The company should be more about consumer experience and less about advertising
Let me quickly tell you that I like Uber. I wish I could say ‘I love Uber’, but I am just a selfish consumer, warts and all. I liked Uber because it is so much cheaper than the Airport taxi that people in Bangalore are used to.
I didn’t need to count my change for the toll, nor did I have to fret and fume when the driver didn’t have the difference amount at 11.30 pm, when I was tired, angry and sleepy. I liked Uber too as the cars were newer than Ola’s, and drivers seemed less surly. Ola drivers, whom I bumped into, usually launched into a diatribe about the company and its policies — or the lack thereof.
Of course, these were the hey days of cab drivers when some made ₹80,000 or more a month, even as cab companies bent over backwards to get drivers on board and incentivised them as though there was no tomorrow. Why should I have worried that these cab companies were losing money left, right and centre, as long as I was getting pampered?
All goods things end
Of course, the Utopian days could not last — and indeed, it did not. Today, there are more cabs, poorer service, unhappier drivers and consequently, dissatisfied consumers. It is not only the users but the drivers too who reminisce about those ‘good old days’ that may never come back.
To counter the simmering discontent, Uber, which is certainly giving Ola a run for its money in India, is doing what many multinational brands do in our country — use mass media advertising. So here’s the new Uber ad, which some of you may have seen.
We can’t pay you, so we’ll praise you
As you can clearly see, the ad is a tribute to the Uber driver, of how sensitive, considerate and caring he is in the way he drives the car, in how he handles himself and even how he handles your vegetables!
Sadly, service brands seem to forget that ‘service’ is all about delivering expectations — and all this commercial does is fuel them. Despite my preference for Uber, I am getting annoyed by drivers who are constantly on the phone.
They are so busy complaining about the complexities of incentives to other drivers that they scarcely pay attention to the passenger — this is hardly what is being portrayed in the commercial! But in the same breath, I need to tell you that I find drivers in smaller towns like Vizag a lot more courteous and considerate than in the larger cities like Bangalore.
What are the moments of truth in cab travel?
All of us are familiar with the five moments of truth that Jan Carlzon spoke about in airline travel which are:
~ Making a reservation
~ Getting Tickets
~ Retrieving Baggage
What are the ‘moments of truth’ in a cab ride? How often have we been annoyed by the driver cancelling the trip and you getting charged for it? How often have we met surly, rude or badly turned-out drivers who are unmindful of everything you say?Yes, Uber does have a system where both passengers and drivers can rate each other.
But can something more than advertising be done? Can we have mystery passengers who rate drivers objectively and give feedback to the company on the actual state of consumer service and the on ground — or in the cab, if you will — experience? Incentives could also be considered for softer factors like customer experience and delight, not so much on the number of trips or mileage that is clocked during the day.
Blinding flash of the obvious
Very often, companies forget that customer service is boring — it is doing things right, repetitively, time after time. In Uber’s case, the complexity is that the experience is being delivered by drivers and even if you call them partners, they have their own agenda which can often be at odds with the company’s objectives.
I am sure Uber realises the value of drivers and also knows that things aren’t hunky dory between the two, given the company’s focus on profitability. So the easiest way to make drivers happy is by releasing television commercials like these. The trickier part, however, is training, building their motivation and demonstrating to the drivers that they truly are partners and not mere actors in a TV commercial.
I know it is easy for people like me to do back seat driving from an Uber cab even as I check my Facebook notifications. But on the plus side, I am a regular customer who constantly refers the brand. I may be critical, but I sure do mean well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BestMediaInfo.com 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.
When Kaun Banega Crorepati was launched in India in 2000, both Amitabh Bachchan and Star Plus (the channel on which the show was originally aired) were struggling. Bachchan, the superstar of the 70s and 80s, fell on rough times with his finances and there were neither good movies nor any endorsements coming his way.
