Monday, September 18, 2017

Why celebrities have turned the tables on brands by ending their endorsements

Key highlights:
  • Virat Kohli decided recently to stop endorsing cola brand Pepsi
  • He said he would not ask people to consume something that he himself does not
  • Amitabh Bachchan ended his 14 year association endorsing the brand Pepsi in 2014
While it has seen several times where brands dump their celebrity brand ambassadors over certain controversies or scandals, Virat Kohli's decision recently to stop endorsing cola brand Pepsi despite being offered a lucrative deal came as a change.
In the past we have seen even cola brands ending ties with their celebrity endorsers due to controversies. This was seen with Salman Khan when cola brand Thums Up decided to end their association with the star who at that time had was steeped in controversies. Even Snapdeal had ended their ties with Aamir Khan after a controversy regarding his comments on rising intolerance in the country.
International tennis star Maria Sharapova who had admitted to doping later resulted in an exodus of brands from her portfolio. The same was with Tiger Woods after news of his several affairs came to fore.
However, Kohli's decision to dump Pepsi is one of the few but growing examples of how celebrity brand endorsers are today taking it endorsement seriously.
He refused to renew the contract which ended in April this year saying that he would not ask people to consume something that he himself does not.
Besides this, Kohli will no longer endorse fairness creams or products of that genre, an official who works with Kohli told PTI.
This is definitely a bold stand taken by the Indian cricket captain to endorse brands and products he utilises and believes in. This is considering that cola brands can offer very lucrative deals. While his deal with Pepsi was not disclosed, his deals with Puma and MRF itself are worth Rs 100 crore each and the deal with cola brand was expected to be somewhere along the same line.
But Kohli is not the only celebrity that has dumped a brand selling a product which is unhealthy or frowned upon in society.
Actor Amitabh Bachchan ended his 14 year association endorsing the brand Pepsi in 2014 when he was confronted by young schoolgirl about being the face of a product that is full of negative ingredients. This he said made him brake off his association with the cola brand.
Other Bollywood actors such as Anushka Sharma, Kangana Ranaut, Ranbir Kapoor, Nandita Das and Randeep Hooda have all dumped the fairness creams category as a whole and have taken a stand that they will never endorse such brands or products. Many of them are reported to had even turned down deals to become the brand ambassadors of such products.
Another sports celebrity that has shunned endorsing cola brands is Olympic medal winner at Rio PV Sindhu. She clarified soon after winning the Olympics that she would not endorse cola brands or anything harmful for health.
Even the one time king of brand endorsements, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, had turned down a group of advertisers saying that he would never endorse any alcohol or tobacco brands.
Actor Aamir Khan has also reportedly turned down from endorsing a luxury car brand which had offered him a huge deal. The reason for this decision was that the actor currently only wants to work on ads that are socially relevant and that the brand did not come under the umbrella of social issues.
Even Akshay Kumar is said to have turned down a lucrative deal to endorse a paan masala brand.
One of the reasons why celebrities today are picky with which brands they endorse is due to backlash from people on social media and the greater public scrutiny that they come under as role models.
For instance, Deepika Padukone received severe backlash on Twitter and social media sites over her recent endorsement of Coca Cola. Some of the people called her irresponsible for endorsing such a drink.
Even former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan faced a barrage of tweets and comments condemning his endorsement of Pan Bahar masala in their ad campaign.
According to K V Sridhar, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Hyper Collective there are two reasons for celebrity brand endorsers to be so picky these days is when they have money they can afford to be selective and how close the values of brand and them match.
“When you do have enough money then you do everything. When you have money, you have a choice on which brand you can endorse and which you do not want to. Added to this is the social media scrutiny that these celebrities have to endure these days,” said Sridhar.
He further says that the vales of the celebrity and the values of the brand must match, because if they do not match then there is friction.
Ram Gudipati, Founder & CEO of brand consultancy firm Brand Harvest too says that every celebrity today is social and interacts with their audience and fans, and this is a reason why they have to picky with brands.
“Virat is seen as the epitome of fitness and his association with Pepsi would be seen as counterproductive. It will also be seen as a hypocrisy as cola brands are being reported as unhealthy in media,” Gudipati said.
He too points out that money at this stage for celebrities such as Kohli and Amitabh Bachchan is not an issue. “They have reached a stage where Rs 6-7 crore won't matter.”
He further points that this can even add to their benefit as they can charge a premium for those brands they do endorse. “Take for instance Aamir Khan, he is said to charge a high rate of Rs 8 crore per day. He can charge such a premium as the value he brings to the table for a brand. Even Amitabh Bachchan for that matter, what he charges and what value he drives for a brand is several times more,” said Gudipati.
Sridhar Ramanujam, Founder & CEO of Integrated Brand-Comm says that Kohli has now become one of top sportsmen globally and with that comes reputation which he has to manage. He further adds that brand endorsement rules have become strict too as celebrities today cannot endorse things they don't use.
Recently, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) released new rules that held celebrities responsible for the claims made in ads in which they appear.
“Celebrities have to worry about their reputation more than the money, as that is taken care of. They have to come across as concerned about the society,” said Ramanujam.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

