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.

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.

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.

Brands, Patanjali, Baba Ramdev and Culture

There are several ways brands adopt to make their way to consumer’s heart or mind or both. Successful brands embody value propositions that either fill a gap or promise transformation into some higher order of existence. The gap filling brands persuade consumers by pointing at the void or uncomfortable recognized or dormant state and offer solution. The brands in such a situation use ‘informational’ route. Consider the following:
• Two toothpaste brands Paradontex and Sansodyneuse informational route. The first offers solution to gum problems and the latter promises escape from tooth sensitivity.
• Crizal lenses are promoted on the propositions of their scratch resistance, anti-glare and UV protection.
• Dulux Weathershield offers protection against elements for longer period of time because of its unique chemical formulation- high performance acrylic resin.

In above cases, the product’s attributes or benefits assume center stage. In transformational method the consumer is not approached on rational basis by offering a problem’s solution (verbal expression) rather a pull is created by a desirable psycho-social consumer state (imagery). In these kinds of promotions the center stage is assumed by consumer’s being and becoming (not in a metaphysical way except for a limited number of brands). The product related thinking is deliberately stultified. The being and becoming take psycho –(emotional) social (symbolic) axis to develop connect with consumers. Consider the following:
• Enfield pulls its target consumers on the proposition of psychosocial experience. The machine bestows power and machismo to a person who in the absence of machine’s highly masculine body and thundering sound senses a danger of identity loss, typical of living in cities. The brand gives a sense of power internally (self symbolism) and respect/command externally (social symbolism).
• Coca Cola’s ‘Happiness’ campaign seeks to appropriate a powerful emotion of joy and delight. The imagery used in its communication- people, occasion, time, sounds and expressions- all collapse into communicating a highly desirable emotional state. The brand subtly creeps into establishing its legitimacy by becoming the key ingredient to happiness (happiness is incomplete without a bottle of Coke).
• Is it psychologically possible for a new mother to have a sense of completeness without using J&J products? Imagine a J&J ad and experience how it overwhelms you with emotions of joy, happiness and affection.


Is Peepal (Ficus religiosa/ ashvattha in Sanskrit) merely a tree or a person in saffron robes with flowing beard is only a person with a different look? Their meaning s are known only to people familiar with Indian cultural. Culture encompasses knowledge, belief, customs, practices and values. It both provides worldview and point of view. Brands are resisted when they violate culture. At the same time, by invoking right cultural meanings, myths and values a brand develop huge resonance. Take for instance, a newly launched brand of platinum jewelry ‘Evara’ evokes cultural construct of ‘blessings’ which are a must in an occasion like marriage. The gender roles (myth or assumptions) are evoked by brands (Bournvita, Vim, Wheel) targeted at women as homemaker, giver, and nurturer. When brand evoke already stores beliefs, meanings, values etc, the need for rational communication is reduced. Thus an image of a tree or saint/sadhu or word can evoke myths (don’t read as lies rather taken for granted assumption or beliefs) to work for the brand in a subtle but very powerful way. The picture of a cowboy on Marlboro evoked myth of rugged individuality and made the brand one of the top sellers.
What does culture have to do with the success of Patanjali brand? Let us take the umbrella name ‘Patanjali’. Does it invoke rich meaning stored in cultural warehouse and bestows its products image/associations highly desired in its product categories? The name’s semantic construction, phonetic expression (Sanskrit) and meaning which activates many legends (including founder of yoga) renders it very close to Indian roots ( Indian system of medicine- ayurvedic). This link with ayurveda further invokes religious linkages with god Danvantari. The name in this case is not a simple word with limited denotation. Rather it is tip of an iceberg with oceanic depth. The brand name pulls out these deeper meanings to the surface and thrives on the dichotomy between nature/unnatural; religious/unreligious; Indian/foreign/ and trust/doubt.
How about presence of Baba Ramdev as brand endorser? He is a ‘baba’. A sadhu, culturally means a renunciator or above material attachments, who operates at a higher level of consciousness. Sadhus are religiously significant and are respected. The renunciation implies Babas have no personal axe to grind (not driven by ‘artha’ or money for material well being of self). The selflessness of Baba Ramdev gives the Enterprise a social philanthropic sheen. The venture escapes scrutiny and suspicion that business typically invites. Babas/sadhus invoke religious imagery as custodians of what is good in a society.

