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.

Tactical solution, Strategic problem, Theory of reasoned action and Pollution in Delhi

Consider some of the headlines:

The pollution level in Delhi has risen to level that in a way robs citizens of their right to safe and healthy living. If terror and incursions across the line of control put life of Indian citizens at risk, the pollution within our cities is no different. Both lead to same outcomes. Both are enemies, except that domestic enemy invites divergent opinions and milder response. Lack of consensus is one big reason why things don’t get implemented. But consensus based decisions are not always timely and correct. Difficult situations require tough and decisive actions. If there is identifiable enemy outside, equally offensive foe thrives within.

First of all there is no dearth of opinions on what causes pollution in Delhi and how much. The list includes causes like vehicular emission, construction activity, coal and wood burning, poor quality of fuel, city waste burning, industrial emissions and dust on streets due to open surfaces. The cause that dominated news now includes stubble burning in neighboring states.

What is of concern in this air pollution? It includes gases and substances that pollution is made up of.  These includes lead, particulate matter, and gases likeNitrogen oxides (NOx). Carbon monoxide (CO). Sulfur dioxide (SO2). Pollution is bad because of its consequences. It is a health hazard and is related to respiratory problems, lung damage, asthma and cancer. The elderly, children and ill are particularly vulnerable.

Broadly two the contributing factors can be classified into two categories: the micro or the ones within in individual’s control and macro which related to governmental interventions. The macro contributors like emissions from power plants, diesel policy, politician-contractor nexus (footpath tiles changes), enforcement pollution policy on industrial units and road encroachments.Image result for pollution index delhi

From marketing perspective, the government can launch systematic campaign based on insights to discourage (de-market) pollution causing behaviors. It is not the same thing as haphazard ad campaigns usually run by governmental agencies (like the one which is currently going which urges people to teach needy children in the neighborhood).

One of the approaches that can suggest route to curb pollution is theory of reasoned action. This theory proposes that Intention (intention to control pollution) is necessary for Behavior (actual pollution controlling actions) to occur and both are likely be related. The intention to indulge in a behavior is caused by Attitude to that behavior (liking or disliking towards polluting behavior) and Subjective norm (how people important to one view when one indulges in pollution control activities).

So it is necessary for government to cultivate Intention before people actually adopt pollution reducing behaviors. What are the strategies?

  •  Create strong negative evaluation/attitude towards polluting behavior. Now the issue is do people know about polluting behaviors and its effects. The answer is probably yes. But they don’t strongly feel negative about polluting behaviors. So what is required it to link these behaviors with something important in their lives so that their attitude shifts from indifference to strongly negative (consider: is smoking bad? Answer is yes and I don’t care. But now if you show that smoking is going to hurt your most loved one-lovely daughter, the attitude is likely to shift to negative toward smoking).
  •  Often people don’t care about certain behaviors (like littering on streets) because it is acceptable/it is a norm/nobody disapproves. We often seen illegitimate as legitimate because ‘everybody does it’/ ‘it’s normal’. So this norm has to be changed. The important people around can exert pressure. This power needs to be leveraged. Although difficult, yet norms can be subtly changed. If people around us start to dislike, abhor and show displeasure at our polluting behaviors, it is likely subtly pressure us into not to violate this ‘social norm’.  Many of us who visit abroad very quickly learn what public behaviors are socially disapproved and fall in line.
  •  Finally, often people with right intentions do not behave in accordance to their intentions (e.g. I intend not to litter yet I do). Here comes the role of enablement by the government. The desirable behaviors would get actualized only when they are accompanied by enabling conditions (the campaign to stay indoors is a hollow waste of money- if people don’t have alternative they  would move outdoors/ the odd-even is bound to make people defy their intention in the absence of alternatives).

It is part of our DNA not adopt a visionary approach to solving problems. The tactical maneuvers to strategic problems do not help. It’s time that we seized up the situation and took a long term stand on the issue of pollution.

Burhan Wani, Protests, Brand Identification and Battle of Ideas

Some of the headlines in the news media reported the situation of Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Wani as the following:

  • ‘Kashmir on edge as Wani buried’ (The Hindustan times)
  • ‘Kashmir on boil after face of new militancy, Burhan Wani, is shot dead’ (The Indian Express)
  • ‘15 Dead, 200 injured In Clashes After Terrorist Burhan Wani’s Killing In Kashmir’ (NDTV)
  • ‘Kashmir tense after Hizbul leader Burhan Wani’s killing, Amarnath yatra suspended’ (The Times of India)
  • ‘12 dead, scores injured as Kashmir boils over killing of militant Burhan’ (Deccan Chronical)

This piece I write purely from the marketing and branding perspective without any intention to glorify terrorism or judge military action.

The reported outcry over the killing of Burhan Wani purely from branding angle shows that he was outward concrete manifestation of an idea brand which was very strong brand within his constituency or target market.  The must have enjoyed phenomenal resonance and relationship.  His elimination has sparked off unrest and violent protests in Kashmir. These protests imply some of kind of breach or violation within his constituency.  In the literature on branding one example that comes very close to this is that of withdrawal of Coke in mid eighties. This action of the Company was met with violent protests and outburst of public anger.

