Allen Solly, Sony Bravia, ABVP, Brand Proposition, and Millennial Generation

What do the following mean?

# FLEXIBLE

‘Respect every colour’

Denotatively the word ‘flexible ‘means ‘capable of bending easily without breaking’. In order to interpret the second statement (‘respect every colour’) let’s explore meaning of its components on  the dimension know as syntagmatic axis. These are three words chained together to form the sentence.  Their dictionary meanings are as follows:

  • Respect- cherish, admiration, deference, honor, value and revere
  • Every- all individuals, each and every
  • Colour- hue, shade, tint, tone and tinge

Now if I ask you to tell me their meaning.  In all probability the answer would be there is nothing to give, it is very obvious.  The flexibility is a characteristic of a material. And the second statement gives a call to treat all shades of paints or colours as equal.  These are headlines of two brands, Allen Solly and Bravia (Sony).  Let us delve into their meanings at deeper level.

Image result for allen solly flexible ad

In case of Allen Solley, the brand apparently seeks to lure customers by the promise of ‘flexibility’ that stems from the use of materials which enhance wear comfort.  The built in flexibility of a chino would allow its wearer to perform different jobs with ease.  It is an important benefit.

But does it give sustainable differentiation? The fabrics and stitching can easily be copied.  Then how does the brand connect with its young millennial consumers? In order to be valuable, brands must make sense beyond surface attributes and forge connections at deeper level. One such method is to add value by relating the brand with consumer values.  Values are  life guiding beliefs that define a person in terms of what he or she stands for.

So what does ‘flexibility’ means from a person’s perspective? It denotes a particular kind of personality as someone who is not rigid, unyielding and adamant. Flexibility can also mean accommodating attitude and not having a worldview that hardliners have.  Flexibility in this sense conveys a lot about the millennial mindset who show tolerance to dissent and are open to rational persuasion. They are flexible and do not side with extreme binaries. They are pragmatic in their approach to things in life. This meaning operates at second level of signification.

In case of Bravia, the headline- ‘Respect every colour’ makes sense only when it is seen through larger socio-cultural space. The meaning is hidden in the world ‘colour’  The word colour in an indirect sense may signify race, religion, caste or other social categories and hidden power asymmetry. The most obvious categories that come to mind are white and black people.  The usage of the word ‘colour’ in a television’s context is very obvious. It conveys that the television does not discriminate between colours and produces high quality images on screen.  But this is not the actual message. The brand seeks to forge a meaningful relationship at the psychological level.

The brand stands for the ideals of equality and non-discrimination.  It conveys its position against prejudices and biases plague society.  The millennial mind set is not committed to binaries that have been perpetuated by orthodoxy that find expressions   gender roles, religious and social practices.

The newspapers on this Sunday carried the ads of Allen Solley and Bravia but what made me ponder over was another news item  (HT Sept 4, 2017) which went like: ‘ABVP routed in student body polls: chips down for RSS backed student body as they perform poorly in Hyderabad, Guwahati and Punjab universities’.

The writing is on the wall. The narrative of BJP and ABVP is not resonating with the youth. It is time to revisit the values that it wants to stand for before it is too late.

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Rahul Gandhi, Congress, Marketing Myopia and Politics of Spokespersons

The April 1960 issue of Harvard Business Review carried probably the most influential article in the area of marketing titled ‘Marketing Myopia’ by Ted Levitt. Its first sentence went as:

‘Every major industry was once a growth industry. But some that are now riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are very much in the shadow of decline…’. It goes on to say that ‘the failure is at the top’

Now what’s marketing myopia got to do with RG, Congress and spokespersons? In TV debates it’s quite surprising to see how Congress spokespersons refuse to either  listen or show openness to ‘introspect’ or attribute the party’s decline to top leadership. On the contrary they blame it on opposition or competitors and also find faults with voters for not being able to see sinister design of their main rival, BJP.  Upon being quizzed about developments in Bihar and switching over of Nitish to BJP, they try to find faults him.

