Pepsi, “Oh Yes Abhi”, Slogans , Resonance and Layers of Meaning

Two important routes to brand creation are visual and verbal. The visual (illustration, pictures, logo) and verbal (message, headline, slogan) elements are combined to create brand image. These elements engage prospects through two of the five senses, the sight and sound. Brand slogans assume heightened importance in present day time-short and over-assaulted consumer. Perceptual filtering and defense mechanisms are pressed into action to escape from incessant barrage of messages that hit consumer’s mind. Slogans for being short and mnemonic are effective tools because of being less stressful on cognitive system. Slogans can convey brand’s essence (what brand stands for) in an instance and simultaneously contribute to brand strength by building recall and visualization.  For instance a sign off/ slogan like ‘High performance delivered’ (Accenture), ‘Melts in your mouth not in your hands (M&Ms) and ‘”When it Absolutely, Positively has to be there overnight’ (FedEx), ‘We try harder’ (Avis), ‘Think different’ (Apple), ‘Solutions for a small planet’ (IBM) convey brand promise succinctly and position it in relation to competition by highlighting relative strength.  Ranbir,Priyanka And M. S. Dhoni Photo Shoot For Pepsi Oh Yes ABHI! Ad

In the quest to bond with its market, Pepsi has launched its new campaign ‘Right here right now’/ ‘Oh Yes Abhi’.  It is interesting to see how brands change gears in their negotiation of psychological space in their search for relevance and resonance. Brand is much more than product, in this case the drink.  And the drink  is likely to deliver the same kind of experience. But then why the campaign has been launched that seeks to alter brand’s meaning semiotic ally? This brings us to the question whether people buy brands only for the utility sake or their delivery extends beyond functional boundaries.  A campaign that aims to alter brand symbolism without any  change of its product is certainly an effort given to align brand’s meaning with evolving consumer psycho-social reality.

Pepsi’s communication campaigns provide an interesting case study on changing youth psychology and life style. The brand is quick to size up the psychological space and read its undercurrents. It seizes opportunity in hidden concerns, dilemmas, and aspirations of its young target group. Prima facie Pepsi’s slogans appear simple statements with a very definite literal meaning. The denotative meaning actually is superficial to all these communications. The brand actually engages with its consumers at connotative level.  Accordingly communication says one thing at express level manner but quite another at the unspoken form. One of characteristics of good brand is that it forges bonds which transcend the logic, reason and rationality. Consider the following slogans which Pepsi has employed over the time:

‘Nothing official about it’ (1996)

‘Yeh dil maange more!’ (2006)

“Pepsi ye pyaas heh badi” (2000)

“My Pepsi My Way”(2009)

“Change the game” (2011)

 “Oh Yes Abhi” (2013)


In an interview with ET (28/1/13) Justice Verma  said, ‘If the government takes time, they should make way for persons who are quicker. If, at 80, I am so impatient, govt should understand the impatience of youth’.  Philosophically life is a different phenomenon from what it used to be. The meaning of time, relationships, institutions, consumption and artifacts has changed. There has been a fundamental shift in life values, aspirations and goals: life is short, time runs fast, conflicting priorities, a lot to be achieved, now is when you exist, pleasure is fine, me is first, old is no wisdom.  The certainty (emanating from linearity of progression in everything) coupled with philosophy of abnegation (sense control) made contentment an easily realizable goal. When tomorrow is uncertain, the focus shifts to now, young seek instant gratification ‘ Cause time can’t wait then I sure can’t wait, I ain’t got no patience no I just can’t wait… ‘No time for procrastination’ (Now generation song). The dictionary meaning of ‘impatient’ is lack of patience; intolerance of or irritability with anything that impedes or delays/ restless desire for change and excitement. Impatience is fuelled by a desire to ‘do more’ (‘yeh dil mange more’/ ‘ye pyaas heh badi’) which proportionately reduces the time available. This is the reason why the new currency of trade has become time (do you measure distance by time or kilometer?)

The idea appropriated by new Pepsi campaign taps into inner psychological reality of impatient generation (psychology of instant gratification- no urge deferment).  The slogan ‘Oh Yes Abhi, does not urge you to drink Pepsi ‘right now’ as it may seem to suggest but seeks to give the brand a new consumer resonating identity.

