Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cracking The Marketing Campaign Code. Finally!

There are Some Unique Elements which Determine Whether a Marketing Campaign or a Product Launch Succeeds or Crashes. Call it The 6 ms Approach of Marketing!

“You don’t need my investigative skills, dear Dr. Watson,” said Sherlock Holmes, “to realise that a marketing campaign is working when a simple spinning top or a two bit rubber band goes out of stock even at a fancy price of Rs.200-400 or Rs.90.” Alright, so we made it up. The ace detective never said it. Indubitably, however, no one can refute the truthfulness of the concocted statement. Beyblade is nothing but a branded spinning top, repackaged and coated with some shiny stuff, worth Rs.5. Promoted directly and indirectly through websites and TV shows as Storm Pegasus, Tornado Wing, or Seggitario, it makes children act like extortion dons coercing and reigning over their parents, who surrender and buy in addition an ugly plastic contraption called ‘Arena’, the battleground for these branded warriors.

Wipro had launched an offering called Pace, when the recession was on in the US; it addressed issues like capital saving and efficiency for user clients. But since the last six months, the customers are asking for revenue enhancers – they are no longer looking at an offshore version. So Wipro proposes to launch a new campaign in February 2011 that will talk about improvement in product cycle time and not just about costs. Customers now are looking at the speed at which solutions can be delivered, so that ROI can be realised soon, not 18 months later. This sure warrants a change in product offering and marketing communication.


Okay, but are you aware as to who is your customer? Actually the marketer-customer relationship has evolved through three stages and is now in the fourth one. And in a heterogeneous market like India, all the four versions may coexist. In the initial phase, there existed pre-determined groups of buyers who were certain to buy. Individual differences and preferences counted for nothing. Products were created without much feedback from the users who were targeted through one way communication. In stage 2, a customer became an individual statistic but without much of a unique identity. He was spoken with, feedback obtained, and changes were incorporated for redesigning the product. In the next stage, a customer is identified as a unique entity. The products are reconfigured based on deep understanding of his needs. The communication is on a one-to-one basis. Finally, in stage 4, the customer is being treated as part of an enhanced network; he co-creates and extracts business value.

A marketer needs to follow the six Ms approach in order to make his marketing campaign future proof.

1.Precocious child or sweet sixteen? The marketer needs to define the target market in terms of demographic, psychographic, geographic, behavioural, and mediagraphic profiles. But, also realise that demographic variables fail to differentiate consumer behaviour. For example, 30-40% of consumers of premium brands are not necessarily SEC A. They could very well belong to SEC B or C. Partly, this is because over the last two decades, value drivers have changed from mere value for money and good quality to greater choices, service, and experience at retail level. When Hero Honda introduced the Passion, it had youth in the age bracket 18-30 years in mind who stayed in urban/semi-urban area and belonged to SEC A or B. More importantly, the customer was described as enthusiastic, who was considering a bike as an extension of his personality, was a style and looks conscious guy, someone who wanted something decent but price competitive.

2. Merchandise, the second M: The marketer must make it clear what is on offer, in terms of attributes, benefits, and values. Titan learnt two important lessons. One, watches are no more a time-keeping device but an everyday accessory and a style statement for the customer. So it positioned the brand accordingly. Two, one needs to lead the market with emotional innovation and keep repositioning the brand accordingly. So the latest catchline is ‘Be More’. Airtel, the number one brand in mobile communication, decided to make life simple for consumers by offering them simple and transparent services, communication and tariff plans and bills, since this is what the customer wanted.

3.Motive, the third M: An excellent campaign is based on deciphering the real reason behind the target prospect considering the product. So why did Kellogg fail in India? Because it attacked traditional belief that Indian breakfast was healthy; because in India pan-India breakfast item is a utopian concept, rather regional food preferences prevail This is because while cereals are light on tummy, Indians prefer heavy breakfast. Indians prefer spicy and savoury breakfast, not sweet. In brief, customers were not driven enough to buy. A Reebok failed initially because, in a nascent market, it talked about ‘marvel of engineering’. Focus on the sizzle, not the steak.