Levitt says, ‘The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew’.Image result for congress

 

Has the need for democratically elected government declined? Do people not look at government for governance and progress?   In fact the need grew with the arrival of new informed youth at the political landscape.  Why did Congress which once stood as the only party in India with footprints everywhere come under shadow of decline? It assumed invisibility of its product and believed there can never be a substitute product to replace it. Levitt explains why the once booming dry cleaning industry was stifled. It did not go in trouble because of better way of cleaning (direct linear competition) but because of unexpected source of synthetic fibers and chemical additives (unexpected indirect competition) that reduced the need for dry-cleaning. Congress could never fathom that competition could arrive from unexpected quarters in the form of Mulayam, Banerjee, Lalu and others. For it believed in superiority of its product.Image result for congress spokesperson

 

Companies get caught in self deceiving cycle which is caused by assumptions that there are no substitutes, faith in mass production and preoccupation with product. There is no guarantee against product getting obsolete. If you don’t make it obsolete by your own effort the others definitely will. Congress’s faith in its formula was so strong that it failed to see the movement in market and emergence of new alternatives.

The cracks in the voter base of Congress were signals of latent misfit between voter expectation and what it promised. Yet it believed in the power of selling. Selling focuses on the needs of the seller whereas marketing focuses on needs of buyer. Its strategy has been persuasive which sought a change on the voters’ end instead of changing its own political product (old narrative). It attempted to fit a square peg in a round hole. The key is what a company offers  is not determined by its managers but rather by the takers. Congress has been so obsessive about its narrative, its win-ability that its perception couldn’t go beyond it. The emerging voters are not extensions of people who were enamored with the role Congress and its leaders played in freedom struggle.  The new generation is rational, clinical in approach, seeks gratification, wants good life and wants it immediately and they are believers of achievement not inheritance.

Congress must note that any industry including politics is a customer satisfying process and not merely  a  goods producing one. Therefore, political agenda begins with voter expectations not with what you have. This is the starting point and process should be worked out backwards. So don’t push RG and the old narrative. Shrinking voter base and loss of states is testimony to that.

Image result for marketing myopia theodore levitt

Spokes persons of Congress please don’t look into mirror to create your appearance. It’s better to look out of window and find out what others want you to look like. In defending current leadership and agenda you damage your party more than strengthen it. The writing on the wall is clear: voters don’t want Congress in its current form so get to drawing board and do some visioning sessions.

Regal Cinema, Nostalgia, Brands and Power of Emotions

This morning while traveling to office I happened to listen to a conversation with long time manager of Delhi’s iconic Regal cinema and  RJ of a popular FM channel. In that conversation while answering the questions posed, the manager’s throat almost choked, voice turned heavy and he ultimately broke down. He nostalgically recalled how the cinema used to be decorated when important events happened, especially when Raj Kapoor released his films. In that brief conversation, he sang song of Raj Kapoor’s iconic movie-Mera Naam Joker- ‘jeena yehan, merna yehan…

Image result for regal cinema delhi

Suddenly my mood also became somber. And images loaded with emotional experiences of the past began to rush past my mind. It triggered a backward time travel down the memory lane. Although I have not visited the theater for many decades, yet the feeling of loss, a personal loss was real.

Why would I be sad if this brand had nothing to do with my present life? It didn’t solve any of my needs. It was completely out of my existential frame. Regal’s presence in CP didn’t seem important to me, it continued to live invisibly without drawing my attention. But how precious its being present there was has struck in my reckoning. I seems, that pulling down of Regal is not entirely is downing of a physical structure, rather it tantamount to stripping me of my memories. If man is nothing but a memory making machine then in one stroke how many of its customers would be robbed off their lives’ precious treasure.

Brands are owned by companies but they are possessed by customers. Their titles and economic value rest with their owners but they live in consumers’ minds. They inhabit in consumer’s mind as knowledge constellations. Regal, the owner say lost out to its competition, “You can’t run business on sentiment all the time.” Brands are not developed emotionally, but they actually run on emotions. They thrive on the power of emotions, moods and sentiments. These provide means for brands to lower anchors in consumer’s psychological waters and forge deeper connections that transcend brand’s appeal from the narrow confines of utility and reason.