How much public relations does a brand need?

Companies need to be smart about their positioning in the way they handle media relations
As I write this piece, a public relations adage that comes to mind is “Any news coverage is good”.
In this column, I am going to focus some of my observations on what recently transpired at Infosys and the hit its image took as a result of ineffective media management. Before that, I must state upfront that I have benefited both personally and professionally from the company. I was fortunate to own a few hundred shares in the company and to have spent time with the founders, for whom I have great regard; they have featured in my books and classes as role models in not only managing media but also in transparency and ethics.
But now, uncomfortable questions on corporate governance and ethics are raising their heads, causing some of the people in question to look elsewhere as the media focusses its attention primarily on the company, its founders and its erstwhile CEO.
Media relations
In this background, let us look at the possible learnings for other companies, especially those seriously looking at public relations as a means to communicate with the external world.
Let’s be very clear about one thing: public relations works. And the principal reason is that it generally has a greater source of credibility than paid advertising. Infosys, in the early years, used this ploy to great effect, as it had a better strategy than its competitors and was actually able to change its positioning over the years through astute media relations.
This is normally done by the traditional companies that adopt more expensive, but largely controllable, routes of advertising. Infosys has been following the media route over the years, even if it has come to grief with the most recent fiasco.
So let’s look at what other companies can do if they’re looking at media relations seriously.
Does being an eager beaver help?
There are enough people ready to offer their opinions and advice on a variety of topics, some of which may even be outside their areas of competence. While this is a great strategy for start-ups and even standalone consultants, this is something you will need to revisit as you grow in size. Be selective in offering your point of view. And, when dealing with the media, keep in mind that you are perfectly within your right to walk away from story opportunities that you are not comfortable with.
What are your own value systems?
I have a great friend in the corporate world who runs one of the most successful marketing companies in India and has a clear guideline on the sort of media that he wants to be part of — “I will agree to any story on the company, but no personal profiling. I don’t want to talk about my holidays, my hobbies, my clothes or my interests”.
That clearly means no low-hanging fruit for the PR company, and it also establishes the company culture, as far as the media is concerned.
What’s the company’s life cycle?
Clearly, start-ups and nascent companies are hungry for coverage, any coverage, and we don’t blame them for that. For who knows where the next round of funding will come from? But as companies grow in visibility and stature, they need to do some serious introspection as to whether the company or its executives are too ‘in your face’ in the media.
The same applies to social media as well. I have stopped following CEOs who tweet several times a day. Clearly, the activity is outsourced and lacks the personal touch. So review your entire offline and online strategies periodically.
CSR should not be personal profiling
Today, many companies support causes, some of which may seem frivolous rather than a serious purpose. It may be quite tempting to say cheese in front of those popping flash bulbs, but do you really need to be there or can someone else step in for a change? It’s not an easy call, but think about it.
Can less be more?
So what are we saying at the end of all this? That there is no catch-all media strategy that companies can follow irrespective of their size and current standing. The old objective of column centimetres has to give way to quality of coverage. Companies need to look beyond traditional media to influencers and opinion-makers in the online space.
There is a crisis lurking around every corner, and the smarter companies are prepared for most eventualities.
Are you ready with your media strategy?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

In-depth: From trusted to busted – when brands lose consumer trust

Johnson & Johnson recently lost its fifth court case in the US, which has understandably lent a blow to the brand’s image world over. Several legacy brands from McDonald's to Volkswagen have been taken to court for selling ‘substandard’ products. How do they deal with such situations and how difficult is getting back?