 Prof Mitra, my esteemed colleague at FMS says that Pepsi’s slogans have a third layer of meaning which operate within the realm of sexuality. Read these slogans. They do seem to be laden with  sexual connotations.


Brand, intentions and change

Brand is a connecting devise. It links up marketer’s intentions with that of consumers. First, marketer conceives, articulates and then expresses the brand into a concrete reality. The reality so created later is sensed, perceived and decoded by consumers. A brand succeeds or fails depending upon the extent to which it stands for what its potential customers want it to.
Brands seek constancy amidst change. Change and constancy are the two sides branding coin. Marketers wish to create perpetual brands but it is not easy to achieve. The environmental dynamism work to disturb brand’s equilibrium. Check beneath a long term floating brand, a lot of devil like paddling happens. Nothing remains constant behind the scene. Marketing elements are orchestrated to both adapt and innovate with moving times. Brands are like boats not on still water of a pond rather water of rivers of different currents. When the water flows beneath the boat, it must adjust and adapt to maintain its position.
Often brand names undergo a change often subtle and sometimes radical. Consider the following cases:
• International Business Machines became IBM
• Anderson Consulting became Accenture
• Lucky Goldstar become LG
• Delhi Cloth Mills became DCM
• Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC
• Telco became Tata Motors
• Levis Signature became Denizen (with Levis mentioned next in small letters)
• Hero Honda has become Hero
• Initially Bajaj forayed into motorcycle market with Kawasaki Bajaj which later moved on to use Bajaj name with all bike sub brands (like Bajaj Pulsar) now even Bajaj name is dropped and sub brands are the brands
• Maruti Zen after a long stint emerged as Zen Estilo and now it is Estilo more than Zen
• Anchor brand of electrical switches is now ‘Anchor by Panasonic’
• Apple Computers became Apple Inc

All these changes are symptomatic of the efforts by brand managers to keep their brands on course. Change is sometimes a compulsion thrust upon by external forces. And often it is a result of voluntary proactive strategizing aimed to seize an emerging business opportunity.

Consider the cases like Arthur Anderson and Kentucky Fried Chicken. These companies were forced to adopt new identity for their past had become a burden (Anderson’s accounting scandal) or irrelevant (Kentucky’s association with ‘fried’ -unhealthy and ‘chicken’ -controversial processing practices). Recently Hero Honda has been rechristened as Hero MotoCorp. This change was necessitated because of the joint venture between the two companies coming to an end in 2010. When Aditya Bira Group acquired cement business of L&T the company was given nod to use L&T name only for a year. L&T sold off its cement business because it wanted to focus on high value businesses and cement did not fit with its vision of the future. Birla had to create a new brand name which subtly leveraged the strengths of L&T brand without making any explicit reference to L&T. Accordingly ‘Ultra Tec’ brand was born which was positioned as ‘ The engineer’s choice’.

International Business Machines evolved into shorter abbreviated form ‘IBM’ with twin objectives: first to leverage the existing equity and secondly get the brand out of business machines closet. Here the brand redefined its scope beyond computing machines to embrace much wider mission of providing ‘solutions’. Tata’s Tata Locomotive Company changed into ‘Tata Motors’ because Telco enjoyed equity in commercial vehicles market which could be both a strength and weakness. On a higher plane all trucks also belong to vehicle category but trucks related associations could be dissonant for a car buying customer who sees car as an extension of his self. With a vision to become a total automotive player, the company combined ‘Tata’ (constant- equity leverage) with ‘Motors’ (umbrella term for all kinds of vehicles and suppression of truck related associations). Apple Computers also changed its identity to ‘Apple Inc’ to make the brand free from the narrow confines to computers as a product category. The company intended to participate in a wider space of electronics. Delhi Cloth Mills was India’s one of the top business houses during the pre liberalization era. The company changed its identity to ‘DCM’ to deemphasize ‘cloth’ associations and simultaneously leverage its equity develop business in new business areas.

