Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bidding a sentimental farewell to a fashionable brand

As RIL puts Vimal brand on the block, Ramanujam Sridhar speaks about his impressions and memories of the iconic brand.

IT WAS the summer of 1987, the city Ahmedabad, the venue, Mudra’s corporate office where I had been called for an interview for the job of branch manager of the agency’s Bengaluru office which was to be set up by the incumbent.

Mudra was not like any casual and informal advertising agencies of those days. It had an imposing corporate office and there was an aura around AG Krishnamurthy, the chairperson and managing director whom I had to meet. I walked into his huge cabin, the size of a basketball court only to be questioned by the gum-chewing Krishnamurthy “So why do you want to join Mudra?” (I later realised that he was trying to kick the smoking habit).

I pointed to the huge posters of the latest Vimal campaign that were proudly displayed on the soft board in his cabin and said, “I want to create campaigns like that." I was not saying this as most interviewees do to impress. I really meant it as Vimal and Rasna were two brands that had received great advertising in the late eighties and I hoped to be part of that award-winning heritage. Make no mistake, Vimal had some of the most sophisticated and fashionable advertising of that time, and was one of the few brands that was doing terrific work on television, a relatively new medium back then.

People who joined Mudra at that time went through an extensive induction programme, sharing the culture of the agency and some of its folklore. Mudra, we were told, had been started to exclusively handle the advertising of Vimal as Frank Simoes, who was responsible for some of Vimal’s early advertising, refused to resign from the Raymonds business, and Reliance clearly saw a conflict of interest there. However Frank Simoes went on to produce path breaking advertising for Raymonds over the years.

An interesting tidbit about the origin of the tagline ‘Only Vimal’ is worth recalling. Apparently, Dhirubhai Ambani was briefing Frank Simoes about the Vimal brand. In those days, Dhirubhai was actually involved with the brand’s advertising (It was only later that he busied himself with more momentous stuff like who should be the next finance minister?). He waxed eloquent about the brand, saying ,‘Only Vimal has the most modern plant,’ ‘Only Vimal uses merino wool,’ ‘Only Vimal has this unique technology’.

And the next day Frank Simoes came back with the tagline ‘Only Vimal’.

Today, as I know more about branding than I did 25 years ago, I realise that brand properties are built consistently over a period in time. The two words, in isolation, perhaps mean little other than exclusivity, but the agency has had these two words sung, spoken and set to music in every possible genre to be synonymous with the brand, thereby creating a brand property and line that everyone recalls even today.

Every model worth her name wanted to be featured in the latest Vimal campaign, especially the ones for sarees and dress materials. The commercials usually featured more than one model (Vimal wanted to be different from Garden that featured a distant and almost aloof model looking disdainfully at the camera). Brand Vimal, in contrast, was Indian: warm and emotive, even featuring children along with the ravishing young women who pirouetted in the advertising — all indulging in Indian pastimes and games — clearly demonstrating the brand’s roots and points of difference from Garden, its main competitor.

Only Vimal | 1980
VIMAL SAREES, the flagship brand of Reliance Textiles launched in the mid 70s, went on to become hugely successful across India. Vimal expanded its portfolio over the next decade to include men’s suitings.

THE CHALLENGEThe saree market was fragmented and dominated by unorganised retail. The challenge was to become the market leader nationwide while battling local players.

For Vimal Suitings, the setting was contrary; Vimal was a new entrant taking on well-established national brands with loyal consumers. Here too the brand aimed to be a leader.

The saree symbolises the quintessential Indian woman, who with multiple facets to her personality essays various roles with ease. Vimal took on the role of an interpreter giving women a language to express themselves through its sarees in a variety of prints and vibrant colours.

The campaign’s core idea came to life through Vimal’s range of sarees with arresting visuals, adding a new ‘art’ dimension to advertising. Innovative, uncommon print sizes and full-colour double-spreads featuring movie stars in keeping with the revolutionary essence of the campaign.

Vimal Suitings was launched soon after this. The strategy here was to first position Vimal Suitings as a fashion brand to look up to, with style icons of popular culture — international cricketers and movie stars —roped in as endorsers. To highlight the honest to-goodness quality, insets of machinery and weaves were used in the communication. Vimal Suitings paved the way for haute couture with leading fashion designers endorsing the brand.

Vimal Suitings next introduced a premium wool range of fabrics. Achievers from different walks of life were used as brand ambassadors, once again a first in Indian advertising. The brand established itself as ‘The Style Guru’. Its media innovations included newspaper columns on personal grooming.

• In just six years, Vimal became India’s fashion leader and featured on the list of India’s top 100 most trusted brands.
• It was also ranked No 1 in the ‘Clothes Call’ section, which profiles the best apparel brands.

Vimal’s advertising must have won every possible advertising award, and yet to me one of the best efforts for the brand happened with the Reliance World Cup in 1987. Reliance Industries was the main sponsor and fresh commercials had to be done for the brand. The agency signed on three cricketers — Ravi Shastri, Viv Richards and the relatively unsung Alan Border (as Australia was a rank outsider when the tournament started).

The agency shot three commercials with the theme ‘the looks of a winner’. Each one of the cricketers was paid a princely sum of Rs 50,000 for endorsing the brand.

I particularly remember the one featuring Viv Richards set to Reggae music. As luck would have it, Alan Border won the cup and was aptly sporting the ‘looks of a winner’. Today, as brands pay exorbitant sums of money to vague celebrities, my mind drifts to 1987 and what celebrities were paid then and their cricketing status.

Sadly, whatever hallowed place the brand holds in my heart and in that of million others, RIL has decided that the textile brand does not fit into the company’s overall strategy and the returns from the brand are ‘lower than what you get from fixed deposits.’

To be successful in business means the ability to be pragmatic, rational, and cold even while brands are all about emotions. Brands trigger feelings of aspiration, well-being, sophistication and even yearning to own them.

Any fashionable textile brand will always be about emotion as people buy into the imagery of the brand. Vimal’s advertising over the years has undoubtedly crafted it into a fashionable but albeit affordable brand that a woman in the street could afford to wear. When a young lady of the 80s wore a Vimal saree she imagined she was Sridevi. Today when RIL has decided to take the emotions out of the brand, people like me feel a tinge of regret for what might have been!


Ashish Trivedi said...

Superb article,Sir. RIL could have given Vimal a fresh start....

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes, unfortunately all decisions seems to be on business and not on sentiment.