The legends, stories and sacred books pass on different archetypes from one generation to the other. These live in our subconscious but are invoked by brands to make sense. Men with flowing beard and robes evoke ‘sage’ archetype that signifies expert, scholar, philosopher, teacher and teacher. Baba Ramdev’s presence and support for the brand commissions massive cultural meaning to work for the brand and that too without having to have a conscious dialogue. One of the important qualities of brand endorser is trust and on this count he is the best. Baba Ramdev route to credibility also lay in bringing yoga into mainstream. He first appeared as yoga guru who worked singularly for the cause making people healthy. It is later that the equity is transferred to Patanjali products.
Patanjali brand is a cultural phenomena and it different from the like of Dabur or Baidyanath. These brands operated in medicine domain taking position against allopathic formulations. Patanjali operates at an intersection of yoga, medicine, religion, political ideology and commence.

Stethoscope, Life Cycle, Relevance and Totem

There is no reason why such a common, old and ubiquitous instrument like Stethoscope should become a newsmaker. It is old (invented in 1816), standardized, pervasive and familiar. There is nothing to be told about this device. It is devoid of newsworthiness. But sadly, it has found space in newspapers for the reported reasons that it is soon going to be dead rendered obsolete by new technologies. The new devices like portable ultrasound machines offer greater score better on functional performance.

Creative destruction as proposed by Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942) is central to modern capitalist economies which create new and good through ‘the perennial gale of creative destruction’.  The new and better products arrive that improve the order of the day. It is through this process of creative destruction societies become productive and richer.  There are two sides of this process. The creation benefits some people but at the same time it ruins others by dismantling the existing order.  This applies everywhere. Consider how e-rickshaw hailed as ecofriendly solution to las mile connectivity benefits some and destroys the source of livelihood of the lowest   at the bottom of pyramid.

Like stethoscope, products in all industries have to bear the brunt of creative destruction.  There are people who think products like desktops, watches, and printed books would soon become artifacts of museums like LPs, VCRs, dial phones and CDs. The concept of obsolesce sits at the heat of this creative destruction. The products like LPs and VCRs work and work fine but they are not wanted by customers for new products meet their wants better. So the question arises what makes a product or service relevant?  Why do products cease to be wanted?

A product or service is wanted for the problem it helps customer get rid of. For instance, a fairness cream like Fair & Lovely allows customers to get rid of dark complexion and LED lamps allow customers to save on electricity consumption.  Why then some products continue to attract customers in spite of their diminished or ceased utility which caused them to come into existence? This happens because of shift in what sits at their core as implied value proposition. The product that R&D creates is veryoften different from what customer actually buys.  Products are creatures of physics and inhabit in physical space but what customers buy are mental constructions of which physical angle may just be one of many dimensions. This is where brands and branding begins. Many brands succeed and thrive by an act of subversion. The implicit purpose and logic is removed and substituted by something imagined (free floating signifier).

A product or service evolves into a psycho-social entity after its launch.  It may originate in a factory as ‘manufactured’ or ‘assembled’ (assembly of parts/components/ ingredients) but after its launch it becomes a part of social system as consequently its meaning gets extended beyond intended functions.  A product or brand has the following options to create relevance:

Functional: involves being relevant due to a product’s use or function for which it is designed. All Out drives mosquitoes away and Ujala gives clothes a cleaner hue.

Psychological: brands assume significance for psychological reasons. People feel better in the company of their brands and enjoy emotionally satisfying states.  J&J transforms new mothers into ‘the best mothers’; Axe does not allow people to ‘fade away’ in significance; Kellogg’s K Special give route instant admiration.

Social: brands assume significance by aiding people into playing social roles by becoming devices of social signification. They can subtly inform who you are and how you should be treated.  Visible products like cars (Mercedes or Jaguar) bestows owners a position of power and expects to be treated with respect and honor. Brands work by creating belonging and disassociation at the same time.

Stethoscope as product may lose out to its new challengers in terms of embedded functions like reading breathing sound, heart function and bowel sound but it may still continue to be relevant for psycho-social reasons. Socially it is a powerful communication device of medical profession. As long as doctors enjoy reputation of healers and life givers, stethoscope would continue to find takers for its signification role.  People continue to wear watches, especially Swiss made not for their virtue of telling better and accurate time but for their expressiveness (although mobile phones are used more for checking time).  Psychologically, stethoscope can give a sense of being in control and confident. By putting it around the neck, a doctor can forge a celestial link with heritage and spirit of medical profession.  It can potentially find role in a transformational ritual by which competent doctors are transformed into good doctors. If cultures and societies have totems why can’t stethoscope be?