Whether it takes digs at competition or uses poignant narratives, a brand must advertise regularly
Brands constantly strive to challenge leaders and gain noticeability and market share against the well-entrenched competition. This is a universal occurrence across categories. Pepsi by, constantly trying to challenge Coke, has acquired the status of a challenger.
In the early days, Apple used to take digs at IBM, which was a leader, and then continued to make fun of Microsoft with its deficient Windows program that was full of bugs. Advertising has always been a means for brands to get the consumer’s attention and eyeballs. They use radical means to attack their competition , usually a leader.
They often use comparative advertising as a strategy. Here’s an ad that Apple did in its early days, welcoming IBM. People might have been forgiven for thinking that Apple was the bigger brand, welcoming a smaller player! The truth, of course, was different.
Pepsi has always tried to tell its consumers, subtly and not so subtly, that it is the young, hep brand and Coke was the fuddy-duddy one meant for older consumers. Research too has shown that Pepsi is a brand for the young and the young at heart and their advertising, over the years, has carefully perpetuated this image of youthfulness.
Here’s an old ad featuring the famous Hip Hop recording artiste MC Hammer, who suddenly starts singing like Frank Sinatra when his Pepsi is swapped for a Coke.
Playing with emotions
I must be one of the few people who used Savlon in a Dettol-dominated market. Who has not used Dettol for his knee wounds after a game of football or after early morning nicks and cuts?
If my memory serves me right, Savlon, the minor competitor, used to be a brand made and marketed by ICI, a company which no longer exists in India. My dad used to work in ICI and we had an affinity for their products. Imagine my delight when I recently saw an ad for Savlon, a product that I thought no longer existed!
Unlike the Apple and the Pepsi commercials that were in-your-face and cocking a snook at their competition, this ad is a warm, emotive commercial built on the basic emotion of a mother’s love. It features several children who, after falling in a heap after jumping over a relay or falling while doing gymnastics, cry out in pain, always call for their mothers. The commercial talks about how Savlon is like the mother’s love, that you can always trust.
Does advertising work for brands like Savlon
When brands wish to grow, there two big marketing challenges that they must overcome — that of reach and resources.
Fortunately, Savlon is now a part of the ITC stable, a company that is well-served on both these fronts. We all know it is a major force in the FMCG segment, thanks to its enormous distribution and the range of its products.
Savlon, which earlier used to be with Johnson and Johnson, sees a great opportunity in the hand wash market, where it competes with the likes of Dettol and Lifebuoy. Both of them are well-entrenched brands that have a tremendous brand salience and very visible advertising.
But ITC will back Savlon and support it with what it needs.
Consistent advertising is the key
Even as I watched the Savlon ad, it struck me that this was perhaps the first commercial I was seeing of the brand in ages — and therein lies the rub. Advertising cannot be on a stop-start mode if brands are to survive and flourish.
They need to be nurtured through a smart strategy and effective execution, and to get into the monthly shopping list of preoccupied homemakers is not easy. Your brand is not on the top-of-mind for them. It is your job to think, dream and eat your brand. Keep reminding them of your existence with advertising or they will forget you for someone who woos them more!
Whether today’s ads will be reminisced about in the future is the challenge ad agencies face
“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it” - George Santayana
My first session for students of advertising management or people who join the advertising industry fresh is one titled “The times they are a changing”. It’s a historic look at ads from the last thirty years, particularly in India; as I strongly believe people should have a sense of history of the industry to which they belong. The reactions are two-fold from the audience, which is usually made up of young students and budding professionals in the advertising industry. “Oh I remember this ad!” is one nostalgic response, and people generally sing along with some of the jingles. After all, we were a radio generation before we graduated to black and white television. The other sobering observation, particularly from those about to join the industry, is interesting too: “do you think we would be able to make ads as good as these so that people will watch them thirty years later?”
It is this reaction that inspired this piece you are just going to read. Let me also quickly tell you that sometimes we tend to view our past through rose-tinted spectacles as we are aided and abetted by nostalgia and a sense of “those were the days”.
A peek into the past
Since I entered advertising in 1983, I have very strong memories of a few ads — none of which I was involved with, but which I still liked as a consumer of advertising and more importantly as a student of advertising. The first one, which you have all seen and which I have personally shown a few hundred times, is the ‘Liril girl in the waterfall’ ad. I also remember that this ad was shown primarily in cinema halls and I know people who would go early to the theatre to watch this ad! People knew the model’s name, the waterfall where the commercial was shot and just about every possible detail about the ad! Amazing, considering this was in a day and age when the internet was unheard of! Watch it once again:
Another ad that I really liked was the ad for Rasna. While there were several, the cute girl eyeballing the camera and saying “I love you Rasna” was special to me. Perhaps because I worked for Mudra in those days and we were particularly proud of our work for the brand. Here’s the ‘coffee, tea, or Rasna’ ad, the idea for which might have been borrowed from a titillating book titled “coffee, tea or me” which featured the adventures of an airhostess. Strategically this ad was designed to promote drinking of Rasna when people returned from work tired, on summer evenings.
