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?

Maruti or Suzuki or Nexa or S Cross: killing two birds with one arrow is bad strategy

First came the teaser campaign on television which left audience to wonder what Nexa is. The ad campaign used ambiguity route to creating curiosity to capture attention in otherwise highly cluttered communication scene. These were sleek and finely executed and managed indeed to build expectations that something premium is being launched. The clues that made up the ad- words like ‘feeling’, ‘joyous’, ‘amazing’, ‘pure’, ‘indulgence’, and ‘exclusive’ coupled with visuals of fast moving light, finely cut suit, smart men, expensive watch, trimmed beard, close up of eyes, and expensive box (probably containing keys)- did manage to create an impression of upscale and out of the ordinary. But it was not a campaign for car, as one thought initially. Rather it was campaign of a new car showroom.
The company, Maruti Suzuki launched new branded showrooms with proposition – ‘new hospitality experience’. The purpose is to sell high end vehicles though these Nexa showrooms. The company claims to have hired staff with experience in hospitality and aviation with the focus that these sectors equip their people to deal with wealth customers with high soft and communication skills.
The bread-and-butter Altos and Swifts won’t be retailed at these outlets. The NEXA-branded showrooms will try attracting customers looking to buy vehicles priced Rs 8 lakh and above.
The showroom ads were followed by the launch of X Cross, cross sports utility vehicle. The car is designed to have looks and style distinctively different from its current range. And its print communication reminds of ads of Mercedes Benz (may be due to similarity in font) and ad format.
This twin salvo is aimed to help the company shed its dilute its image of mass car producer to move up the price point. The company has already experienced failures in its earlier attempts to move up the car hierarchy with variants like SX4, Balneno and Kizashi. To undo what it did in past the company the company is seeking to produce high end cars with greater engineering, performance and appearance coupled with new branded channel of distribution (superior in store experience).
In supposedly an innovative way, the company is seeking to reach out the premium customers with premium branded showroom experience. The question arises, is this actually a right move to cater to a segment which earlier refused to patronize Maruti Suzuki’s premium vehicles? And was this rejection based on lack of availability of ‘branded showrooms’ and ‘hospitality experience’?

The ads of S Cross which zoom in on a swanky finely crafted car to reveal its identity through ‘S’ letter on the grill comes as an anti-climax. The hype build by Next and cleaver maneuvering of camera in introducing the vehicle does what it is not suppose to achieve- it is an “S” or ‘M’ car. It should have been a ‘N’ car distantly related to Maruti-Suzuki. But ‘S’ on the grill makes is closer to ‘M’ which is what led to rejection of company’s premium entries. The customers did not reject Maruti’s premium cars on the grounds of their performance. The rejection was due to imagery and perception.

Nexa, different exclusive branded showrooms is a good attempt to physical separation of customers and brands-mass and premium. But car branding reverses it. The premium segment play is certainly about performance, but it only operates at hygiene level. The motivation operates at the psychological level. The most important reason to buy a premium product/brand is to achieve distance from the mass- at psychological level. But ‘S’ and ‘M’ on the premium offerings of Maruti-Suzuki would continue to hound it like an invisible ghost. The lure to leverage brand equity directly sometimes proves fatal, the Company should have learnt it long time back.

Coke, Cadbury, Being good, Doing good and Branding

Marketing conjures up images of a salesperson aggressively pushing his products. It is popularly believed that marketing is all about selfishness wherein seller seeks to enrich himself at the cost of consumer. However in last couple of decades marketing practice has evolved and companies have begun to put consumer at the center of their marketing efforts. Accordingly marketing is emerging as a practice directed as satisfying customer or moving them on a higher level of existence (by solving their problems) making profits in the process as a consequence. But his shift of focus on consumer does not liberate marketing from selfishness or self-gain.

 In consumer centric paradigm, what do marketers offer? The marketers are made subservient to goals that consumers pursue or ends that they want to achieve. Consumer needs and wants present spaces on which brands are created. Branding mandate is consumer dictated. A brand cannot be anything other than want its target consumers want it to be. So what do brands offer to their consumers? Brands become agents of the delivery of material wellbeing- consumers’ material existence becomes the areas of focus. Brands position themselves as solutions to their problems emanating from their physiological or psyco-social spaces. Consider: Dove prevents damage to hair or skin; Dettol provides hygiene: Amul makes you healthy; LIC covers risk: MDH makes food tasty; Maggi saves time; Asian paint weatherproofs walls; Cherry shines and protects leather; Airtel connects with the friends; Ceat gives grip on the road; Sansodyne comforts sensitive teeth; Louis Vuitton makes you stand out; iPill gets rid of unwanted pregnancy and Fair & Lovely bestows confidence.

Within the overall imposed needs/wants structure, marketers work out branding strategy. Brands appropriate attributes (Castrol’s synthetic oil/ Vicco contains turmeric) and benefit (Bisleri’s safe to drink, Phillips bulbs saves energy). Mostly branding discourse is narrowly confined to the means and methods of making consumer’s material life better. Brands establish justification by delivering material gains or becoming devices enabling effective negotiation of material world. Rarely do brands tread the non-material or existentialist concerns. It may be due the fact that existentialist aspects do not translate into sound value propositions. May be being good and doing good make good theoretical sense but do not translate into branding opportunities.

