Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When a crisis befalls a brand, what should the brand ambassador do?

Amitabh Bachchan and Horlicks have been at the receiving end of public scrutiny for a few days now. Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest, a national-level advocacy group, has written to Bachchan asking him to not endorse GSK Consumer Healthcare’s milk food drink Horlicks.
The advocacy group wrote an open letter to Bachchan after the brand announced its association with the star. The group asked Bachchan to withdraw his association with the brand on the grounds that Horlicks has high sugar content and that its consumption can lead to obesity in children and non-communicable diseases later in life.
While Bachchan has not come out with an official response on whether he will disassociate with the brand or go ahead with the deal, whatever decision he will make is unlikely to impact his brand image much.
Considering his celebrity status and the nature of the controversy, this one is likely to blow over. But what should brand ambassadors do if they find themselves associated with a brand that has landed itself in a controversy?
BestMediaInfo.com spoke to a few brand experts to know their take on the same.
Sharda Agarwal
According to Sharda Agarwal, Co-founder, Sepalika, there are two kinds of controversies: one is where the brand ambassador and the world in general is aware of the ill-effects of the products, for example any cola brand, and the other is when you cannot foretell the problem a brand might fall into, for example the Nirav Modi case.
“Horlicks falls under the first category. The brand is seen as unhealthy by a large section of the people. Here, both the brand and the brand ambassador are subject to a certain level of due diligence. When a brand approaches a brand ambassador it will check whether the person is in sync with the persona of the brand. The same should be undertaken from the brand ambassador’s side as well. It is not just about popularity, a brand ambassador should see whether the brand furthers his/her image as well,” Agarwal.
Agarwal puts the onus of research and background check on the celebrity before taking up an endorsement opportunity and accessing whether the brand fits the ambassador’s personal brand image.
In 2017, Virat Kohli had refused to renew his multi-crore deal with PespiCo on the grounds that the product was unhealthy.
This is in all fairness a preventive measure but what happens when you are already involved with the brand and a controversy breaks out?
Since the 1970s, Nike has been accused of using sweatshops to produce their footwear and clothing items. While Nike initially denied the accusations and shirked responsibility saying they had no control over what happened in factories overseas, the brand eventually owned up to their responsibility in ensuring proper working conditions and remuneration for their factory employees. Beginning in 2002, Nike began auditing its factories for occupational health and safety issues.
For a celebrity associated with the brand during those years, it would have been very difficult to know about the sweatshops till the issue came out in open. In such a case there are a few steps that a celebrity can take.
According to Sam Balsara, Managing Director, Madison World and Madison Communication, if such a situation arises, the ad featuring the ambassador should be taken off air.
“Basically, both the brand and the celebrity should agree that this is a marriage for a limited period of time. But should certain circumstances lead one or the other to come into a controversy, possibly the best solution is to suspend the ad till the controversy dies down,” said Balsara.

Vibha Desai
Vibha Desai, Director, Vibha Desai Consulting, is of the opinion that brand ambassadors should put a clause in their contacts that makes it possible for them to terminate their association with the brand if the brand finds itself in a controversy.
“Once you have signed a contract, there is very little that one can do. The only way to deal with such a scenario is to include a clause in the contract that would make the contract null and void should anything of the sort arise,” said Desai.
While it is easy to ask a brand ambassador to distance herself/himself from the brand it is not that simple once the contract has been signed. But Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder, Brand-comm, said that the ambassador should still dissociate from the brand in order to safeguard their personal image and brand value.

