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.

Aamir, Amitabh, Incredible India & Borrowing Success

  • ‘Amitabh Bachchan perfect choice for ‘Incredible India’ campaign: B-town (The Indian Express).
  • ‘Amitabh Bachchan is new ambassador of Incredible India campaign’ (India Today)
  • ‘Amitabh, Priyanka are new Incredible India brand ambassadors ‘(The Hindustan Times)

The above are some of the headlines that reported the change of brand ambassador for the ‘Incredible India’ campaign.  The Tourism Ministry has ended its contract with Aamir Khan who was the face and the voice of the campaign. Khan has had a long association with the campaign who was suddenly removed as spokesperson for ‘Incredible India’ for allegedly making intolerance remarks.

Brands get celebrities or other type of endorsers to speak for them. It is a common strategy and change of spokesperson is also common. For instance, SRK currently speaks for Big Basket, D’ Decor, Dish TV, Nerolac and Mahagun. Ranbir Kapoor featured in ads of Panasonic, Pepsi, Tag Heuer and Ask Me. Even ‘common man’ is also used by brands to influence consumers. One of the most iconic endorsements of this type has been that of ‘Lalita ji’ of Surf and Airtel’s current television ads employs ‘common girl’ to promote its services. It is also not uncommon for brands to change their endorsers. This change could be promoted by a variety of reasons including brand intending to adopt new positioning or endorser may get involved in some controversy like Tiger Woods  ( cheating scandal) and  Azharuddin (match fixing).

There are several reasons for brands to employ spokespersons. One of the straight gains for a brand is to ride on the popularity/awareness/recognition/popularity of the endorser (if celebrity).  Imagine Amitabh standing next to hair oil brand Navratana (‘thanda thanda cool..’). Besides celebrities can elicit good feelings/likeability because of their performance in their performance area (Sania Mirza, Sania Nehwal, Pierce Bronson, Ranbir Singh). Sometimes, endorsers are used to appeal to reason by appealing to thinking and reasoning. Consider figures like doctors (Sansodyne, Paradontex), hair expert (Sunsilk) and Nutritionist (Bournvita).  Endorsers often serve as role models and subtly inspire people to emulate them (slender image of Katrina and muscled up body of Salman).

Who is correct choice for ‘Incredible India’: Amitabh or Aamir. Important to the selection of spokesperson is ‘brand-endorser’ fit. The question is what is sought to be achieved by ‘Incredible India’ the campaign and who is target audience.  Is the idea to promote India within India or outside?  What contribution endorser is expected to make (recall, good feeling, appeal to reason or inspiration).  The purpose of the campaign is to attract foreign tourist on the promise of something ‘incredible’ that India offers. The synonyms of ‘Incredible’ include magnificent, wonderful, marvelous, and sublime.

To promote India on the promise of ‘incredibleness’ the core of the campaign has to be what magnificent India has to offer like monuments (The Taj, Charminar), festivals (Diwali, Holi), spirituality (Rishikesh, Himalayas), religious places (temples &churches), jungles and mountains. In this scheme of things what role do celebrity endorsers play? What incredibleness actors like Amitabh or Aamir would bring to an international audience? They are known to Indians therefore would contribute to influencing them by way of recall, inspiration and likeability but what contribution would they make to move audience from  affluent nations which contribute to world  tourism?

Celebrity endorsement is not a perfect substitute of creative ingenuity and thinking. Many however believe that the success of a star/sportsperson can be borrowed to fuel your own success. But that is not the case. The important question is to ask is what the brand seeks to achieve in its customer’s life and how does an endorser figure in this equation.

 

Honey Singh, Lyrics, Images, Rape, Identity and YOLO generation

Who am I? What do I stand for? Where am I going?