Competition kills product relevance by rendering them similar. Its difficult for brands to hold on to their turf’s by sustaining a performance edge. Products get commoditized. It is here brand needs to become an important part of consumer’s life story. When a brand embeds itself in consumer’s life it gains indispensability. Jim White calls it narrative identity.The life story which we say to ourselves to give a sense and purpose to our lives. Marketers extend their brand’s appeal by using emotions. Brands are positioned to engender specific well defined emotion. Consider emotion of love in J&J, sexuality in Durex, humor in Maggi sauce and fear of rejection H&S. Even brands in so called purely functional category like tyre, computer or cement use this route to strike an emotional bond with consumers.

Brands are not consumed in isolation. They get embedded in moments, rituals and events which are soaked in feelings and emotions. The string of these moments and related emotions ends up creating a narrative which is very personal. Brands gain strenght when they become part of this life story. Therefore a brand is much more than what is communicated. So when you start to think Dettol visually a picture emerges – mother tenderly loving and tending the nick or cut or think of a Bournvita. These pictures are brand’s capital because these provide bedrock for loyalty building. When Coke announced the launch of New Coke, the American population hit the streets in agitation. Coke inteded to offer a better tasting drink, yet the move was violently rejected for Coke drink was not withdrawn but memories were. Image result for mera naam joker

 

Brands often use nostalgia appeal to tap into positive emotional stored in old memories. Re-living the past is emotionally gratifying, especially if the current times are filled with uncertainty and insecurity. They use symbols of old times- names, tunes, songs, artifacts, slogan- to exploit brand capital stored in life stories of consumers. Brands like Beetle and Jeep are living examples of nostalgia brands.

Probably similar sentiments and feelings were aroused when Regal announced its last screening today on March 30, 2017. It is will act to erase memories if not completely but certainly push them towards point of no return.

SP-Congress Alliance and Lessons in Branding

Indians do an elaborate consulatations with pandits and astrologers before selecting marriage partners. Similarly companies do elaborate exercise before mergers and acquistions. This is also true in branding. The decision to merge two brands may be taken by top managers but it has everything to do with non-managers, i.e. consumers. What may ring excellent in rational calcuations may not make much sense from consumers’ perspective.

Strong brands derive their strenght from dedicated often fanatic like consumer following. Brand is another synonym of bond. And this bonding is based on multiple layers of mutually satisfying intersections. Further, what sits at the heart of strong brands is uniquness or distinction based on functional or psychological value delivery. Consider: Volvo for long stood for safety,BMW defines itself as ultimate driving machine and pleasure, Mercedes is stately and engineering excellence, Coke is ‘real’ and Pepsi is for new generation. It is brand’s distinction which connects it with a specific consumer group.

Now consider the rationality of brand merger: two strong brands if merged would bring two consumer franchises together under one mega identity. So if Coke and Pepsi come together in one idenity it would create one huge cola brand and Nescafe and Bru would create a big coffee entity. So CokePepsi would seamlessly merge two consumer segments and transfer their allegiance to combo brand. The reason from one side is often non-reason from the other side.

Consumers develop allegiance, affinity and loyalty based on the principle of singularity. That is, a brand appropriates singularly one proposition relevant and meaningful to a segment. The consumers of  Closeup want ‘freshness’ and Pespodent’s consumers want ‘germi-check’.  And there is little un-substantial number of consumers who want both. The segmentation and market slicing is essence of strategy that aims to ‘carve out’ a niche out of an existing market. The consumer heterogeniety manifests in segments and ultimately creation of multiple brands.

What effects would a combo brand would have on their previously committed consumers? They are likley to disenchanted, disgusted and raged depending upon their level of involvement. The core consumers are likley to feel abandoned, betrayed and violated.  The combo brand assumes that consumer differences are superficial and open to merger. Which is far from truth especially in high involvement emotional situations? However, for the indifference fence sitters nothing matters.

Now consider what happened to SP, a strong brand whose franchise was cultivated on certain principles that made sence to a select group. The votes polled in favor of SP came down from 2.20 crores in 2012 to 1.89 crores in 2017. Now consider Congress, it votes came down from 28 lakhs to 7 lakhs in 2017.