4.Message, the fourth M: It is the excellence of marketing campaign that made Dabur Chyawanprash rule over more than half the market. In one such effort, the positioning became ‘Banaaye andar se strong’ (makes you strong internally). Initially, when Dabur’s communication agency had focused on the rational appeal, the company had rejected it. Finally, the message with an emotional appeal was chosen. We also have to decide on the right choice of source (Toyota Etios) and package the message appropriately so that it stands out in a clutter (Jaago Rey campaign by Tata Tea). So an effective message is all about right positioning, brand image, and communication.

5.Media, the fifth M: Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, SRK, Aamir, Amitabh and a whole lot of other film stars are on social media (Twitter, Facebook, et al), to keep in touch with their fans, take their feedback, and update them. This helps them strengthen their bond with their followers. A marketer has to decide whether to use a personal communication channel (Salman Khan selling tickets at Delite Cinema in Delhi) or non-personal (mass media, ambience/atmosphere, events, et al) one. The singular objective is to get, and stay, connected with target customer.

6.Measurment, the sixth M: It was only after ‘Bheetari Shakti Ka Vikas’ line failed to work, that Dabur decided to change it to ‘Banaaye Andar Se Strong’. Since curative positioning made the customers treat Dabur Chyawanprash as a medicinal product, the positioning was changed to preventive, thus placing it in a broader ‘desi’ tonic category. In determining the effectiveness of a campaign one should be clear about what is to be measured (Sales or communication effects?) and appropriate tools of measurement (Focus groups, sales waves et al). The feedback obtained thereby will give an idea whether to continue with the campaign (Cadbury retaining its positioning of celebrations with Cadbury) or modify it (Pizza Hut) or drop it (Ericsson, when people mistook the mobile brand being designed only for ladies).

It is on the strength of excellent and effective marketing campaigns that Maggi adorns the kitchen shelves of virtually all urban households, Cadbury is accepted as suitable ‘Meetha’ option for all occasions, and Lux makes all ladies aspire to look like their favourite film stars.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

How Dose The Godzilla Get The Swagger Back ?

You will come across Uncountable Lessons of Failure in the World of Mega-Brands and Giant Citadels. But there are Some Names, Which have Managed to Bounce Back. Cheers to Such Goliaths!


Vicco Turmeric and Vicco Vajradanti once were marquee ayurvedic skincare and oral care brands. But over time, Vicco failed to keep pace with consumer trends. It was a successful brand promising beauty care in a tube. Even today, the brand enjoys high recall and strong equity. But the brand failed to contemporise; it has failed to capture the new customer. It has thus ceded ground to newer aggressive players in the overall Rs.3500 crore skincare products market, where ayurvedic creams account for close to 15% market share.

But we don’t intend talking about brands which sign their own death warrants. Instead, we would like to document case histories of Goliaths who are trying to beat back bullies on their own turf. To be sure, competition rears its head with unfailing regularity across all segments of the industry. Improved customer sentiments, robust volume growth, a 5-10% price rise, grammage reduction in select biscuits, launches of innovative products and premium biscuits at lower prices, all this and more have meant improved profit margins for Britannia Industries. Yet, analysts are not too optimistic about the company’s prospects, as competition turns intense from foreign (United Biscuits and Kraft) and domestic (ITC, Parle, and Glaxo) players, in addition to the regional brands. Pepsico enjoys 50% plus market share in snacks, but Parle says it will slice 20% of market for itself before the current financial year is done. Who is scared of the might of the multinational muscles?

So the Goliaths, which are caught enjoying a siesta, are successfully challenged by the Davids of the marketing world. A short nap on the steering wheel can prove to be extremely dangerous. The question, however, is: can one still steer oneself to safety? Apparently yes. There are many brands who are trying to reclaim the lost script.

