Friday, April 9, 2010

Are you teasing your customer?

The moment brands irritate consumers, they will get into serious trouble. Brands such as Karbonn and MRF are riding on the IPL bandwagon. But there isn't any method in the madness, sadly.

One of the most entertaining commercials I have seen over the years is for Rolo, a brand of confectionery. The commercial opens in a zoo where a little boy is watching a baby elephant. He has a sweet in his hand and beckons the elephant, ostensibly with the intention of giving it the sweet. When it comes close to him, he pops it into his own mouth, mocking the poor elephant in the process. The film cuts to several years later where there is a young man wearing a sweater similar to that of the young boy's shown in the commercial and there is a procession of elephants which our young man is watching with interest. Suddenly one of the elephants in the procession turns around and thumps the young man on the head. Clearly the young elephant has not forgotten being tormented several years ago and the voiceover goes on to say “Think twice what you do with your last Rolo”.

Of course, the commercial demonstrates the ‘memory of an elephant' as a creative thought but more importantly it shows the need for marketers and brand managers to be careful with their consumers and not tease them or needle them unnecessarily. So what's the connection, must be the question uppermost in your mind. That's because as we get into the business end of the IPL (is there any other end?) cricket season, I feel that the organisers, the sponsors and the television channels should spare a thought for the poor customer sitting at the other end of the television screen who is being constantly harassed, bombarded and insulted. And who knows how long she is going to be patient? I say ‘she' deliberately as perhaps one of the real achievements of the IPL has been its ability to get women to come and watch not only in the stadia but also in living rooms. I think the point to be made is that while IPL has put India on the global sports marketing map and shown the world a thing or two it is certainly throwing up certain distressing signs and early warning signals that marketers must be alert to.

Properties and all that jazz

Marketers are constantly looking for properties that their brands can own and at times it is easier to buy some properties from media and try and make the most of them. The IPL has demonstrated a tremendous ability to make things sound larger than life, and “first ever' and “best ever” are terms that seem commonplace here. Let me explain. T20 cricket is all about fours and sixes and never mind about the poor bowlers who in any case are being paid to get slaughtered. The pitches are deader than mortuaries in government hospitals while the boundary ropes are being made shorter and shorter and at times rival the length of the cheerleader's skirts! So more sixes are scored in a T20 game than in a season of test cricket and not surprisingly sixes are a hot media property called the “DLF Maximum” And we have commentators who are better served being at the WWE so much do they rave and rant once the ball clears the short ropes!

And then there are the catches called the “Karbonn Kamaal Catch” which takes the cake. A fielder holds a catch which a schoolgirl would normally hold with her eyes closed before the commentator nearly has a heart attack waxing eloquent about the Karbon Kamaal Catch which could also be a Citi moment of success - another branded property from a bank that has redefined success in recent times. Nor is that all. There is another blot on the landscape in the form of an MRF blimp which is being heralded as the greatest technological innovation after the space shuttle and then there are strategic time-outs (all branded) and tons of commercials, creepy crawlers in the frames, a commercial being shown on the big screen in between balls, Akshay Kumar flying around the kitchen playing tennis and a completely bewildered and irritated consumer who doesn't know what on earth is hitting her.

Advertising makes the world go around

Mind you, I am a great fan of advertising (after all, the industry has fed and clothed me for three decades now) but surely there has to be a method in the madness. Isn't this a bit of overkill? Are these advertisers watching these commercials when they come on air or listening to what people have to say about them? I would urge them to come into my living room when a few of my friends are watching the match with me. They would cringe and immediately pull their commercials off air. Some of these brands are big – why are they trivialising themselves? Take MRF, one of the brands I truly admire. A brand which has consistently stayed with cricket, a brand with a heritage, a brand that has done so much for the game in the country, a brand that has legends endorsing it … It got the enthralling serial Bodyline into the country nearly two decades ago and persisted with cricket and has built its equity over the years. Yet, I feel sorry for the brand. If only the people in MRF would listen to the inane stuff that is being said while their blimp is being shown, they would quickly jump ship and start endorsing ice hockey. Television is not the “theatre of the mind” as radio is for the viewer to imagine what is being said. I am seeing the telecast, for God's sake! Why are you insulting my intelligence?

Why brands need to be careful

Today brands live and try to grow in a crowded marketplace. They are often trying to outshout each other and create awareness for themselves. While awareness is all fine, I think the ambience in which brands present themselves to their consumers is extremely important too. Brands have a personality and every appearance must reflect that personality. Are the brands as loud, grating and in-your-face as they are made out to be by their presence in IPL? And how can brands that are in different stages of their life adopt the same strategy? A new brand such as Karbonn that wishes to establish itself needs to perhaps shout to get attention, but should not the Citis of the world and the MRFs do something more subtle and sophisticated? In fact, it would be very interesting if the large spenders did an objective evaluation after this exposure as to what consumers think of their brands. Yes, a lot more people might be aware of the brand, but what would the values associated with the brand be?