Immediately after the show was aired, it broke all rating records (the show did the same when it moved to Sony Entertainment Television in 2010) and proved to be redemption for Bachchan, shooting his brand image sky-high. The star returned to Hindi movies with solid roles and was seen selling almost everything on TV.
Today, Big B is indeed a big brand and every time he comes back with a new season of KBC, his brand image gets a further boost.
The show has made a comeback after a hiatus of three years. The last season of the show that aired in the year 2014 didn’t bring in a lot of viewership and it reflected on brand Bachchan as well.
Close on the heels of launch of the show, Bachchan has been roped in by Lux Industries Limited as brand ambassador for its two brands, Venus and Cott’sWool. While the senior Bachchan has endorsed everything from ‘agarbatti’ to cars, this will be the first time people will see him endorse an underwear brand.
BestMediaInfo.com spoke to a few brands and industry experts to understand what the return of KBC means for the star and brand Bachchan.
"KBC will have a positive impact on his brand value and affinity," said Surendra Bajaj, Vice-President Marketing, Lux Industries.
“Amitabh Bachchan is a celebrity who can reach out to the masses and therefore, any brand that is associated with him will also benefit from any kind of exposure that he will get," he said.
Both Deepika Tewari, General Manager, Marketing, Jewellery Division, Titan Company; and Sam Balsara Chairman, Madison World, agreed with Bajaj that the effects are going to be positive. While Tewari called Bachchan a positive, positive brand; Balsara was of the opinion that the three-year break might help KBC do well this time around.
“Remember – Absence makes the heart grow fonder!” Balsara said.
Tracing the KBC’s journey from the beginning, B K Rao, Deputy Marketing Manager, Parle Products, said, “When the show first aired on Star Plus, there were empty streets at nine in the night because people rushed home to watch the show. The phone lines used to get chocked because people were trying to participate in the story and it turned the tide for Star Plus as a network. But there was also the discussion that Amitabh Bachchan coming on the small screen will have a lot of negative impact on his image but it gave him huge equity.”
Rao also pointed out the fact that the property is 17 years old and with the pace at which media has grown, there has been a lot of fragmentation and this makes it all the more difficult to hold the viewer’s interest.
“Three years ago when the eight season of KBC was on it looked like the show had lost it aura and numbers were flat. It was probably why Sony Pictures Network (SPN) took a break. But with this new season it looks like things are falling into place. I personally believe that this new season will do good for both brand KBC and brand AB (Amitabh Bachchan),” added Rao.
Ramanujam Sridhar, Brand Expert and Founder, Brand-comm believes that KBC format is already oversaturated and it's hardly going to add any value to the brand image of Bachchan.
“A lot of an actor’s brand value comes from their being visible and the movies they make. Amitabh Bachchan, over the last few years, has been doing fewer films and more commercials. I also think that the KBC audience has moved away from the metros to the smaller towns. So, I don’t think the show is going to add much to his brand value,” said Sridhar, reiterating the point that probably Amitabh Bachchan has oversold himself and his brand is another brand custodian.
“When KBC came in the year 2000, Amitabh Bachchan’s brand value was on an all-time low and he wasn’t getting much work. Back then it was a phenomenon to have Bachchan on the small screen but today, I think he has oversold himself. He is endorsing everything and he is not exclusive. That has led to the erosion of the brand value of Bachchan over the years. This has also been reflected over the years on KBC ratings. The ratings for a drama that Sony launched with Bachchan also performed very badly. So, the brand value of Bachchan has definitely gone down and I don’t think this new season of KBC is going to do any better,” said a brand expert, requesting anonymity.
While the jury is still out on how the show will affect Big B’s brand appeal, what the makers can probably do is make the show more relevant, feels Ambi Parameswaran, Founder, Brand-Building.com.
“I think KBC needs some reinvention to suit the new age consumer who is a lot more savvy and digital. With Jio as a partner, I am sure they have many new tricks up their sleeve. The program is waiting to be reinvented for the digital age,” said Parameswaran.