‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give it a damn’ and brand is damned!

Last Saturday in an evening party with couple of close friends I discovered marketing is something you can’t escape. A couple of drinks down, two of my friends’ wives shared a common grouse that their husbands don’t have anything to share when they come back. They lock themselves into a kind of cocoon. And then they shared how these guys were different when they had got married. I was reminded of an old Hindi song ‘Unko Yeh Shikayat Hai Ke Hum, Kuch Nahin Kehte (उनको ये शिकायत हैं के हम कुछ नही कहते) Apni To Ye Aadat Hai Ke Hum, Kuch Nahin Kehte” sung by Lata Mangeshkar. But unlike the song here women are troubled by their husbands’ indifference. It could be the other way round also.

Brands also pass through this kind of ups downs in their lives. The initial pre-launch period is a kind of ‘love is in the air’ full of anticipation and positivisms. This is very palpable when a company like Apple announces a launch. Although not on the same scale people do share excitement about any new launch. Consider the recent cases of Etios by Toyota and Reebok True Tone. At somewhat lesser level this romantic anticipation is also felt in not so important product categories like a new detergent powder or a shampoo. This romantic anticipation is followed by consummation. It is said that the ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’. The initial ‘aha’ begins to undergo a subtle change. The transformation of love into matrimony unleashes a new set of challenges for the brand managers. Matrimony in a social system imposes some kind of barriers to exit from a relationship but this kind of security is not available to a brand. In the marketing context consumers are free to divorce their existing brand partners. It is not only the freedom to quit easily that makes the job of the brand managers difficult but also the ease with the options to flirt can be accessed. Consider how fiercely Samsung Galaxy is trying to woo Apple fans to flirt and enjoy a better experience (‘the greatest smart phone ever’).

Every relationship as someone very philosophically observed is ‘end begun’. To this effect economists’ have their own version of law of diminishing marginal utility. Idiomatic expression ‘familiarly breeds contempt’ has for long warned people of how too much of familiarity with something or somebody sows seeds of dislike. Here brands have a dilemma. A more technical explanation is given by ‘GIAL’ theory which proposes that over familiarity leads to diminished stimulation level throwing the prospect into the zone of boredom. A brand cannot afford to be just an object of desire. The hankering of consumer must be actualized by making him buy and use the brand. This is where sales revenue comes from. In this context a brand is usually positioned at the center of a force field where two opposite forces of familiarity and unfamiliarity create opposite pull. The route to revenue generation passes though familiarity (consumption) but getting stuck on this end leads to cessation of stimulation. But pulling the brand to unfamiliarity can create ‘creeping disconnect’. What sets the long sustaining brands apart from others is precisely this art and science of intelligent negotiation between these mutually conflicting forces.

What did Rhett Butler say to Scarlett O Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’? The following dialogues between the two capture the essence of consumer reality in modern day marketing:
Scarlett: Rhett… if you go, where shall I go, what shall I do?
Rhett Butler: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. [Rhett walks off into the fog]
The competition is contributing to increasing customer indifference (‘don’t give a damn’) because of increasing commonness amongst brands. The absence of hooks between the brands is pushing them on to the depths of involvement. The abundance and similarity are two brand killers. Consumers on the other hand psychologically may be turning inward to escape from the high assault environment and thereby becoming less open to new information. This state of low perceived attachment to brand de-generates the market into a commodity game.

Brands thrive when consumers give them a ‘damn’. The essence of competition is commoditization. The challenge of branding is to reverse this process by devising ways to break away from boundaries imposed by commonness. Get the customer to be serious with the brand by challenging his or her notions of stereo typicality. Consider how Dove opened consumers’ eyes to ‘PH’ tests during the time their bar launch. Onida created a big hype by posing a potential air conditioner buyer a question whether he looked at the weight of machine before buying. Colgate posed a direction question ‘does your toothpaste have salt?’ to wake the consumer up out of slumber. Tanishq challenged consumer indifference by introducing karat meters in their showrooms inviting custoemrs to check out the exact caratage of the jewelry bought from family jewelers.

Even James Bond has not remained insulated from growing ‘indifference’. How particular Bond had been to his drink when he always wanted his drink a cocktail of Vodka Martini to be ‘shaken not stirred’. Starting with Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan in ‘World is Not Enough’. But in the latest flick ‘Casino Royale’ upon being asked by the bar tender whether he would like the drink to be shaken or stirred, Bond replies in an unexpected, ‘Do I look like I give a damn?’

The high pressure environment is making consumer a ‘shut’ system. Open him or her up!


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