Most of us easily relate with brand of goods (Lux or Luxor) or service (Visa or City). But then there are brands which operate as idea or ideological level. For instance, PM Modi became the face of an idea brand at the core of which sat the proposition of ‘development’ extended with strands like ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ and ‘subka saath sab ka vikas’.  Donald Trump is contesting his election of the idea of ‘Make America great again’. The human existence is not merely about physical survival. It extends beyond the realm of physics into imagination. Often the quest for meaning is much stronger and powerful than the quest for things.  Donald Trump’s campaign lowers an idea deep into multilayered consciousness of Americans to activate desire for a mythical greatness. After all we all are creatures of body and mind.

We have all been through the childhood stage and cried over a lost toy.  It is the nature of post loss reaction which shows nature of bond or connection.  It is violation of this bond that evokes reaction.  When a loss can be perfectly matched with a new replacement, the outcry is lesser. However when a loss does not have perfect replacement it is likely to create violent protest. The physical objects have perfect replacements but when something physical is extends into becoming an idea, the replacement is harder to find. A doll can be replaced because they are mass produced but if a child has made emotional investment in a doll, it becomes unique.  Now it extends to become a friend, companion, mother, teacher or sibling.

Brands often forge links connections become attractive by the process of identification.  The consumer identifies or links with what the brand stands for and willingly creates a relationship.  It is the sense of oneness or unity with the brand idea which plays out in this regard.  So Burhan Wani may have enjoyed liking based on his appearance. But it is superficial basis of connection. At the heart of the protests lay the deeper connection with the idea that he symbolized.  Like physical products can be eliminated but idea can sustain longer. Like Lifebuoy or Lux’s products keep evolving but the resonating idea remained constant. Similarly new physical symbols would keep emerging in Kashmir’s context if the idea continues to find resonance with its people.  In the battle of ideas, it is only the ideas that can win. Its time that a double tiered strategy is adopted.

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.

Unreal attributes, Irrelevant attributes, Brand Uniqueness, and Real differentiation

Consumer’s mind is a space where brands with their attributes/benefits intersect with consumer buying criteria. Winning in this space depends upon how a brand sets itself apart from competing brands on a relevant (appropriate/ pertinent to a context), meaningful (opposite of meaningless, inconsequential) and valued (desirable/of worth) attribute. Consider the following:
When a shampoo brand like H&S communicates that it contains Zinc Pyrithione (ZPTO), this attribute is relevant, meaningful because it helps fighting dandruff and is of worth for people seeking solution to their dandruff problem. But this attribute is not differentiating if other brands are also perceived to have ZPTO.
In an old study, Carpenter, Glazer and Nakamoto explored how meaningful brands can be created out of meaningless differentiation. They started with two examples: Folger’s coffee differentiated itself on the ground that it has ‘flaked coffee crystals’ and Alberto Natural Silk shampoo set itself apart with the proposition,’ ‘we put silk in a bottle’. Are these attributes flaked coffee and silk in a shampoo bottle meaningful? The flaked form of coffee does not improve taste in instant category and silk does not do anything to hair. In both cases these claimed attributes imply benefits but in reality do not create any. These attributes, however, do create differentiation which is meaningless. The question arises does meaningless differentiation create meaningful brand by creating positive impact on consumer response?
Meaningless attribute creates meaningful value: shape of coffee granules does not improve coffee taste yet it may be perceived to create value. Consumer may still infer benefit of an attribute which is meaningless (e.g. coal in a toothpaste technically may not have any effect on gums or teeth yet this attribute can be differentiating and imply benefit to customer). This may happen because some consumers may not be aware of its irrelevance and some may be unable to judge attributes true value (no difference in taste between flaked or non-flake coffee) or some consumers may simply just not care.
Value due to mere information : Consider again the example of ‘coal’ in toothpaste, consumer may not be able to experience the difference that coal causes to brushing yet consumers have a tendency to confirm advertised claims in their experience. The objectively uninformed consumers exhibit this tendency. Second, the mere communication of an irrelevant attribute may cause customers to value it (message in ads). For instance, a hotel may display a sign stating ‘we honor our guests’ (no hotel would dishonor its guest- meaningless/ semantically uninformative). This would automatically cause customers to think why they are telling us. The statement is valuable just because it is communicated. Why would some toothpaste brand contain coal, it must be valuable. Third, this value attachment to an irrelevant attribute works more when it is distinctive (not shared by others) rather than common (there is only one toothpaste brand with coal). Further, novelty factor (newness) of the irrelevant attribute also causes it to be viewed favorably. When brands are compared, the brand with irrelevant unique attribute is likely to enjoy greater salience.
What effect do these factors of attribute uniqueness (uncommon), novelty (newness) and salience (prominence) have on consumer behavior? Consumers are short on cognitive resources and want to simplify buying decisions. In this regard, the irrelevant attribute may offer an easy short cut to deal with complexity of multi attribute decisions making by shift o a single attribute decision.