Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cycling away to Cannes

What is the first association that comes to your mind when I say ‘France’? A normal person might say ‘perfumes’ while an advertising person (not to suggest that he is abnormal) might well say ‘Cannes Lions’, so imp ortant is the winning of this international award to people in the business of creativity.

Coincidentally, it was a brand of agarbathi from the NR Group, a fragrance company headquartered in the quaint town of Mysore, which won a bronze lion at Cannes in the radio category in the first set of awards that were announced on June 18. An award at Cannes is still something that the Indian advertising industry yearns for and so rarely gets, and Mudra Communications, the agency that created the spot, has every reason to be proud of its achievement.

The power of the brand
There is a criticism levelled at agencies, not without justification, that most of their international award-winning work is for public service advertising or for marginal brands. The significant fact in this case is the fact that Cycle Brand is a dominant brand in the agarbathi category with over 30 per cent market share of the organised sector. The brand that has been in existence for 60 years, no mean achievement, has a few interesting reasons behind its success. Most successful brands have a simple, yet effective brand name.

The brand name ‘Cycle’ has a few striking advantages in the Indian context. A cycle is something that every Indian has seen, wanted to own, owned or ridden. It needs no translation, has a visual mnemonic that is recognised across the length and breadth of the country and most importantly represents ‘value for money’ which is really one of the key reasons for the brand’s popularity and dominance. Let’s move on to the award winning commercial.

Radio, the Cinderella medium
For quite some time, radio has been ignored by advertisers, media planners and creative directors. Thankfully the trend has been changing, courtesy the increasing importance of the youth market and the phenomenal rise in the incidence of traffic jams in every metro. FM radio is here to stay.

In the same breath, however, one needs to accept that India is primarily a television country if script writers are anything to go by. It is all fine to say that ‘radio is the theatre of the mind’ but if the scripts are anything to go by then the scripts for radio more often than not end up being mindless. Of course, I must mention that radio channels seem to do better scripts for themselves than for some of the clients who entrust their creative work to them.

In fact, the actual number of entries for Cannes in the radio category has come down from 46 last year to 36 this year. It is in this context that the award-winning Cycle brand commercial has to be viewed. Let me explain: The entire film is one long and shrill (as per a member of the jury that awarded it) rendition of the familiar Indian tune ‘Om Jai Jagadish …’ on the cycle bell. The commercial is dramatic and single-minded, even if my description is not! Yes, as someone said, “Great advertising is produced by a single-minded thought that comes alive in a compelling way.”

Throw in a tune and a chant that the whole of India can relate to and you have a winner. Once again, I must hasten to add that this is not dependent on turn of phrase, or ideas lost in translation in this vast and confusing land that is India, which even jurists who did not understand the language or the significance of the words could still award. It certainly has ‘legs’ as it could be extended to ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ and a whole host of tunes pertaining to other religions that this not always secular country can recognise, if not relate to.

Awards and media
All of us are familiar with the ‘strategy’ of agencies releasing their award-winning entries in cheap media at their own cost. I am sure that this is not one such happening and this campaign will get extensive media as the idea surely has the capability not only to win an award as it has done, but will also deliver at the market place, addressing as it does, the Indian ethos and preferences for things that are religious, and stokes the Indian penchant for prayer, particularly in the face of problems! Speaking of media exposure and visibility, one must mention also the ‘Lead India’ campaign that had tremendous media weight behind it, not to forget celebrities such as Amitabh Bachchan, also winning an award as did other well known brands such as Luxor and Reynolds. Indian agencies too had sent 295 entries this year as against 252 the previous year. Yes, winning is important for Indian agencies as it represents global recognition for Indian talent.

Winning at the market place
It is generally accepted that the creative mind is very different from mine, dull and predictable as it is. Awards matter to the creative mind like nothing else and winning at Cannes must be the ultimate. At the risk of pouring some cold water on their enormous enthusiasm, I must say one thing. India is an enormously diverse, complex country ridden with differences of language, colour, caste and religion. To sell here is no mean achievement and many of our eminent brands and creative people do this with regular ease. Some of the work done for dominant brands in the Indian context continue to deliver outstanding creativity that makes customers notice it, on occasion smile and almost invariably buy. Let us put a premium on work like this and if it wins an award, then it is a bonus. Let us not get preoccupied with the approval of a few foreigners who have limited understanding of this country, its people and complexity.