The branded tea market in India is worth Rs.7500 crore. Yet, though it is a popular beverage in India, tea is losing its popularity amongst youngsters. It is not considered a ‘cool’ beverage, which coffee is supposed to be. To make matters worse, in a recent survey, 77% respondents believed that tea was an unhealthy drink that caused acidity and nausea. Enough cause for worry for Hindustan Unilever Limited.

Then came in the spoilsport Tata Beverages and dethroned HUL from the #1 position in November 2009. The high voltage campaign ‘Jaago Re’ helped Tata increase its market share. Besides, it expanded into new geographies, undertook new launches, took rural initiative, and decided to have a sharper focus on local brands. The company’s core strategy is to look at the large loose tea market and the local brands. It paid the company rich dividends for some time.

HUL decided to fight back. It was successful and beat back Tata in September 2010 with a value share of 22.8% (Tata: 20.2%) and volume share of 18.4% (Tata: 18.3%). HUL played across the consumer pyramid, offering Brooke Bond Sehatmand at the bottom of the pyramid, and Taj Mahal tea bags and Lipton Green Tea to the top of the stack. Besides, it tailored its tea offerings in every state using micro marketing principles. Sehatmand, for example, became Arogya in the South. HUL also revived the core brand Brooke Band Label, highlighting its health benefits. The gambit, for now, has paid off.

The general entertainment channel (GEC) Colors, was a late entrant. So it decided to follow the disruptive tactic of doing the unexpected. The channel pursued two Ds: disruptive programming and differentiation, thereby successfully cutting through the clutter. It began by offering a combo of Khatron Ke Khiladi (to create enough buzz), Balika Vadhu (to cater to the ‘New’ Woman), and Jai Sri Krishna (as a family soap). Nine months into telecast, and it unseated Star Plus from the numero uno position. It won and then retained the top slot in viewership ratings for a good 22 weeks. That was a wake-up call for Star Plus.

Star Plus decided to reinvent itself. It decided to keep pace with the new age Indian woman by continuing with fictional narratives, even if the rival channels had lined up a host of big budget reality. The women characters now depict inner strength enabling them to make intelligent choices for the betterment of their people. Besides, the channel constantly reviews its shows. If a show fails to deliver or has nothing new to offer in its storyline, then it is replaced. Star Plus has even managed to create new time slots at 11pm and 11.30pm. True to its new tagline (Rishta Wahi, Soch Nayi) the channel is offering its viewers a fresh perspective on life and relationships. All this has not only led to conscious repositioning, but also 15-18 of its shows always finding listing in the top 20 slots. The strategy has certainly paid off. The channel is targeting the weekly 400 Gross Rating Points (GRPs; current figure being 340-370), which, if it happens, should mean garnering Rs.1000 crore in ad-revenues. That is nearly 12% out of the total Rs.9,000 crore TV advertising on 500 plus channels!

According to E&Y, India will soon become the fastest growing automobile market globally; currently it occupies the number 2 position, after China. Little wonder then that five marquee names – Chrysler, Kia, Peugeot, Triumph, and Scania – are finalising their entry strategies. In this market, Mercedes has usually enjoyed a position of prominence when it comes to luxury cars. But compatriot competitors have started nibbling away the monopoly share of the company. When BMW, its immediate rival, arrived in India, it targeted the right gaps where Mercedes was more or less not focusing. With the increasing number of C Class 4 wheels rolling on the roads, the aura of owning a Mercedes for the average customer was on the wane; instead it looked swankier to own a ‘Beamer’. Although Mercedes still sells more UVs today (274 in January-October 2011, as compared to BMW’s 256 in the same period, as per SIAM), and is still the #1 in the A4 (Executive Class) segment (1,458 versus BMW’s 1,372 in the same period), and the A6 (Luxury) segment (339 versus BMW’s 307), it’s time for Mercedes to become aggressive and innovative if it has to remain ahead of BMW.

