Friday, February 23, 2018

Making inroads in India

India has provoked Google, which is not a big advertiser, to look at traditional mediums of advertising
I have always been enchanted by the subtle and not-so-subtle manner in which brands try to become an indispensable part of our lives. As someone who grew up in Madras, I was intrigued by the average Tamilian’s dependence on The Hindu newspaper and a cup of piping hot coffee to start his day. If this did not happen for whatever reason, you would witness chaos!
Today, I observe an even greater dependence on another brand — Google. When we were children, we were taught ‘Mata, Pita, Guru, Daivam’. It means your father, mother and teacher are God. Today, most people would cheerfully say ‘Mata, Pita, Google, Daivam’ — so complete is the domination of the technology major in our lives!
While Google continues to be one of the most valuable brands in the world, it has historically not been a large advertiser. Yet India, the land of infinite possibilities and enormous challenges, has provoked Google to look at other mediums to advertise for the vast Indian middle class. Despite the digital medium being the fastest-growing in India, print and TV tend to be extremely important for this vast population.
India may soon become the country that has the largest smartphone population in the world, but no advertiser can afford to ignore the traditional media. Do you remember the high profile launch of the Google phone with full-page newspaper ads?
Indians and directions
India can be a misleading country in more ways than one. Directions and signs are rarely found. People tend to ask others for directions and people are always willing to help — even when they haven’t the faintest clue of where that place is!
This does not seem to deter people from asking, and later, curse the people for misguiding them. The dependence on maps is minimal.
However, Google is slowly but surely changing this. A few years ago, I became a total convert and an unabashed admirer of ‘Googleavalli’, as my family cheerfully calls the lady who flawlessly guided us through Mannargudi and Mayiladurai (Mayiladuthurai) . While a majority of young, tech-savvy urban youngsters have taken to Google Maps like a duck takes to water, a number of others haven’t.
Advertising can make a difference
A lot of Google’s acceptance happens through word of mouth. India, however, presents different challenges given its diversity and complexity, in addition to the issue of poor connectivity. How do you reach out to people of different demographics and psychographic status, who live in the same city and struggle with the same traffic snarls?
This is when Google started its city-centric outdoor campaigns aimed at inducing more people to use their maps. Here’s a sample of what the brand did some time back.
The ones that followed on television showed smart, young people who stayed away from crowded roads caused by marriage processions and victory processions after the inevitable cricket match. One of India’s most frustrating feature is the absolute lack of concern that people have for everyone else, and nowhere is it in greater display than on the streets. Which is where Google Maps comes into play.
Of marriages and tension
The most recent commercial is an interesting one, as it is set in a typical Indian wedding scenario with its share of tension and drama. The bride’s mother is tense and starts worrying about the garlands, that haven’t reached the marriage venue yet.
She keeps calling florist, who keeps getting stuck in one traffic block after the other, even as he keeps saying ‘paanch minute’ (five minutes), like most Indians who are invariably late for most places and events say. There is an element of humour, as the lady uses the same ‘paanch minute’ technique to delay the florists’ payment!
So what do we learn? That even big, global brands like Google realise that India and its consumers are different. It may be a vast and often untapped market, but you do need a strategy to tap it. To equate it with Mexico or Philippines would be replicating the mistakes other big multinationals who have bitten the dust here, make. As Steve Waugh, the Australian cricketer discovered, you need to embrace the country and its people before you attempt to conquer it. The same philosophy applies to its consumers too.
Are you ready to embrace India and its consumers?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Why public relations companies need to be creative

PR persons must learn to think innovatively and provide clients with useful information
The 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 challenges
Let’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 story
One 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!

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 forward
Sadly, 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 will love you if you can give the story a nice angle that is not only about the client but is also interesting for the reader.
Can you tap into a current trend? Can you provide information that the journalist might otherwise take hours to find? Can you help the journalist without asking for your pound of flesh? The challenge, therefore, is for PR companies to train people to think differently and innovatively, and write succinctly. Then we will have a breed of PR professionals who think brand, think media and think creatively.
When that happens I will call it a day!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The campaigns, they are a-changing

A lot of brands keep changing their ad campaigns, even before they have outlived their usefulness
When 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 diminishes
How 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.
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.
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?’
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 functional, less edgy and perhaps even less interesting one, featuring a number of bored, unwilling employees who have to be dragged to work on a Monday. Naukri offers itself as the alternative to a boring life at work — by helping them land jobs they will actually enjoy.
Now, irrespective of whether or not you’re looking for a change, which ad do you find more interesting? I realise that the brand has changed its positioning, but as a consumer, do I really care?
And men will always be men
Let me end with a new commercial, where, a young man wanting to impress a young woman on the road, attempts to change a car’s punctured tyre, presuming it was hers — only to realise later that it wasn’t!
But why do I prefer the earlier commercial, which features two guys with paunches (resembling mine), who suck it in with great effort to impress a young woman?
This is the eternal challenge — changes happen in both agencies and clients’ offices and those normally result in new advertising campaigns with different executions.
But is change always for the better? You tell me!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The advertising year in retrospect

The best advertising is simple, has a powerful idea — and makes you wish you were in it
How 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 trends
Were 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.
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.
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 world
For 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.
The right to a half
Two 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.
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 otherwise, people will say she hasn’t been a good mom.
Talking about issues
Brands are realising that it is easier to talk about interesting issues in an engaging way than to hard-sell your brand’s attributes. It gives them the flexibility to address these issues in a longer format that YouTube provides, unlike mass media advertising on national channels.
Romance in the air
My favourite commercial, however, is of Dairy Milk Silk, which features two young college kids and how once they start messily eating the chocolate, they hear trumpets and violins — or bells and whistles, if you will!
It’s a young person’s commercial and I am sure the target audience is the young adults and children, who can’t wait to grow up and get out of childhood. I am sure they would like to experience the wonderful emotion depicted so entertainingly and endearingly in this commercial.
As can be seen, the best advertising is simple, has a powerful idea — and makes you wish you were in it! In this case, it would have made you wish you were in the frame, eating chocolate with the girl you love!
Well, there’s no harm in hoping, is there?

What an Idea, Sirji!

It is very difficult to build a brand property which could be a campaign idea, a tune or a tag line
I 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.
Social messages
One 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.
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 talk
I 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!
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.
It’s interesting how, sticking with the social message genre, it talks about subjects that are getting increasingly popular, such as women empowerment and how women need to get stronger — and, of course, how a network can be a part of this strength.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water
Clients and agencies tend to get tired of their advertising campaigns even if the customers don’t and are often guilty of dispensing with good promotions before they outlive their usefulness. In this case, however, even though the latest campaign was done by another agency, they found the social message campaign relevant and powerful enough to be sustained, albeit with a different execution.
Remember, it is extremely difficult to build a brand property which could be a campaign idea, a signature tune or even a tag line. If customers remember something other than your brand name, you should consider yourself fortunate and compliment the advertising agency for persisting with the same.
But it is even more creditable that despite the change, both the client and the new agency have seen that some ideas can be extremely powerful and should be continued and even improved upon, as in the case of this commercial, which talks about how a video can change your life. This shows that company has recognised the importance given to videos by today’s young consumer, the primary target audience for mobile services.
So think once again. Must you change? And if yes, how do you do it for the better?

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.