What do global Giants Volkswagen, Tata Motors, Nestle and Johnson & Johnson have in common?
All of them have lost market share in respective industries because of controversies surrounding quality issues or faulty products.
Germany-based Volkswagen lost its dominant position in Europe because of manipulating with fuel emission norms. Tata's Nano car could never pick up after a number of cars caught fire within a year of launch. Nestle fought the Maggi battle with Indian food regulators after lead above permissible limits was found in its two-minute noodles brand.
And just last week, a Los Angeles jury directed Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million to a 62-year-old woman who has blamed the company and its talcum powder for her ovarian cancer. This is the fifth case that the baby care giant has lost. Johnson & Johnson, which faces a staggering 5,550 claims in US courts, has lost four previous cases in St Louis amounting to $300 million in all.
While J&J will appeal the verdicts, its brand image has taken quite a hit. It is not just in the US that the brand is facing a tough time. Johnson & Johnson used to enjoy a market share of about 80 per cent in the year 2008 in the baby care segment in India and today the brand holds over 50 per cent of that market. The difference is huge and this is despite the brand investing huge monies in marketing.
As per Kantar Media, the brand invested $1.12 billion in marketing in the US alone in the year 2015 and an estimated $2.5 billion globally, according to reports. spoke to a few brand experts to try and understand how popular brands are impacted because of that one mistake and how do they get back on track.

Harish Bijoor, Brand-expert and Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, believes that in case of J&J, the stigma from the court cases the brand is battling in the West is the reason for its declining popularity in India.
“Stigma is strange and it has the habit of following you from shore to shore. In today's viral environment, no one is an ignorant person. Word of digital spreads faster than word of mouth! I do believe J&J has suffered an image hit with the global controversy on its talc. Bigger than the compensation payout claim is the hit on brand image, value and credibility. This has affected the brand badly in India for sure. The brand needs to undertake very quick and effective surgery on its image,” said Bijoor.
However, experts feel that trusted brands do get a second chance from consumers. "In case of Maggi, you see Nestle is back with a strong product line with different flavours. Now they're offering more value. It won't be easy to reinstate the dominant leadership it held earlier but it still is the most selling instant noodles brand," a brand consultant said. The consultant didn't wish to be named as he works with a conflicting brand.
However, the impact on brand revenue is huge because of less than expected sales and huge marketing budget to reinstate its position.
Volkswagen despite losing market share is trying to rebuild its position in Europe on the back of the strong marketing campaigns. In the campaign launched last year, post the emission scandal, the company said, “Volkswagen is more than a car, it’s a lifelong companion.”
However, all are not as lucky to make a comeback. Nano, despite being the most affordable car, could never pick up. Dhara, the edible oil brand, could never fight back.
Experts feel that the reason a few brands could not gain their share back was not because they lost people's trust entirely and did nothing to rebuild it. But also by the time they set their house in order and tried coming back, the competition in market had already intensified. 
Experts point to reasons such as the growing market, intensified competition and fragmentation of the sector for the brand’s falling numbers when it comes to market share.
Talking about J&J's court cases, Vibha Desai, Director Vibha Desai Consulting, feels the court cases in the US have no bearing on the brand’s performance in the Indian market.
“I personally think that the average Indian consumer will not know about the court cases. People in India traditionally have used the ‘ghar ka nuska’ on their children but now a lot of people are not living in joint families and have moved away from their hometowns to metros. As all these factors come together, the market would have expanded. You have to understand that J&J has grown the market. Brands like Himalaya just came in and there was a market ready for them as they concentrated on the middle class and the lower middle class families. So I think the falling market share is a mix of factors like the shift from ‘ghar ka nuska’ to branded items and the market expanding rather than the US court cases,” said Desai.
Experts say that brands that have been around for generations also get confused in dealing with millennials. 

Ramanujam Sridhar, brand expert and Founder, Brand-comm, said, “People today are not consulting their parents. It is therefore possible that they are finding better and cheaper products that their peer group is recommending online."
Speaking specifically about why J&J lost its market share, Sridhar said it's not only about court cases but also because its products are expensive and people have cheaper options available now.
"The biggest challenge that Johnson & Johnson usually faces is the fact that its products are generally higher priced. So, it is possible that young parents today are looking for products that are cheap but of an acceptable quality,” said Sridhar.
Sharda Agarwal, Co-founder, Sepalika, agrees that the market is far more fragmented today than what it was before. This has led to entrance of brands that have brought to the table many more propositions.
Talking about why FMCG brands now have a tough time rebuilding their brands, she said it is because of the concept of supermarkets. "Consumers get to see a variety of products on the shelf. Hence, they just don't rely on one product," she said.
Taking J&J as an example, she said, “The arrival of the whole concept of the supermarket means that consumers can now pick their brands. In the past, one of the big advantages that J&J had was the huge barriers for entry. The only way to make yourselves heard was through advertising, which is an expensive way and only established companies like J&J could afford to do it. Today, for new brands to exist in the market, you don’t need to advertise because you can be discovered by the consumer. So, the growth of retail players has helped smaller players with limited advertising budgets to introduce brands. The barriers to entry have come down and that means more brands are entering the market.”
According to Agarwal, as any market matures and grows, there will be more players staking a claim on the pie, which would in turn mean the biggest player that used to control a majority of the market will be the most affected and that is probably what is happening with J&J in India.

