Monday, November 28, 2016

Brand managers, beware!

The over-worked managers better be on their guard, lest someone take them for a ride

One of the marketing dictums that is probably as old as the hills is “caveat emptor”. Which translates to “let the buyer beware”. But what does it really mean?
It simply means, given the used car salesmen who seem to be all around us anxious to sell us just about anything, it is important for consumers to exercise proper caution and ensure that they are not taken for a ride. In short, it is taking the trouble of reading the fine print and protecting ourselves.
Now, let’s move on from the consumer side of the world to the enterprise side and focus on an important person in the world of marketing — the brand manager. 

Investing in relationships

Today, this very important person leads a harassed life. Why do I say that? Let me take you back in time to the 1980s, when I joined advertising and a “full service agency”.
The advertising agency was truly a partner and a marketing arm of the company. In those days, sacrilegious though it may sound today, the agency actually earned a full 15 per cent commission on everything it did for the client — including printing letterheads!
So an account executive like me spent time on the client, understood the brand, and stood as an ally to him/her because it made business and financial sense. We invested in the relationship, unlike today — the client was a friend, philosopher, guide and the source of all benefits. Today, however, things have changed for the worse. And it is the clients and brands who end up facing the consequences of the changing dynamics.
Agencies forced to unbundle
The full service agency I started my career with does not exist anymore. What happened? Well, the biggest breakaway came when the emerging stand-alone media agencies demonstrated that they could plan, buy and negotiate media better than the full service agencies.
Clearly, the client was excited, because he was spending crores of rupees and any saving was welcome. Media agencies too built competencies and skill sets to ensure that they continued to deliver — they invested in technology, brought in people who understood numbers and software, and provided enormous value to the client.
However, a major portion of the agency’s revenue was being chipped at from a variety of service providers — events companies, market research agencies, social media agencies, packaging companies, PR agencies and brand identity firms. All of them took shares of the marketing pie, even as the agency watched in horror.
Of course, there are implications for the agency, which largely works on retainer fees and earns much less today. Additionally, it is also unable to recruit the talent it needs. The declining revenue, importance and role of the advertising agency today will certainly make for another story but let’s stay with the harassed brand manager, who is largely on his own in this complex, challenging environment as the agency seems to have deserted him.
Where’s the time?
Today, everything seems to be plentiful except time. More so for brand managers, who suddenly find themselves dealing with multiple vendors, all of whom seem to have an agenda of their own. The advertising agency too finds itself marginalised and not really in control of the brand.
Yes, it handles the mainline advertising but there is social media and mainline media which are largely outside the agency’s purview. It does not feel so strongly about the brand, nor does it think it worthwhile to spend its entire life thinking, sleeping and dreaming the client’s brand.
The brand manager hence ploughs a lonely furrow and bears a heavy cross dealing with multiple vendors, who often work at cross-purposes. Let’s take a quick look at this chart, which indicates the multiplicity of vendors who are falling all over the client. Clearly, the brand manager is under pressure today.
So what should he do?

Today, the brand manager is under pressure but he is the one who can control the brand’s destiny. He knows what the brand is all about; he knows its essence and messaging. It is up to him to ensure that the brand’s integrity is preserved in every single thing that gets done by different agencies. And believe you me, it is by no means easy.
Let me give you a quick example of the challenges faced by him/her. The current top model Ranveer Singh is, as we speak, endorsing six diverse brands — MakeMyTrip, Vivo, Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, Colgate, Ching’s Secret and Set Wet Deo… all at the same time!
Obviously, some smart aleck salesman is selling the celebrity as though there is no tomorrow and with no thought about the target audience or the confusion it might create of endorsing diverse brands. Sadly, brand managers have fallen for this simple sales ploy! Clearly, it is a case of caveat emptor not being followed. 



Wake up, brand manager! I know you are hassled, busy and stretched. But be on your guard, lest someone take you for a ride. Or better still, hire a brand consultant!

Monday, November 21, 2016

What is Donald Trump teaching us?

Marketers need to realise that consumers don’t think the way you want them to

A couple of days ago, Donald Trump won the US presidential elections. The reactions ranged from disbelief to horror to fear to dismay. The educated class, the political analyst, the media and Hillary Clinton got it completely wrong — they had written him off.

Let me quickly tell you that I have no political leanings, knowledge or the slightest interest in politics. My obsession is with marketing and communication — period. Let’s look at Trump’s victory from this perspective. I am sure you will find enough food for thought here.
Love me or hate me
An expression I love quoting is “Love me or hate me but for God’s sake don’t ignore me!” Can anyone ignore an in-your-face Trump? Another quote by Bill Bernbach is relevant here: “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you”.