So, the brand has now decided to follow high volume, moderate margin strategy, as against the earlier high margin, low volume strategy. To achieve this, it has made 3 major changes. It has replaced all its earlier models with newer, feature rich, and technologically superior versions but with lower or same price tags. It has launched 22 models since January 2010, quite a contrast to the 25 models it introduced during 1996-2009. Then, it has decided to redesign all its showrooms, which now would have play area for children, and Manish Arora collections for womenfolk. Plus, it is launching its financial services arm and its pre-owned car outlets. Two, the company will have a tech focus. It has installed in the C and E class models, the latest C200 CGI Blue Efficiency engine which, due to its greater fuel efficiency, would appeal to Indian market even more.

The first step to solving a problem is to accept the problem – and the first step towards refusing to get bullied is to accept that there is a danger of that in the first place. As simple as that! 


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Slumbering Smugness Eats Into The Vitals Of A Brand

When we read the Case Histories of Brands with potential that was not Fully Exploited, We find one Devastating threat linking them all – Complacency!

Rubik’s cube comes with six coloured sides, 21 pieces, and 54 outer surfaces. It can generate more than 43 quintillion (43,252,003,274,489,856,000) possible configurations. But there is only one solution. Despite 30 years of existence it continues to be one of the best selling toys of all times. Harlequin publishing house sells 140 million Mills and Boon copies every year, generating a turnover of $429 million. So, it’s Gods – and some other brands – who can afford to invoke monopoly power. Not the rest of us. In the marketplace devil does not take the hind most; he attacks the front runner. In the real world there are myriads of cases where brands constantly lose ground. They surrender their competitiveness due to a number of reasons – relevance or lack thereof, becoming predictable and formulaic, being outfoxed by smarter rivals, judgment errors, and so on. When we read the case histories of brands with potential that was not fully exploited, we find one devastating threat linking them all – complacency!

When Coca-Cola was forced to quit India in 1977, Double Seven was launched as its replacement. The product replicated the taste of Coke one hundred percent. The formula being developed by a government research lab, the central government decided to entrust Modern Beverages India Ltd. (MBIL) the task of marketing it. There existed no capacity limitation or equipment problems so that any desired volume could be supplied. There was no rival brand of course. But MBIL decided to produce soft drinks using a concentrate of only 1 tonne per day. Between 1977 and 1987 the production remained stagnant. In fact, by 1987 the brand had vanished from metropolitans. And since in the absence of a marketing push later entrants like Thums Up (in Western India) and Campa Cola (in North India) managed to capture a fair share of the market. So why did the brand fail even if it had excellent product back up?

For two primary reasons: MBIL’s handling of the bottlers and the perception that the PSU’s mandate was limited to produce bread. Thus, MBIL, used to dealing with small bread retailers, pursued the strategy of getting as many bottlers into its franchise fold as possible. India, after all, was following a socialistic model of development (even in a profit oriented venture!). Naturally, it failed to get the support of big bottlers in the metros. And, true to the PSU mode of operation, the enterprise never promoted the product effectively, so as to build a brand image matching Coke. In the soft drink industry the product cost is negligible; the consumer pays for the promotion costs. However, above everything else the marketing failure was the result of an indifferent government attitude; it promoted the drink till it served a political end. Beyond that no commercial interest. The brand went into neglect. Interestingly, the lab still has the secret formula. Any takers?