So one plus one is not always a good strategy in marketing and branding. Never try to make a brand which creates it value proposition by borrowing elements of available strong brands.

BJP, Modi, Criticism and Refutational Communication

  • ‘India’s democracy was under assault”
  • ‘Govt talking big on economy, but nothing happening on ground
  • ‘Intolerant India’
  • “When it came to making speeches, Modi government got into the T-20 mode, when it was about announcing policies, it became a one-day match, and when it came to implementing promises, the government behaved as if a Test match has been abandoned,”
  • “Chhe Mahine Paar, U Turn Sarkar”

These  are some of the slogans that have surfaced at different points in time criticizing Modi government. Politics is a competitive game. It is same as when two or three dominant brands attack each other to gain supremacy. Consider, how Amaze directly or indirectly hits out at Desire and the battle between Coke and Pepsi gets direct and dirty. Marketing is also an attitude building, sustaining and changing game. Leadership implies that a brand enjoys positive consumer attitude and behavior. In the last general elections, BJP was voted into power which also implied that it enjoyed an attitudinal and behavior advantage over its rival Congress. The challenge for the leader brand is to defend and sustain its market by maintaining attitude. The challenger brand, on the other hand, can thrive by shifting and changing consumer attitude in its favor.  So consider the following:

·         “We are Number 2 but we try harder” (Avis Rent a car)

  • Volkswagen’s ‘Lemon’, ‘Think Small ‘ and ‘Lemon’ campaigns

This campaign by Avis allowed the company to gain significant market gains by the power of what in communication is called ‘refutational’ appeal or advertising. The communicator first raises a negative matter and then demolishes it. Volkswagen, after the Second World War launched Beetle car in the US with campaigns including the one in which it boldly claimed its car to be ‘Lemon’  followed by text refuting the claim that the car in the ad is plucked from the assembly line (lemon) by the engineers due to scratch on the glove compartment so that ‘you get plums’.  In a similar vein, Listerine which creates burning sensation in the mouth first admitted its burning sensation (negative belief, possible attack opportunity for the rival) followed by a refutation that this sensation is sign of its effectiveness. This strategy is also used by expensive brands. They first admit that their brand is expensive (therefore target of attack by lesser price brands) and then refute this claim by focusing on their long lasting quality. Why do firms adopt this strategy?

The idea behind refutational communication is to ‘inoculate’ the consumer/audience against competitor’s counter claims and destroy them. So what implications follow for the BJP government? The need is to study these attacks that the opposition is making or is likely to make in future and then use them to inoculate the audience and then refute them by showcasing what has already been done. It is better to erect perceptual defences before the enemy mounts attack.

Brand Endorsement, Influence, Amrapali, Dhoni and Misrepresentation

The Amrapali Sapphire and Indian cricket team captain MS Dhoni’s role as its brand ambassador has brought to the fore the issue of brand endorser and consumer attitude manipulation. In India use of celebrities is very common.  All kinds of celebrities are used by brands. If there  Alok Nath  who endorses Link locks on the one hand there is SRK who promotes Fair and Handsome.  For instance, Aamir Khan stood for brands including Titan, Coke, Snapdeal and Tata Sky, Amitabh’s kitty included brands such as Cadbury, Pepsi, Parker, Reid and Taylor, Dabur Honey and Navratana Oil; Katrina Kaif’s portfolio includes Slice, Veet, Pentene, Panasonic and L’Oreal.  One of the current high profile campaigns is that of Tata Motors in which football icon Lionel Messy is employed as global brand ambassador.

Technically, celebrities are only one of the various types of people who could be present in ads like created characters which may be humanized like Amul girl/ ZooZoos Vodafone or real people representative of a particular group like Surf’s Lalitaji and Nirma’s Jaya and Shushma (commoner)   or outdoorsy in Woodland or fashion inclined in Mango or shape conscious in K Special or expert in Lux shampoo ad or doctor in Colgate.

