Friday, November 27, 2015

Live Issue: Can Test cricket rise to its glory days?

How to stay in the news

Why do certain business leaders make more news than the others? Here’s the formula
“How is it that ‘he’ is so prominent in media?” — I am often asked this question about prominent business leaders who seem to make news and headlines with unbelievable ease.
The first point I wish to make is that many of the views about the clout of PR agencies with publications are exaggerated. Relationships will carry you only so far in today’s largely professional world. The key determinant of visibility will continue to be “strategy” in building the media image of your brand. Having said that and having been associated with clients for as long as I can remember, I have observed that some people like NR Naryana Murthy and Kishore Biyani seem to be doing this better than several others. What can we learn from these prominent, newsworthy leaders? 

Make news
Unique news makes banner headlines. I think we first need to understand the importance of ‘making news’ rather than trying to create it. My mind goes back to Infosys and its PR heydays. It was the first Indian company to be listed on the Nasdaq. If my memory serves me right, it made global headlines. Remember that India-centric news makes headlines in the Indian press.
Unfortunately, many clients who have “me too” offerings and consequently “me too” announcements, expect similar coverage. This is not possible. The desire to be on the front pages of the business press though understood by PR companies, does not necessarily result in similar coverage. You need to ‘make’ news, rather than be a “me too”. Sadly, it is easy to attribute it to a “lack of clout” of the PR company, when the actual problem lies elsewhere.
Have a point of view
Economists have their uses, but not to the media thanks to their only too-familiar “on the one hand…, on the other” statements. Journalists want a point of view, and want a view that is clearly expressed without sitting on the fence.
Owners of businesses are generally less diplomatic than professionals who have to worry about the board and the Chairman, and hence, give honest points of view.In this interview of Kishore Biyani, he clearly articulates his point, unafraid of pulling his punches. He stands for something and doesn’t hesitate to express it and this invariably makes news.
People who challenge the status quo make headlines and that is the truth.
Respond faster
Just like you and I have deadlines, journalists too need to keep time, and sometimes, their deadlines are almost impossible to meet. Whatever happens, the newspaper must be at your doorstep at 6 am. This means if the story has to be filed by 6 pm, it must be filed at 6 pm with the views of those who responded on time.
So if the spokesperson can speak on the phone rather than send responses over mail (as some companies do), you have a better chance of being in print and having your point of view shared. Here too, no one likes diplomatic answers or “no comments” replies, though they have a place in the media world.
All about timing
I have always admired the ability of people like VVS Laxman and the now forgotten Mohd Azharuddin. They had fantastic timing and silken wrists that enabled them to caress the ball to the boundary. The media world too is built around timing. Let me give you an example.
Recently the media was abuzz with the rape of a poor, unsuspecting passenger in a taxi and sadly you remember it too. A story on security timed around this would make first page news when it comes on its heels. Leaders like Kishore Biyani are brilliant at understanding the mood and timing of the media, and know what the flavour of the month is. They can talk about it with conviction, like this interview on online grocer’s ability to survive.
Have relationships with media
But don’t be used by them. Media likes people who are readily available to comment on issues, and these are the people who make numbers. I realised I too had been guilty of this, as the advertising trade media kept quoting me on stories and I was happy till I realised the value of being choosy. Remember, the media too needs some people to fill an industry story, so don’t fall for the visibility trap. The smarter people decide whether they want to participate and usually, what they say leads the story.
Building image is a process
It isn’t a destination. It isn’t about one front page story. It is a process and a journey with a clear, strategic road map. This means that once in a while, you will be misquoted and that is okay; today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s wrapping paper. Over a period of time, people will remember the good things they read. Build professional relationships with media based on mutual respect and one day, it is you who will be written about!

After the noodlestorm

Will the rousing reception given by consumers to Maggi go beyond the two minutes of glory?