Trap No. 1: No marketing orientation, no success in a competitive market
According to IDC, Nokia’s marketshare in Indian mobile handset market has declined from 54% in Q2, 2009 to only 36% in Q2, 2010 (Nokia of course refutes the figure). Nokia seems to be missing the bus for a long time now. Just two years ago it enjoyed a market share of more than 70%. But now it is stranded in the middle of the market. At the lower end homegrown brands and the Chinese products are nibbling into Nokia’s market share while at the top end the likes of RIM, Samsung, and others are making its life miserable. All this because the company has became slothful. For example, when Indian buyer exhibited a clear proclivity towards clamshell models, Nokia had none to offer, supplying only candy bar varieties. And now that 39% of all handsets sold in the country (January-June 2010) were dual sim handsets, Nokia did not have a single model in the segment. The slide explains itself.

Nokia as an organisation, according to the insiders, swollen by its earlier success, has grown complacent, slow and removed from consumer desires. It has been following product orientation as against marketing orientation, primarily because its design approval process is mired in Soviet style bureaucracy. If you need evidence, read on. A few years before Apple introduced the iPhone, Nokia engineers presented a prototype of Internet ready touch screen version with a large display. Management was unmoved and refused to give a green signal for further development. You know the rest of the story where iPhone appears as the hero. During 2004 the management again rejected an early design for a Nokia online applications store – an innovation that all major players adopted three years later anyway. Nokia failed to improve its symbian OS, needed to support a more sophisticated smartphone. Though it introduced the industry’s first touch screen devices in 2003, it failed to perfect the technology to fingertip precision before Apple did. Notwithstanding N8 launch it still lacks a convincing response to iPhone. To make matters worse, Nokia spokesperson refuses to admit that the company follows a sloppy approach towards innovations, that the company has become risk averse.

Trap No. 2: Bureaucratic sloth kills the initiative, ingenuity and innovations
Mercedes Benz is one among many cases where multinationals misread the India market to their own peril. It shares this dubious honour with the likes of Peugeot, Wrangler’s, and Tang ... though not entirely, since it is one of the few companies which has wiped out red ink from its P&L account and now generates net profit. The story needs to be told anyway. Mercedes certainly created the market for luxury segments in India. Yet against a targeted number of 20,000 (including exports) the company actually sold only 1,885 cars in its launch year. First mistake, the company overestimated the consumer’s willingness to buy at a price tag of Rs.23 lakh. That too, through cheque payment! Then, it launched E220 model and not C series, since it wanted to pursue low volume high price strategy. But this model was about to be phased out from world markets. And the affluent prospective Merc buyer in India, who was well conversant with international trends, felt cheated. Further, the company was stingy in introducing newer models in India. Between 1996-2009 it launched only 25 models. In contrast, since January this year it has already launched 22 new models across various segments.

And yet, due to its absolute monopoly in the luxury car segment it wiped out all its accumulated losses by 2005, since when its balance sheet is awash with black ink. The performance thus had less to do with savvy marketing by the company, and more on account of existence of a market that offered no rival choices. So the moment the challenger brand BMW entered India, Mercedes lost its premier position to the new entrant, for the first time since it set up its operations here in 1996.

Trap No. 3: Monopoly status delivers you a ‘hostage’, not a ‘happy’ customer
Examples abound. Heinz with its premium pricing (where customer failed to perceive a clear differentiating reason to pay extra) thinking erroneously that everybody knows the brand in India (not true), MySpace which got eclipsed by Facebook and Twitter because overtime it lost focus, Liril bathing soap which exploited the potential of freshness plank but flogged it till it went stale, or Bajaj which again due to virtual monopoly position offered staid products and predictable communication. Women’s Era created the market for women’s magazine but failed to evolve with the modern readers.

Of course some realise their mistake and attempt mid-course correction – Mercedes (now following lower price high volume strategy), Star bouquet of channels (which is regaining its number one position through revamped programming and positioning, after it had lost to Colors), Coke (which realised that every experiment to undermine Thums Up was actually benefiting Pepsi more than Coke), and many others.

So, let complacency not consume your brand. You may not get a second chance to regain lost ground.


Thursday, October 7, 2010


Ten lessons to learn from marketers who have either given the world some best-selling brands, or have failed miserably in their efforts...