Hype vs substance

The IPL is an entertainment extravaganza and there is a kaleidoscope of colour, sound, lights, celebrity and, on occasion, skin on display. Of course, in the middle of all this is cricket, in between strategic time-outs of course. So it is easy to get carried away. It is like watching a “first day first show” of a Rajnikant movie. There is constant excitement - rupee notes are being thrown on the screen, people are whistling, shouting and clapping. The atmosphere has to be seen to be believed. Yet, how do you evaluate the movie? Can you, at all? I think the IPL is in a similar situation. There is so much hype and hoopla around it that brands can lose their way or what is worse, lose their character. More importantly, every brand is trying to dumb itself down and talk the language of the lowest common denominator and that is bothering me as a consumer.

I think we need to remember one thing. The Indian consumer is not yet cynical. He believes the advertising that he sees and trusts in celebrities. He believes what he reads in the newspaper and what he sees on TV, He thinks the expert is objective, perhaps with a slight India bias. But what one is seeing in the IPL is the world of hyperbole. Everything is exaggerated, amplified and made larger than life. It is easy for brands to succumb to the heady potion that the IPL is dishing out. But concerns remain. If brands lose credibility then all that they have been doing for years might just become diluted.

Yes, these are challenging times, but also times of great opportunity. But as always one needs to be anchored in the basics. The basics are simple. Business is about brands and brands are about consumers. The moment brands irritate consumers, they are going to be in serious trouble. I am on the verge of getting irritated. Are you?

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


Ram said...

That was a brilliant analysis Mr. Sridhar. The analogy with a rajinikant movie is most appropriate.
I think these things just happen. They are freaks. Rajinikant is a freak sucecess and so is the IPL.
One has to be anything but a cricket fan to be watching the IPL. Because overall it has only 15% cricket. Can someone tell me how this tamasha is any different from the Hongkong sixes tournament. Where at any point of time some unknown guy is bowling and some known guy is slogging.
It honestly defeats me as to why a player like tendulkar doesnt want to play the 20 20 world cup but is ready to play 45 days of non stop cricket which is unofficial. Is he doing it ot please certain people or is it Nita babis ( as he refers to her) orders.
Why is deepika padokone standing near mallyas son pretending to be tense about the match when the first innings of the match is in progress. Atleast someomne should tell her that such expressions she has to give in the final overs of a close game.
Why are more people watching the ipl and not the uefa football league were the other day I saw messi score a hatrick in 21 minutes.
I think the bottom line is there are no answers to certian happenings. They are just meant to be that way.
But your point on irritating the consumer is very important. It is ridiculous to show ads in between balls. And these marketeres are spending more to downgrade themsleves in the consumer mind.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Very interesting comments about Deepika and about Messi. I think the bottom line is the consumer is being taken for granted and I am sure it will not be long before the consumer strikes back.

sajjapraveenchowdary said...

I think this race for attention is leaving consumers with less of cricket and more of advertising.

Because, atleast whenever there is a wonderful drive or a catch or an LBW, I would like to watch it again for some 3-4 times. This happens with every cricket loving one because, we want to re-confirm whether it was a right decision on LBW/not and how was that shot played??

In the past, there were action replays for 3-4 times which has comedown to 1 followed by more of advertisement breaks or else, the new breaks on the screen like the Gautam-Sehwag ad that comes every now and then in between overs also.

I can sense that something was missing from the match broadcast on TV.. but couldn't say what was that.. which I only recognized when I visited Manchester United Cafe at Pheonix Mall last friday to watch the match.. It has a totally different commentary from that of SET MAX that we hear everyday and has no ad breaks.. So, no Karbonn Kamaals, Citi moment of Success, MRF blips,etc... Added with the music from DJ whenever there is a 6/4/wicket/tense moment.

I could then sense what was missing from the match broadcast on TV.. It was cricket that was missing from the match broadcast..

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

You are absolutely right, I have watched a cricket world cup semi
final on tv in the UK and I know exactly what you are talking. You can actually watch the batsman discussing in between overs which no Indian TV viewer can ever have watched. I too watched the game yesterday at the sports bar and could see the difference. The trouble is the IPL is less about cricket and more about commercials as that is the way Lalit Modi wants it.
I love advertising but I think he is missing a trick.

Common Man said...

Indian Premiere League has already turned into 'Indian Paisa League'. It is surprising that Pepsi and Coke, once at loggerheads to get associated with Cricket are not seen much during IPL (Pepsi though does it smartly but it's presence is not felt) If asked a 'Common Man', "Name the Top 5 Brands with IPL?", how many in 10 might be able to recall Pepsi? 2-3 would be a huge number because already DLF, CITI, Carbonn Mobile, MRF have stolen the show.

A query - Every time Sachin gets OUT or a Team, say RCB, loses a wicket, commentator says "CITI Moment of Success". Can this adversely affect the Brand in a Cricket crazy India? How can someone say 'Moment of Success' when Sachin, the 'Krishna of Cricket' is departing?

You are on verge of getting irritated? I am already irritated. How can one hear those mundane laughs of Akshay Kumar for a month!