These questions are so simple that they don’t get any attention. Simple is obvious and obvious is ignored. The YOLO generation – you only live once, especially in their twenties do not have comfort of latching on to cultural categorizations to construct their self and the new is not yet fully emerged. The windmills of liberalization and globalization have rendered the old structures obsolete. The new generation is caught in the situation where the old is not completely gone and the new has not yet fully emerged. The khap diktats, civil society outburst, consumerist culture, rise of the nonsensical movies and lyrics, are all manifestation of this chasm and friction. With the blurring of boundaries the new generation is left on its own to seek answers to the above questions.

The people of the new nomadic tribe are robbed of identity and their privileges that stemmed from fixed social structures. Take a macro look in a metro station or a mall, the humanity stands homogenized but take a closer look and everyone seems to be on a perpetual identity construction voyage. The deeply entrenched power structures are shaken and there is emergence of the new ones. Market is now supplier of symbolic material and consumption is no longer about satisfaction but identity construction.  A Scorpio and an Audi radically differ from each other in their supply of symbolic meaning to one at the steering wheel. Both can’t latch on the old identity structures based on who they are, therefore brand is commissioned for both identity creation and signification.

When the system fails to provide the notions of identity, people are free to make a choice. It is now upon the will of an individual to construct the person he or she wants to be. Consumption in this context gets beyond the realm of utility to acquire symbolism. The choice although free, operates within the overall constraint imposed by a set of possible selves made available in a socio-cultural context. It is not that people choose from a set of infinite selves. Media supplies a limited set of images, symbols and models differing in narrative. Popular media is one big supplier of images and models which are picked by people in arriving at their identity definitions. Primafacie people are said to be free to make a choice but it operates with a constraint imposed by total available set. Culture industries provide repertoire of symbolic products out of which free will is exerted. Bacardi ad says ‘be what you wanna be…’ but images of people portrayed- supply of symbols- narrowly push to you to be ‘the kind of person you should be’.

Each aspect of the environment is laden with symbolism. Popular media as an important part of culture producing industry is a dominant supplier of identity construction resource. The expression of this process manifests in choices that people make – what we buy and how we behave. This influence is so subtle and sub conscious that it escapes conscious scrutiny. The codes of behavior are implicitly established.  Bacardi has very successfully managed to create a new symbolism around rum and establish acceptance of white rum in the youth market. Relationship can only get sanctified if you wear a platinum band, so are you a part of group called ‘platinum people’? Love has got a new expression.

When the identity is fluid and undefined and when we look out to symbols in identity construction process is a song by Honey Singh a potential threat? If diamonds which have very little practical utility can be ‘women’s best friend’ and chocolate can say it ‘better than words’, lyrics can certainly creep into our consciousness taking a sub-conscious route. The blanks of mind are imprinted with ideas supplied by the media to a great extent. The expression of the concept contained in the lyrics would be dangerous, even if it happens in one exceptional case.

Brands, Time, Dissociative group, Core Customers and ‘It’s not for me’

Branding is an exercise in perpetuity.A good brand achieves timelessness by a transformational process by which a product is converted into a ‘construct’ of an eternal appeal.  Anything that exists in physical form or in imagination cannot afford to be a constant, for change is the only constant.  A product is pushed into obsolescence with the arrival of new products which embody superior functionality. Consumers switch to a new product for it offers better solution to their problem. Consider how long playing records gave way to cassettes which later were overtaken by compact discs. The new storage devices like pen drives are making CDs obsolete. This is due to progression of technology by which the old one is rendered inferior in solving a consumer problem (consider progression from manual typewriters to electric to electronic to computers).

Brands developed on functional identity appeal to consumers primarily for their ‘problem solution’ capability. This is particularly true in a business to business and technology centric scenario (Intel marketing its processors to different computer makers or a firm specializing in demolition of old skyscrapers).  The challenge for the brands in this category is to keep climbing up the technology ladder and updating the functionality of the brand. The latest ad of Colgate Sensitive toothpaste is built on the appeal of ‘two times faster’ relief. Apple has been moving up on the functionality dimension with its different generation of iPhones (thinner, lighter and faster). This has been true for top German cars like BMW (improvement that they introduced to make it the ‘ultimate driving machine’) and Mercedes.