The latest SMS joke doing rounds goes something like this: The teacher told the class, “Introduce yourself and say what does your dad do?” When his turn came, a boy stood up and said without battling an eyelid, “Sir, my dad works as a male stripper in a night club.” Lost for words, the teacher gestured him to sit down but later confronted him, “Well, there are subtle ways of putting it, and aren’t you ashamed of what your dad does for a living?” The boy replied, “Sir, actually I made that up in the class. Honestly, he works for the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee and I was too embarrassed to reveal his real occupation!” So who do you think will take the crown to head the Hall of Infamy once the year ends, considering all the news about the CWG 2010 that has been doing the rounds? [There is no prize for guessing the right answer.] The logic is simple: Authorities have been wrongly marketing the state of affairs with anything and everything to do with the Games. But moving away from disgraced marketers and disappointments, let us talk about those who are star marketers, and why...

So what if I am queen of kitsch?
Let’s get quizzical. Who declares that AB junior is a better actor than his Paa? Who claims that ‘there is nothing natural about Amitji’ or, that poor Salman Khan is being repeatedly used by his girlfriends for climbing up the career graph? Which brand stands for brashness, crudeness, and unsophistication, but to whom, Prabhu Chawla (from Aaj Tak) admits that much against his own wishes, “I have to invite you to Seedhi Baat since the audience demands it”? One of the top business magazines had included Rakhi Sawant in its list of best marketers of 2009. The façade is carefully cultivated by Rakhi.

Lesson #1 to become a star marketer: Be uniquely relevant to your target audience.

Of vision and Dreams...
Henry Ford’s dream was to build a car for the masses, constructed by the best men, using the best material and having the simplest of designs. It was to be priced low so that every one with a moderately good salary could afford it. This dream sums up his marketing philosophy and the spirit of the Ford brand. First to introduce the assembly line in 1914 and mass produce cars, he made them affordable for all. A technological genius, he followed his passion and became the force behind an industry of unprecedented size and wealth that in only a few decades permanently changed the economic and social character of USA. A few years short of a century later, another great visionary, Ratan Tata, dreamt of a Nano and brought it to fruition.

Lesson #2: Dream big, live it, and enact it.

The first family of organised retailing
Kishore Biyani has changed the way we Indians shop. Focussing on decoding the Indian consumer, his singular goal is to respond to the needs of the Indian masses. He says that he knows only one way of attaining LSD – Laxmi Saraswati and Durga (goddesses of wealth, knowledge and emotional well being, and power) – by following the consumer way. The `10,000 crore plus Future Group is perhaps the only successful company in organised retailing in India today. Biyani has an uncanny and profound understanding of the Indian consumers.

Lesson #3: Consumer focus is the key; rest will follow.

I am the change agent!
Barack Obama relied on nouveau marketing tactics like online contribution through his electorate friendly website, mobile messaging to connect with his voters, and so on. He adroitly packaged himself as a product, selling hope and change to fellow countrymen. His catchphrase, ‘Change you can believe in’, struck the right chord in a country that had lost faith in the establishment and was looking for a saviour. Obama came as a relief, as a trustworthy alternative, produced and packaged very slickly.

Lesson #4: Connect well with your customers.

Hum hein Chulbul Pandey!
The successful Dabbang actually signals the thumping return of the delightful subgenre, the unapologetic mainstream masala flick. Salman fills the gap of being ‘man of muscle’, but not necessarily the conventional hero incarnate. He has positioned himself as Bollywood’s premier action hero. The dream combo – soft face, tough body (reminding you of Dharmendra of the ‘70s) – compels the women to ogle at him and men envy his rippling muscles bursting through the seams of his shirt. Now, everybody does not necessarily dig at We are family. There is life outside the multiplexes.

Lesson #5: Bridge the need gap existing in the market.