This Diwali, eco-friendly consumers increasingly stayed away from bursting fire-crackers. Those who are health-conscious cut down on consumption of sweets. But there was some indulgence of a different kind.
Maggi, the instant noodles brand from Swiss foods giant Nestle, returned to the stores around Diwali. This was more than five months after the brand had been pulled out of stores following a ban by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in June.
If one had any doubts about what would be the reception to a brand that had returned after a tryst with the food inspectors, the social media chatter dispelled many myths. NetImpact Solutions, a digital consultancy that specialises in social analytics, tracked around 45,000 conversations related to Maggi Reintroduction in the first two weeks of November (the time when Maggi was re-introduced).
Executives from the consultancy say that the first thing that stood out was the overwhelmingly positive nature of the conversations around the return of Maggi Noodles. Out of total conversations tracked, over 90 per cent were positive. Among the leading talking points was the Maggi promotion on e-tailer Snapdeal that was retailing welcome kits. The e-tailer sold out 60,000 welcome kits of Maggi Noodles in five minutes flat when it first conducted a flash sale of Maggi welcome kits. Rahul Saighal, MD of Netimpact Solutions, says, “Our social analysis of the conversation and sentiments shows that the strong brand equity of Maggi and a strong marketing push has clearly allowed it to weather the recent controversy.”
Other marketing experts are of the opinion that at least for now, Maggi has managed to contain the damage, despite the company taking its own time to react after the local authorities across Indian States started charging Maggi with having excessive lead content and so on. “As for Maggi, the people who used it didn't have a problem. The problem was magnified because of the delay in the company's response. The issue became much larger than it deserved to become,” says Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder & CEO of branding consultancy Brand-comm.
But marketing consultants like Shripad Nadkarni, founder Director at Marketgate Consulting, says that Maggi may not suffer lasting damage as the contamination charges were intangible. Others like Biju Dominic, CEO, FinalMile Consulting, a behavioural architecture firm, agrees. “It all depends on how much consumers are a part of the particular controversy and how much they can relate to the fact seen with quality of the product,” he says.
Nadkarni adds, “When consumers are unable to experience the problem tangibly (like excessive lead or pesticide contamination in colas) and when there are conflicting viewpoints on the issue, the company needs to come back with communication that reassures and start rebuilding the emotional bond that consumers had with the brand. If handled sensitively I don’t think a brand would suffer long-term equity damage.” Maggi started building the emotional bond with consumers with its campaigns showcasing different sets of consumers talking about how they miss their favourite pack of noodles. Each ad ended with the message, “we miss you too”. Nadkarni adds that in this scenario, focusing on the problem (lead or pesticide) adds to the confusion. “These are not tangible issues that the average consumer can evaluate and hence it’s best to carry on and resume normal brand engagement at the earliest.”
On the contrary, when there is visibly a problem, such as in the Cadbury case when worms were detected in packs of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, direct remedial action, such as what Cadbury did, by changing the packaging to a tamper-proof one, is important to bring consumers back. This then needs to be communicated excessively to wipe out any lingering doubts on product quality.
S Ramesh Kumar, Professor of Marketing at IIM-Bangalore, says: “Consumer goodwill reflects the strong attitude towards a brand that is backed up by cognitive beliefs about the brand. These associations stay strongly in the memory of consumers. They need to be reassured through the authenticity and credibility of the respective brand.” 

Emotional bond
Dominic says Maggi should focus on strengthening its emotional bond with consumers, a line that the brand has been using for some time now.
“The brand should go even more down that line as the brand all mothers trusted and reinforce it even further. The company should do everything possible to reassure consumers and enhance that relationship.”
On its return journey, Maggi has also used the opportunity to tweak the flavour of its Masala tastemaker. Now, some customers find it a tad more spicy than the earlier version.
But marketing experts warn against such actions, as the controversy with Maggi was lab test findings that it had excessive levels of monosodium glutamate and lead. “This might indirectly be seen as an admission of guilt by consumers,” says one marketing expert.
Will Maggi emerge stronger from the experience or will it go cold once the hype over its return loses steam?
That verdict will take more than two minutes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How Kingfisher found a way around advertising norms in India to promote new beer