On theoretical note celebrities and brand ambassadors are different in terms of their expected role and contribution to the brand. The celebrity contributes to a brand by simply appearing in its ads (physical presence). For instance, Thums up used different celebrities including Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan and same was done by Pepsi which included SRK, Saif, Amitabh, Ranbir , Virat Kohli and Dhoni. The brand ambassador on the other hand plays a much serious role by becoming animated face of the brand in all its communication. Brand ambassador tangibilizes the invisible values and culture. He or she is expected to make deeper transformation in the way brand is perceived and felt by the audience. The value congruence between what an endorser epitomizes and company / brand values are essential.  For instance, Tag Heuer’s core value ‘don’t crack under pressure’ went well with SRK. The current intent of Tata Motors to portray itself as makers of great cars is done by Lionel Messy.

The question arises why companies pay hefty fees to get these celebrities or presenters to be present in their brand communications. Their value stems from the contribution that they make. Imagine the consumer effects that an ad would have with or without a presenter. To put simply, a known presenter can contribute to a brand’s success by lending awareness at the base level (imagine awareness of Navratna oil shot through the roof due to presence of Amitabh Bachchan in its ads).  Much deeper impact is made when the attitude toward the endorser is transferred to the advertised brand. The presenters in ads can predispose or prompt audience to view, think and feel a brand in a particular way. They may create a bias by influencing the consumer attitude, especially by creating a subtle jump over critical thinking to feelings. Presence of a liked source in ads may have retarding effect on thinking. So ads that make use of liked and loved characters activate emotional side of brain and thereby hasten judgments.

Attention effect:  the customers these days are bombarded with messages causing them to experience information overload. One common strategy for them is to screen out a large number of incoming messages. In this regard, celebrities provide an easy route to brands to capture customer attention. It is based on the understanding that consumers pay attention to what they like or interested in.

Awareness effect: typically celebrities enjoy high recognition and recall because of their popularity in their domain of work.  An ad typically ties together to independent stimuli (brand and celebrity like Pavlov’s bone and bell) and with repetition ceases their independence. As a result the awareness is transferred to the brand. It is an easy way to make an initial cut into an otherwise resistant mind.

Amplification effect: consider an ad which simply announces ‘Amrapali Sapphire 2/3/4 BHK flats Sector -45 Noida’ and its effect on consumer and when the same information is provided along with the presence of MS Doni. The two stimuli would not separately get processed in different hemispheres independently in isolation. Rather both will amalgamate into message which may have multiplicative or exponential effect. Now the address is not simply is an address rather it is multiplied with everything MS Dhoni stands for.  The cricket captain brings his traits like achievement, sincerity, dedication, leadership, endurance, success and commitment gets them to multiply with simple matter of fact ‘address’. This may have predisposing effect on attitude of even high involvement customers (due to risk associated).  In similar way when an ad proclaims ‘pure honey’ in the presence of Amitabh Bachchan, a huge difference is accomplished between what is said and what is actually received by customers. Here combining one with one creates eleven not two.

The message amplification also is achieved when a brand uses real or lookalike experts. For instance Castrol ads use a mechanic lookalike to promote lube superiority. Colgate for long used man in doctor’s uniform to amplify the brand’s superiority.

Differentiation effect: commodities suffer from lack of differentiation due product similarity. For instance, salt and battery cells may be identical in their construction. In such cases, the presenter or celebrity used in brand’s communication may become the only differentiating attribute. For instance, in honey market, both Dabur and Patanjali claim their honey to be pure and natural. In such a situation, the differentiating attribute between two brands is Amitabh and Baba Ramdev.

Why do endorsers command high prices? What sits at the core of their price is their ability to influence awareness, attitude and behavior. Their power relies on a complex and subtle process by which inference is drawn by consumers themselves. Advertisers ensure that facts are not misrepresented by knowing or unknowingly. It is this behavior of drawing conclusions (we didn’t say that you concluded yourself) insulates brands from being legally charged. Consider, all the surrogate ads like Carlsberg (glasses) or Bacardi (music) technically do not promote liquor but liquor gets promoted, glamorized and desired. In this context, the communication industry cannot be regulated by law entirely. The only option is conscience. But conscience often gets defeated by wealth.