I am young, I am the future
During the General Elections of 2009, the heritage party promised the usual – stability, secularism, good governance. However, what was new and unique to the Congress’s marketing strategy was Rahul Gandhi who brought the youth in the mainstream of politics. He infused sincerity, positivity, and freshness in the Party’s plans. RG, the brand, represents youth, dynamism, and new-age thinking. He easily connects with the masses, has charisma, transparency, down to earth demeanour, and a relentless focus on galvanising youth. Still evolving, it is to be seen if he will have his Obama moment in 2014. He is still perfecting the art of marketing.

Lesson #6: Cultivate new segments as per your strengths.

Badshah of marketing
SRK is worth `1,500 crore. He has the sharp vision of a businessman. At the core of the casual exterior exists a canny entrepreneur, who is quick to spot an opportunity and get cracking at it. He has the requisite skills to run businesses that he does, the qualities that meet the job specifications for becoming a CEO and capabilities of an inspirational leadership. He has successfully helped launch new products and brands in relatively untested markets. With a strikingly clear vision and great ambition, he is a great researcher, a coach and a player, and a meticulous manager – traits that make him a quintessential marketer.

Lesson #7: Use your strengths to full advantage.

Mr. Perfectionist?
Aamir Khan, knows how to influence masses. He made people change their hairstyle and bulk up after Ghajini, become more empathetic towards children with learning disorder after Taare Zameen Par, and even rethink the Indian education system with its warts and all after 3 Idiots. His last four releases have collected `600 crore at the box-office. Raju Hirani calls him a marketing monster. Aamir the marketer is even more precious than Aamir the actor. His big success is in running a production company which has cent percent record of super hits – three out of three.

Lesson #8: A better mousetrap needs marketing too.

A check list should consist of not merely Do’s but also Don’ts. Let’s therefore also narrate some entries from the Hall of Infamy.

I am Lalit Modi AKA IPL
There would not have been an IPL without Lalit Modi choreographing it. However, he became too sure of his invincibility & piled up one fatal mistake after another. He caught up with his nemesis when the fantasised immunity cover crumbled with the govt. unleashing its wrath on him. He built the IPL to a $4 billion-plus level, but on the way razed his own equity to ground.

Lesson #9: A megalomaniac marketer bites the dust.

Crash landing is a real possibility
Paramount Airways was the poster boy of Indian aviation. While others were immersed in red ink, it was awash with profit. But the promoter M. Thiagrajan failed to do his arithmetic right. Driven perhaps more by passion and integrity, not logic, he failed to appreciate the fact that airline business is a great money guzzler. He failed to honour his commitments. A good product got grounded even before it could start gaining heights.

Lesson #10: A successful marketer has to be an astute businessman too.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Secrets of a Valued Brand

In a market where clutter defines the present and competition is religion, What should Drive a Brand – Pricing Advantage or Benefit Package?

A brand is a promise. As a variety of competitive claims assail the consumer’s senses, he uses his personal gestalt of each competing brand to compare one with another. He is looking for a uniquely beneficial package of attributes. A marketer must make an offer at such a price as the customer’s expectations are exceeded. We may add that a successful brand is an identifiable offer augmented in a manner that the customer perceives it in a promise that is full of uniquely relevant values which match his needs. And a valued brand is one which delivers the added values in a sustained manner, in the face of competition.


Though the marketer designs his offer, the customer is the arbiter. When buying a new brand he seeks clues about the capabilities of the brand. He evaluates the brand through a menu of perceptual evaluations so that it becomes his idea of the product. Good branding results in perception of the values of a brand interpreted and accepted so clearly that the brand acquires a personality (Coke, Thums Up, Pepsi, et al). Indeed, products with little apparent functional differences are regarded differently because of the unique brand personality (for example: Kingfisher Airlines vs. Jet Airways).

