I am glad to share with you that I will be leading brandware3, a 8 weekend certificate program on brand management in Bangalore at our training facility.The last 2 editions were extremely well received with participants from companies like Titan, Nokia, Manipal Education, Booster Juice, Indus League, United Spirits and a whole host of others.I have also been fortunate enough to get some of the biggest names in Bangalore in marketing and advertising to be guest faculty for the program. Click here to register for the program Brandware 3
I am hoping you would support the program and spread the word.
The glory can obscure the ignominy that dogged the Commonwealth Games, but learn we must from our mistakes..
K. Murali Kumar Brand India, but at what cost? (Above) The closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games 2010, at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
It was the 14th of October 2010. As I sat in front of the TV set, my eyes glued to the fantastic closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, I felt a sense of pride. Surely the opening and closing ceremonies that we made happen were comparable to anything that the rest of the world may struggle to put together.
The Commonwealth Games ended in a blaze of glory for India. Our athletes did us proud by winning over a hundred medals including silver for hockey, the national game we seem to have forgotten. (It would be churlish to talk about the margin of defeat to Australia — it is much better to talk about how we brown-washed them in cricket). The visiting dignitaries were impressed with our handling of the Games and a few who mattered did speak of India having the capability to host the Olympics in the not-too-distant future. The media too, which had been extremely critical in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games, has thankfully turned its attention to the performance of the Indian athletes who rose to the occasion.
The spiralling Sensex, the medals, and the phenomenal performance of Sachin Tendulkar have all made Indians and the Indian media forget the heartburn and the embarrassment of the last few weeks. They have worn rose-tinted spectacles as India shines again and Brand India is again something to be respected and deified.
Indians are great examples of the statement that public memory is short. Anything will be forgotten and time will heal any insult or enable one to come out of it. But I believe India and Indians should not be carried away by the moment and not forget what happened or forgive those guilty, which is precisely why I admire social activist and actor Gul Panag for planning a protest on the day after the closing of the Games.
Let me jog your memory about what happened just a few weeks ago as India made a collective ass of itself and invited the scorn of the world. If this column were to have been written on September 27 instead of October 14, what would I have written? Here goes…
Blame it on the time
Have you heard the term ‘ Rahu Kalam'? Let me explain for the benefit of those from other parts of India. It is a dreaded 90 minutes of the day when no Tamilian will undertake anything important or auspicious. Most of us know these timings like the back of our hand and often plan our day taking this frightening time of day into our calculations. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Commonwealth Games, which is as big a disaster as one can imagine, must have commenced at the peak of Rahu Kalam! For everything that could have possibly gone wrong with it went horribly wrong. It has been amplified by the media and a critical Indian middle-class, with uninhibited support from our NRIs, educated at IITs and IIMs, who have used the Net to great effect to vent their ire.
I had resisted the temptation to add another 1,500 words to the megabytes already spewed on the subject till now. But then, I was reminded of what the RBI Governor, D. Subbarao, had to say about learning from crises — that they are too good not to learn from. There is a similar need to talk about the learnings from the CWG fiasco and the implications for Brand India and its image, which has taken a severe beating over the last few weeks, never mind how good the salvage operations turned out to be. So, what are the learnings for Brand India?
Brands need champions
Every brand needs a champion. Someone who is passionate about it and will ensure that it succeeds against all odds. Today, the Delhi Metro is something that we are all proud of and maybe the Commonwealth Games needed a E. Sreedharan to see it through. Who is the face of the Commonwealth Games? Suresh Kalmadi? What a misfit! It is like appointing Harbajan Singh and Andrew Symonds as moral science teachers!
Brands too need leadership in crises and if this was not a crisis, I wonder what is! India losing to Ireland in the cricket World Cup next year maybe? So where was the leadership of India? Where was Manmohan Singh and where was the “new, white hope of India”, Rahul Gandhi? He would have been better served making a few visits to the Games Village than to colleges in Bangalore. The Games and Brand India suffered from a lack of leadership and the absence of a champion and the leadership that finally surfaced was clearly a case of “too little, too late”. Who is Brand India's champion?
What's a minor glitch between friends?
Every student of public relations must analyse the entire CWG fiasco in the context of the need to be honest and come clean instead of attempting to sweep the dirt under the carpet. And clearly, there was a lot of muck that was floating around. When the s**t was literally hitting the roof, what was one to make of the statements about “minor glitches” and “Indian standards of hygiene”? When all eyes were on the debacle and the media was out to magnify even minor issues, the blatant misreading of the mood of the nation smacks of either complete arrogance or blissful ignorance, take your pick. Even a junior brand manager in a large, well-run corporation would have shown a greater understanding of the magnitude of the crisis. I daresay that this comes from the larger Indian malaise of “anything can be fixed”. Most things probably can, but not your image. Even if your image is fixed, it would take time, effort and hopefully some strategic direction. It is important for people in branding to gauge the mood of their target audiences and their consumers.