Two extreme ends of branding are individual and umbrella branding. Companies (e.g. Unilever and P&G) in the western markets follow individual branding strategy for a variety of reasons. The product brands are often does not share any link with company behind it. The brand singularly drives consumer buying. This is when a product brand can stand on its own (value) in the market. Tata Motors also seem to be going GM (Ford adopted different model) way in terms of branding. Its first launch ‘Indica’ became a success primarily because of the equity it leveraged from ‘Tata’ brand (it was called Tata Indica). ‘Indica’ evolved into ‘Indica Vista’ (Vista suffix was used to suggest new refinements that brand incorporated) and now it is pushed as ‘Vista’ (sedan class). Now the brand is taking a new direction and relegating the old utility or functionality centric associations that ‘Indica’ had appropriated in the background. The car market has been evolving both at the supply and demand ends. There is distinct shift in favor of aesthetics and experience beyond functionality which is now taken for granted. ‘Indica’ has become endorser for ‘Vista’ which is being promoted as an aesthetically pleasing feature rich offering.
‘Sumo’ was initially endorsed by ‘Tata’ directly which later evolved into ‘Sumo Grande’ (suffix added to suggest more contemporized image). Now the brand in its new variant has dropped ‘Sumo’ to acquire new identity as ‘Grande MK II’. Dropping of ‘Sumo’ is done to drop utility vehicle associations and give the new variant and new contemporary sporty identity. ‘Sumo Grande’ now has become ‘Grande Dicor’, the addition of suffix ‘Dicor’ attempts to get a rub off from ‘Safari’ (sports utility vehicle). Here the brand also is making a move away from rational-utilitarian concept in favor of lifestyle and sporty orientation.

Anna Brand (6): Brand Is Bigger Than Product

I am reminded of a verse by Guru Nanak:

“0 Nanak! Be tiny like grass,
For other plants will wither away, but grass will remain ever green.

The meaning as I understand is that grass survives but big and tall trees get uprooted when the storm hits. The ego lays ground for destruction. The perception of being ‘big’, ‘tall’, ‘beyond’, ‘unassailable’, and ‘the best’ germinates the seeds of the fall. Ego and arrogance are two of the worst enemies of a human being. The ego, according to Geeta is the attachment to the body rather than the soul. The body is transient but the soul is immortal. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to surrender his false ego completely for achieving transcendental peace.

Like human beings big companies and big brands are also vulnerable to ego. The bigness- of aspects like size, market share, sales, and scale often breed seeds of decline. Bigness promotes inertia. Long time back in 1985 Alvin Toffler wrote a book titled ‘Adaptive Corporation’ which dwelled upon how organizations fail on account of not being ‘adaptive’ to change. Adaptation is ‘the’ way to succeed in a changing environment.

Consider long standing brands like: Xerox, IBM, Lifebuoy, Coke, and Ford. These brands are able to stay afloat because of ‘flexibility’ and ‘adaptability’. A brand is constant entity in a dynamic environment. True branding is about achieving timelessness by developing an escape route from the operation of product life cycle. Although Lifebuoy is still on the horizon even after decades but it must be understood that it owes its existence to ‘humility’ of being subservient to the cause, the brand. The soul is timeless but the physical elements have limited life. The physical aspects have surrendered completely to the ‘soul’ (the health and hygiene). IBM as a business has undergone great change (the body) but it has stuck on the brand soul (providing solutions). Horlicks as a product has come a long way since it was launched. The product Horlicks has undergone many changes (body) but its soul (nourishment) lived for decades.

Often success of a brand makes the entire enterprise product focused. A success formula of marketing or the product (the means) becomes so important that it displaces the brand (the end). The attachment to the product (the body) breeds arrogance and ego and there starts the decline. The soul (brand) is supreme, the product is only instrumental. Understanding the distinction is the key to creating long life brands. The products can come and go (akin to soul changing body) but the soul is supreme. Imagine how difficult it would be for Nokia to make a transition into services to provide a ‘solution’ which people seek.

One of the important traits of the leader is to keep focus on the goal. Goal is supreme; the leader who leads the team is the means to the end. Leader does not operate in a stagnant environment. So the means cannot be constant in a dynamic environment. Rigidity and lack of flexibility is dangerous. The leader (product) cannot dictate the brand (mission or goal). The leader, the product must adapt to evolving circumstances. Anna Brand stands at crucial juncture where rigidity (fast which worked brilliantly) could be self defeating. Now in the changed circumstances Brand Anna should move to a new level (product reformulation, ingredient changes, augmentations etc) sticking on to the brand DNA (non violence). The success of the brand in the first stage should not intoxicate (ego). The Band Anna is now on the next stage. Leader is a powerful resource; leader can ignite damp gun powder. The leader must understand the instrumentality of the leadership. The cause is supreme.