Taking a leaf out of the BCCI
Let me digress to cricket, my obsession and I can almost hear you saying, ‘So, what is new?’ In the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, India – even if it was a good team and the winner of the Cricket World Cup, was a nobody in the pecking order of the people who mattered, when it came to running the game. Our itinerary was at the mercy of the biggies like England and Australia who treated us as ‘illegal immigrants’ on their hallowed turf. Now all that has changed; India has the eyeballs, the spectators, the TV revenue, the marketing acumen and now wonder of all wonders – a good team.

The shoe is on the other foot. We call the shots and the erstwhile dominant countries are protesting and perhaps some of our actions are worth protesting about. But the balance of power has shifted, slowly, steadily and inexorably in India’s favour. The cricketing world had to sit up and take notice when we ran the IPL. Now others are trying to do their own versions and only time will tell how successful they will be.

Similarly at Cannes, one suspects that India and Indian advertising is not as well represented or as powerful as it ought to be. There are whispers of South American dominance in the jury for one. My submission is that our time will come and that day is not far off. Let us not do what we used to do in the world of cricket for so many decades, complain about being discriminated against and sidelined, but discover a way of getting the recognition that we rightly deserve. Recognition, not only for our work, but also for the industry. Let us learn from our clients who faced the same problems that we are facing globally and yet who have placed India on the global map through their achievements whether it is the Tatas through their acquisition or the technology companies who have put us on the global map of recognition. It did not happen by whining or ‘whingeing’ as the Aussies might say, but by the power of achievements, that just cannot be ignored.
Yes, we can!

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO brand-comm and the author of “One land, One billion minds”)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Does your personality fit your organisation’s culture?

Sport can offer a lot of learning about life and managing businesses, but that’s only if we pay attention, assimilate the lessons and follow them consistently. My knowledge of sport, sadly though, is restricted to cricket for which I have an obsession, to put it mildly.

Thanks to the Indian Premier League, there was a lot happening on and off the field which could teach us some lessons. There has been a lot of controversy about the poor performance of the Royal Challengers team and the owner, Vijay Mallya’s obvious and publicly stated unhappiness with his team’s performance. The CEO of the team was “summarily dismissed” and if rumour was to be believed, a few other heads were on the block as well, Rahul Dravid’s included.

Let’s take a look at the two principal actors in the drama — Mallya, the owner of the Royal Challengers and Dravid, the former India captain (and the captain of the Royal Challengers team) — and analyse their respective personalities based on what we have seen, read and heard about these two personalities and see if there is a match of personalities at all between the two.

We should remember that the two were forced to come together in a commercial venture to create a winning team unlike what happens in the corporate world where people can choose the company they join, and owners too determine who works for them. When Mallya won the Bangalore bid he had to sign Dravid on as the captain and Dravid had no option but to represent Bangalore.

The king of good times
Mallya is a successful businessman with a flamboyant lifestyle. His brands are famous, some of them leaders and a few global. His diversification into airlines, if not commercially profitable yet, has demonstrated his understanding of diverse businesses and delivery of quality service to the most demanding if not the most discerning customers. He is in-your-face in the media.

Contrast this with Dravid, an educated middle-class professional whose cricketing ability has given him international recognition. Even in the cut-throat world of modern cricket he has been a gentleman. He seems to be a knowledgeable, intense, introvert who loves to spend time with his family when he is not touring and who is more comfortable with a book in his hand than with a glass. Now tell me where is the fit between the two?

Companies have cultures
It is important to remember that companies have cultures, some strong, some not so well defined or tangible. I have spent a fair amount of time in advertising agencies and I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the culture of advertising agencies is very different from your normal, staid company.

I remember an induction statement often made at ad agencies “Welcome to the zoo!” While that could be argued about, what is certain is that only a certain type of individual would be comfortable in the advertising agency, where creative types come to work in torn jeans, pony tails and earrings.