Friday, September 1, 2017

KBC and how brand ‘Bachchan’ gains from it speaks to a few brands and industry experts to understand what the return of KBC means for the star

Thursday, August 31, 2017

How much do you love your wife?

That cue to a strong ad line for pressure cookers resonated with its middle-class audience
So, do you really love your wife? Now isn’t that a leading question? Almost as bad as ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’. But to someone who started his advertising life nearly three decades ago, it’s a cue to a strong and hardworking advertising line which said ‘Jo biwi se kare pyar, woh Prestige se kaise kare inkaar?’. It’s quite likely that what I’m saying means nothing to you, so let me try and jog your memory by directing you to an old TV commercial that created waves when it first aired.

Matter of ‘Prestige’
With all the razzmatazz, bells and whistles that today’s advertising is full of, this simple commercial, set at a dealer outlet of a multi-brand pressure cooker company may even be considered ordinary, but it certainly had its value then. It is a focused TV commercial set in a dowdy shop, with a typical middle-class couple going to purchase a pressure cooker.
The main character is a dealer who, in his typical frank and forthright way, asks the man: “How much do you love your wife?”. (In those days, and probably even today, people in India asked even strangers the most pointed of questions, such as: “So, what is your salary?” or “Why don’t you have a child yet?”.)
The dealer quickly explains that if the customer loved his wife even a little, he would give her an ordinary pressure cooker; if he loved her more he would give her a better one; but if he really loved his wife, he would give her a Prestige pressure cooker! When the bemused husband asks the dealer why Prestige, the latter explains that ‘the unique gasket release system of the Prestige pressure cooker was designed for husbands who really love their wives’.
Today, when we look at this ad, we might be bemused and wonder how it could have been so successful then (I can vouch for its success). One must not forget that this was when television advertising was in its nascent stages. It was before the days of computer graphics designed in London and television commercials shot in New Zealand. The ad had a strong idea that resonated with its middle-class audience and a tagline that, when carefully-handled, became brand property over the years.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Good ads do the disappearing act
One of the greatest challenges with clients and advertising agencies is that they get tired of their campaigns long before their consumers do and are anxious to change them, even when the old ones are delivering results. After all, it’s boring to run the same commercial, however effective, year after year.
So, for quite a few years, Prestige went ahead with a variety of commercials, offers, and products, each different from the other, that bore no theme holding them all together. The advertising did not have the single-minded appeal it had in its initial years, even if the brand continued to do well.
Let’s not forget that Prestige was a dominant brand then, particularly in the Southern markets, where mothers continued to gift their newly-married daughters Prestige pressure cookers. It was not uncommon for the humble pressure cooker to make its way into elegantly designed houses in New Jersey or San Jose. And yet, something was missing and that was the emotive appeal of the husband’s love for the wife, which seemed to have lost its way.
Celebrity couple demonstrates love
Then, as expected, the brand realised that it had been sitting on a gold mine whose value it had refused to acknowledge. With the help of a star biwi and her husband — Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan — it launched new commercials nationally.

The brand effectively capitalised on the idea that Prestige is the pressure cooker for husbands who love their wives, who deserve the best. Today, it has moved away from celebrities to ordinary couples, as this commercial in Tamil shows.
The brand’s advertising story continues and I am sure that it will be successful in the future.
So, what are the learnings?
Brands attain properties, usually created by good advertising over a period of time, that consumers easily recall and identify the brand with. It requires effort, resources and commitment to build a brand property. And, as the TTK Prestige example shows us, it is quite easy to lose sight of what you have. Brand managers should be vigilant to ensure that their brands don’t go off track though, sadly enough, it is often the advertising agency that is guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water!
So, does your brand have a property? And are you ensuring that it is preserved?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bisleri invests Rs.60 lakh in local language labels; "Consumer in villages should not be cheated" says marketing head