The Kingfisher Ultra Max radio ad case reveals the loopholes in the Indian surrogate advertising norms, lack of pre-screening for radio ads.
  • Representational image
Kingfisher until recently had an advertisement running on private radio channels, promoting its newly launched strong beer, Kingfisher Ultra Max. The new 'strong beer' variant from the Kingfisher stable has been brought on to compete with SAB Miller and AB Inbev that already have expensive versions of strong beer, which is the most popular variant among Indian beer consumers. 
In the radio ad, the company went ahead with using the word 'beer' several times, only 'beeping' out the word 'beer' in the name of censoring. While the word was beeped out, the Kingfisher ad also contained several suggestive descriptions for the product -- calling it a perfect blend, perfect for a road trip with friends, or a weekend getaway, each time beeping the word 'beer'. It also didn't mention the product they are actually promoting through the ad, like mineral water, music, cassettes and CDs, soda, in the radio ad. 
All these are clear violations of the surrogate advertising norm in India, which prohibits an alcohol and tobacco brand from directly advertising its products. Under surrogate advertising though, it can promote its brand with the help of alternate products or brand extensions -- Cassettes and CDs, music, mineral water, sodas, events and sports franchises. 
Some recent examples of the surrogate advertising on air recently are Smirnoff's brand extension 'Smirnoff Experience', which organises events and concerts; Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels have created surrogate extensions by identifying and awarding achievers in various fields. Blenders' Pride also created an event company for the purpose of brand extension through the Blenders Pride Fashion Tour 2015. Another brand under United Spirits, Royal Challenge, has a sports drink, while Seagrams 100 Pipers brand has tied up with NGOs to honour philanthropy under the 'Be remembered for good' campaign.
Kingfisher, on the other hand, with the Ultra Max beer radio ad, decided to go right out and flout the surrogate advertising rules.
It was not long before many on social media took notice of this and commented. 
The ad was taken down about two weeks back, according to Kingfisher's public relations team. When we asked Samar Singh Shekhawat, Senior Vice President, United Breweries why the ad was taken down, he said that the "radio spot ran its course as planned".
He said that while creating an advertising campaign, "We look at getting the attention of consumers first and then delivering a message. In this case, since Ultra MAX is a new brand, we needed to create awareness and trigger curiosity about the product. From the store uplift that we are seeing, we seem to have created the desired impact.
The CEO of a private radio station on the condition of anonymity, however, said that the brand was advertising about an event called ‘Kingfisher Ultra Max Dart Nights’. However, the ad spot had no mention of the name of the event at all. 
ASCI acts on complaints
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has guidelines for the qualification of brand extensions of products or services. The first point on their website says that the product or service should be registered with an appropriate government authority eg Central Value Added Tax (CENVAT)/ Value Added Tax (VAT)/ Food and Drug Administration (FDA)/ Food and Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)/ Trade Marks Registry (TM). It also states that the availability of the surrogate product in the market must be at least 10% of the leading brand's market share as measured in metro cities where the product is being advertised. 
The sales turnover of the product or service should exceed Rs 5 crore per annum pan-India or Rs 1 crore per annum per state where the distribution has been established. In addition, it needs a valid certificate from an independent organisation such as AC Nielsen or a category-specific industry association before advertising.  
However, the ASCI is a self-regulating body for advertising and only has the power to pull up an advertiser for any violations if it receives a complaint from the public. Speaking on this, Shweta Purandare, Secretary General, ASCI said, “We are a self-regulatory body and do not look into pre-approval of ads. People approach us with complaints, and we distinguish if they are violating any rules or not. ASCI has (a) very clear guideline for brands to advertise. 
“There are certain guidelines for TV which requires the Information & Broadcast (I&B) Ministry and Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) approvals. If any brand is still not adhering to the regulations, we forward it to the I&B Ministry.” 
She further added that it was difficult to comment on the Kingfisher Ultra Max ad as she had not heard it but said that ASCI would communicate to the advertiser to remove it if the complaint is upheld. 
Radio ads lack body for pre-screening  
While the ASCI is known to do a good job of monitoring brands' advertising post being put on air, there is no organisation, government or otherwise, to pre-screen these ads. Brand expert Harish Bijoor and CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc said that most of the advertising industry is self-regulated and is looked into by ASCI.
“I believe that there should not be any pre-censorship because a lot of restrictions and bureaucracy gets involved. Advertisers should follow self-regulation and it is a good procedure to follow”. He further added that if people are still not satisfied with any action taken, they can file a public interest litigation (PIL) in the consumer court. Apart from the ASCI for TV, the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) has the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) which takes action on objectionable ads. The radio industry, however, does not have any body like this which looks at its commercials before they go on air. As a result, certain companies with surrogate brands can take advantage of the situation.
Sridhar Ramanujam, Founder and CEO, Integrated Brand-Comm too said that as far as he knows, there is no organisation for pre-approving radio ads. He said that TV on the other hand, has the CBFC for screening.
“Surrogate advertising has been there for years. As long as brands keep producing alternate products, they can take advantage of the rule. People can take their issues to ASCI and get them addressed,” he said.
The lack of a pre-screening authority is surprising, considering the amount of regulations and restrictions that the government has otherwise imposed in terms of radio content, especially news, on private channels. On the radio, only political ads are subject to pre-screening.
Advertisers, however, have to adhere to the All India Radio (AIR) Code of Conduct which under section 2 (vii) states that ‘No advertisement shall be permitted which relates to or promotes cigarettes and tobacco products, liquor, wines and other intoxicants’. 
The weak regulation for surrogate advertising at the government level can be because it falls under the jurisdiction of at least five Ministries – Consumer Affairs, Health, I&B Ministry, IT and Social Justice and Empowerment. There is no central law that regulates various aspects alcohol promotion. 
Who should take the responsibility then?
K V Sridhar (Pops), Chief Creative Officer, Sapient Nitro India said that when it comes to surrogate advertising, there are two sides i.e. the legal and the moral angle. He said that people might not like it if the surrogate product that is being advertised does not exist. “Brands breaking the surrogate advertising laws might feel situational victories, but in the long term, it will affect the brand. One needs to be careful about the legality and morality. 
“A product should stand by itself. The advertising industry has used self-censorship and it has worked.” He further added, “It is also the decision of the TV channels, radio channels, print players, etc., whether or not the ad is in good taste or morally correct, and whether it should be aired.”
The CEO of the private radio station mentioned above passed the buck on to media agencies. “Media agencies have to look into whether surrogate advertising is following the AIR Code of Conduct. Radio, as a medium, is much stricter in fact than others. There is a monitoring body by the government in every city which monitors every bit of programming on radio. If someone breaks the rules, they will send a notice to the advertiser and mark the broadcaster in CC.” He further added, “Around 7-8 years ago, we used to get such notices from the government often, as a few ads would slip through. Now we don’t get much notices.”
When asked about whether they check on the brand extension or surrogate brand, he said that they ask for proof of the existence of the brand in a particular space, and the operations and sales of the particular brand in the space that they are advertising. He further added that the reason why a brand would try to evade the rules of surrogate advertising on the radio was that the risk is far lesser due to much lesser costs involved and can be changed easily. But on TV, costs can run into crores as it's a visual medium. Hence, “it is a much larger risk and much more difficult to change”.
Till stronger central laws on surrogate advertising are in place, it is up to brands to self-regulate and adhere to the laws and ASCI to see that no one evades it, but there may always be some who flout the norms and take advantage of the loopholes.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Utterly, butterly, baggage!