In fact, I frequently tell my students who wish to enter advertising to do an internship in an agency to help them decide whether they would fit in or end up being fish out of water in the chaotic environment typical of an agency. I am told the BPO industry could give the agency business a run for its money in being an industry for mavericks.

While we are talking extremes in these examples, it is still important for people who wish to join companies to understand what they are getting into in terms of management style and working environment. So, do your homework, talk to your seniors, acquaintances and just about anyone who can give you information about the industry, the company and the working environment.

So where is the fit?
So let’s get back to our cricketing example. Mallya has publicly gone on record saying that he would have picked a different team. The common complaint is that Dravid picked a test team. Whether he has or not, he has certainly chosen people he is comfortable with. People like Anil Kumble, Sunil Joshi, Wasim Jaffer and Jacques Kallis who are culturally and emotionally suited, perhaps, to his own disposition. People who are understated, but performers in their own right.

I for one have no idea what is on Mallya’s mind. But if one were to do an academic exercise, I am sure Mallya would have chosen people who would entertain. A few who would have interested the business tycoon — Shane Warne the king of spin, with a cigarette in one hand and a can of beer in the other and with a track record of amazing success and astounding controversies. M. S. Dhoni, the charismatic captain of the Indian team with his flamboyant batting style and matching hair style. Andrew Symonds, the dreadlocked hero, Harbhajan Singh and maybe even Sreesanth… I know all of this seems funny, but I do think that there is some, if not a lot of, truth in the statement that people work better for companies and people they like and are comfortable with. They flower in environments where they have “freedom from fear” and “the freedom to fail.”

Do you have the freedom?

(The writer is CEO Brand-Comm and also the author of One Land One Billion Minds.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

IPL’s drama and excitement leave people thirsty for more!

