Disruption, Listerine and Need Recognition

Consider the contents of three ads of a brand which made their appearance in one edition of a news paper-

  1. It does not matter, how long you brush. You can still suffer from oral problems.
  2. It does not matter which brush you use. You can still suffer from oral problems.
  3. It does not matter, how you brush. You can still suffer from oral problems.
  4. Listerine mouthwash used after brushing gives you 100% oral care (headline). The body copy describes how only brushing is incomplete for total oral care. The ad visually shows an equation which states: brush plus Listerine is equal to 100% oral care.

Almost similar strategy was used by Dove some years back in which the brand communication challenged people to check and verify for themselves how harsh their current bathing bar were by performing a litmus type test. Dove’s ads actually carried removable test strips with which potential customers could try and verify how harsh and hence damaging their current soap brand were. Dove tried to drive home one point that low alkalinity of Dove (pH 7) makes the product more skin friendly than other bars (pH 9.9).


In a highly cluttered and information loaded marketing environment consumer has a tendency to become a ‘shut’ system and develop short cut heuristics to cope with buying problems. The more stimulated is the marketing environment the greater is the demand on consumer’s cognitive system to process information. Beyond a point this demand is perceived as an intrusion and assault. Accordingly a great deal of information is filtered by consumer’s perceptual filter and adapted for comfort.

Such situations are strategically challenging for the new marketers. In order to get the potential customers to know, consider, like and buy the product it is necessary to move the customer from current state of balance and poise to a state of imbalance and disturbance. This imbalance is the precursor of consumer buying process. It is essential that customer routine is disrupted by creating a perceive inequality between existing state and desired state. Technically customers develop routines to solve their problems. Brands and products which become part of these routines participate in consumer buying. For instance incense sticks and ghee for lighting a lamp are often part of daily prayer routine or dabbing on a lotion after the shave has become a ritual for many people.

What do you do when people consider brushing as the complete oral care activity? Listerine brand of mouth wash faces a similar challenge: how to get the people to consider mouth wash as essential step to complete oral care. This certainly requires pushing potential customers to problem zone (existing state not equal to desired state) which would require a shock or disruption in first thoughts and then routine.

The Listerine ads (four in number) were aimed to hit customer one after the other so that sensory process is activated (cross adaptation level) and challenged customer existing belief system (‘it does not matter how long you brush’; ‘it does not matter which brush you use’ and ‘it does not matter how you brush’) by creating a perceived discrepancy (problem recognition) which the fourth ad seeks to resolve by introducing the mouth wash (solution).

Do you remember some ads which typically challenge you to revisit what you think and what you buy; all these are disruptive in nature. Many brands create relevance beginning with disruption.


‘Swap your drive’ campaign of Ford: Market stagnation, Aggression and Comparative Advertising

What is common between SanjeetAhluwalia and Sarabjot Singh?
Well, these are two car users who feature in Ford’s ‘Swap your drive’ campaign. The headline boldly proclaims ‘we switched their cars for a week and changed their minds forever’. In the ad these two men from the masses stand smiling next to their Fords. But what is critical in this piece of communication is the mention of their currently owned cars which happen to be from the stable of Maruti and Tata Motors.
Comparative advertising is nothing new in brand communication, but it may vary in intent, execution and sting. Brand often bank upon ruthless comparisons to position the rival in poor light or rely on subtle form. Pepsi assaulted Coke with its direct hit on the face taste challenge campaign. Direct fact based comparisons are common is cars (for instance Alto is compared with Santro, Mahindra’s Scorpio is strategically compared with sedans), air conditioners, LCDs and other technical products.

However subtler form of comparison one finds in ‘chip chip’ (sticky cream) campaign of Boro Soft or many detergent ads where poorly portrayed brand is not mentioned rather it is left for the viewer to decipher (Rin versus Tide – which gives better whiteness, Heinz Ketchup versus others- the slow moving ketchup means more tomato, Olay- seven effects versus Ponds, Fair & Lovely versus Fairever with milk and saffron, water purifiers like Kent versus Acquaguard, Congress versus BJP on governance. Tata Indica Vista advertisement showed some Japanese looking people have a test drive and bow in respect to the car. In the recent ads of IndicaManza again a team of people from Japanese or Korean origin is shown to test drive the car and the boss asks his subordinates a series of questions mentioning car features whether their own car has these and the answer to all that is ‘No, Tanukasaan’. The brand communication leads the viewer to conclude him or herself.