Utterly, butterly, baggage!

Successful brands that are advertising driven have a clear communication strategy, that is consistent and long term. Photo credit: Amul website
The tone of advertising can make your brand iconic. But can all companies bank on such
ad strategy?
In my early years in advertising (and that was ages ago), Saatchi and Saatchi was the fastest growing advertising agency in the world and Concorde, the fastest plane.
When Concorde launched services between London and New York, the high profile ad agency created an interesting poster, which read: “Breakfast in London, lunch in New York”. Below that, an irate passenger had scribbled “and baggage in Bermuda”.
Well, if passengers are to be believed, British Airways had a problem with baggage then — which continues to be a problem now and if cynics are to be believed, will be a problem in the future too. But I digress. Those days, there was no twitter to compound and complicate the problem. The British, who have a sense of humour unlike us Indians, merely chuckled and moved on.
Now, history has repeated itself with a celebrity and it’s none other than Sachin Tendulkar, whom India idolises. When an annoyed Sachin Tendulkar tweeted about his misplaced baggage, British Airways asked for his particulars and expectedly, the entire (irate) Indian fan base erupted on Twitter. 

How dare they?
“How dare British Airways not know who Sachin is?” fumed the Indian fan, “How can they ask for his details?” Of course the whole world follows cricket (or so they believe), so how can anyone not know Sachin, OUR Sachin? Never mind the fact that British Airways is a global airline and has employees from all over the world who may or may not know cricket.
Asking for particulars is the standard response they give to any passenger whose baggage has been misplaced. Amidst all the needless tension, angst and rage, a brand was doing what it always does — feed on news or controversy while making us smile.
Of course, people might also remember the time when Maria Sharapova, the tennis star too, did not know who Sachin Tendulkar was. Amul capitalised on that too.
Amul is an Indian brand, which has the capability of being an icon and has several credits to its name - particularly for its advertising, which is arguably the longest running advertising campaign in India. Scroll down to see the ad from my childhood, on the iconic James Bond movie, Goldfinger.
I have been following Amul over the years and have several favourites. Scroll down and take a look at one of Sachin and Bradman's ad (so the Sachin fans, who might be upset because of me, are distracted).
What does Amul teach us?
Amul is a way of life with most Indians. It created a continuing character in the guise of a little moppet who is instantly recognised across India. The strategy was to catch the fancy of the reader by capitalising on topical stuff like intolerance, which is the hottest issue doing the rounds now.
And since the issue like Sachin’s lost baggage has a high current reader interest, people actually look forward to Amul’s ad, wondering how they would depict this issue in advertising. In fact, a related interesting strategy of Amul is to use mainline media sparingly and focus on prominent hoardings in strategic parts of cities with frequently changing messaging, so that public interest remains high. In advertising, the ‘tone of voice’ or how the brand speaks to you, is an important part of brand building, and Amul’s tone of voice has been consistent: smart and tongue-in-cheek. Even the most hot headed critics and fans can see the humour the brand brings out.
Will this strategy work for other brands?
Successful brands that are advertising driven have a clear communication strategy, that is consistent and long term. Crucial to the strategy is understanding the category. In this case, we are talking about your packet of butter, which is part of your daily breakfast. All advertising has to do is make sure it is on top of your mind; and Amul has been doing this successfully for years.
There is no need to talk about product quality, or pricing, or getting into lifestyle ads shot in exotic places. Nor is there a need to overkill in the media with full page ads, the way the ecommerce brands are doing today. It is probably a strategy that will work only for a brand like Amul and perhaps in categories where the competition is not so intense.
But there can be no taking away from the fact that Amul is a winner and a brand which has the capability of being an icon. Yes, the little moppet is someone we can all be very proud of as Indians, however upset we may be with British Airways the way they handled the greatest Indian, Sachin Tendulkar!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Recreating the old magic