Shane Warne is a fantastic cricketer.” I looked up in surprise. Not that the statement was surprising. It was the person who was making the statement about one of the game’s greatest characters that caused me to look up and stare. It was being made by a prosperous 50-year-old lady in the huge queue at the new, glittering and yet completely characterless Bengaluru International Airport.
Would this lady have known that Shane Warne is the greatest leg spinner of all time, if not the most disciplined? Would she know that Shane Warne has over 700 test wickets? Would she know about Warne’s ball of the century to Mike Gatting? Would she have known about his ability to text messages at a furious pace even as he spun the ball with a gentle drift? What she certainly knew about was Warne’s tremendous contribution to the Rajasthan Royals team leading the underdogs to actually end up winning the IPL trophy in an amazing final at the brand new stadium at Vashi.
Yes, the single greatest achievement of the IPL has been its ability to woo housewives and socialites like the lady mentioned above from their traditional soaps to cricketainment as the advertising mentions. I need hardly mention that it had diehard cricket fans like me glued to the television set every evening with a steadfastness that has frustrated spouses and delighted Sony Entertainment whose television ratings for Max have gladdened marketers and advertisers no end. It has also left some of us with withdrawal symptoms as we have nothing to do every evening, not that our spouses want us back in any case! So, how have these 45 days been? Are there any learnings for franchisees, marketers and consumers?
Power of the team, not reputation of individuals
The franchisees that got their team composition right, without worrying unduly about the individual reputations of the players they bid for, were ahead. Rajasthan Royals paid a mere $10.3 million for its team as against $16.9 million paid for the team from Bangalore that was branded as the Royal Challengers. The Mumbai and Hyderabad teams were similarly high priced.
The learning is simple. Reputations or brands cost money but they have not delivered if this tournament is anything to go by. The most valuable player was Shaun Marsh, not Andrew Symonds! All the Indian iconic players delivered sporadically, if at all. The emerging (high price) champions such as Ishant Sharma and Robin Uthappa had very poor ROIs. It seems strange to talk about cricketers as though they were stocks, but many of the Indians flattered to deceive and some of the franchisees at least have regretted the non-performance of their stars quite vehemently and publicly to the embarrassment of the stocks in question!
No other team demonstrated the lack of balance than Hyderabad, which, despite the presence of charismatic players, finished at the bottom of the table, aided and abetted by the likes of Shahid Afridi. So, the big task for the teams next time around is to scout far and wide for talent from the world even as they develop their own young talent within their regions. Also, some of the teams might have to trade their players and hope that this will not add to their losses. Managing teams and managing companies is simple, provided you keep your costs low.
Where is the money?
The main source of revenue for the franchisee is the media rights and the teams in the last four got a bigger share of the media pie – which is a great relief. The phenomenal viewer interest within the country and in cases outside India are a testimony to the tremendous popularity of the T20 format and the closeness of many of the games including the final, which was undecided till the very last ball. The franchisees who are here for the long haul will benefit, although some of them might have been disheartened at the manner in which most of the companies which are publicly listed like Reliance Industries have been hammered in the stock market after they have won the bids.
Clearly, while Dalal Street watches cricket, it does not favour companies investing heavily in it. If you look westwards at similar clubs such as Arsenal, one of the most successful football clubs which has revenues of £177 million, and baseball teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, they have a cumulative annual growth rate of 21 per cent.
A significant portion of the gate revenues goes to the franchisees and the sight of full stadiums almost everywhere including Hyderabad, where the Deccan Chargers lost all their seven local games, some of them narrowly, was a feature. The entertainment in the grounds with world-class performers (if not the cheerleaders) must have helped. But one wonders if the same enthusiasm will continue if the cricket fails to deliver. I repeat myself when I say that IPL’s long-term success will have to depend on the quality of success and the closeness of the teams that are competing.
Who is supporting whom?
I started supporting the Royal Challengers and then quickly changed camps. I followed the Punjab Kings (not because of Preity Zinta) for some time and kept reminding myself that I was born in Madras, the home of the Chennai Super Kings, but found myself supporting the winners ultimately.
Speaking of local connect and the ability to garner the locals to back teams, I thought that the Kolkata Knight Riders had done a good job as had, perhaps, the Chennai Super Kings. Of course, these are not based on hard facts, though I did read somewhere that the Kolkata franchise had sold T-shirts to the value of Rs 5 crore.
I feel that while there has been a lot of interest, hype and media around the event, the franchisees, perhaps given the paucity of time, have done very little to promote following for their teams in their cities. People (and here both Kolkata and Chennai are perhaps exceptions) are following the game for their individual favourites, like the lady of the piece following Shane Warne. This will be the big challenge if our cricket teams have to have the following of Manchester United and Chelsea – a lot of ground level activities must happen, not only on our TV screens.
The next big challenge for the franchisees has to be connecting with the local city population. That has to be a continuous, ongoing activity, hopefully resulting in unearthing of local talent making its debut in IPL and eventually hitting the international scene. I know that for all the franchisees, this is a commercial venture. India Cements has already broken even in the first year, but in the long haul, the profitability of this whole venture will have to depend on it being a mass movement that people will feel passionately about, not just a mere mix of cricket and entertainment. Our getting there will depend entirely on the long-term commitment, vision and passion of the franchisees, even if some of them are already frothing at the mouth over the non-performance of their teams and the consequent losses that they have suffered.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
If you had to pick one player who has dominated the media and attention of the nation including the lady in the queue, it has been Shane Warne. One admiring English cricketer who has been tormented enough by him once asked him, “Who writes your scripts?” In the 2005 Ashes series, it was Shane Warne who single-handedly kept England at bay and almost helped Australia retain the Ashes. England loved, admired and yet dreaded Warne and headlines like ‘It ain’t over till the fat laddie spins’ were common and the IPL was over only after the fat laddie won the trophy! Not only him, but a host of players such as Shaun Marsh, Shane Watson, Mathew Hayden and a host of coaches such as John Buchanan and Tom Moody have all left their mark on the tournament. The IPL calendar for the next few years at least must accommodate the full Australian contingent to ensure even greater interest.
So, here is a quick summary of what I am saying. The IPL has been an unqualified success for viewers, spectators and advertisers if not for Vijay Mallya. Prudence in team acquisition and balance in its composition are key. I read somewhere that Kevin Pietersen is being contemplated for a huge fee. My quick response is: Perish the thought; it will be one more costly failure.
Get the players to do grassroots promotions, not TV appearances, as that will help the locals to bond with the teams. Shane Warne has a lot of following in Hampshire as I am sure in Rajasthan. While it is a business, it is still a game for most of us. Let not the sordid things that happen in board rooms be aired on our screens. Manage quietly if you cannot manage efficiently. While Mukesh Ambani has been very much in evidence in the Mumbai stadium, he has, to me at least, been the most admirable owner.
The greatest thing for our cricket has been the emergence of so many fine youngsters such as Manpreet Goni, Yusuf Pathan and Swapnil Asnodkar who have taken to this format as a duck would take to water. May their tribe increase! There has been no innovation in the game itself and the game suffers from its old ailments such as very poor umpiring despite the availability of technology. The umpiring was pathetic. What was even worse was the commentary. We had some of the worst commentators on air while some of the best cricket was on view.
Let me end with a tongue-in-cheek comment even as I accept that some of my initial predictions about IPL have not been bang on. Teams must have both a long-term and a short-term strategy. The short-term strategy would be to get some ageing Australians in, such as Justin Langer, Andy Bichel and Brad Hogg, for a song. The long-term strategy is to use some of the greatest players in the world to influence, motivate and develop local talent that will eventually build a team of world beaters.
Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO of brand-comm and the author of “One land, one billion minds”