Car buying is a cross between the ‘objective’ and the ‘subjective’. Specifications are important but experiential elements cannot be ignored. Great brands achieve their status from moving gently up from specification led objective superiority to subjectively held impression. Consider two most visible icons of the car industry: Mercedes and BMW (it has a long running campaign ‘the ultimate driving machine’, Toyota drilled ‘relentless pursuit of perfection’ to establish Lexus). The focus here has been on the brand to establish as highly evolved and finely engineered objects. The exclusion based on technological excellence has made these cars objects of desire.
The latest coup by Ford, ‘Swap your drive’ has taken the competition by the horns. The attack is very direct and scathing. It is not uncommon for cars brands to compare based on specifications. It is done all the time. But Ford’s comparison is based on customer experience. The object of comparison is not the car but the ‘subject’ of the car. Specifications derive the worth form their instrumentality in reaching the end customer aims to reach to. And the communication here shows the representative of the typical user class (slice of life) who share their swapping experience. This is precisely what ‘test drives’ help companies achieve. The testimonial from an ordinary person (commonality based identification) is often more effective than a celebrity. This is word of mouth in print. Car is not an FMCG. The infrequency of buy forces buyers to visit buying with full deliberation. It is here word of mouth and learning through the experience of others (vicarious learning) assumes importance.

How is it likely to be viewed by the customers? Certainly first issue would be that of source credibility. It is rare to criticize what one has or owns for it results in a dissonant state (positive behavior- owner ship and negative attitude of what is owned). Are these people paid? Secondly the claims made by the endorsers are ‘abstract’ (powerful AC, awesome mileage) which precisely potential people want to quantify in an expensive and long term buy. The ‘self-inferential mode’ has been substituted by ‘vicarious mode’ which intends people to jump over the mathematics of evaluation.

Naming the competition in communication is likely to pull the customer into more clinical mode. The brand so targeted is pulled into center form the periphery. Direct brand comparison also equally promotes the competition depending upon what customer lens customer uses to interpret information.

The essence of comparison is perceived proximity of advertised brand with that of competition. Comparison aimed to ‘differentiate’ also promotes ‘similarity’ by ‘affiliation’ and ‘contrast’. It makes more sense for a brand with smaller presence to affiliate with the leader in order to gain entry into consumer’s consideration by the process of ‘categorization’. Technically the brand intends to be categorized similar to the leader by focusing consumer attention on points of similarity and then points of distinction to prove its superiority. What happens when Ford Figo is compared with Swift and Ford Classic with Tata Indigo? The intention is to position these brands alternative to brands with higher sales by first by affiliation and then build perception of superiority by contrast.

However it is not a good idea for a leader to use direct comparisons. Customer majority trusts and buys the brand. It is better then to focus on brand’s strengths and move up the benefit ladder singularly. A direct comparison by a leader brand is an exercise in elevation of the follower and descent ion of the self.

Corruption Yatra, Positioning, Endorsement and Brand Anna

Mr Advani expressed his desire to undertake a ‘corruption yatra’. It certainly has political overtones. But that is not the point I wish to discuss on this page. Let us look at this announcement from a purely marketing perspective.

In marketing ‘imprinting’ is a very important concept. Each brand seeks to imprint something (a proposition) in prospects’ mind which is relevant for customer and different from competition. Consider the following brands and think what immediately comes to mind:
• Dettol
• Close Up
• Orient and
• Ujala
• Johnson & Johnson
Without much stress what flows is: antiseptic, fresh breath, PSPO, liquid fabric whitener and baby care. And now consider Anna. It seems the word anti corruption is appropriated by Anna in the perceptual space of people. What happens when a new brand seeks to affiliate with a concept already occupied by a first mover? Two things happen:
First it immediately acts as a clue to mentally rehearse what has already been stored which makes the connection even stronger.
Second the late entrant is perceived to be a ‘shadow’ or ‘me too’ or ‘also ran’ or ‘copy’ of the original. It does not go down well in the cognitive system. Let us go to the above examples.
Savlon failed to appropriate what Dettol stands for, attempts by Colgate to enter into ‘freshness’ haven’t met with a great success. There is only one PSPO fan. Tens of brands were lured into liquid fabric whiteners only to be non entities. And finally Wipro’s Baby Soft brand could not give J&J an effective challenge.

The success of a concept is a big draw for others to jump in. But mentally the early mover in the perceptual space is protected by what can be called the ‘perceptual advantage stemming from imprinting’. Human mind resists forgetting or unlearning especially when new brand constantly sends the reminders by becoming similar to the original brand. Consider how the first movers react: Coke communicates that it is the ‘real thing,’ Levis is ‘the’ jeans and then there is iPhone and phones.

Let us explore how prospects receive and evaluate communication. Most of the brands seek to communicate a concept by a variety of appeals which include: slice of life communication (showing a typical user like Tide or Surf does), celebrity endorser (like Amitabh Bacchan in Navratan oil or Shah Rukh Khan in Linc pens), expert endorser who is an expert in the field (real doctor endorsing Sansodyne tooth paste), testimonial (an actual user who provides testimony to product efficacy as in the Dove ads) and spokesperson (a known person who becomes the mouthpiece or advocate for the brand like Aishwarya Rai for Longines watches). In communication two factors determine source effectiveness: source attractiveness (looks and physical attractiveness), source expertise or knowledge.

