Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yeh dil maange more!

Look within and see if there is a latent desire you have forgotten, overlooked or are refusing to recognise..

One thing at a time and that done well” is a proverb that many people of my generation can remember and recall, though fondly! I was reminded of this often enough in my life and have often parroted it to whomever I came into contact with, despite their apparent lack of interest in this one-liner, which displayed my profound wisdom. My second son led the pack of disbelievers. One day as I found him at the dining table, simultaneously listening to his iPod, reading Calvin and Hobbes and munching his sandwich with peanut butter (what else?) I started again on my favourite subject, trying to impress on him the need to focus a la Jack Trout. My son has several admirable qualities that are not worth speaking about but one supersedes all the others. No one can accuse him of holding back his views; he rarely does. He certainly did not hold back on that day. Without even bothering to look up from his plate he said: “Pa, that is the problem with your generation. That is the reason why you have achieved so little.” He shut me up, for the present at least, and got me thinking (I do this too, once in a while) of people who had done multiple things in their lives and in their time with astounding success.

Dreams are goals with wings

Many of us dream of achieving fantastic things, sometimes in areas that are esoteric and outside the mundane world, that provide us with our very means of livelihood. Some of us dream of being writers, others of being experts on cricket on television, others of becoming famous musicians and others even of making films. Sadly, though, for many of us, these dreams run the risk of becoming mere pipe dreams. The reasons for this are not difficult to find. While we wish to savour the results and enjoy the fruits of success, we are not willing to put in the extra hours that these dreams need. Having another engagement can be heady, but it needs a commitment of time that many of us are loath to give, even as we yearn for the delights that it may bring. Having waxed eloquent about the philosophy of the situation let me get down to the actual example that demonstrates what I am trying to say as I can almost hear you say “It's about time”.

Way back in 1987 I was the Branch Manager of Mudra Communications in Bangalore. It was a small set-up for those days, and we thought and behaved like a start-up. We had a small, energetic and passionate team, hungry for business and visibility. One of the team members, the youngest, if I may add, was an intense copywriter who had the intriguing qualifications of a Master in Computer Applications. To cut a long story short, that writer was R. Balakrishnan, or Balki, as the advertising and the entertainment worlds know him today. He was mad about films, but then who isn't? Yes, I too was from Tamil Nadu and to me too Ilaiyaraja was God. But Balki had a dream. He wanted to direct films He wanted Ilayaraja to compose the music for his films. We were great admirers of P. C. Sreeram who, at that time, was doing the commercial for Padmini Lyrics, one of the emerging agarbatti manufacturers from Bangalore. He spoke about Amitabh Bachchan whom we had all grown up on. In the middle of this we pitched left, right and centre for advertising business, and while I felt that at times we were more concerned with Bollywood and Kollywood than our own business, life went on. We won business, did campaigns, started building brands and grew both professionally and personally even as the dreams continued in a copywriter's heart.

Balki continued to produce outstanding work in a different agency, eventually rising to become its chairman. But the story did not end there. He continued his obsession with films and directed Cheeni Kum which had Amitabh Bachchan as its hero. Not a coincidence. The film's music was composed by Ilayaraja (is there anyone else in the world of music) and the cinematography was by our old friend P. C. Sreeram.

I travelled to Mumbai for the premiere and I wonder who was prouder that day, me or Balki. My mind went back to those early struggles of 1987 and how he had retained his passion and his ability to pursue that dream. In all fairness, he has not been alone in pursuing his dream. Alyque Padamsee's name comes readily to mind. He was and continues to be a doyen of the advertising world while being a celebrated theatre personality for years. In fact, the advertising industry has had its fair share of people who contributed to theatre - people such as Gerson and Sylvester DaCunha, Kersy and Usha Katrak, Homi Daruvalla, Dolly Thakore … and the list goes on. Today we have people such as Prasoon Joshi who writes phenomenal lyrics in addition to leading a large multinational agency and I may have missed several others.

On to Paa

Another film by Balki. Another premiere, this one, last Thursday night at Bangalore. The music director? Need you ask? Ilayaraja, of course. The cinematographer was P. C. Sriram, no prizes for guessing that one. And while the film had Amitabh, it was in many ways introducing Amitabh as Jaya Bachchan coyly announces in the titles. I am no film critic, just a guy who likes films and I loved the film and Amitabh in the film. I am not alone in my views, clearly. But I'll wax eloquent on that at another time, another place. To get to what I am trying to say. What is your own special dream? One that only you and your spouse or a special friend knows about? Do you have one? If not, why not?

