Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Change, the name of the game

(this column of mine appeared in Deccan Chronicle on Friday, September 13th, 2013) 

 “Child Bear sold here” is an innovative and evocative signage that one saw in Bihar.

Before the animal lovers get ready to key in a volley of protest, let me quickly clarify. It was really a sign meant to cue your taste buds and to be read as “Chilled beer sold here”! Yes, you can be creative with spelling as well cant you? But this piece is not so much about etymology but about marketing strategy, so rest easy.

My mind goes back to the early nineties when we used to do the advertising for Kalyani Black label beer which was warming the hearts of Bengalis. United Spirits, in many ways the pioneer of beer marketing in India, had an ambition which seemed like a pipe dream to me at that time. “Why should people drink beer only during the summer months’ they asked. “ Why can’t beer be a yearlong product even in Bangalore” asked the head of marketing.

I shivered in the December cold, having come as I had from the sun baked and dusty plains of Madras as my home town used to be called those days. And yet like any advertising professional, I nodded sagely even if I thought he was talking crap like most clients still do. But I must confess that he knew a thing or two.

Now isn’t beer consumed even in the middle of winter in Christmas and New Year parties? It is being consumed in crate loads come rain or shine. It has not happened by accident but by careful promotion over the years. A clear long term strategy and persistent execution has made this change possible.

Let’s change the way you eat 

Probably around the same time another marketer, a leader in the world cereals market was asking “why can’t we change the way Indians have breakfast?” It seemed like another pipe dream. How could the Madrasi give up his “ idli vada” and how could the north Indian give up his “ aloo paratha?”

The doomsayers were right as people resisted and had breakfast cereals only when they were sick! It certainly looked like Kellogg’s had bitten off more than it could chew in more ways than one. “This is India” crowed the Bombay club and the multinational company too realized that India was just another country that they could crack like Philippines or Mexico.

Less expensive Indian brands thrived as people bought the concept from Kellogg’s and the less expensive cereal from Indian companies. But what has happened today. The vast Indian middle class has taken to breakfast cereals even if it has taken some time. People are now talking of oats. Unthinkable, it seems. Not really.

Another long term strategy followed by pain staking execution, promotions and trials coupled with the increasing health consciousness of an increasingly affluent and aspirational middle class has opened doors for this category.

The joy of giving

India’s leading watch brand of the last two decades was doing something pioneering too. It saw people gifting all sorts of things – saris, jewellery, shirts, perfumes, even watches and said why can’t we get Indians to gift Titan watches? It launched the “joy of giving” campaign, created the pair watch for gifting to couples and did that consistently for years on end.

Today, gifting accounts for a small 53 per cent of Titan’s annual sales. Again the first campaign might have been a “happy accident” but it was the work of a savvy marketer to put advertising rupees behind the concept year after year and reap the benefits for two decades. An interesting development though.

Today you can safely gift Titan to an older person, though a younger person might prefer Fastrack.

Gifting? What a brilliant concept in hindsight? And how many other brands have gotten into the gifting bandwagon following Titan’s pioneering example. That’s not all There are many other examples of moving people in a different direction and getting them to buy.

Who can forget the future group’s “ sabse sasta din’ on Aug 15th and January 26th getting India to shop on traditional holidays? Or Viveks new year sale in Tamil Nadu that has since become a way of life? How can one forget the Tamil Nadu retailers’ great honeymoon with Aadi ? The month that was a traditional shopping ‘ no no” has become a great opportunity to sell clothes, durables, talk time, just about everything.

Yes, you can move consumers to change.

But people are like you and me. Apathetic, lethargic, promiscuous even. They need to be cajoled, pampered and worked on .

Not for nothing did David Ogilvy say “ the consumer is not a moron, she is your wife”. And having been married for 31 years and having lost most of my hair in the bargain, I can tell you with confidence, that marketing like marriage is not easy.

Hang in there my friend.

Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO of brand- comm and director in Custommerce an organization dedicated to developing customer service in the country.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Outlook Business - Juicing it up

Why is it important to build a brand around a ubiquitous product like sugarcane juice?

With the rise of two brands in Bangalore, namely Cane Fresh and Cane-O-LA, the much loved sugarcane juice is being served in comfortable, hygienic settings across the city. However, both brands are grappling with the issue of low margins thanks to the consumer being reluctant to pay a premium for the product.

 The only way that a premium can be extracted from this niche product with limited appeal is to build a brand.

I have weighed in with my opinion in this Outlook Business article on juicing it up. Can you think of other such products that can / have been able to charge a premium because a brand has been built around them? Do leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Business Standard - Ujala's new avatar to battle segment blues

In July this year, Jyothy Laboratories relaunched its 30 year old brand, Ujala.

Despite being a market leader in the fabric whitening space, it was looking for a re-fresh with a new tagline and new packaging.

In the face of stiff competition from HUL's Rin Fabric Whitener and Reckitt Benckiser's Robin Blue, how does Ujala measure up?

 I provided my opinion on their new tagline and their new packaging in this Business Standard article - Ujala's new avatar to battle segment blues. Do read through and share your opinion in the comments section below.