Friday, January 12, 2018

Can a personal brand win an election?

Superstar Rajinikanth is the latest silver screen hero to take the plunge into politics
December 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 brands
The 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 right
Successful 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 oligopoly is not working.
Tamil pride and anti-Hindi as clarion calls have outlived their usefulness. Sadly, the Tamilian psyche seems to believe that giving and accepting bribes is okay as long as the job is done. However difficult this may be, Rajini must change the passive acceptance of wrongdoing which is rapidly dragging the state down.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
It is too convenient to expect dramatic things to happen overnight. But given the increasing discontent in the state, and the disenchantment of the people, perhaps the time is right for personal branding to come to the fore.
Maybe Rajini can take a leaf out of MGR’s book. MGR would never drink or smoke in movies and women always wooed him! Every Tamilian completely believed the screen persona of MGR and thought that he could do no wrong and eventually voted him to power. Rajini has similar credentials. He is a decent guy, God-fearing and free of controversies. More than anything else, he is a leader with a large following.That might tilt the balance, just.
So let’s wait to see what the people of Tamil Nadu have to say about the latest personal brand in politics.

Friday, January 5, 2018

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 seams
On 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 logos
A 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 world
Bengaluru 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 effort from the government and, in many cases, despite the government. In fact, many global players bitterly complain about the lack of infrastructure and governance.
What of the future?
Now that the government is taking credit for the new logo, it can also formally recognise that Bengaluru — as it’s now known; another harebrained change — can actually become a brand that is known and respected world over. This cannot happen cosmetically, by designing a logo. It is time to realise that the brand needs a champion who can guide the city to its destiny. It is time to realise that there are other important stakeholders: the people who live here, the investors who come from across the globe, and also the tourists, who are presently being targeted.
The government is sitting on a gold mine of a brand. Only if they realise its value and nurture it can the brand hold its own globally; and the government can hold its own not just on the strength of design but on political will. And that, my friends, is what is lacking. Let’s build on the equity of brand Bengaluru now that we have made a beginning with a new logo.
Is anyone listening?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Consistency in advertising is key to brand recall

Whether it takes digs at competition or uses poignant narratives, a brand must advertise regularly
Brands 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.
Playing with emotions
I 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.
Does advertising work for brands like Savlon
When 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 key
Even 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 and effective execution, and to get into the monthly shopping list of preoccupied homemakers is not easy. Your brand is not on the top-of-mind for them. It is your job to think, dream and eat your brand. Keep reminding them of your existence with advertising or they will forget you for someone who woos them more!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

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 Santayana
My 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 past
Since 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:
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.
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.
So where do we go from here?
Let me quickly tell you that there were other ads that were equally worthy of a mention that I liked, but I chose these three off the top of my mind. Who can forget the Hamara Bajaj ad?
The point is that there were quite a few ads that were memorable, likeable, and long-lasting in their popularity. These ads had simple ideas, were executed powerfully and had a greater share of voice and mind, as there was primarily only one channel, Doordarshan. But it would be simplistic to characterise their success primarily to the lack of competition. They succeeded because they represented the times we lived in then in a manner that was endearing.
This leads me to the present challenge and the test that all advertising agencies could be subjected to. How good are today’s ads, when we talk of history and posterity? Will they stand the test of time? I am not sure I know the answer to those questions but I do know that this could well be a benchmark that advertising agencies can strive to reach.
Let’s not make ads that will just be fine for today but will also stay on in the memory of consumers much longer. How do we do that? It’s simple. You don’t need to go to New Zealand, just focus on the simplicity of the message and the clarity in execution to achieve that.
And yet, how many commercials can you keep watching again and again? That’s the challenge that advertising agencies must face today if their work is to be remembered tomorrow.

Friday, December 8, 2017

How different is your brand?

A cause for concern is that most of the brands’ differentiations happen 
only in advertising
What 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 slogan
It’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 matter
India 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.
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 ask clients is ‘What have you done different recently?’ This usually stumps clients. They are so close to their brand that the only differences they are proud of seems to have been done years back.
That implies that nothing significantly different has happened recently. This is certainly a problem. We have an adage in advertising that says: ‘You are only as good as your latest campaign’. Which means any company is only as good as its current team. The same analogy can be applied to branding as well — a brand is only as good as its latest differentiation. So, however difficult it may be, come up with a difference that sets you apart.
So get down to work and do something different for your brands. Today.

Monday, November 27, 2017

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. 

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 to think not only about business, revenue, collections, top line and bottom line but also about the human purpose of enterprise. How do we impact the lives of the people who ensure that our business has been around? How do we demonstrate that they matter to us? How do we touch their lives with our products and services in a more interesting and engaging way than we are currently doing?

So why are you in business?
All of us have answers to questions like “how” to do business. But how often have we thought of “why” we are in business. Sadly, it is not an easy question to answer. Let’s remember too that all consumers like stories, even about brands. So what’s your brand’s story? And how is that involving humans? It is in determining these that will set apart your brand and why should we only discuss brands like Apple, Starbucks, Google or Nike? Which will be the Indian brand that will be spoken of in the same breath? And what will be its purpose that will be its point of difference with the competition? I am an optimist and am waiting for the future for Indian brands to make a difference to the world.

Ramanujam Sridhar is the Founder CEO of brand-comm Public Relations

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

IndiGo manhandling incident has little impact on the brand, business

Though the incident triggered social media anger, there was no immediate commercial fallout, say experts
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.”

Thursday, November 16, 2017

When will IndiGo learn from its mistakes?

It must remember that training is crucial; every single employee is a brand ambassador
I 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 crisis
While 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 and it speaks well of a company which stays dignified when someone else is going through a tough time. Who knows what might happen in the shifting sands of business? Keep your head even as your competition is losing theirs. This says a lot about a company’s leadership.
And the lesson to learn for IndiGo is simple. When you keep blowing your trumpet at every possible opportunity, you are opening yourself up to criticism when something goes wrong. If I sounded harsher than deserved, it is simply because I am a customer and I prefer my service provider to let others do the talking.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Is Virat going soft?

Recent ads featuring Virat Kohli show a hitherto unknown side of the cricketer
What 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 celebrities
Virat 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 clich├ęd, 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.
The new improved Virat
The 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.
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 decked in traditional clothes. Looking at the couple tying the knot, they discuss what the bride and bridegroom might be promising each other. The commercial actually ends on a sentimental note.
Interesting, more so for a brand like Manyavar.
Celebrity endorsements often end up as double edged swords, as the commercials are so eminently forgettable. Which is why script writers must strive that much more to beat the clutter and explore new avenues like the personal lives and emotions of celebrities rather than use their exploits to catch our fancy. Yes, perhaps there is another side to Virat Kohli that I did not know existed. And I like it.
Do you?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

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

With 14 million swipes per day, the dating app is garnering popularity globally
Challenging 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 itself apart from the frivolous nature of online dating. If the French app wants to market that as its USP, it might be a long journey in India.
Dating is a relatively new concept in India. The market is catering to two different segments of population, those who are interested in getting married and those who are looking for something casual. And both these poles are occupied with strong brands. “If there is any space within dating that is not hook-ups, Tinder can cater to that too,” observes Bijoor.


  • Experts believe that Tinder and Happn cater to different market needs
  • While Tinder has failed to Indianise itself, it still has the first-mover advantage