Five months after it was banned, noodles is back on shop shelves. As prepares for a nationwide launch of the 32-year-old brand with some changes in packaging, The Strategist tries to identify the key challenges and what the company could do to win back consumer trust. Four brand experts lay down the dos and don'ts for Maggi as it seeks to regain lost ground

'The reason to buy the same product needs to change in its articulation'

Supriyo Gupta
CEO, Torque Communications

The key challenge for the brand today is not to return to the shelves and kitchens (that's easy) but to whittle down the missing, currently unseen, missing moms. What Nestle needs to understand is that, at its core, a tectonic shift has occurred deep in the minds of the consumer. Its comeback has not been scripted by any compelling piece of advertising (what has been done has been more hygiene than excellence) but by the pre-existing, abiding affection of the Maggi lover. The challenge is about those whose half open window has closed even further. For Nestle it is going to be about what relationships it needs to strike, it has to find a new scripture - not just another ad script. Much like an election campaign, the reason to buy the same product needs to change in its articulation. In effect, same mom, but a different love story has to be written for her.

Convey what makes the brand trustworthy

There is one temptation that brands with a loyal base tend to have while returning from a crisis: showcasing the love of its customers and trying to put the brand and the customer on the same side of the fence. What Nestle and Maggi need to do - a lot of it - is to show what goes behind making the brand trustworthy. While the first embrace has to be warm and fuzzy, over time the best defence is to deeply imprint in the minds of the customers the infallibility of its technology, processes and people.

The other aspect of reviving trust is about getting fresh brand ambassadors in. While that is a simple road to the market, there are two interesting aspects that Nestle surely grappled with. First, getting back their old ambassadors, who were also targeted with possible legal action. Old ambassadors returning to represent the brand would deliver an underlying message that "I believe, so I risk. This time, with the full knowledge that I may get targeted again." Second, it's time to hear from people at Nestle. Not in ads but in simple relatable stories. Tell me how you were taught to swear by quality, how you manage risk and how do you take part in ensuring that not a single untested morsel passes through. Tell consumers some of those stories because, eventually, it is about how the brand deals with people.

So, the message is you may be selling Maggi, but the relationship has to go beyond just selling Maggi. Especially now.

'Distribution and point of sale communication will be critical'

Ramanujam Sridhar
Founder & CEO, Brand-comm

So Maggi is back, if not with a bang, in 100 towns if the newspapers are to be believed. In the fast moving consumer goods world, we are all familiar with tags like 'new, improved' as brands do minor cosmetic changes to their product or packaging. But this is a completely new kettle of fish! What should Nestle do? Let's get one thing straight, Nestle is one of the best marketing companies in India and I am sure they will leave no stone unturned in their effort to make the relaunch an even bigger success than in 1982 when the brand was launched first.

Initial messaging very crucial

Maggi is not only a great marketer but works with some of the best advertising talent in the country. I am sure they are equally aware of the need to ensure that their relaunch advertising is bang on strategy, understated and in line with consumer expectations.

The brand may have been on top for as long as people can remember but the latest memory is that of a brand unable to meet the legal requirements. It is important not to be bitter or tongue in cheek but be matter of fact. It should be focussed only on the consumer and not on its own once-glorious past.

That said, advertising is only half the story - everything will depend on execution at the point of sale and so distribution will be even more critical.

Do celebrities help?

Cadbury Dairy Milk and Pepsi are classic cases of brands that have used the celebrity route to demonstrate to the world that the products, which had problems earlier, are completely safe now. I am sure the creative minds that are helping the brand will come up with something even more authentic today.

Social media, which had amplified the problem and accelerated the negative side of the ban, will also have an important role to play this time around.

Learning from the past

The brand is smart enough to realise that the consumer is always right and needs to be closely monitored with taste tests and instant feedback.

In today's dynamic internet-driven world, Maggi cannot merely be an instant noodle but a brand that instantly responds to consumers.