A fine balance

Today none of us have the luxury of goofing off in our jobs. Our supervisors, clients, and sometimes even our subordinates, keep appraising us so intensely and observe us so closely that we have very limited scope to give anything but our best. We spend endless and often pointless time in never-ending meetings. We carry our troubles, our laptops and Blackberries home. We send out mails at unearthly hours, not so much because we wish to make a point, but because we will be overwhelmed by mail if we don't and the inbox overpowers us. So where is the time to even think of our interest, even if we had one? What is the point of dreaming of replacing Harsha Bhogle if you cannot even watch the highlights?

Be prepared to work your guts out

I am sure Balki must have been on the verge of a physical and mental breakdown, spending time in recording, re-recording, post production, editing and so many other things that go into making a film, of which I have the haziest idea. Then throw in the agency, its people, its clients and the brands that still needed outstanding advertising and you can get the picture and the pressure that straddling both these disciplines must have meant for Balki. Phenomenal.
But what are the learnings for you and me.? Look within yourself and see if there is a latent desire that you have forgotten, overlooked or are refusing to look at. An interest can certainly keep you away from needless distractions, such as booze. I just need to look around at the advertising industry to see the potency of this particular distraction.

Imagine the end result. Often we see the thorns on the way which prevent us from looking at the accolades and the attention that successful realisation of the destination might yield. Of course, success that is hard earned is far more enjoyable and if it is not too much of a struggle then it's not even worth it in the first place.

Are you setting your sights too low?

Many of us suffer from a common ailment. We defence-mechanise, we rationalise and give ourselves and the rest of the world reasons why we are already stretched and how we don't have a minute of spare time to think, much less do anything else. But is that really true? No one knows the answer to that question as well as us.

Remember too that this is not in any way to suggest that you will have less intensity or less time at work. Today's world demands a total commitment from all those who are involved. So it is not either or as some of us would like to believe. It is all this and more. The operative word is “more”. Are you ready mentally, physically and emotionally to give more? Is your family empathetic to your hidden desire to excel? Is it willing to understand and put up with your long periods of hibernation from an active family life?
All of these are questions that anyone who leads a ‘double life' needs to think about and perhaps answer.

Who knows, you might be the next big person in cricket, entertainment, music or the theatre! Get ready to work for your success.

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly: Branding on Indian Turf.)

Image Source: Susanhenschen

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bending the global brand

Successful brands, and global ones in particular, have a core they carry across continents..

Smiles all around: Tata Docomo with its revolutionary billing per second stirred the mobileservices market. _ ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY

“There is no such thing as universal rationality… what is rational or irrational to a person depends on that person's value systems, which in turn is part of the culture that person has acquired in her or his lifetime. What people around the world value varies enormously.”

- Geert Hofstede

I heard this quote and a host of other interesting statements at a marketing seminar on global brands when I was speaking at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. This particular statement was quoted by Shripad Nadkarni, Director of Marketgate, who was part of the eminent panel that also included K.V. Sridhar (National Creative Director of Leo Burnett) or ‘Pops' as he is affectionately referred to, Radha Chadha, Managing Director of Chadha Strategy Consulting, N. V. Subbarao, Hub Head - South-East of Tata Teleservices, not to mention yours truly who had the dubious distinction of being the ‘oldest member', a designation that fans of PG Wodehouse would recognise! The discussions followed by a barrage of questions from the intelligent and interested students of the ISB for the best period of a pleasant November afternoon are what form the sum and substance of this piece.

Cheapest and best!

Pops spoke about an essentially Indian context and said that the Indian consumer from the days of his father has been looking for products that are ‘cheapest and best'. Well, even if that does not pass the acid test of a bespectacled and erudite English grammar teacher, that expression classifies and describes an ideal state that brands, whether Indian or multinational, should reach or leastways strive to reach if they are to crack the Indian middle-class and the Indian market. “McDonald's the global brand has run several commercials in different parts of the world,” said Pops as he showed a number of global commercials that were low-cost productions, with the tag line “Cheap for us, cheap for you.” The commercials had one actor doing multiple roles to save money, plastic actors, just about anything that would save production costs and ultimately bring down the costs for the consumer and more customers under those ‘global arches.' In India too, McDonald's, he said, ran a series of commercials featuring lookalikes of actors of my time such as Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Sanjeev Kumar talking about how old-world prices are being charged in McDonald's, all of Rs 20! Yes, the Indian consumer is a price-conscious value seeker and we know the truth of this dictum across categories and regions in India.

The essence of successful brands

Successful brands, particularly global ones, have an essence that they carry across regions. Shripad Nadkarni in his interesting presentation analysed a number of global brands and made interesting observations about their strategies. Brands, he said, must remain true to their very essence. Lux, which is the film star's soap to ordinary mortals like you and me, stands for glamour, he said.