The announcement by Mr Advani to embark upon a ‘Corruption Yatra’ has to been seen from above two angles: the first mover perceptual advantage which Anna seems to have preempted. Second how well will this idea be perceived by the filter of people of endorsement?

Criticism in communication, customer response and brand Anna (10)

The essence of competition is competition. That is, action leads to reaction which in turn leads to counteraction. This game could be deeply  engrossing but mindlessly consuming. Therefore being within the ‘boundaries of reason’ is essential but a temptation to ‘breach’ it is phenomenal.
Consider when Ariel reduced its price substantially in a bid to capture market; Surf Excel did not lose any time to retaliate. When Coke became the official sponsor, Pepsi reacted by its famous ‘nothing official’ campaign. When Godrej entered the hand sanitizer market, Dettol and Lifebuoy went in to aggressive defense mode. Competition is all about territories and their protection but it is also about breaking into them.
A campaign to smear and disparage directly achieves little. ‘More’ could be ‘less’ in the absence of strategy. The way to fight is to win without assault. Observe the world of marketing and you will find that brands refrain from direct criticism. Direct mud slinging is rare. And when it happens nothing much is achieved. Recall recent Tide and Rin campaign. Often minor tactical gains are achievable but significant gains do not come by.
Competition need not always be bloody. If companies can meet their aspirations without having to cross lines,then existence is peaceful. But when one’s gain is the other’s loss, moves and counter moves define the situation. Rivalry is the name of the game when two or more firms chase the same target or aim to nibble at each other’s customer base. For instance HUL’s ‘Clear’ antidandruff shampoo would like to cut into P&G’s Head & Shoulders. Samsung’s Galaxy smart phone directly tries to woo i-phone’s customers (by calling it the ‘greatest smartphone ever’). Competition does not happen outside as we see. The real site of competition is the customer’s mind. The target of this winning or stealing is the customer. In case of the slugfest between the Government and Brand Anna, the target is the citizen of India. The indiscriminate ‘firing’ of ‘words’ is of little help. In communication often ‘more’ and ‘bitter’ is not the way.


If Pepsi wants to ‘win’ it cannot afford to blindly start attacking Coke. It must obtain finer details about the attitude and commitment of the customers. The nature of content and tone should accordingly be determined. Communication in a competitive scenario is not about what you ‘throw’ rather it is about what customers ‘pickup’. Pepsi (in our example) faces the following types of customers (similarly the Government):Committed to Pepsi; committed to rival Coke and the indifferent. Pepsi can win only when it manages to persuade the ‘indifferent’ and ‘Coke committed’ to be Pepsi drinkers.


The government’s response to Anna has been to mount an attack by identifying the ‘weaknesses’ (for instance: ‘Kejriwal receives notice from income tax department’; ‘CD involving the Bushans in conversation with certain politicians’; ‘Kejriwal collected money for NGO while in office’ or ‘investigation into Baba Ramdev’s businesses’). The critical question is how effective are these tactics in persuading the people especially who are either ‘indifferent’ or ‘committed ‘to Brand Anna?

Sheriff’s social judgment theory serves as a good guide in this context. The effect of persuasive communication (here, in this case anti Anna campaign) in terms of creating attitude change (of people given to Brand Anna or indifferent) would depend upon which zone it falls in. There are primarily three zones: latitude of acceptance, latitude of rejection and latitude of non-commitment. The ego involvement (how important is the issue ?) plays an important role defining these zones. The effectiveness of persuasive attempts by the government would depend upon where their arguments are falling.
Considering the response that Brand Anna received (exhibits high ego involvement with the issue of corruption or anchor point or the point of reference or initial attitude) people are likely to have larger latitude of rejection. A persuasive attempt or message discrepant to the original position (like Kejriwal collected money or his NGO  has tax liability) by the government will fall in the zone of rejection (contrasted with the initial position of reference/ message directed is very different from point of reference- commitment to brand Anna) and hence is likely to be rejected by the people who are committed to Brand Anna. However  reality would be exactly opposite for the people who are pro-government (assimilation effect).
Given the overwhelming response Anna received, it shows a very high level of involvement with Brand Anna (as anticorruption crusader) people are likely to have a narrow zone of acceptance (larger zone of rejection) for any discrepant information. The present strategy of persuasion adopted by the people in power is unlikely to result into desirable effect. ‘More’ the attempts and ‘higher ‘ the severity of criticism- less is the effect.