'Be straightforward and let the product do the talking'

Saurabh Uboweja
CEO & Chief Brand Strategist, Brands of Desire

Communication around a crisis-laden brand is a double-edged sword as it may involve justifying your position like in the case of Maggi. While on the one side you intend to quell the fears of millions of customers around food safety, on the other, you are reminding them of the wrong that happened, which can lead to deepening of doubts. The question is how much is enough communication and when should you halt it. Nestle should talk about safety because it's coming back, but it must just stop short of making that the brand's positioning statement. 'It's safe' plus 'the 2-minute' comfort snack that still tastes awesome' should be a good communication strategy for Maggi. Second, going overboard with emotional campaigns may also result in cynicism among consumer groups. It is better to be straightforward and let the product do the talking.

Re-enter the market with cautious optimism

The number one challenge before the brand would be tackling competition as most other brands in this segment got a chance to build their market share in the absence of Maggi.

For Maggi, a big respite is that there is no evidence of damage to the health of its consumers or adulteration of the product. This gives it a better chance than worm infested chocolates or the famous J&J Tylenol deaths. Being humble and honest in a crisis linked to trust and quality is paramount, especially when it is product that is consumed in a social media powered environment where bad news spreads like wildfire. One useful method is to rely on poor consumer memory to get rid of negative associations with the brand. This can be achieved by not over-reacting to negative situations. In the internet age, the consumer's memory is even weaker as there are way too many issues to be digested at the same time.

Finally, redemption stories inspire. Will Maggi be able to write an inspirational and believable one is a good question to ask. The spell in rehab would have given the makers a chance to reflect on the future of the brand Maggi.

While it is tempting to follow the tried and tested recipe of success, history shows that however loved you are as a brand, eventually you get irrelevant. Is Maggi ready for this looming crisis, which would definitely be of larger proportions than the current one as consumers experiment with other alternatives?

'A must be proactive and not reactive'

Manaswini Acharya
Professor, Marketing, Dean, IMI

The most successful of brands can run into trouble due to a plethora of reasons. Be it political pressure, regulatory issues, lack of an innovative mindset or dilution of profits. Even brands like Apple, J&J, Marvel, Old Spice and Burberry have had to revive themselves after floundering. Even though every situation demands a specific set of actions, here are some basic guidelines that cater to all situations:
  • Gaining confidence of all stakeholders is important right from suppliers to internal stakeholders (employees), everyone must be on the same page.
  • It must be ensured that the company has a specific action plan that takes into account all foreseeable hurdles. A comeback strategy must be proactive and not reactive.
  • The communication across all media must be uniform and empathetic. This is important in today's world where anything and everything has the potential to go viral. Agility is as important as brand ownership. The company must invest in content creation.
  • The equity of any brand, however old, is directly proportional to the connection with its customers. The brand must always try to revitalise this bond. Nothing is more important.
  • While the salience of the brand must be intact, the truth is that the customer's needs evolve with time. The brand must ensure that it can match up to changing needs and expectations to remain relevant over time.

However, there are a few blunders that should be avoided. A comeback strategy without a specific digital strategy may turn out to be futile. The communication should be consistent and simple.

When a brand has been away for a long time, competitors may gain the resultant share of wallet. It is again important that even in face of new competition, the brand remains true to its core identity. Marvel is a good example. Also, immediate shareholder pressure is less important than long-term health of the brand. In trying to appease shareholders in the short term, one might end up damaging the brand, including diluting its equity. Blackberry is a good example.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Is it important to be newsworthy?

Media coverage is an important part of brand-building, but it is not the only thing
Every day I meet clients who want to build their brand. While that in itself is laudable, the sad reality is that many of them, particularly in the technology space, think that brand building is merely getting their brand covered in the media. While there is no denying the fact that media coverage is an important part of brand building, it is not the only thing. 