Brand architecture, Endorsement, Shadow and Sanjay Dutt, Kumar Gaurav and SRK

Lets run a brief check: how do you view Sanjay Dutt, Kumar Gaurav and SRK from brand architecture perspective?

Well, it is not difficult for anybody to know that Sanjay is son of great actor Sunil Dutt. It takes a little digging to find out that Kumar Gaurav is son of legendary actor Rajendra Kumar. But SRK does not enjoy benefit of belonging to an established Bollywood family. How branding strategy affect consumer/audience response? Success at the market end requires credibility, knowledge, consistency, heritage and above all trust. And if someone can stand behind and backup, the job is greatly facilitated. In Sanjay’s case, Dutt name endorses him directly. SRK did not have any endorser/supporter/advocate in  Bollywood. However, in case of Kumar Gaurav, the support become indirect/shadow (his name was new yet people eventually discovered his lineage which came in handy to drive audience behavior.

Consider the following cases and discover the branding strategy:

  • Anchor by Panasonic or Reveal by Calvin Klein or Courtyard by Marriott
  • Kinley / Cheverolet/K-Special/ Maggi/ Cinthol/ Sunfeast
  • Pulsar watch
  • Tudor

In all of the above cases there are two brands (endorser/supporter and endorsed/supported) but as we move down the endorser brand becomes increasingly invisible. The decision about the degree of visibility or connection that an endorsed brand would have is a critical decision. It involves a trade- off between differentiation/independence on the one hand and dependence/linkage on the other. The issue that must be sorted out is how well the new brand is equipped to stand on its own without the support of the master/established brand. And how different or unrelated is the category of the new brand.

  1. In the first case category (Anchor, Reveal, Courtyard) the organization or established by directly endorses the new brand. When a consumer is confronted with these brands alone the response is likely to be uncertainty and doubt. But the moment ‘by’ is coupled with an established name is added the attitude is transformed in a big way. The established brand facilitates the new brand in driving consumer behavior. Simultaneously it also avoids confusion for the consumers of main brand by telling them that if you are Marriott customers the new brand is not Marriott (in terms of service/price/luxury level) but something other than Marriott. The usage of new (rather than one name) is necessitated by the need to convey difference in product or market domain of the new offering (but proximate).

2. In the second group of cases (Kinley, K-Special, Chevrolet), the connection between the new brand and corporate/established brand is made less prominent. This is done when a marketer wants the new brand to convey its own identity for a customer (segmentation) and competitive reasons (positioning). This is often the case when a firm begins to operate in multiple product categories and segments. We have discovered on our own that Kinley is Coca Cola’s product, K-Special is Kellogg’s and Chevrolet is GM’s line & Sunfeast is ITC) by looking at their communication or product packages. By making its link or connection less obvious, the endorsement is make but in a token manner.

3. In the last two cases, Pulsar and Tudor the connection with the endorser brand is made even more indirect and less evident. Can you name the companies linked with these watches? Probably not, it is because company intentionally does not want you to know. But the customers who own these watches do they know of the brand behind these brands? Answer would be yes. Pulsar is a brand of Seiko (a web search of website would reveal that) and Tudor is a brand of Rolex. But in this case Tudor website does not create any link with Rolex but in a strange fashion the pop up Rolex appears on alongside the listed websites.

The connection here is even more indirect and in shadows. Lexus brand was created by using this strategy (Toyota endorsed Lexus in an invisible ghostly manner). When do you resort to this strategy? Here the brand is made is assigned its own individuality/identity and linking it with the established name is likely to be counterproductive. Imagine the prestige damage Rolex would suffer its brand participates in lower price point or similarly the rub off Toyota brand would have on Lexus’s luxury customers. Discovery of endorser in these cases creates eureka feelings. The idea is not to let the endorsed brand to contaminate the established brand.

So SRK in the absence of endorser had to prove his mettle but in other cases the mettle was assumed. People laid their faith on Abhishek again and again for the endorsement advantage he enjoyed for a long time.