There are brands which operate on emotional and expressiveness plane. This is especially true for conspicuous products which help a person express what the kind of person he or she is. In this sense brands act as conveyors of meaning. The boots of Woodland express the ‘outdoorsy and adventurous’ streak of the wearer and Nike (based on the goddess of victory in Greek Mythology) reveals a winning attitude (grit and determination).  Brands that derive their success from their expressive symbolism operate in the realm of imagination with very little connection with functionality.

Even for brands with emotional and self expressive propositions staying in sync with the socio-psychological realities is a great challenge. The ‘hip and happening’ (values in vogue) keep changing with each generation. The values that define consumers and drive their buying evolve with time. Accordingly the brands which succeed by ‘value appropriation’ need to evolve their proposition subtly. For instance Bata’s durability may not go down well with new consumers’ desire for style. HMT (‘Time keepers to the Nation’) reigned supreme for middle class for their ‘accuracy and reliability’ but Titan stole the show with ‘design’ appeal (watch became a means of expression) in eighties.

Some values appear timeless like rebellion, liberty, honor, beauty, peace and happiness. Values become timeless when people subscribe to them generation after generation. There are two challenges for managing value centric brands. First, the icon (person) used by the brand to represent its value must be changed with time. This has been very successfully done by Lux which is built on the value of ‘beauty (we have seen its endorsers changing from  actresses like Leela Chitnis to Wahida Rehman to Babita to Hema Malini to Aishwarya Rai to Kareena Kapoor). The icon representing the core value of Lux has been changing with time.

Second, social brands succeed by conspicuousness. People use them for their ability to express a given value meant to construct a social identity.   Brand’s core consumers who fuel its success can also become reasons for its failure. This happens when brand’s core consumers graduate on to a different class (non- core) but continue to use the brand or peripheral segments use the brand. This way the brand develops association with a dissociative group breeding seeds of disconnection with its core customers. Consider the following ‘the brand is not for me’ situations:

  • Fiat and Ambassador cars got inextricably linked to a group that new car buyers do not relate well with
  • Louis Vuitton’s bags with conspicuous branding encourages some customers but also discourages many
  • The aggressive marketing of a sports shoe brand like Reebok to non-sportsperson can diminish its appeal with hardcore sportsmen
  • Hawkings and Prestige pressure cookers which girls have grown seeing their mothers cooking with
  • Even a brand like Nirma is perceived to be undesirable by new generation because of its ‘Hema, Jaya, Sushma’ connotations

The latest reported disconnection like this is the case of Levis and Wrangler. Both  the brands are struggling to cut ice with Indian youth who perceive these brands to belong to ‘ fathers’ generation’ (which is obviously old and not so stylish according to their standards- dissociative group).

Symbolic brands are intended to negotiate meaning either for self construction or social signification. Two way interactions characterize this consumption:  meaning transfer from brand to consumer which is followed by a reverse transfer from consumer to brand. This renders meaning in a constant state of fluidity. The reverse transfer or pollination can alter brand meaning subtly rendering it inappropriate for the core consumer. This calls for a tight control of meaning by enforcing a stricter regime of endorsement and reach.

Symbolic brands therefore are faced with twin challenge of building acceptance and at the same time erecting barriers to consumption.

Multi-utility or sports utility vehicles: the power or powerlessenss on road?

The automobile industry has been undergoing a subtle transformation. In the June quarter of 2012 MUVs outsold sedans for the first time. Two of the recent launches by M&M and Maruti Suzuki have created excitement to a segment which always trailed behind regular sedans. M&M’s XUV 500 and Maruti Suzuki’s Ertiga have received overwhelming response from the market.

Consider some statistics. XUV sold about 9000 units which is a figure higher than combined sales of brands such as Corolla Altis, Cruze, Honda Civic, Skoda Laura, VW Jetta (6500 units). Maruti Suzuki’s Ertiga enjoys a waiting line and is grossing sales of about 6000 units.