Jagdeep Kapoor
Jagdeep Kapoor, MD, Samsika Marketing Consultants is of the view that just like brands drop celebrities when they find themselves in a quagmire, celebrities too should have the same right.
Snapdeal decided not to renew their contract with Amir Khan because of the actor’s comments on the perceived intolerance in the country. More recently, ABC, an American commercial broadcast television network, decided to cancel the reboot of their show Roseanne after the lead star of the show, Roseanne Barr, made some racist comments on Twitter.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ad spend may get a boost as consumption picks up in rural

Ad spend may get a boost as consumption picks up in rural

With spending in rural going up on the back of a prediction of good rainfall, higher minimum support prices for crops, various government welfare schemes and increased infrastructure spending, major brands are likely to loosen their purse strings on advertising and marketing

The period of lull for India's media sector may end soon as the adex of FMCG players, auto companies and mobile and electronics brands is likely to see an uptick in the coming months.
What may bring cheer to the country's top media houses is the increased consumption in rural India, which has grown at more than 13% in the last fiscal and is projected to grow even more in the current year on the back of expectations of a good rainfall, increased government spending on welfare schemes and infrastructure before the next general elections and also the festive season that will kick in from September onwards.
Sale of farm equipment such as tractors has already been in the fast lane for some time now. Urban is also witnessing a similar growth consumption, though not as high as in rural areas.

"There has been an increase in demand from rural. Rural is doing very well now. We saw an improvement in 2017 and in 2018, we are really gung-ho about rural. Rural is the economy that is going to grow pretty fast, said Parle Products Category head BK Rao.

Patanjali's spokesperson, SK Tijarawala said, "The rural market has picked up. Today, someone from the rural area is also looking to consume the same things as the urban consumer. The difference between urban living and rural living has been reduced. GST has also played a role in this as it has made the entire nation a single market."
Patanjali intends to spend 15% more towards rural marketing spend in the current fiscal.
The biggest gainer of this growth in consumption is likely to be FMCG and auto companies and they could be the first ones to put in more money towards advertising and marketing.
Several research and media agencies have predicted the adex to be around Rs 54,000 crore in the current financial year with TV and print getting a share of 38%-37% each.
Mansoor Ali
"As far as Hamdard is concerned, we are increasing our spend in rural every year by 15-20%. We believe that there is a lot of growth potential in rural areas. So, we are investing more in direct distribution, activation in rural areas, and other marketing activities," Mansoor Ali, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, ‎Hamdard said.
Sandeep Verma
Sandeep Verma, President, Bajaj Corp, said, "In FMCG, advertising spends increase because there has been increase in consumption in rural areas which depends on last year’s good monsoon and various steps taken by government such as better minimum support price for crops. Putting more money in the hands of farmers and the rural consumer increases their disposable and income boosts consumption. After a sluggish growth in the last two years, everyone is expecting robust growth from rural as the economy is coming back on track."
"Immediate impact of a good monsoon is always on consumer durables, automobiles or other categories for which people plan with the prediction. We expect rural market to grow at 1.5 times of urban growth. This year the growth is expected to be better than the previous year. Advertising spend across categories is expected to grow at 14-15% while our ad spend growth will be slightly higher at 15 to 18%," Verma added.
Talking about Parle's advertising and marketing plans, Rao said, "Yes, we are spending more on marketing in the rural markets. First and foremost, we are doing more leg work and trying to reach more outlets and more villages where there is no access. We are trying to reach as many retail footprints and retail outlets as possible. That itself is basically offering great service. Ensuring your product is distributed to the smallest of villages or outlets in the hinterlands is extremely challenging and it is expensive as well because there are lots of costs attached to it but by virtue of us having one of the robust distribution channels in the FMCG space we are at an advantage and we are further improving upon on our retail footprint in the retail market so that will continue as an initiative. Besides that, even on the media front we advertise on Doordarshan. It forms an important mix of our media which helps us reach the rural market. There are the free-to-air channels like Star Bharat or Anmol or Utsav and so we make use of all these platforms to reach the rural audience."