Instead of getting into the debate of what exactly is brand building, let me talk about recognising one important aspect of brand building which is getting media coverage. But it is important to remember one thing though. Successful brands have two important qualities. And what are they, you ask? The first is that they are relevant to their customers and second, more importantly, is that they are different from their competition. If I were to extend the logic to getting coverage in media the same principle can be applied. If you do different things that your competition is not doing you will make news. How does that happen? I always believe that the best way to understand anything is by examples and thankfully we have many all around us.
Flipkart delivers in more ways than one
Starting October 13, Flipkart had its Big Billion Days Sale and the media was flooded with huge ads as is the current trend with ecommerce companies. In case you missed it, here’s a screen grab:
Consumers had an array of goods to choose from, anything, whether it was mobile phones, fashion accessories or durables, and all at prices that were truly competitive. The response was phenomenal as it was the last time around. But this time around I am sure Flipkart had learnt from the earlier fiasco, where the server had crashed due to the unprecedented demand and the tremendous pressure on the server. It was a torrid time for the brand with the competition and even disappointed customers venting their disappointment and even anger in the social media. What did the brand do? It owned up, bit the bullet and said that it was sorry. The founders went to the media and apologised.
While it is the done thing for an individual to say he is sorry when he goofs on something that affects a relationship with a sibling, spouse or friend companies don’t normally do this. I wonder why? But the owners of Flipkart did precisely this and the media actually covered it prominently. Now did Flipkart do this for media coverage? I am not sure. But what I am sure about is that they got coverage because they were genuine and because other companies don’t normally own up even when they goof.
The tradition continues
Having spent so much time in the past, let me get back to the recent Big Billion Sale whose ad you had just seen in this very column. This time Flipkart did something unique. As already mentioned they got the technology right and even though the response was phenomenal, it actually resulted in sales unlike the frustration felt last time around. More significantly, the founders themselves acted as delivery boys and went on the rounds delivering merchandise. How many CEOs do you think might have done this? Again, I am not sure, but they did and this difference is really what ensured that it got picked up prominently by media as the enclosed coverage demonstrates.
And given the importance of social media today to the young consumer who is so critical to Flipkart and the host of other ecommerce brands which dependent so much on today’s young, online customer, it was a good move.
So what makes news?
I shared a couple of examples from one of India’s most visible companies today of what makes news. It does seem simple, but it actually isn’t. And why do I say that? I say that because every newspaper has only 16 pages and there are thousands of companies vying for editorial attention. Merely wanting attention is only one part of the story. The important part is to have a strategy in place that is unique and differentiated.

Please remember too that newspapers will carry anything that is interesting to their readers. TV channels want exciting visuals and this is where celebrities come in. But then not all of us can afford celebrities, which means that you have to think smart. Remember, it is easy to do a full page ad that you are paying for. It is a lot more challenging to make dominant news without paying for it. That’s precisely what Flipkart did on a couple of occasions. 

Of course, companies like Infosys have been doing this for years. Your company too could do it. But remember the first, important step is to think different. So, are you ready to make headlines?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The celebrity saga continues

 The indiscriminate use of celebrities, poor scripts give the category a poor name
Last time around, we spoke about how actors, in particular, have the great ability to bring a script to life. Yet, one of the major reasons for the appeal of the actor is also the tremendous following he or she has. Sadly, the diversity in this country poses a challenge too. An actor like Aamir Khan, who has a tremendous following in other parts of India, is barely recognised in the South. Yes, people know him and have probably even seen the dubbed version of Satyamev Jayate but do not follow him as passionately or actively as in other parts of India. So even in the hey days of Aamir Khan and Coke, the brand was looking at an actor like Vijay for Tamil Nadu and here is a commercial that is essentially like a Tamil movie script.
Move away from the tried and tested
The problem with something like this is the cost, as you may end up doing multiple versions if you are a national brand. Cricketers, thankfully, are universally recognised and you could score higher with a cricketer on this parameter, if you will forgive the pun. You could also use the cricketers smartly as Timex did with Brett Lee. In the height of IPLs success, Brett Lee was an icon in India and yet charged a fraction of what an Indian cricketer with less ability might charge. An interesting strategy could be to use sportsmen from other sports. Here too, cost would be a significant reason and the reality too is that sadly India is still a one sport country and people seem to be obsessed with cricket only. Whilst backing other sports and sportsmen is an interesting strategy, it is also bound to have less appeal than cricket. But for a focussed targeted effort it is worth it.
It’s about the script, silly!
While we do see a lot of celebrity advertising, most of it is pretty mundane and predictable. The scripts are what we call as “lazy” scripts, which ride on the belief that the mere presence of the celebrity will ensure success. But scripts like this are only promoting awareness and don’t make a difference, particularly if the celebrity is endorsing twenty different products. How does one remember the diverse brands that MS Dhoni promotes? I wonder if he does himself!
In fact this is one of the biggest problems with celebrity advertising as one cannot control the number of brands that the celebrity will endorse. While they do not promote conflicting brands they certainly endorse diverse brands creating confusion in the minds of consumers. The way out of this is to have a script that cuts through the clutter so that consumers remember the ad, the brand and the celebrity too. Because he is just an actor or an entertainer in the commercial. Here is an interesting ad featuring celebrities as human beings, but you get the picture because of who they are. André Agassi, Steffi Graf and the kid all have a role to play as does GE.
What about a continuing character?
A more difficult and perhaps even more expensive route is to actually create a continuing character that best represents your brand. The Air India Maharaja comes to mind. Forget the often complained about service but you certainly can’t complain about the ads. There have been others like Lalithaji who ruled the roost for a few years as the hardnosed, discerning Indian consumer who was willing to pay a premium for better quality as the commercial depicts. And how can we forget the Hutch and later Vodafone pug dog?
Utterly, butterly, Amul!
However, no discussion on continuing characters would be complete without the Amul moppet, created years ago with a campaign that is always topical, always engaging and one that is so long lasting that it has entered the Guinness book of records. Here are a few ads that made people chuckle and think of the brand too. The style of advertising and the hoarding sites chosen were so unique that people waited for the ads to appear and they did with great regularity.
To sum up
Merely writing about celebrities and cautioning people sadly may not make people rethink about the genre. Nor am I saying it should be abandoned. It has great value when used sensibly. It is the indiscriminate use of it, with poor scripts that is giving the whole category a poor name. When it is your turn to think of this, do so calmly, without emotion, like any other strategy and don’t let your admiration for a cricketer or a film star sway your decision making.
And even if you do use one, ensure that your script rocks!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

