Friday, June 6, 2008

Royal challenge – a diluted brew

In my early twenties I used to be a lot dumber than I am now. My father had a bottle of Glen Livet whiskey in his cupboard and on a couple of occasions I had swigs from it. For fear of getting caught, I would slip in some water into the bottle lest my father discover the shortage. I am sure he could recognize the diluted taste of that excellent malt, but being the gentleman he was and still is at 92, he never raised the issue. Now several years later I can see another brand of whiskey being diluted through the impetuosity of its owner. I speak of Royal Challenge or RC as it is fondly referred to by its drinkers. Although I do not have the market share figures to back it, I do believe that Royal Challenge is a dominant brand of whiskey. In fact when I used to be a Rotarian a few years ago, the fellowship used to be the high point of the meetings, particularly those involving multiple clubs, and if RC was not being served, the event would receive a “thumbs down”, so powerful was the brand’s influence on Rotarians from Bangalore at least. Given the threat to surrogate advertising for his brands, Vijay Mallya branded his cricket team as ‘Royal Challengers’ and in five weeks time the team has become history.

The impact on the brand
Surrogate advertising is something that we all see. Mineral water, cocktail snacks, casual wear are all brands of liquor or cigarettes that are not allowed to advertise in mass media and use this devious route. In this scenario Mallya arrived at what might have been a marketing coup in calling his team the ‘Royal Challengers’. Commercials were made - which also featured Mallya - merchandise was created, mass media was bought….A blitzkrieg of advertising was launched. The team started playing matches and losing them with monotonous regularity. The players did their best, but still lost, at times narrowly and at other times embarrassingly. Mallya lost his cool and sacked the CEO who went to town about being ‘summarily dismissed’. Nor was Mallya satisfied with that. He went to the media to complain bitterly about the team composition. The brand has got amazingly bad press and Mallya, in no small measure is responsible for the mess that the brand and the team is in. The only difference between this team and others is that this team is an existing, popular brand, not a new creation like the Kolkatta Knight Riders.

Building a brand’s equity
A brand’s equity is something that is carefully and assiduously built over a period of time. Your actions can add to the brand’s equity or dilute its equity. The poor performance of the team and the controversy surrounding it must certainly have affected the brand. Instead of strengthening a dominant brand, the owner of the brand has substantially diluted the brand’s equity. Imagine a guy walking into the Bangalore Club bar and asking for ‘Royal Challenge’ even as the match is being shown on TV! It is important that Mallya remembers the impact of his sometimes hasty actions on a large, well established, popular brand. After all it is easier to destroy than to build, whether it is a brand or a team.

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO of brand-comm and the author of “One land, one billion minds”)


Anonymous said...

One can buy Rajya Sabha Seat with money but can not get a Olympic medal.

Next time, Mallya should try the bookies route to fix matches.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I am not commenting. Thanks

anand sudarshan said...

Sridhar - very valid points. Just a couple of quick points to highlight what appears to be a big mistake by Mr Mallya - I have noticed that surrogate advertising is done with the same brand name for 'soft' products (which by themselves are not high-visibility / do not create a strong emotional response in consumer) - the Bangalore T20 cricket team is anything but..! Also, I have noticed that brand extensions are used when the product to which teh brand is extended to, has some relationship / connection with the mother brand product. This instance of Royal Challengers doesn't appear to fall into that category as well. Perhaps he was influenced by the success of 'Kingfisher' to the airlines..! In any case, as a Bangalorean (and an ardent cricket fan), I am deeply disappointed - not in the performance of the team (which, as any committed fan knows, can fluctuate), but in the fickleness of the owner.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes I think it is an interesting point that I have missed.Brand extensions must have some relationship with the parent brand and that is one of the many things that Mr.Mallya seems to have missed.

Ramakrishna Sunder said...

The destruction of the brand has been achieved by a person who is and was never a leader. His behaviour just shows his lack of class.