Donald stood for something, even if the educated intelligentsia didn’t bother to pay enough attention to what his beliefs were. They were busy tweeting jokes while he was busy appealing to people’s emotions. And we all know the outcome.
A single-minded thought

“Great advertising is produced by a single-minded thought that comes alive in a compelling way,” Tim Bell, an advertising great of my time, had said. And that’s gospel truth as far as I am concerned.

What did Trump say? “Let’s make America great again” — a line as simple as ache din or garibi hatao. This always brings to fore an important point — that when you are talking to millions, the simpler your message, the greater are the chances of success. What was Hillary’s single-minded thought? I didn’t get it. Did you?
Missing the wood for the trees

Perhaps the UK’s biggest failure in recent times was Brexit, which saw the English polarised, with many wanting to stay on their own. Similarly, with both Obama and Clinton, in America, one saw an inability to understand that the average Johnny doesn’t care for globalisation.

The American voter has probably never heard of “the world is flat”, much less care for it. . This person cares about his/her own job, and Trump’s talk about immigration hit home, as the insecure American blames immigrants for his current state of affairs. Playing on people’s fears seems to have worked. But who knows what might actually happen now that Trump is president?
Spend smartly

In the early stages of the campaign, the Hillary camp was almost gloating over its ability to outspend Donald Trump and consistently kept overspending. Does advertising work? Does it make a difference to voters? It probably does. How else can one reach millions of viewers? Of course my personal view, despite being a great admirer of the discipline (advertising), is that in elections, its value might be overstated, as Hillary Clinton would have discovered.
People in ivory towers
I think one of the greatest challenges in marketing is that people carry their baggage with them. They carry their own prejudices, biases and beliefs wherever they go. Let me give you my personal example.

I am convent educated, did my Masters in Economics at Loyola College and went to IIM Bangalore. So bloody what! I am not the consumer. It is about my consumer who is reading page 3, watching what, according to me, is a lousy serial. So I must focus on him/her and not on myself. And this is really what the Clinton supporters, analysts and most certainly the media, got wrong.

They focused on the outlandish statements made by Trump, laughed at them and thought the world too was laughing with them. The world might have thought that way, but the average voter is not on Twitter. Trump struck a chord in the average voter.

Let me give you an analogy from the world of advertising. Below is an old ad that most of educated India hated. They said “How dare they?” and protested loudly. This was for ‘Fair & Lovely’. But it hit the Indian girl in the gut because it was about her and offered her hope. She went out and bought it by the dozen. 

Hope for the future
Yes, hope is a great emotion in life and that is how India voted a couple of years ago and how America voted this week. Only time will tell whether the hopes will be realised or belied. But it is a big lesson for all pollsters and marketers who are too full of themselves and their pet theories to see that the greatest challenge is to understand the consumer.

he consumers are different and they will behave in the manner they wish to, not the way you want them to, simply because we think we are smarter.

Donald Trump has made many of us eat humble pie and full credit to him. Let’s hope too that our worst fears don’t come true!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Festivals are all about making people happy

May each one of us do something for someone around us
When I was a kid (oh dear, here I go again) there was a very famous Tamil film song written by a once-in-a-generation poet, that translates to “Take heart from the fact that there are crores of people who are worse off than you”. 

We lived in trying times of poverty, and unemployment, with very little to look forward to. Today, things are different; there is optimism and happiness in the air and this is never more evident than at the time of Diwali. More importantly, there seems to be a trend to actually recognise and help people who are not as well off as we are. It could be the waitress in the coffee shop we frequent, or the maid who helps make our house liveable, or the unrecognised dhobi whom we take for granted.
It is these people who are actually being featured in commercials being done by as diverse categories as retail, detergents, and online shopping portals. And it is these people being recognised and celebrated in this column. I particularly liked these commercials because instead of merely feeling good about oneself, the newer generation wishes to help the less fortunate around them, in whose lives they can make a difference. 

Tipping point
Nearbuy, the online coupon and deals platform, has made a touching video about Sophie, a smart, intelligent, hardworking waitress from Manipur. Three of the company’s employees tip her disproportionately and make her Diwali memorable. The first gives her a tip of ₹5,000; the second hands over an air ticket to Manipur so she can visit her family; and the third presents six months’ rent for her place. 

The deeds are thoughtful and, understandably, completely unexpected. A slightly longish film, it still makes you pause and think what you are doing to help those around you. 

Maid in Mumbai

Reliance Fresh is another brand that cashes in on the Diwali spirit with its Badi Diwali commercial. The ad film is about an affluent housewife and her maid getting the house ready for Diwali. The housewife speaks to her maid in a slightly stricter tone than usual, asking her to get the guest room ready and telling her to use fancy plates carefully.

After the doorbell rings, she asks her to answer the door, and who are the surprise guests for Diwali? The maid’s parents! A fine gesture by the lady of the house who has made her maid’s Diwali memorable by just being sensitive to her needs and doing something that makes a phenomenal difference to the house-help’s Diwali. 

