Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Complete Man Returns

Raymond's advertising is a good example of a brand proposition kept alive and intact down the years..

Brands constantly try to remain in the public memory and advertising is an important way of making it happen. Raymond's advertising in particular has managed to engage consumers with the brand.

We goofed. Pure and simple. Before you attempt to say “so what's new” or “I told you so” let me try and explain. We have a simple ritual in our office of recognising employees on their birthdays. It is nothing elaborate, actually. We give the lucky person a cake and all sing “Happy Birthday” at the top of our voices. We have the leader of the local church choir leading our efforts though he is hard-pressed to get the willing but completely hapless group into some semblance of melody as there are two sets of voices competing for attention.

One set slightly gruffer than M.R. Radha, an actor of my time, and another set just slightly shriller than Sachin Tendulkar, an icon of your time. But we have a great time, which usually culminates in the lucky (!) person having to make a speech which is often as predictable as post-match press conferences in T20 games.

So where did we goof? We missed the birthday of one of our employees. Which is perhaps not earth-shattering given the chaotic way in which most organisations function. But what was particularly galling was the fact that the person we had forgotten to recognise was one of our nicest employees and someone whom most people went to when they had a problem.

And someone who, despite the enormous pressure she was exposed to at work, always sported a smile. I found her very subdued and not her normal cheerful self the next day which was a bit odd. We soon discovered what we had done, or more precisely, not done. Agencies are pretty good at coming out smelling like roses from the worst of disasters so the young people in the office rallied around, organised an impromptu party and found a nice way of saying ‘Sorry we are like that only'.

Of course, being the nice soul that she is, she forgave me for forgetting. After all, working closely with me, she knew that I was close to senility and was even having difficulty remembering the names of my children. But what hurt her most was that her family had forgotten as, of course, had her second family, the agency that she was spending so much time at. Oh, the malady of forgetfulness, how much better we would be without it!

Another birthday, another place

Over the weekend even as I kept thinking about it and was trying hard to forget our goof, I saw a commercial. Now that is hardly shocking given the amount of time I spend watching TV. I think it was 3 Idiots (or so I hope) that was being shown on one of the channels and there was the young Raymond model smartly turned out as always, entering a retirement community. Ever since I read a research report many years ago which spoke about Indian youth not worrying unduly about sending their parents to such places, I have been fairly interested in them. After all, one should be interested in places one is likely to end up in, right?

But back to the commercial where the Raymond man waves cheerily to a number of old people before spotting his old teacher standing alone and aloof in a corner. It's his birthday and I think the familiar emotion of not being cared for or wished on his birthday is evident on his face. The young man quietly tells the other residents that it is his birthday and they get ready to surprise him. Meanwhile, he opens his laptop and through the webcam shows his old teacher images of his grandchildren who cheerily wish him happy birthday as do his children. The scene is complete with the other residents of the old age home who have quickly mustered up a cake and the entire gang of silver citizens wishes the retired teacher and makes his day. The teacher hugs his old student who, as always, is wearing a Raymond suit that feels like heaven. An interesting commercial that highlights the loneliness of growing old and how technology can reduce the gap, linked by familiar models and a strong brand presence that has been a feature of Raymond's work over the years.

If it's a wedding it has to be Raymond

Like most Indians the first suit I bought and wore was at my wedding reception and, of course, it had to be Raymond's. Twenty-eight years later I have the same wife, a tribute to her indulgence and patience more than anything else, but the suit too fits after minor (!) alterations. I remember my father's words “have scope for expansion” when I was getting the suit made. Strange but true, for although he never put on a single inch, all of us dutifully did, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places! I came into contact with the Raymond brand again and fully realised its enormous success in my days at Mudra where the brand often featured in discussions and reviews. Vimal was Mudra's flagship brand and the agency was passionate about it. Frank Simoes was the agency that was producing sophisticated and classy advertising for the brand. For those interested in advertising trivia, Frank Simoes used to handle Vimal's advertising in the pre-Mudra days and the tagline “Only Vimal” was his. Mudra had a grudging respect for Raymond's advertising and its clear message of “understated elegance”. This sophistication has been carried on over the years first by Frank Simoes, then by Nexus and now by R K Swamy BBDO. Sometimes when brands change agencies, they change stances and end up losing brand properties in the quest for change. Often the baby is thrown out with the bath water! Thankfully not the case here!

Retired teacher wins hearts

One of the earlier commercials for Raymond, arguably the best, features the above mentioned teacher retiring from school to the complete desolation of his doting students. They have placards saying “please do not go” even as he drives off in his trusted Morris Minor after one last look at the school to which he has given so much and which loves him so much. The fabric is woven deftly into the commercial, for after all, the problem with so many of these commercials is that they can apply equally across most categories. This generally happens when scriptwriters get carried away by the power of their idea and forget that the purpose of advertising is not merely to entertain but sell! The sequel to this commercial is the teacher attending a wedding reception of one of his students who was most distraught at his leaving school. The teacher goes in diffidently into a grand wedding wondering what his own reception might be. He need not have worried; the groom quickly disengages from the crowd around him and rushes to meet his old teacher and seeks his blessings, wife in tow. The commercial ends with all the old students getting into a group picture with the teacher. The current commercial is the third in the series featuring Bomi Dotivala whose role in Munnabhai MBBS too was written about.

Brands are all about properties

Brands constantly try to remain in public memory and advertising is an important way of making it happen. Clever, consistent advertising strategically executed over the years creates a property that customers recall and associate with the brand. For years the cute girl that eyeballed the camera and said, “I love you Rasna” was a property of the brand. The models in Raymond commercials, particularly the teacher, seem to not only entertain and hold our attention, but also further the engagement with the brand. I am intrigued by the concept of sequels to commercials. As long as it does not make the agency self-obsessive, it is a great opportunity to cue earlier memories and associations and cement relationships with the brand. And yet I see a lot of advertising that leaves me really cold and make as much impact as “ships that pass us by at night”. So here are a few questions worth thinking about:

How distinctive is your advertising?

Does it have a clear and consistent tone of voice over the years?

What have you taken from the past? Remember, the past, unless it is a baggage, can be used to advantage.

Do you have a brand property that customers actually recount in brand research studies?

And finally, are you using technology to keep track of birthdays?

Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly: Branding on Indian Turf. He blogs at

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