Structurally a MUV or SUV is vehicle built on chassis of light truck which makes it bigger, sturdier, powerful (two and four wheel), and spacious capable of a comfortable on and off road drive. The unique blending of internal and external dimensions makes SUVs or MUVs irresistible to many. That is the reason why they are flying off the showrooms fast.

Around the world, especially in rich cities SUVs are a common sight driven by a single person. This stands quite opposite to the ‘reason’ built in the vehicle in terms of space and sturdiness. The city roads hardly provide space for ‘playing round’ and riding the beast beneath the bonnet. The physics of SUVs remain grossly underutilized. The congestion on roads adds to driving and parking discomfort. The unused space and gas consumption combine to make them environmentally unfriendly. Then how they make sense?

The connections probably go deeper. Consider the brand names that these vehicles sport:  Duster, Safari, Fortuner, Thar, Endeavor, Captiva, Pajero, Range Rover, Yeti, Land Cruiser, Outlander, X Trail, Discovery and Scorpio. These words have nothing to do with neatly laid smooth city roads. These roads rob the ‘Outlander’ or ‘Cruiser’ to be a ‘Rover’ of ‘Thar’ or ‘Safari’ to show the bite of ‘Scorpio’ or power of ‘Yeti’. Further take a close look at the frontal façade of these vehicles and keep staring at them. It may take a while to observe the ferocity of a prying big cat.

Urban cities are great levelers. These are democratized spaces where the unevenness of class, creed and status and power become invisible. Consider long queues of cars line up at a traffic signal or people crowding around a mall on a weekend. All become children of the god, made of same matter and chosen to thread on the same path. In such a situation a SUV become an instrument to reverse the identity robbing effect of urban existence. Baudrillard observed that in its concrete function the objects solve a practical problem but in its inessential aspects they solve a social or psychological conflict. The The  subliminated meaning of a SUV make is an object of male fantasy. By the very construction a SUV is a heavy projectile capable of fast movement. Travel is a necessity but speed is a thrill, excitement and enjoyment. In its structural muscled up oversize construction SUV cannot escape the phallic symbolism as a male thing. It is a play thing, a sporting device. A SUV is an easy filler of the gap left by the subjugated city life. SUV is an extension of home with all its protective walls and grills designed to protect from the aggression of the outside world.

Terror on the mind street: fear, fear appeal and solution

Watch television or open a magazine or log on to Internet at your risk. An exposure can cause anxiety, fear and feeling of inadequacy. Consider what happens when your guards are down and you come in contract with marketing communication:

  •  Kent and Acquguard: get scared of bacteria in water that you drink
  • Autocop central locking: perpetuate fear of car theft
  • Bournvita and Horlicks: fear of inadequate nourishment
  • HDFC Life insurance: loss of dignity and self respect
  • Honda and Yamaha generators: fear of power failure
  • Sunsilk: anxiety about  hair
  • Fair & Lovely and Fair & Handsome: fear of rejection
  • Anchor switch: danger of an electric shock
  • Quick Heal: fear of viruses in computer and mobiles
  • Lakme Sunscreen: fear of skin damage from sun exposure
  • Ponds: fear of ageing
  • Godrej hair dye: fear of grey hair
  • I Pill: fear of unwanted pregnancy
  • Colgate Total: fear of bacteria build up in mouth
  • Close up: fear of bad breath
  • Nivea: fear of under arm dark spots
  • Dettol and Lifebuoy hand sanitizer: fear of germs on your hands
  • VLCC: fear of flab
  • Hit: fear of mosquito bite
  • Nutrogena face wash: fear of pimples on your face
  • Dove: fear of smelly underarms
  • Kurl On: fear of back problem
  • Lysol: fear of germs on the floor
  • All Clear: fear of dandruff
  • Krack: fear of cracked heels

And the list goes on. Fear is one of the most powerful behavior inducing emotions. Brands rely on fear and anxiety to throw a prospect out of balance. Fear strategy is carefully crafted, too much of fear can switch off the customer and too little  fear may not create an anxious mind. Common to the use of fear appeal are three states: bring something on the surface as a problem, create an enlarged problem perception, trigger anxiety and finally close the loop with the brand as a solution (consider an ad of Samsung phone in which asking for directions is propagated as a problem).