Quite contrary to popular branding practice two brands that have taken the branding appeal to a higher existentialist level are Coke and Cadbury Dairy Milk. Both of these brands have been subtly shifting focus away from the product. Products are a physical construction and hence open to deconstruction and reconstruction. Objective differentiators are easy to outmatch. And in a reason based environment more is perceived to be better. Competition based on specifications can degenerate into collective annihilation. It creates dog eat dog situation by narrowing consumer focus on to objective product based criteria.  Therefore better brands develop escape routes by not being ‘more’ rather ‘different’.

Coke had its own share of product focused branding. It for a long period of time it used drink as the center piece of communication (secret formula/ hobble skirt bottle, tingle, taste, fizz, and refreshment). The brand also called itself ‘the real thing’ to suggest that Pepsi is not real or fake. But the question is how far these propositions can take the brand. The larger reality is that the product is nothing more than carbonated water packaged in a bottle albeit with different brand names. When the taste and sensations come close to a narrow threshold, Coke has taken the brand to compete on feeling platform but feeling here is not about activation of bodily senses  rather engagement with higher order consciousness.

Consider the brand communication. Last year the brand ran a campaign. ‘Ummeed wali dhoop sunshine wali aasha’. The core idea was to promote ‘ummeed’ and ‘aasha’ (hope, expectation) about the future. The brand tried to fight an overall sense of hopelessness about the way things are moving in different spheres of life (tomorrow is going to be better). And now ‘haan mein crazy hoon’ campaign takes the concept of happiness (‘open happiness’) from drinking (sensory pleasure- selfish) to doing things that make others happy. There is a shift from getting to giving. It urges people to discover the joy of giving, an appeal to higher order consciousness. The modern combative and overly competitive environment creates a heightened concern for self and a complete disregard for others. Sanity/ logical and mindfulness means concern for the self. But this singular quest for self-betterment/ concern for ‘I’ makes the collective existence hostile/ unlivable. The communication suggests break the rule, be crazy and do something good for others and bring smile on their faces. This kind of craziness (selflessness) is good

Cadbury Dairy Milk brand’s growth trajectory is almost similar to that of Coke’s. The brand sought to establish its legitimacy in the market by focusing on goodness of milk (brand’s logo depicts dairy goodness- milk being poured into the chocolate). This has been attribute based positioning which was necessary to get approval from mothers. Recently the brand took the communication from the literal ‘meetha’ to metaphorical ‘meetha’. It was transformation of the brand from sweet confectionery meant for kids to something that could be enjoyed by adults. The meaning of sweet was reinterpreted (meaning extension by subversion of sensory sweetness to sweet moments- remember cricket ad). The statement ‘Kuch meetha ho jaaye’ is a double layered with two meanings running parallel with each other (sweet occasion and sweet thing). Later brand changed its communication to ‘kuch meethas ho jaye’. With this the brand took upon itself to appeal higher order consciousness by urging people to  become agents of happiness – how small gestures can bring sweetness in relationships (wish your uncle Diwali who you have not spoken to for years).   

The only purpose of life is not to indulge in pleasure for the self. Humans are born with high order consciousness. It is a source of happiness for many. This gives brands an opportunity to forge deeper connections. 

Levi Strauss, Growth, Brands and Architecture

Every marketer must walk through market to reach profit goal. Revenue is essential for profit, the surplus left after deducting costs. The revenue goals and profit targets necessitate participation in market or markets. The growth imperative manifests in targets related to market share, sale and profits. Firms pursue their growth differently, a choice involving considerations of horizontal and vertical participation in the market. Branding and brands are important in this context.
Levi Strauss & Co has come a long way since 1873 which invented riveted tough denim wear (‘waist overalls’). The leather patch with an image of two horses pulling the jeans apart was used to demonstrate the pant’s strength. Within the rough jeans wear the company went on to increase its market participation by launching products meant for different segments like ‘Koveralls’ (one piece play wear for children), 501 (made exclusively from 10 oz. red selvage denim), jeans for the ladies by the name of Lady Levi’s, Lighter Blue line (sportswear), Preshrunk and STA-PREST (wrinkle free), wear in corduroy and polyester (to keep up with style changes). This way the brand went on to expand its reach to many jeans consumer segments. In 1996 LVC was introduced based on the reproductions of clothing from the Levi’s Archives. Then came super low waist jeans for women.

In early eighties the Company in an attempt to expand its footprint in upscale dressier clothing market created Levi’s Tailored Classics (LTC) line. The purpose was to tap ready to wear formal wear segment. But the brand failed to appeal to the sense and sensibilities of the target customers. The obvious question was what credibility a hard core denim wear brand has got to offer a classic range of suits which can be picked off the racks. Second if these were tailored then how these are available pre-fabricated off the rack? Levi name did not make sense to this segment and the line was discontinued.