RS Sodhi, Managing Director of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), said, "In the last 2-3 years, cost of raw materials has reduced considerably but MRPs has not reduced. So, when you get slightly more margin and register volume growth, you are likely to spend more to further accelerate the growth. Earlier, margins were under pressure because of several reasons such as demonetisation or GST. Now that the growth is back on track, ad spend is bound to increase. If I talk about our products, I have never seen such kind of volume growth across our entire range of products."
Brand and marketing experts feel digital will also drive demand in the rural and some companies could also consider spending more on digital to reach out to rural consumers. Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, Brand-comm, said, "Globally when you try to evaluate how an economy is doing, developed economies keep looking at things like automotive sales, etc. In our case, over the last few years, there has been a real boom in the automotive sector, whether it is two-wheelers or four-wheelers. So, the overall mood is quite positive."

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Here’s Why Brands Won’t Dump Salman Khan Despite the Court’s Conviction

The main highlights of the last week was Salman Khan being convicted by a Jodhpur Court and the actor being sentenced to 5 years in prison for killing an endangered animal. However, after spending just two days in jail he was out on bail. The incident was enough to ruin a person’s professional career and cancel all his brand endorsement contracts.

Several media reports pointed that ‘Brand Salman’ was slated to take a hit and the share prices of brands associated with him could witness a drop. Trade analysts estimated that Rs 400-600 crore could be at stake with Khan.

However, none of the brands associated with Khan have even flinched. How is that possible? Is brand ‘Sallu Bhai’ (as he is popularly known as) so powerful that despite being found guilty in court, a brand such as Relaxo Footwears could release a new TVC featuring Khan just yesterday like nothing ever happened?

AdAge India team spoke with a few brand experts in the industry as to what makes brands stay with Khan despite his actions.

Fan Following Matters

It is no secret that Khan has a massive fan following. Fans make a beeline outside theatres when his films hit the screens no matter how good or bad those films are. He is the bad boy of Bollywood and has been a frequent visitor to court for several cases. However, youth still relate to him and it is this following that the brands that have hired him as the endorser look at.

Shubho Sengupta, Brand Consultant (Digital) says that everyone knew that Salman would spend one night in jail and get out. “Every year he seems to be spending two nights in jail. Brands have become very immoral. They will move only when there is some public outcry. They will never take a step on their own. Despite the man being clearly guilty, the brands have not moved. He is still a super hit, so why rock the boat,” he says.

Another brand expert also pointed out that many brands in India do not have strong conviction as majority of the people in India too don’t have a strong conviction regarding anything.

Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder and CEO, Brand-comm says, “If we see what happened with the Australian cricketers who were recently caught in the ball tampering issue, there was a huge outcry in Australia after which even their Prime Minister too had to intervene. I don’t see that sort of outcry from people in India. Khan has a huge fan following in the country. There are people like me on Twitter who are not influenced by Salman, but we are few and are not the target audience of the brands he is endorsing. So, it doesn’t impact him and brands continue to endorse him.”

There is also the fact that unlike large multinational brands that have strict guidelines for their brand ambassadors, many Indian brands do not. They care about how much mileage they can get from a brand ambassador regardless of how it is achieved. MNC brands that Khan endorsed such as Thums Up have gradually moved away from him. Now, what remains in his kitty are largely Indian brands such as Relaxo Footwear, Emami, Dixcy Scott innerwear, Appy Fizz, Astral Pipes, among others.

K V Sridhar, Founder and CCO, HyperCollective says that if he is physically not in jail and his films do well at the box office then brands will endorse him. “At the box office, he is doing well and he started Being Human organisation to try to redeem himself for things he did wrong. So, there is still demand for him in advertising, because he is still in the free world. Everything is only a question mark right now. Multinationals will have an issue. Only smaller brands will be willing to back him as they want to gain awareness and popularity despite anything he does. Most of these will be the Indian brands who are not answerable to anyone. But international brands have strict guidelines,” he says.

The Wait and Watch Approach

Many of the brand experts say that the brands that endorse him may have adopted a wait and watch approach as they know he would be appeal and get out of jail.

Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director, Landor says, “I think partly it is because no one knows what is happening. One day he is jail, the next day he is out. It has to do with the law of our land and how long it takes for these verdicts. He does seem to have a huge popularity. But the hesitation of brands is maybe nobody wants to be hasty, because it is not clear what is going to happen to him.”

However, it is this wait and watch approach by brands that has put into question the credibility of the Indian legal system, points out Saurabh Uboweja, CEO and Chief Brand Strategist, Brands of Desire.

“Despite the conviction, which basically means you are a criminal even if you are out on bail, it is quite amazing that brands have decided to stick around and take a wait and watch approach. Honestly speaking it is a tight slap on the Indian legal system. It shows how ineffective it is at trying hold people accountable for their crimes. And if brands are comfortable with endorsing him, it doesn’t speak very highly of the brands themselves. I think brands should have taken a slightly stronger action,” he says.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Yeh brand maange more

Time and again brands have leveraged upon the charisma and star power that celebrities, especially Bollywood stars and cricketers, bring. And more often than not, many brands have gone ahead and simultaneously signed on more than one sports or movie star as ambassadors.
Brands (like Pepsi) have hedged themselves by having a mix of cricketers and Bollywood stars as ambassadors, “to appeal to different segments of consumers,’’ says advertising and branding veteran Ramanujam Sridhar.
But in this digital economy, where social media rules the roost, the role play of celeb ambassadors has undergone a transformation.
Appointing more than one celeb as a brand ambassador is known for driving in greater market penetration, securing larger consumer mindshare and raising brand salience, says Vijay Subramanian, founder partner and co-CEO, Kwan Entertainment. “But brands need to have a well-defined strategy in place before signing on multiple ambassadors. They need to define the purpose of the association.”
Experts say more than promoting a product or a service, the key role for multiple ambassadors is to get interactive with the brand’s existing and potential customers. To convey the brand’s message through an engaging story that appeals to different demographics.
“The evolution of the digital era has changed the way marketers approach their consumers. From an era of mass communication and broadcast messages, it is now more about mass personalisation and being interactive,” says Pavan Padaki, brand practitioner and author of Brand Vinci: Decoding Facets of Branding. The brand ambassador is now much more than a mere clutter-breaker or a brand recall tool. From a time when celeb ambassadors merely held the product and eulogised its positives before the camera, it is now about the celebs sharing credible views and connecting with their fans with their emotions and beliefs “in the context of the brand they are endorsing,” says Padaki, explaining that brand ambassadors need to be deployed thoughtfully to bring the brand story to life in multiple fresh ways for an active engagement, bringing in relevance to the ever-changing (digitally-savvy) consumer’s habits and interests.
The recent MakeMyTrip commercials featuring Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh in different get-ups is a convincing attempt at using the might of two stars to promote the brand in a meaningful fashion, feel experts. Despite their distinct personalities and the different roles they play in the commercials, they engage with the audience in a quirky manner and tell the brand story (of how to be a smart traveller by booking through the MMT app, getting discounts, great deals, etc.) through their own ways.
Using multiple ambassadors is no longer about playing safe, nor is it a show of strength, feel experts. “The question is can the brand story be expressed better with a single or with multiple ambassadors? Brand ambassadors are an asset and a channel to address different segments of the audience,” says Padaki.
Therefore, having a well-defined agenda is vital, says Subramanian. ‘’Without it, it doesn’t matter how many celebs brand signs on, for the bevvy of stars will have little to no tangible impact on the market outreach without an overarching strategy.”
Padaki says multiple celeb ambassadors can be deployed to connect and build relationships at a more “micro level, catering to varied cultures and tastes. Each ambassador can connect with his/her own fan base to inspire, induce trust and weave their personal lifestyle and beliefs around the brand story. With multiple ambassadors, it is now possible to address the brand story in multiple ways, both collectively and as individual celebrities.’’

