Monday, July 12, 2010

The young lady from Boribunder

I grew up in the sixties in Madras (as it used to be called in those days) and I like everyone else in the city grew up on “The Hindu”. It was said half jokingly and half seriously that the easiest way to create chaos in the lives of Tamils like me, was to replace our morning cup of coffee (that we drank in steel tumblers] with a mug of tea, and replace our morning paper with something else! Our whole day would go for a six, or so we believed. I am certain too that Bengalis were similarly attached to ‘The Statesman’, people from Delhi to ‘The Hindustan Times’ and people from Bombay were avid readers of the ‘Times of India’. While all these newspapers continue to attract readers and be important in their lives, the Times of India has moved to a completely new orbit. It has become a brand that has become the envy of not only the rest of India, but the world as well. What makes the old lady from Boribunder” as the paper used to be referred to the dominant force that it has become? Let me try to analyze its success as someone who is passionate about brands and branding.

150 years young

The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce as it was originally called, was renamed the Times of India in 1861. Even as brands struggle to remain young and contemporary. The newspaper, like Coke and Pepsi has managed to remain relevant to generation of readers, and perhaps its greatest strength has been its ability to attract young readers. Of course, at the risk of boring you to death, I can tell you that India is a young country and the brands that crack the youth market will rake in the big bucks as the newspaper has done with desperate ease, year after year. The Times of India is a brand for the young and if one may add, for the young at heart. And let me tell you, that it is not easy to achieve this as many brands have stumbled in their endeavours to remain young, and later generations have ruthlessly rejected brands that they feel are dated or old with comments like “fuddy duddy” and “my father’s brand”. The simple test of the brand’s success would be to just observe how the family reaches out to a choice of papers. My sons who are in their twenties normally reach out to grab the Times of India first amongst the five newspapers that we subscribe to. I am sure too that this is a phenomenon that operates in many households through the length and breadth of this country. And what about the corporate world, how do they view the Times of India? A few days ago we organized a press conference for a large client at Delhi. There were no less than 67 personnel from the media for the Press Conference. While we were delighted at the attendance, the client still had a problem, for the representative from the Times of India was not present for the conference (as he was taken ill). I have heard enough clients focus only on the Times of India to the exclusion of all other newspapers. Clearly the paper has value.

Engaging the local reader

The Times of India might be the largest national newspaper in India but to me it is a truly regional newspaper with a national masthead. Let me explain .The paper might have its strongest presence and origin in Mumbai but it has managed to make waves in every part of India and is being seen as a local paper in that market as it has involved itself totally and actively with local, regional issues. Take the case of Chennai, the latest market where it has made its foray - it encouraged a lively debate on “jallikattu” a controversial subject in Tamil Nadu in a manner in which even local newspapers too might not have been able to conceptualize.

Product or newspaper?

There is a human side to the paper as well and some of its initiatives like teach India and Lead India have resonated strongly with its readers as its recent initiative to bring the people of India and Pakistan together. Clearly the brand has done things that have made it a thought leader and an opinion leader. Yet I must end with a slight sense of regret. The brand is a newspaper after all and to me a newspaper is not just a product to be marketed, but a product that has to be guided by editorial policy. It is here that I have a reservation with ideas like Private treaties and Media net. I am sure the paper has its reasons for what it is doing and after all “who is perfect”?

Ramanujam Sridhar is the CEO of brand-comm and the author of “Googly-branding on Indian turf.”


Ram said...

Yes. The TOI is the best newspaper by a mile. May be I am a little baised being a mumbaikar. And your analysis is spot on. In each city it feels like the local paper!

Anonymous said...

ToI (and other group publications) has pioneered in another area called - as you rightly said - "Private Treaties" and "Paid news". This has morphed a "News Paper" from a news-paper to a profit center business product.

- Rakesh Goyal, Mumbai

s said...

When I joined the Times in 1979, it was an august, hallowed institution that lead by example and opinion.
Now it leads by weight of its reputation and money power.
I rest my case.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I think you have posted your case extremely succintly!

Nidhi Verma said...

Dear Mr. Sridhar

It was definitely interesting and insightful to read the article. I agree that TOI has a comparatively weaker editorial, which largely defies the purpose of a newspaper. But at the same time they have managed to keep up with the reader and been a pioneer at giving him what he likes to chew upon. They have clearly demonstrated an understanding of the latent consumer needs. TOI has addressed different segments effectively, be it through supplements like I-Diva and Brand Equity or initiatives on unity and literacy. I wouldn’t read a TOI solely for the purpose of news today, though I can’t say that it doesn’t carry the happenings of the world. I would however, read it for that all round experience. For mixing information with entertainment, or maybe to get news in a manner that appeals to the senses. Maybe it is the need of the hour, given that there is news everywhere, in innumerable formats. The consumer is in the Information age, how he chooses to receive the information is his discretion…the earlier brands understand this fact, the better for them. Times Of India definitely did! And the next newspaper that I forsee breaking the clutter and gathering readership is MINT. Would love your thoughts on this if and whenever you have time.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Interesting views from a young reader of today.

Shankar said...

My roots are in Bangalore and in the late 70's when I first grabbed a newspaper at age 12 it was the Deccan Herald. The very next year we had Hindu coming in along with Deccan and it did not take me much to shift to Hindu. I have been a fan of Hindu ever since. When I moved to Mumbai in the early nineties I would wait till the evening to get my supply of Hindu from Boribunder station. Slowly I also started reading TOI because it was the only paper that came in in the morning. In my own view TOI is not a news paper as much as it is an 'advertisers paper'. When a news paper allows an advertiser to use its entire front page then the news paper does not remain a news paper. Then they introduced a concept of half page right at the top. This was even more disgusting. I agree with you about ToI being a brand. The only difference with other papers and ToI is the focus. ToI is a newspaper that focuses on Advertising revenues while some (not all) newspapers focus on news and editorial. Focus has gotten them where they are today. DNA can change that for the ToI some day. Lets see

Sunder said...

Newspapers are dying in this age of TV and internet. It is only fuddy-duddies like us who are still addicted to our daily dose of bilge!
The Times is a yellow rag wrapped up in money power and is like a frog in the well - the best (???) among a group of non-entities or has beens like the Hindu and the Statesman.
The newspaper's usual pandering to the current political "thinking", without any thought leadership is nothing short of "a... licking" and its feeble attempts to bring about some modicum of national oneness are puerile, to say the least.
God save us from such trash, yet I need my daily fix of the Times - in the words of Dickens, it is the best of times and the worst of times.