The power of the Net
Some old-timers talk of how the much touted Asian Games too was in complete shambles till the inauguration, of how public memory is short and how soon all will be forgiven and forgotten.
There is a difference. Today we have the Net, where errors of this magnitude are cast in stone and preserved for posterity, unlike 28 years ago. Also India's situation in the world has changed. It is no longer a country that no one cares or writes about. People are watching it and, if I may add, waiting for it to fail. And boy, have we given our critics enough fodder!
A time for action
Let me cut back to the present from the sordid past. I think whatever we have done now in terms of retrieving the situation has been more in the nature of fire-fighting. The damage has been done to Brand India, both in India and globally. Instead of trying to wish it away, I think the sensible option is to learn.
Yes, the focus has shifted to our performances on the field and on the glitz and glamour of the opening and closing ceremonies. But those concerned with India must introspect. If we still keep saying this is a minor glitch then we deserve every bit of criticism coming our way and forget any aspirations of being a brand that the world will look up to. What is more likely is that we will be a brand that constantly provides learning on “what not to do”.
So, where do we go from here? Brand India, learn and move on! And what about the rest of India that is watching from the sidelines? Remember how we almost made a mess of our opportunity to take a place in the sun. If nothing changes, change the custodians of Brand India to someone who truly will care for it, when we still have the chance!
(Ramanujam Sridhar CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly: Branding on Indian Turf. Find me on Facebook: facebook.com/RamanujamSridhar & Twitter: twitter.com/RamanujamSri .)
The Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) Alumni Association will honour Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Radhakrishnan, marketing communications expert Ramanujam Sridhar and valuation expert Aswath Damodaran with its Distinguished Alumni Awards for 2010.
The prestigious awards are given by the institute every year to former students who have exceptionally excelled in their careers and have made significant contributions to society.
"Each of them has the distinction of being outstanding in his education at IIMB and has achieved great heights of success in a variety of arenas," a spokesperson for the association said about this year's awardees.
The awards will be conferred on the institution's foundation day on October 28 at the IIMB campus here, she added.
Dr Radhakrishnan belongs to the 1976 batch of IIMB's flagship two-year post-graduate programme (PGP) in management. Apart from being an outstanding space scientist, who is one of the brains behind Chandrayaan-2, India's second lunar mission, he is also well-versed in Carnatic music and is a Bharatanatyam dancer.
Mr Sridhar (PGP'82) has been associated with advertising firms like Mudra and Quadrant and is the founder and CEO of Brand Comm, a marketing communications company.
He has also penned brand building books like "One land, one billion minds" and the sequel "Googly. Branding on Indian Turf."
Prof Damodaran (PGP'79) is regarded as an expert on the subject of valuation and has authored several books on equity valuation, corporate finance and investments. According to Business Week, he is one of the top 12 business school professors in the United States. At present, he is a Finance Professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University.
According to the spokesperson, the winners of the awards are chosen through a process of nominations by the alumni members of the association and a committee selection of final winners by a team of senior faculty at IIMB.
And just as it got everyone else talking, so does our columnist about the pros and cons of Volkswagen's experiment with a talking print ad..
Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar A buyer with the Vento. Did they ever consider putting in a response device, a number, a Web site? I am certain that while the talking newspaper ad will win an award for media innovation, it is not my idea of a creative ad – and when so much was being spent on the media delivery, should not a little more effort have gone into the creative product?
The 21st of September 2010 started more sleepily than it usually does for me. The previous night I had been watching another meaningless Champions League game late into the night and as is common for me, had difficulty waking up the next morning. (Of course, most people in Bangalore wake up late and blame the weather!) As I made my way groggily downstairs I was greeted by great excitement and loud voices from the elders of the family. The delivery of the newspaper, which itself is a major achievement in Bangalore, could not have created such a tizzy, surely? Yes, it was the newspaper, but with one important difference. The newspaper was talking!
It did not take me long to figure out that the alien voice coming over the black box was exhorting the virtues of the Volkswagen Vento, the new luxury sedan, positioned against the Honda City and incidentally, rated as a superb car by my local car expert. After the excitement died down and we figured out the message after listening to it a couple of times and also with great dexterity figured out how to switch the darn thing off, I started to think. (While thinking may be an automatic process for most people, for me it is a bit like starting the old Standard Herald that we used to have. I need time and effort.)