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Ball-tampering: Bucks don’t stop here as a host of sponsors snap ties with Australian players, Team
It is business as usual for IPL and Indian cricket. The fans cheer Chennai Super Kings, back in the league after a two-year suspension for role in 2013 spot-fixing scandal, during practice recently
Unlike Australia, sponsors care two hoots about Indian cricket’s controversies as its stocks keep rising

The recent ball-tampering episode caused tremendous outrage among the Australian public, and sponsor response in the country was swift. ASICS ended its ties with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, LG dropped Warner as brand ambassador, and Weet-Bix dumped Steve Smith. While these were individual tie-ups with the banned trio, even one of Cricket Australia’s major sponsors, Magellan, terminated its three year deal signed last August.

These actions are in stark contrast to the response of sponsors in India after the Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing scandal of 2013. Even after three players were arrested, Pepsi, then the IPL title sponsor had said that they remained “committed to the property.” Kent withdrew advertisements featuring one of the three players, S Sreesanth, but continued as sponsor of his franchise Rajasthan Royals. Pepsi eventually pulled out more than two years later in 2015 only to return as associate sponsor for home international games.

What explains this difference in sponsor responses in the two countries, when the issue of spot-fixing should have arguably caused more outrage and damage than ball-tampering did?

Mirror spoke on the issue to three prominent advertising and branding veterans, who elaborated on a few broad differences between the two cultures. Among them were the public tolerance for corruption and the way celebrities are treated, which in turn determines how sponsors react.

“We are complacent about corruption. We don’t have moral spine,” Prahlad Kakkar said. “The common man understands figures up to a lakh. We don’t even understand the astronomical figures that are thrown about in scams. Someone such as Nirav Modi escapes abroad after not repaying thousands of crores to banks. We make some noise about it for a few days and then it is back to normal.”

Not only is outrage in India weaker, its nature is also different, according to Santosh Desai. “Power seeks to extract its price in India. Negotiating for opportunities is a part of life here. Rules do not apply and it is not seen as a big betrayal. Outrage is not deep in India. There is a gossipy element to it. It becomes a talking point in the news, people start talking about how much Indian stars are paid. Nobody did that in Australia. So the nature of the outrage in India is more transactional than moral.”

Both Desai and Sridhar Ramanujam said the outdoorsy, sports-playing culture of Australia was also a factor in their fans’ immense anger.

“Even the Prime Minister got into it in Australia. Steve Smith did not understand the extent of the negative reaction in Australia initially when he said he would not resign as captain,” Sridhar said. “The sponsors did not have an option at all. National pride was offended.

“And if you do a random sampling of Indians, the majority will say the Australian reaction was over the top. We are a lot more forgiving about these things as Indians. We are fairly casual.”

Kakkar gave the example of Salman Khan and Desai that of Mohammed Azharuddin when talking of how India has lax standards for its celebrities. “It is a relationship founded on admiration. They are held to a celebrity code, and not a hero code,” Desai said.

“The celebrity culture is different in India. A celebrity abroad has to use the products they endorse,” Sridhar said. “But a Shah Rukh Khan can sell a Santro when his preferred car may be a Pajero. A celebrity is viewed as an entertainer in India. And advertisers are guided by consumer preferences.”

Would Indian cricket consumers, and in turn, advertisers react differently had the spot-fixing happened in an India match as opposed to in the IPL?

Desai said it would not have made much difference, but Kakkar said it would, for then patriotic feelings would have been hurt.

“Fixing at national level would have been different. But if it is Hyderabad v Pune who cares yaar? That kind of fanatical following has never been there for cricket anyway, the kind that you would associate with say, East Bengal or Mohun Bagan in the past. And now, especially with the IPL, it has become tamasha or entertainment.”

All three experts agreed that cricket was too important a property for advertisers to ignore in India, ethical considerations notwithstanding.