Clean Diwali
The next two commercials featured in this piece star our friendly neighbourhood dhobis. In the first commercial by Amazon, the dhobi asks a lady to give old clothes for his son if they’re discarding the same while cleaning their home for Diwali. And he is dumbfounded when she offers him brand new clothes from Amazon with the statement, “We don’t wear old clothes for Diwali.” 

The last commercial featured in this piece is from one of my favourite brands, Surf Excel. When a young kid goes to collect clothes from the dhobi, he realises that the latter has no Diwali celebration, no home to celebrate in, no place for rangoli.

He and his quickly assembled friends (code red!) roll in their rangoli and create a pattern on their clothes to make the istri-wallah happy near his place of stay. The kid’s mother, instead of being angry, distributes sweets, tying in with the brand’s tag line, “Daag Acche Hain”. I particularly liked the commercial, as it was still in line with the brand’s promise. 

What’s the learning?

It can often get boring if we keep talking about our merchandise. There are smarter ways of staying connected with our customers as these brands just showed. Ideally, if we can tap into a trend, then the commercial has a greater chance of being liked and recalled. Yes, festivals are not only the season to wear new clothes, celebrate and devour sweets, but are also a time to share with those less fortunate than us.

However, let’s not forget too that we are not in the business of philanthropy but of selling products and services. If we can find a way of seamlessly selling our brand’s promise with emotions like Surf Excel did, then we are well and truly in business.
But there is a larger, underlying social message in all these commercials — which is that each and every one of us has the opportunity to light a lamp in someone’s life and delight them. Life need not only be about delighting customers. What about the ordinary people in our lives who are doing so much for us? And that, to me, is the greatest celebration of Diwali. 

Happy Diwali! May each one of us do something for someone around us.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Crisis? It can’t happen to us!

Unlike this signboard, crises don't warn people. They catch them unawares | 
Gustavo Frazao/ Shutterstock

We refuse to accept that it might happen to us or our companies. We think we’re above it all.
Who would not have read about the boardroom crisis in the Tata Group, even if no one could have predicted it?
Media has gone to town with the issue, as emails are exchanged, controversies are publicised and dirty linen is washed in public, much to the bemusement of the competition and to the absolute horror of people like me — people like me who have been long term admirers of the iconic brand, which epitomised ‘trust’ in the minds of most consumers. And what is the feature of this crisis?

Like other corporate catastrophes, it has caught most people by surprise and reached amazing heights of visibility in just a few hours. After all, media loves a good ol’ fashioned crisis, because nothing helps increase readership and television rating points more than a full blown disaster being played out in front of a large audience!

And yet, many of us refuse to accept that it might happen to us or our companies. “We are above all this,” we believe, till the crisis almost envelops us. Just think back to some of the corporate crises that rocked India and the world, over the last few months, and you will know what I’m talking about.

Two minutes…
Maggi, the two minute instant noodles that fed more hungry Indians than any other noodle brand and left other food names wondering how they’re doing it, lost almost its entire market share in a few months.
It was banned; it went out of the market, licked its wounds, did nostalgia-themed commercials, conformed to statutory requirements, ate the humble pie and came back to being the number one noodle brand.
But in the intervening period, social media kept demonstrating its power and the media kept talking about some deficiency or the other in some regions. The brand kept losing money, even as the consumer realised what an important part of his/her life Maggi was.
The climb back to the top was slow but it did happen due to the intrinsic strength of the brand. Crisis or no crisis, strong brands will eventually prevail.

Mr Reliable no more
Volkswagen, the brand that had occupied the slot for reliability in the consumer’s mind globally, spiralled deeply as the company owned up to fudging its test results to conform to global standards.
Let’s not forget that Volkswagen is a huge global brand with an enviable reputation: its advertising has been top of the pops for ages, with its “Think Small” campaign being rated as the best ad of the last century. And yet, what happened? A crisis, that left the company red-faced, its consumers irate, and stockholders poorer as profits plummeted and cars returned. There was even talk of the German economy floundering. Boy, was it a crisis! And even if the impact in India might have been minimal, consumers were smarting.