 

Fear is a powerful marketing tool. Lindstrom notes that we avoid fear but yet it holds some kind of attraction (horror movies and crime serials). There is a biological reason for it. Fear increases adrenaline flow sending us into fight or flight mode which in turn releases epinephrine (a hormone), a deeply satisfying sensation. Those areas of brain responsible for processing two emotions of fear and pleasure tend to have considerable overlap. Neuroscientists say fear is far more powerful than reason. The amygdala, which is our fear centre, over rides cortex (centre of logic and thoughts). Why fear works is because under situation of fear or threat the body gets into an automatic mode in which the blood is directed away from brain making us unable to think clearly (making us part stupid) but we remain thoughtful enough to process persuasive suggestion. 

Fear works by something like a partial seizure. We sense danger but do not get scared enough to completely shut down. Quite opposite happens in many social marketing campaigns like cigarettes which fail to influence because the mind is completely seized.

Milkmaid, New Avatar and Brand Revitalization

On Feb 28, 2012 a full page ad in The Hindustan Times announced the launch of Milkmaid Creations Dessert Mixes. The headline contextualized the brand and said ‘For all your little celebrations, introducting Milkmaid Creations Dessert Mixes’. The the top portion of the body showed five besan laddus as delectable golden delights topped with slivers of almonds. And the botton of the ad pictured five packets arranged horizontally to display the range. The message at the bottom suggests ‘happiness is waiting to be celebrated in every moment of life…Simple 3 step recipes that serve mouth watering desserts at home’.


Milkmaid brand has come a long way since 1912. The brand drew its name from two words, milk (the object) and the maid (woman who milks the cow). The product that the brand sold was ‘condensed goodness of milk’ (milk being prized for its nurtition) and therefore good for anybody looking for nutrition especially babies. A tin of condensed milk separted milk from cows and hence portability (cow in a tin minus the mess of farm). Now goodness of milk can be accessed anytime, anywhere (imagine how useful it would be in a world wihtout bottled/ packaged milk and refrigeration). The brand found instant takers in military installations. The brand created its equity by radically altering the paradigm associated with milk production and consumption.


Later the developments in dairy technology, packaging, transporation and consumer tastes began to dent the brand equity. These forces began to shift the brand out of relevance spectrum. Why would one need condensed milk if fresh milk can be had anywhere anytime? In order to reenergize the brand sales, the brand took recipe route to increase usage. Keeping the product in its present form (condensed milk) the brand reached out to customers and suggested its potential applications. It followed a recipe route to find ways into homes which saw no relevance of the brand. The suggestions included cake, kheer, gajar ka halwa, laddu and kulfi. Now the brand shifted its focus to households targeting the homemaker and positioned the brand as provider of sensory delight to family. Besides the apparent contentment that a women experiences upon creating happy family moments, the brand also gave them opportunities to experience excitement and stimulation associated with ‘creation’. The brand turned mundane kitchen into a space of creativity, stimulation and control.
Milkmaid in its present avatar as ‘Creations’ is again is given to creating alignment with contemporary realities. The product form is now changed into dessert mixes which can be transformed into a variety of desserts by performing three simple steps. The brand leverages upon the inner desires of modern women to create something for her family therefore her role is not completely done way (three steps). This appeals to the ‘traditional’ self, the master of the kitchen and nourishement. Simultaneously the the brand allows her to negotiate effectively on the most important currency of the modern existence, the time. The creative element associted with the earler strategy (recipe) now has shifted from customer to the company (the mix is ready). This function shift can be psychologically dissatisfying for the customer, therefore to compensate the brand name itself is extended to include the word ‘creation’ in its identity.