 Bisleri's marketing director, Anjana Ghosh, tells us the effort is a move to tide over problems like counterfeit products and language barriers in the heartlands.
'Bhaiya, ek Bisleri dena' - you've probably said this yourself or heard someone else say it when asking for packaged drinking water. If you are a consumer from a metropolitan city and can clearly read the packaging then you won't be fooled with any counterfeit product but what about a person who can't read English?
Recently, mineral water brand - Bisleri, in an attempt to connect with local consumers, mainly those who are not comfortable with reading in English, announced that their bottled water will soon be available with labels in regional languages. Phase one will see regional labels being rolled out in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, parts of Maharashtra and UP. Within the month, the brand will have presence all over India in its new avatar.
Packshot of Bisleri 1 ltr bottle with labels in Hindi, Marathi and Telugu language
Counterfeit products have been in the market for a long time. afaqs! spoke to Anjana Ghosh, director, marketing, Bisleri International and asked her the reason behind this move.
Packshot of Bisleri 500 ml with Marathi label
Ghosh says, "We all felt that when you do something in the local language there's a better connect with the consumer. Even in Maharashtra, every dealer would need to have the name in Marathi, so this bi-lingual thing is very apparent now. So we thought that's how we can touch the consumer's heart - by doing something in their local language."
Is it something to do with the fact that not every Indian knows to read and speak English?
Anjana GhoshAnjana Ghosh
"Yes," admits Ghosh, "and we want people at every level to be able to read the name, Bisleri. This helps us ensure that our consumers in villages can read the brand name correctly."
The brand has 122 bottling plants present across India. Ghosh adds, "All label manufacturers have to change the plate on which they are printing the label and that's an investment we've had to make, which is around Rs.60 lakh."
Adding about how the new move will help the brand fight with counterfeit products, Ghosh says, "Now shopkeepers can't just hand any bottle of packaged water when a person, in a hurry, asks for a "bottle of Bisleri". We don't have this problem in the metro cities but at the local level, people do struggle."
Talking about how people in rural areas and smaller towns are cheated with counterfeit products, Ghosh says, "Our consumers, who can't read English, identify us by our packaging, the green colour and the font style in which Bisleri is written. The trouble is there are many other brands with similar packaging, making it difficult for them to recognise what they asked for. My consumer at the village level should not be cheated."
Currently, the brand is ready with production and distribution, and once it goes on the shelves across India, Bisleri has plans to promote this new offering via communication in various states in local languages.
The brand certainly hopes that this move will solve the problem of counterfeit bottles in the hinterlands. We asked our design and brand experts if it really will tackle this problem.
Ramanujam Sridhar, founder and CEO, brand-comm, a brand consultancy, says, "Bisleri is a huge brand. You can almost say it's a category and the challenge the brand is facing is that when someone says "Bisleri dena", it actually means a bottle of water, a problem that even Xerox and other dominant brands have."
Sridhar points out that people in the United Kingdom drink tap water but that's not the case in India.
He says, "In many India markets such as, Chennai, the quality of drinking water is poor so people invariably use packaged drinking water. So it is logical for them to look at the regional language, and since the brand is already familiar, in terms of its appearance, there's little chance of confusion. Very few people buy mineral water at the supermarket. Here the target audience are those who go to a small kirana store near the bus stand and ask for a bottle of Bisleri in Marathi, Telugu or Tamil."
Sridhar gives us the example of Coca-Cola being called Kekoukele in China.
He says, "Brands are recognising customers. Kekoukele sounds like Coca-Cola but is actually conveying the position of the brand. Therefore the brand name or the design isn't really sacrosanct in that sense of the term. This could be a ploy by the brand to handle the issue of consumers not knowing how to read Bisleri in English."
Ramanujam Sridhar
Ramanujam Sridhar
Ashwini Deshpande
Ashwini Deshpande
Does it solve the problem of people being able to differentiate between the original the fake product?
Sridhar says he is not sure. "It is going to be a question of time. It may give Biserli a head start but unless there is some sort of mechanism that deters one brand from riding on another brand's popularity it is going to be difficult. That is one of the biggest challenge brands are facing so we need to check on things like that."
According to Sridhar, given the fact that India has a problem of fake brands and labels, the brand should promote this change aggressively.
Ashwini Deshpande, founder, director and practice head, Elephant Design says, "I am all for local languages and native motifs. However, for a brand that took the bold step of changing the category code of blue labels by going teal, recall and own-able visual identity is already in place. So I don't see the need to use language to be able to have recognition by non-English reading audiences. I am also curious to see what happens to towns along the state borders where language and script are not just a nuance of geography or political                                                                                      decision."