So what’s to be done?
Every few months, a crisis seems to rear its ugly head and catch people unawares. And the reaction invariably seems to be — “Why me?”
While one can sympathise with the victim, it must be said that self-pity rarely helps. What does help is preparedness. Remember the old scout motto “Be prepared”? Never has this been more important than in today’s crisis-ridden society, which consists of a rampant social media, self-styled experts, opinionated but ill-informed people who have a twitter handle, and journalists who burst with self-importance anxious to make a reputation for themselves.
How can one be prepared? While it is certainly difficult to anticipate a crisis of the Tata-kind, it is possible to anticipate a few; like a fire, or an accident, or a product failure, or non-conformity to building restrictions, or flouting environmental norms.
And what do smart companies do? They work out possible crisis scenarios with their PR companies and have a contingency plan. They have holding statements ready and designate people who can take charge; they appoint one spokesperson so that multiple points of views are not floating around.
They are quick to respond, and usually do so away from the scene of the crisis. They draw on the fund of equity they have with target audiences at large. Tylenol is a case in point of a company that had served millions of consumers with Johnson and Johnson’s baby products. After the crisis, the consumers forgave them for their aberration but the same consumers had no affinity for Union Carbide, which merely made batteries.
So if you can, build a reservoir of goodwill for a crisis that might strike you at any moment.

Bottom line
If a crisis can happen to the Tatas, it can happen to you and me as well. So let’s hope and pray, even as we scan the environment anxiously for dark clouds that may be hovering around us. Doing business in the world of the internet is tough but the rewards are phenomenal too. Hang in there, even if people consider you paranoid.
And remember: only the paranoid survive!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Celebs bowl out mascots

Brands prefer the more expensive celebrity route as a quick-fix solution  

There is an opinionated girl that adorns hoardings and newspapers and there is a veteran Bollywood actor whose brand bears the brunt every time he opens his mouth. The former is the Amul girl and the latter is Salman Khan.
The Amul girl brand mascot has captivated hoardings as well as newspapers with her clever wit and word play on various issues. But, it would be unfair to term Khan as the only one who has invariably harmed few of the brands he has chosen to endorse. For instance, Aamir Khan’s comments on ‘intolerance’ in India in the recent past led to a social media backlash for Snapdeal and the subsequent non-renewal of his contract.

There is an opinionated girl that adorns hoardings and newspapers and there is a veteran Bollywood actor whose brand bears the brunt every time he opens his mouth. The former is the Amul girl and the latter is Salman Khan.
The Amul girl brand mascot has captivated hoardings as well as newspapers with her clever wit and word play on various issues. But, it would be unfair to term Khan as the only one who has invariably harmed few of the brands he has chosen to endorse. For instance, Aamir Khan’s comments on ‘intolerance’ in India in the recent past led to a social media backlash for Snapdeal and the subsequent non-renewal of his contract.

With the advent of social media, celebrities are coming in the line of fire more often, for expressing their views on sensitive issues. It is the brands that end up bearing the brunt of public ire.
However, the Amul girl, with all her wit and cheeky commentary on social and political views, carries on unhinged. “I have been against celebrity endorsements as they do not add anything to a brand. Brands are over paying celebrities to endorse but what is the return on investment (ROI)? Especially when they (celebrities) also endorse several other brands,” says Rahul Dacunha, creative director, Dacunha Communications, that handles the Amul girl campaign.
That’s not all. The price of celebrity endorsements can get very high too like in the case of Salman Khan, Thums Up is estimated to have paid around Rs 18 crore. While Aamir Khan’s deal with Snapdeal was estimated to be a whopping Rs 30 crore, Ranbir Kapoor charges an estimated Rs 20-30 crore per endorsement.
The cost of brand mascots, on the other hand, is nearly negligent which is one of the big reasons why brands choose mascots. Some examples include Air India’s Maharaja, Vodafone’s Zoozoo, the Nirma girl, ICICI Prudential’s Chintamani, the Parle G girl, the Michelin Man, Kelloggs’ Cornelius Rooster, KFC’s Colonel Sanders, and McDonald’s Ronald McDonald.
“We believe very strongly in the concept of the CCC – the central continuing character, in this case, a mascot like the Amul girl,” says R S Sodhi, managing director, Amul.
However, all brands do not share the same vision and those using mascots are getting slimmer. Asian Paints’ brand mascot Gattu has disappeared and was replaced by a plain ‘AP’ logo. Even PepsiCo’s 7UP has abandoned Fido Dido for Bollywood actresses Mallika Sherawat and Anushka Sharma.
Despite benefits of brand mascots why are brands choosing celebrities? Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consultants, said, “Brand mascots are the old way of doing things when celebrity endorsements were not the norm. Celebrity endorsement is a way to get the most contemporary faces to represent your brand.” Brands that don’t want to spend much, he added, go for a mascot as celebrity endorsements are very expensive.
Sridhar Ramanujam, founder and CEO, Integrated Brand-Comm, said, “Marketing managers today don’t think long term. They tie-up with a ‘star’ and look for instant fame. There is instant awareness with celebrity endorsements,” he said.
Brands today change their identity very fast, which is why they don’t have mascots. But for old and long running brands, mascots make sense as it keeps the continuity of the association.
Dacunha agrees, saying, “Maybe many ad agencies think celebs are a quicker way to get brand recall than a big idea or a mascot. Big ideas or mascots take longer to build upon the consumers' mind.”