Nokia is all about connecting people as the tag line very effectively portrays. Pepsi, the brand for the young and young at heart, is about youthful irreverence while De Beers is about romance and relationships. He did mention that some of the Indian brands that have global aspirations, such as MTR and Parachute, are not truly global unlike the examples mentioned earlier.

So what strategies do successful global brands have? The typical one is that of the global brand essence that is executed globally and perhaps only released in the various markets such as India - L'Oreal is a case in point. Many brands are comfortable doing this. After all, one of the major reasons why clients have global agency networks that create global ad campaigns is because the agency lives, sleeps and dreams the brand, and is able to create advertising that not only works in the country of origin but in other parts of the world as well, and you can well imagine the savings in the cost of production. Global brand managers know and recognise the value of this.

The second strategy which global brands follow is executing the global brand essence locally. Shripad shared examples of what brands such as Johnson & Johnson do, by executing the global thought and essence in different regional markets, India included. Lux, he said, was another case in point, using a top-flight actor such as Priyanka Chopra in India to execute a global concept across regions, races and if one may add, religions, with local film stars depicting the global essence of glamour.

Be Indian, interpret for India

Yet marketers are realising the value and importance of India even as they recognised the differences that this country has, even if it did not advertise them often enough. Brands such as De Beers have accepted the unique nature of the country, even as they realise its potential and reap the benefits. McDonald's too was smart enough to cater to India, not only in its value pricing, but also in the menu dictating the Indian preferences and the pricing certainly understanding the slimness of our wallets, whatever the shapes of our waists! He shared the example of Coke in India, pointing to the ‘ Thanda Matlab Coca Cola' campaigns featuring the histrionic ability of Aamir Khan. Clearly the celebrity, his histrionics and the local content made a difference to the brand though Shripad was characteristically modest about his own contribution to its success in India when he led the marketing in the company.

India and luxury. Are you kidding?

So much has been said about the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid in India that not much attention has been paid to luxury brands in this country. After all, we are still obsessed with ‘ roti, kapda aur makaan' and ‘ garibi hatao' still seems an idealistic slogan than an actual reality!

But Radha Chadha, who is an acknowledged expert on luxury brands, gave a whole new perspective of an India that we all knew existed looking at the BMWs that we see in the streets of Delhi and if one may add, Chandigarh! She said that while China has taken the luxury market by storm with its huge potential, India could well be the next stop for the Louis Vuittons of the world. The opening of the Louis Vuitton store in Beijing demonstrated the pent-up demand for luxury brands in this part of the world.

Global brands, particularly luxury brands, were bending, she said, to conquer. The global brands were reaching out to their consumers by local events, such as models walking the ramp at the Great Wall to a phenomenal response.

The presentation was an eye-opener in the sense that we tend to cling to our pet theories about the India we think we know. But then India is a stunning bundle of variety if not inconsistency as Subbarao revealed when he spoke about Tata Docomo with its revolutionary billing per second that completely stirred and shook the mobile services market, leading even market leader Airtel to follow suit, reluctantly perhaps! Well, I am not complaining, because competition invariably benefits the consumer and that is me!

Don't talk down to India

Speaking for myself , perhaps the first thing that struck me over the years has been that the brands that talked down to India, like Kelloggs, perhaps, in its early days, with its claim of ‘eat the way the world does' usually run into rough weather.

The more successful ones have taken a global position and Indianised it brilliantly whether it is ‘ Daag achche hain' or ‘There are some things that money can't buy. …' Mind you, the quality of execution has been leapfrogging as too the ability of Indian creative minds to spot local insights that are tapped with global positioning ideas.

And yet, I think those multinational companies and people who refuse to listen to the people who know this country and its people tend to lose out. I remember years ago there was this gentleman from Manila who was an acknowledged expert on chewing gum. He chewed, ate, slept and dreamt chewing gum. He knew more about chewing gum than perhaps the entire local marketing team of the company and the advertising agency together. He said there was a lot in common between consumers in India and the Philippines. The Philippines was using a concept of “Exercise your face with chewing gum”.

I resisted vehemently saying Indians do not even exercise their bodies much less their faces, so this concept would not work. In any case another network agency did the commercial, which, I must gleefully tell you, bombed. So some global positions will not work in our vast and complex country. But some other brands have thrown their heart and soul into India as they realise the vast potential of this market, like Nokia whose 1100 series mobile phone was made for India. Given the reluctance of the smaller-town Indian to splurge on a mobile phone given his needs, Nokia appealed to his rational instinct saying he was not only getting a phone but an alarm and a torch too !

Yes, India is a vast, complex market with enormous potential. Some multinational marketers have found this to be a minefield whilst a few others who have got their strategies right have found this to be a goldmine of opportunity. Minefield or gold mine? Take your pick!

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly: Branding on Indian Turf.)