“Cricket is too big in India, you cannot afford to miss out on it,” Sridhar said. “Large mass brands cannot miss out on the game. ‘Cricket is king’ is an understatement in India.”

Essentially, because the Indian public does not get too worked up about corruption and celebrity behaviour, advertisers follow their lead in being more tolerant of taint.

“In the heat of the moment, there may be calls for doing something drastic in Indian companies because there are people involved after all,” Desai says. “But eventually saner minds prevail, calculation overrides ethical considerations, that ‘let us wait and watch, let us be pragmatic.”

Outrage is not deep in India. There is a gossipy element to it. It becomes a talking point in the news, people start talking about how much Indian stars are paid. Nobody did that in Australia

Friday, March 23, 2018

Product placement, a subtle marketing strategy

A brand can ride on a film’s popularity without paying the costs such endorsement would entail
Let me start with a story. Over 25 years ago, I was the regional head of a large advertising agency. One day, we got a call from one of our clients, a large cycle brand in Madras, as Chennai was known in those days. They wanted us to evaluate a proposal for an in-film placement. There were a couple of bright young MBAs from Bombay and they were recounting their story; quite effectively too, I must add.
They had obviously done their homework; they said that their film was about the competition between two schools — one, an elite, snobbish private school; and the other, a government school where the hero was studying. The annual face-off involved high drama and the deciding event was to be the cycle race. The young men said the ‘hero’ would use our client’s brand of cycle, an ordinary roadster, and beat the geared cycle of the ‘villain’ from the private school!
There was to be enough opportunity to show the brand in all its glory and it was slated to be an incredible part of the film’s climax. While it seemed interesting, we hummed and hawed as we were not sure, it was beyond our ad budget and so we told the client that maybe it wasn’t a great idea. How wrong we were! The film was Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and the hero, Aamir Khan, who in later years went on to become a legend. In hindsight, it was a great opportunity for in-film product placement that would have made our brand recognisable across the length and breadth of this country. But, boy had we goofed up!
Things have moved on …
Over the years, there has been a major improvement on this front as more brands have jumped on to the product placement bandwagon. Younger, savvier film producers continued to make interesting films and TV commercials, and wove brands into them by way of engaging story lines so that they didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Some older readers would remember the successful movie Taal featuring Aishwarya Rai, who was at the top of her career; along with her was the bottle of Coke that she kept sipping intermittently. If she was happy, she sipped Coke; if she was in love, she sipped Coke, and the message being subtly reinforced to a gullible audience was that Coke was for the great moments in your life. Here was a ‘commercial’ that you couldn’t skip or move on to a different channel!
There’s no greater value than naming a movie after your brand, as we saw in Mere Dad ki Maruti, that acted as an effective product placement for the Ertiga.

Yes, in-film placement is here to stay, even in television serials that are often more popular than films for a section of the target audience.
Enter the brand manager
Over the years, there has been a subtle and yet, significant change in the world of marketing and that is the increasing importance of the brand manager. Today, the brand manager calls the shots. He looks at opportunities for the brand without worrying about what the ad agency will say or do. He looks at the costs and benefits of options presented to him.
He knows that people can blank out advertising — they skip channels with impunity. Brands have to be subtle in their selling and that is where a strategy like product placement may be considered. Today, rather than ‘in your face’ product placement, or merely having the hero and heroine dancing in front of the brand logo, subtle possibilities exist.
A brand’s essence can be seamlessly woven into the plot of a film. A brand can easily ride on a hero’s or a film’s popularity without paying the phenomenal celebrity costs that endorsements would entail.
Time to be different
Branding is all about being different and standing out from the competition. Today, in this media cluttered world, one must constantly look for new opportunities to be distinctive.
Often, we may think the solution is a high-decibel TV commercial shot in New Zealand and costing a bomb. But it need not be. It can be an in-film placement that is strategic, relevant and subtle. So it’s important to scan the environment and keep an open mind to spot the right opportunity. This could provide the extra push your brand needs!