To celebrity or not to celebrity

No other country uses celebrities to the extent we use them in India; here’s why
As soon as you finish business school and get into a marketing job the ‘celebrity’ question will pop up during a boardroom meeting and it is quite likely that your CEO might ask “why don't we use a celebrity too?” Or he might ask in a meeting that you are part of “is our celebrity delivering? We are spending so much on her!” Questions like these are fairly common in India and why is that? No other country uses celebrities to the extent we use them in India.

This observation is research-based and not a mere impression. So many major brands have celebrities on board and every marketing manager and his brother-in-law seem to have signed on one, often for the cost of an arm and a leg. Is a celebrity really worth it? Or is it just a lottery? What works and what doesn’t? Let’s discuss this important topic over the next couple of weeks.
Costs vs Benefits?
Any management decision is essentially an evaluation of costs vs benefits. How much are we spending and what are we getting for this investment? Having decided on a celebrity another question that's fairly important remains. Do we have the money to spend on media after paying so much to the celebrity? (I have seen this happen with that a brand that signed on Shah Rukh Khan). How will the brand benefit? Will the campaign only increase the awareness or will it result in sales?

Sachin Tendulkar is my all time favourite but will I buy a car just because he endorses it? Or will I merely stop with seeing the ad and liking it?
Long-term strategy or quick fix?
The smartest brands that have benefited from celebrity advertising have used this as part of their long-term strategy. The name that readily comes to mind is Pepsi. Pepsi having deep pockets has been able to use two broad categories of celebrities - one from entertainment and the other from cricket, as Indians are generally crazy about both films and the game. So in a lighter vein; I guess they must be running commercials with actors when the cricket team loses by 214 runs in a one day international against South Africa and when the team does well (which is rare) they probably will run commercials featuring cricketers!

Here is one of their recent commercials which actually feature both a famous actor Ranbir Kapoor and the Indian captain Virat Kohli. I am sure you would have seen this commercial but here goes. As an aside why I really like this commercial is because it is true to the tone of voice of all Pepsi commercials and it actually pokes fun at the celebrities who are Pepsi’s brand ambassadors. Few brands would have the courage to make fun of themselves.

Here is another interesting Pepsi commercial from the past and guess who the celebrity is? Yes it is Aamir Khan, who before his Coke stint was actually the brand ambassador for Pepsi.
This leads me to the other challenge with celebrity endorsements and it is a real one. You don’t really have control over the celebrity’s life or commitments. He (or is it his manager) is his own master. So the important question that you need to think about is this. Is our strategy in place and do celebrities have a role to play in our brand’s life cycle or is it a mere passing fancy?

Are you using your celebrity’s full potential?
Let’s take these two broad categories we spoke about - cricketers and actors. Now what can cricketers do? They can play cricket and often brilliantly but they may not be able to emote even to save their lives. Here is a very successful commercial of yester year featuring Sachin Tendulkar for the brand TVS Victor. The marketers claimed that the use of Sachin made a big difference to the brand.

Sachin has to merely pose as a cricketer, because that’s his core competence and people expect him to play cricket and not act. So this poses all sorts of restrictions on the script. Now if you want to an actor like Amitabh Bachchan he has tremendous histrionic ability. He can bring scripts to life. Here are a few commercials done several years ago for Parker Pens which showcase his tremendous acting ability.
Yes, actors can make a big difference to the overall interest value of your TV commercial as long as your script is challenging. But there is another problem with actors and we will discuss that next week. So hang in there if you want to know more about celebrities...