to the profile of the students, say in IIM, with a high percentage of freshers.While that certainly makes sense from a placement perspective, it certainly doesn´t make for high quality class participation.To a certain extent ISB is moving in the direction of global students, but the IIMs still have some distance to cover in this respect, assuming however that this is an important objective.Over the years, there has been a lingering doubt about the management faculty in India not spending enough time on original research.The research papers presented by them are generally a lot fewer than their international counterparts and there have been questions raised on about the quality of the papers themselves.This is a serious lacuna in the management education ecosystem of India and while the IIMs, particularly IIM Bangalore (because I am more familiar with it), are addressing it on a war footing, the perception largely justified, is that barring ISB to a limited extent, the problem persists.This gap has to be bridged.It is certainly a fact that management teachers in India can get away with limited efforts in the research space.This has to be addressed on a war footing if India is to make large strides in closing the gap with the western world.The very nature of management education makes it obligatory for students to keep interacting with industry.While all institutes attempt this, I feel from my own personal experience that many of my friends who have spent decades in industry are giving back to the students by way of being guest and visiting faculty.Sadly, whatever we may bring to the table, our breed is never equal to the academic because we do not have PhDs.There is a dist[...]