With the progression of time, the concept of dress further fragmented from the binary classes of formal and informal wear. The dress besides operating at the functional level also functions at the symbolic level. A lot about a wearer is expressed by what he or she wears in terms of class, affiliation, personality, attitude and life style. The highly formal dipped in the starch formal clothing was pushed aside by a new generation of entrepreneurs and professionals (25-45 years baby boomers) who were free spirited white collar workers and wanted clothing to reflect their orientation (relaxed not tensed). Dockers brand was introduced in 1986 making company’s foray into what is called Khaki (non denim) market. This sub brand was created to take a plunge into emergent business casual clothing which young people wanted. It was a segment in sandwiched in between highly formal and highly casual jeans wear segments. This brand saw innovation such as StainDefender, Never Iron and Thermal Adapt. The brand was later extended into sunglasses, bed linens, & bath categories.
The Company’s portfolio was further expanded in 2003 with the launch of ‘Signature by Levi’ brand. The idea was to reach out to men, women and children with a product denim and non denim casual range of clothing. In terms of price this was an attempt to capture value conscious customer who aspired to own a Levi. The brand ‘Signature’ sought to appropriate style, quality and fashion and affordability and the words ‘by Levi Strauss’ directly supported it by making an explicit endorsement. Signature promised ‘Superior Fit, Comfort and Style’ to its customers. This move of the certainly allows the company to expand its presence by going out of its top end niche (minimum price 2200 rupees) which contributes to top end metrics like sales and share. But this strategy has its own risks. This kind of reaching out to the lower price points (between Rs. 799 and Rs. 1,499) can harm the mother brand by diluting its equity (exclusivity and class connotations). Titan reached out to economy segment by ‘Sonata’ brand with endorsement coming from ‘Tata’.
Later in 2006, the Company made a course correction by changing the Signature brand into ‘dENiZEN’ this was probably done to protect the Levi brand from potential image dilution harm. The dENiZEN brand was also a response driven by a strategy to fight local brands like Killer and Flying Machine. This brand was slightly differently positioned as a younger brand. In the visual communication ‘dENiZEN’ name stands dominantly out signifying something independent and different which supported by words ‘from Levi’s’. Unlike in its previous avatar as which used the expression either ‘Levi Strauss Signature’ or ‘Signature by Levi Strauss’ the identity of two brands were merged which signified a ‘different kind of Levi’ . But dENiZEN’s branding seeks to reconcile two opposing ends of belongingness and un-belongingness. When one sees the signage of dENiZEN, it signifies there is somebody new and different (denim and non-denim, trendier, young, economy and gender neutral) on the block but it comes from the house of Levis (credibility and trust).
In a new brand consolidation exercise, Levi Strauss & Co is in the process of phasing out its dENiZEN brand from markets other than North America. The Company will instead focus on its core Levi’s brand.

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.

Brand, Emotions and Affective Blindness

Marketers wish that their customers were blind and deaf to appeals made by competition. None of the tools in marketer’s arsenal can physically ‘switch off’ two of the most important gateways of perception. The problem is further compounded by ‘pro competition’ polices which seek to neutralize attempts of firms to monopolize the market. The challenge is not to find solution through structural alteration but work it out through consumer mind space.  This is precisely great brands seek to create. Branding in this sense is about developing ‘competition proof’ and ‘competition immune’ brands.

Consider some of the brand in identity building space like Rolex, Mont Blanc, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. The fierce fanatic like desire or pull that they create simply cannot be explained by the application of rationality. Then the essential question is what lies at their heart and what defines their soul. The emotional outburst and consequent surge of the urge suspends reason in animation making people behave in trance like manner. Otherwise how could a time keeping device or a trunk command such mind boggling prices?

The cognitive school explains consumer behavior through a hierarchy comprising of cognition leads to affect which mediate behavior. This was challenged affect based choice model which proposed that emotion affect behavior directly and is a different processing system.  Emotions can mediate preference without involving cognition (separate pathway). While the most decisions are based on cognitive processing some may be mediated by emotions unconsciously.

The affect based choice model seeks to explain the role of emotions in choice for self expressive or symbolic products. It is defined by self focus, holistic, non-verbal:

  1. Emotional choices are more about self rather than what is evaluated. The user (trier) is at the center not what is used (tried). Consider trying a Chanel shade. The choice is base on the imagination of how the person appears. Emotional judgments are self involving the focus in on the person.
  2. Emotional choices are marked by an ‘overall’ impression rather than analysis of individual attributes. The overall preference for a Rolex cannot be traced back to its attributes. Feelings cannot be adequately expressed and communicated. You cannot explain what you like a Rolex.
  3. How are emotions communicated? Verbal language cannot capture the essence of emotions therefore non-verbal communication is used. Images are soaked in meaning and their interpretation tends be subconscious and private. Imagine emotions evoked by J&J baby.

The beauty of emotion based choice is that once it is formed it repels reason based evaluations. Emotions can overwhelm reason. One of the critical decisions in branding strategy is to decide brand’s intended perception. By emotionalizing the brand it may be possible to take a jump over cognition and achieve its insulation from the challenges that stems from consumer ‘thinking mind’.