Friday, June 6, 2008

Royal challenge – a diluted brew

In my early twenties I used to be a lot dumber than I am now. My father had a bottle of Glen Livet whiskey in his cupboard and on a couple of occasions I had swigs from it. For fear of getting caught, I would slip in some water into the bottle lest my father discover the shortage. I am sure he could recognize the diluted taste of that excellent malt, but being the gentleman he was and still is at 92, he never raised the issue. Now several years later I can see another brand of whiskey being diluted through the impetuosity of its owner. I speak of Royal Challenge or RC as it is fondly referred to by its drinkers. Although I do not have the market share figures to back it, I do believe that Royal Challenge is a dominant brand of whiskey. In fact when I used to be a Rotarian a few years ago, the fellowship used to be the high point of the meetings, particularly those involving multiple clubs, and if RC was not being served, the event would receive a “thumbs down”, so powerful was the brand’s influence on Rotarians from Bangalore at least. Given the threat to surrogate advertising for his brands, Vijay Mallya branded his cricket team as ‘Royal Challengers’ and in five weeks time the team has become history.

The impact on the brand
Surrogate advertising is something that we all see. Mineral water, cocktail snacks, casual wear are all brands of liquor or cigarettes that are not allowed to advertise in mass media and use this devious route. In this scenario Mallya arrived at what might have been a marketing coup in calling his team the ‘Royal Challengers’. Commercials were made - which also featured Mallya - merchandise was created, mass media was bought….A blitzkrieg of advertising was launched. The team started playing matches and losing them with monotonous regularity. The players did their best, but still lost, at times narrowly and at other times embarrassingly. Mallya lost his cool and sacked the CEO who went to town about being ‘summarily dismissed’. Nor was Mallya satisfied with that. He went to the media to complain bitterly about the team composition. The brand has got amazingly bad press and Mallya, in no small measure is responsible for the mess that the brand and the team is in. The only difference between this team and others is that this team is an existing, popular brand, not a new creation like the Kolkatta Knight Riders.

Building a brand’s equity
A brand’s equity is something that is carefully and assiduously built over a period of time. Your actions can add to the brand’s equity or dilute its equity. The poor performance of the team and the controversy surrounding it must certainly have affected the brand. Instead of strengthening a dominant brand, the owner of the brand has substantially diluted the brand’s equity. Imagine a guy walking into the Bangalore Club bar and asking for ‘Royal Challenge’ even as the match is being shown on TV! It is important that Mallya remembers the impact of his sometimes hasty actions on a large, well established, popular brand. After all it is easier to destroy than to build, whether it is a brand or a team.

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO of brand-comm and the author of “One land, one billion minds”)