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.

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Luxury, Brands and Top Luxury Brands

The 2013 survey of luxury brands by Brandz compiled by research firm MillwardBrown ranked the following brands as the top global luxury brands. The brands that sit at the top of the luxury heap are Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Gucci.Louis Vuitton

Hermes

Gucci            

Prada

Rolex

Chanel

Cartier

Burberry

Fendi

Coach

 

A term is best understood by opposition. The listed antonyms of luxury are austerity, essential and poverty. So the concept of luxury is linked with great expense/ cost, beyond essential functionality and rich class or affluence.  Can the notion of luxury be built into anything if these criteria are applied? Consider a trunk or box used to store things or a leather hand bag. Louis Vuitton transforms bags and boxes into word’s top most luxuries that one can lay hands on.  Consider a brand like Rolex which reigns at the top in the class of chronometers transforms a timekeeping device into luxury par excellence.

So the question is what goes into making of a luxury? A number of opposing dimensions can be used to analyze the construction of luxury- form or function; aesthetic (beauty) or crude; concrete or abstract; common or rare; contemporary or heritage; limited or mass; indulgence or forbearance; desires or needs; ordinary or extraordinary; reason or emotion, craft or factory, culture or nature.  By applying these dimensions one can decipher the code that luxury brands use in their process of first emptying a product of its meaning and filling it with mystique and mythology. Luxury is experiential and it is rarely about product and its functions.  

 

One of the most common features of luxury brands is their heritage. Consider brands like Louis Vuitton was founded in 1854 in France, Burberry came into existence in 1856 in England,  Hermes was born in 1837 and Rolex birth goes back to 1905. History is different from heritage. History is only chronology of past events but heritage is about past events that hold value today. Luxury brands’ history is marked by innovations and improvements in their way to achieving excellence. It is worth noting that how Louis Vuitton took ordinariness out of trunks and hand bags by perfecting locking mechanism, use of the finest leather and crafting them with superlative finesse. Hermes’s route to extra ordinariness began with crafting saddles for czar of Russia which later went on to include leather garments with its unique fermeture Hermes or fastener to nobility including Prince of Wales.

 

Product excellence is usually is the founding stone for on which luxury edifice is built. The pursuit of extraordinariness in quality (bordering beyond need) renders the product so exclusive that it is accessible only a select group of customers. This is where a brand begins to get socialized and acquires symbolic properties. The process by and large is that of exclusion or social power hierarchy. Luxury is in way about transcendence beyond product or functionality or reason. Brands in their path to luxury first transform themselves from being something physical to abstract by enveloping layers of symbolic properties and then become symbolic resource to be used by people in construction of their psycho-social identities.      

 

Luxury, Merc A Class, and Class & Mass Dichotomy

A recent news item in The Economic Times began with words, ‘Mercedes Benz launched its ‘A Class’ luxury hatchback in India…to competitive luxury car market.  The new Merc A Class is a compact car priced between Rs 21.93 lakh and Rs 22.73 lakh. The car is meant to target the affluent youth.  Mercedes Benz expects to sell about 100-150 units of A Class in a month.

Luxury is a complex phenomenon. Luxury brands create and command value disproportionate to good or service (embedded functionality) that they sell. In this regard high price is both an indicator and ingredient of luxury brands. This means luxury and low price are mutually exclusive. The exclusiveness and prestige on the socio-psychological plane is to a great extent is created by a price meant to exclude majority. Therefore exclusion by creating barriers to reach (un-affordability) and access (distribution) are crucial aspects of luxury brand building. Luxury brands thrive on the paradigmatic opposition between ‘class’ and ‘mass’; ‘function’ and ‘aesthetic’ and ‘form and content’. This dichotomy is essential to luxury brand building. Luxury branding is about adding layers meaning in disguise aimed to make an impact without saying anything. The purveyors of luxury therefore refrain from using verbal communication. They talk through a language comprised of symbols and signs.

The paradigmatic opposition between luxury and non-luxury stems from certain codes that set them apart: conspicuous value, uniqueness, hedonistic pleasure and quality. (1) The conspicuousness or visibility value originates from a brand’s ability to signal status wealth associated with a class (Veblen’s conspicuous consumption).  Luxury brands act as class markers.  For instance the one who drives a Rolls Royce belongs to top layer of economic hierarchy. (2) Scarcity and rarity of something endows it with uniqueness accordingly especially commissioned to master makers of jewelry, watches and carpets. This fits with human desire for uniqueness. (3) Luxury brands serve human needs to experience a certain affective states. The pleasure/ joy of indulgence in a luxury brand derived from tradition, heritage and authenticity. The sheer feel and joy of sporting a Cartier necklace or a Tiffany ring is unparalleled. Finally, quality and workmanship is essential building block for luxury brands. It is a sine qua non. Both Mercedes and BMW have lot to their credit in perfecting quality of automobile. BMW for a long period of time positioned their brand as the ‘ultimate driving machine’. This campaign has now been taken to a higher level and BMW now promises its owners an unmatched ‘joy’ / ‘pleasure’ (hedonic benefit) of driving.

The launch of Merc A class at a price point which puts the brand within the reach of a larger set of potential customers makes perfect sense considering the share objectives.  But many non-luxury companies like Hyundai and Toyota have cars which are priced higher than entry level Mercedes. This intersecting point presents an interesting dilemma for a potential car buyer. The purchase motivation beyond a certain price band is governed predominantly by symbolic considerations. The buyer ‘cross over’ so achieved by this strategy is likely certainly likely to expand the brand ownership. But fundamental question that needs to be addressed the psychographic fit of this customer segment with the target segment. 

  • Luxury is a two way street.  Brands develop their sign value from cultural resource located in the form of prestige groups within a society.  The highly selective brand owner group and its lifestyle feed back into the symbolism of luxury brands.  A large part of its symbolism is based on ‘how a brand is used’ (how a car is driven by a new money and old money) – which represents intangible core of the brands. It is this intangible core which holds a lure for luxury buying customers who seek non-material cultural transformation. Mercedes A Class prima facie violates many luxury codes. The lure of market share is genuine but it can potentially be a mirage.