Enough of me and more of the talking newspaper. Was the talking newspaper the greatest technological and media innovation that India had ever seen as a few humble gentlemen (who were behind it) were claiming? Would it guarantee ‘thought leadership' which Volkswagen wants, as it is quite some distance away from market leadership? Will the phenomenal costs (estimates vary) bring in comparable benefits?
Media the “other creative department”
Creativity is the core competence of the advertising agency, or at least, so it should be. Having said that traditional wisdom suggests that creativity is the sole prerogative of the guys with ponytails and earrings and those young things in torn jeans who nonchalantly blow smoke rings in the pub but who also produce brilliant TV commercials. The media department, however, conjures up images of guys sitting in front of computer terminals, a bevy of spreadsheets in front of them, constantly speaking on the phone. These guys also have the admirable quality of being able to arm-twist the poor guys who sell space. But the media department is not supposed to be creative. They are brilliant backroom boys who will get you fantastic positions, mouth-watering deals and work with crazy deadlines.
It was this perception and role that DDB Needham was trying to counter in the Nineties by exhorting media to be the “other creative department” and come up with pathbreaking innovations. And the Volkswagen Vento ad is just that. A fantastic media innovation, a logistical masterpiece involving two of India's most dominant newspapers, The Hindu and The Times of India, reaching out to a small matter of 22 lakh people whose reactions ranged from complete surprise to total shock and anger. (I am ignoring the few who dutifully called the cops.) You could love the innovation or hate it, but you could not ignore it, at least till you figured out how to shut it off!
The creative/ media divide
While people in advertising are in the communications business, they are very poor communicators internally. Historically media would get in at the last stage, after the creative had been done, and tell the client service that there was only money for a half-page ad in magazines, not the four-colour spread that the creative guys had conceptualised! While I am exaggerating to make a point, I must state that my example is from the days of the full-service agency where client servicing, media and creative used to work in adjoining cubicles in the same agency and yet not talk to each other. Today with “unbundling” the task has become even more complex as creative and strategy are being done by one agency whilst media are being bought by a media house. When people have difficulty in communicating within the same agency then imagine the confusion likely to arise when they work for different agencies!
It is in this context that I am intrigued by the Vento ad. Whose idea was it? Was the creative agency part of the whole process? Given the current scenario, I have no hesitation in commending the process of innovation. I wish it shows the way to a whole host of others who are continuing to do mundane, mechanical work, day after day.
What about the message?
R. Ravindran The talking Volkswagen ad in The Hindu It has often been said that the message is the medium and there is no doubt that the medium has been used to great effect in this case. The message itself is fairly straightforward. It says the car has the best-in-class German engineering, so much so that the engineers who designed the car feel bad when they watch the car being driven away.
Of course, this is integration, in the sense that it is the same message that is being used across media, whether it is TV or print. But could it have been done more aesthetically? Maybe with music? And did they ever consider putting in a response device, a number, a Web site? I am certain that while the talking newspaper ad will win an award for media innovation, it is not my idea of a creative ad – and when so much was being spent on the media delivery, should not a little more effort have gone into the creative product?
Some more questions
Even though I have been in advertising for as long as I can remember and even if I love (some) car advertising, I must confess that advertising has limited relevance to the buyer. Speaking from the experience of one who has bought several cars in the last two decades (my friend says I change cars like some people change clothes) it does seem obvious to me that it is all about ‘word of mouth' and user experience. But car manufacturers spend millions of rupees on advertising like this and very little on the online space which is becoming increasingly important. And how many people in India can afford a luxury sedan? Mind you, this is not a corporate message or a message about the small car, but about a luxury car!
At the end of the day
Having gone on a bit about the negative side of the ad, I do realise that it is important to have a sense of perspective. There is no denying the impact of the new advertisement for the Vento. It was unexpected and caught a few of us napping in more ways than one. It must have certainly made the other car manufacturers sit up and take notice, for deep down they must know that their own efforts in the marketing innovation space have been nothing to write home about. As it is said correctly, the true leaders will compete for share of mind and thought leadership rather than mere market leadership. Volkswagen, through its earlier ad for the Polo, had also created waves, so it has continued to do things differently in India. And it is not merely a case of innovative advertising, for Volkswagen historically makes damn good cars and I am certain that the Vento is just that and the advertising has certainly worked in my case as my next car will most certainly be a Vento!
Here is hoping that my wife who is the decision-maker in our house (as in most houses) is reading this column!
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly: Branding on Indian Turf.
"Youngsters can tap technology especially social networking sites to voice their opinions. They should use the freedom to their advantage and bring about movements which could be useful for society" - Ramanujam Sridhar
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