Here’s one more commercial that every one of us must have watched hundreds of times. The commercial “mile sur mera tumhara” must have been aired thousands of times on national TV, and featured some of the greatest musicians of the time along with actors and cricketers who ruled the roost then. Arguably one of the best public service campaigns of the eighties and nineties, the ad certainly made us feel nostalgic and made us realise the complexity of our country and its diversity which could still lead to unity.
So where do we go from here?
Let me quickly tell you that there were other ads that were equally worthy of a mention that I liked, but I chose these three off the top of my mind. Who can forget the Hamara Bajaj ad?
The point is that there were quite a few ads that were memorable, likeable, and long-lasting in their popularity. These ads had simple ideas, were executed powerfully and had a greater share of voice and mind, as there was primarily only one channel, Doordarshan. But it would be simplistic to characterise their success primarily to the lack of competition. They succeeded because they represented the times we lived in then in a manner that was endearing.
This leads me to the present challenge and the test that all advertising agencies could be subjected to. How good are today’s ads, when we talk of history and posterity? Will they stand the test of time? I am not sure I know the answer to those questions but I do know that this could well be a benchmark that advertising agencies can strive to reach.
Let’s not make ads that will just be fine for today but will also stay on in the memory of consumers much longer. How do we do that? It’s simple. You don’t need to go to New Zealand, just focus on the simplicity of the message and the clarity in execution to achieve that.
And yet, how many commercials can you keep watching again and again? That’s the challenge that advertising agencies must face today if their work is to be remembered tomorrow.
A cause for concern is that most of the brands’ differentiations happen
only in advertising
What makes brands successful? How is it that certain brands have managed to remain strong over the years? While a multiplicity of reasons can be attributed to the success of brands, they usually have two important characteristics — they are relevant to their customers; and they are different from their competition.
The most important word in branding in my vocabulary is the word ‘different’. Sadly, brands find it easier to talk about differentiation than to actually make it happen. The really successful brands keep differentiating themselves all the time and are not content to sit back and lean on their past laurels.
Not a mere slogan
It’s difficult to have a discussion on successful brands without talking about Apple. Its ‘think different’ slogan was much more than just a motto— it was a way of life that permeated the company’s culture and its functioning. It challenged the status quo and changed the way the world computed, listened to music and used the mobile phone.
During my childhood, the Sony Walkman was a market leader. But then, the iPod, which enabled you to have around 1,000 songs in your pocket, was launched and the Walkman became history. It was certainly different and the market lapped it up.
While India has always been viewed as an attractive market by MNCs, they still struggle to come to terms with certain basics about it the country. It is true that the absolute numbers are much larger than several countries of the world, but the fact is that India is a price-driven market. Indians will patronise acceptable quality at affordable prices.
We don’t want sophisticated or over-engineered products with fancy prices. We will buy shampoos, but prefer the sachets, with its low purchase risk and affordability.
This is the difference a brand like Chik brought to the Indian market. Soon, the single-serve revolution spilled over to almost every other FMCG product, and today, multinationals too have realised the value of this difference, thus jumping on the bandwagon.
India has witnessed a tremendous surge in mobile demand over the years, and today, it has overtaken the US in terms of smartphone sales. It was in this market that Tata Docomo (as it was known then) introduced the concept of per second billing and asked the consumer to be smart by not paying for more than what he actually used.
This made the larger competitors follow suit, thus benefiting the average consumer, and helped the fledgling operator get a foot in the crowded and yet vast Indian mobile services market.
The brand was noticed by consumers because of this difference. It made the competition sit up, take notice and reluctantly follow suit.
Advertising: the only differentiator?
Traditionally, advertising agencies are paid to think out of the box, and to come up with differences in communication strategy and execution which makes their client’s brand stand out from the competition.
But my reservation is that the clients are abdicating their responsibility of doing things differently by leaving it exclusively to the advertising agency. As a consequence, the only ‘different’ thing that happens with brands is in the area of advertising! Very little can be seen on the brand or on the service delivery front.
This cannot be a long term proposition and brands need seriously introspect if they are actually doing something different.
Are we living in the past?
There is another side to the coin too. While some companies do innovate and try something different, the results so far have been mixed. An important question we ask clients is ‘What have you done different recently?’ This usually stumps clients. They are so close to their brand that the only differences they are proud of seems to have been done years back.
That implies that nothing significantly different has happened recently. This is certainly a problem. We have an adage in advertising that says: ‘You are only as good as your latest campaign’. Which means any company is only as good as its current team. The same analogy can be applied to branding as well — a brand is only as good as its latest differentiation. So, however difficult it may be, come up with a difference that sets you apart.
So get down to work and do something different for your brands. Today.