A study of 1036 brand communication enables us to typify brands in the following eight categories:

The table above shows that marketers interpret brands in different ways. Thus, they place different emphasis on resources that they need to commit to support the brands. While some treat brands as functional devices (Colgate dental cream), others treat them as primarily differentiating devices (Close Up toothpaste). But the really successful ones – the valued brands – adopt a holistic perspective by treating their brands as strategic devices.


Such brands acknowledge that customers are the promiscuous lot. Love for a brand is not unrequited. At times the frame (Packaging) may sell the painting (Product), but often, consumer declines to oblige. Wise marketers analyse the forces that can influence the profitability of their brand, identify a position for their brand that majors on the brand’s unique advantages and guard it against competitors. Maruti does it. Ford did not, until it introduced the Figo in India. The marketer does not emphasise on design or advertising (Fiat Palio did, with miserable results); instead he coherently employs company resources to support competitive advantage (LG, Nescafe).

Of course if the competitive advantage is not sustainable, the brand will disappear from the market (Stencil) or will be outmaneuvered by more aggressive rivals (CCD vs. Barista). A brand’s competitive advantage gives it a basis for beating competitors, since it creates superior value for its customers. These customers perceive value in brands when it either costs less to buy these brand than competing brands offering similar benefits (Micromax offering Push mail facility), and/or when they have unique benefits which offset premium prices (Honda City).

So what should drive my brand – pricing advantage or benefit package?

Cost-driven brands can cut costs through economies of scale, faster learning, more efficient raw material sourcing, bulk-selling, cost-cutting tech innovations, or streamlining of product range. By understanding what the target market wants, unnecessary frills can be eliminated (Nirma in a polythene pack, Subhiksha stores without air conditioning) and an attractively priced proposition can be developed (Udipi restaurant). However, given the market price, if costs cannot be contained so as to give acceptable profit margin, the strategy will boomerang (Coke at `5 for a 200 ml bottle met this fate). Value added brands on the other hand offer bigger/superior benefits package than the rivals, and charge a premium in lieu (Angioplasty at Max vs. AIIMS). To be sure it need not be functional excellence that establishes the superiority of such brands. A strong image itself can offer a powerful competitive advantage (Heritage hotel properties of ITC Group). Value-added brands differentiate themselves using a variety of techniques – a unique component (Carl Zeiss lens in a Sony handycam), superior technology (iPod), incomparable end product (buildings designed by Hafeez contractor), distinctly superior service (Emirates Airways), or simply image perception (Color Plus).


Each brand has a cost-driven component and a benefit-oriented package. A brand therefore could be predominately cost-driven (Zenith computers) or predominately benefits driven (Sony Vaio). Accordingly, we can draw a brand matrix that classifies brands on a strategic basis.

Commodity brands offer vanilla, undifferentiated products. The seller lacks the ability and/or inclination to help the customer. The services offered are of indifferent quality, either because of an absence of significant competition (BSNL) or because of low revenue per customer (Government-run schools). If and when new efficient competition arrives, the sluggish brand will have to either pull up its socks (SBI after the arrival of ICICI bank) or it is likely to suffer from a cardiac arrest (yellow top taxis). Bargain basement brands are cutprice offers which care little about establishing features/image superiority; they concentrate instead on passing on the benefit to customers in the form of ultra low prices (Big Bazaar). Unique brands on the other hand are able to charge a premium for their particularly unmatched benefits. These focus less on cost management and more on value addition. Nature’s basket from Godrej, the Gourmet foods supplier, for example offers choicest selection at premium prices. Platinum lounge in PVR complex will leave you poorer by `400-500 per seat.

Finally, the benefit brands are those successful monikers which offer customers many relevant extra benefits (Hyundai i10 and i20). As a consequence of high consumer satisfaction, they enjoy a high relative market share, enabling them to enjoy economies of scale (Hero Honda). They pass on some of the cost savings to customer so as to also enjoy price advantage over rivals (Maruti).

So which cell should a marketer strive to occupy? For sure, commodity brands indulge in mutually destructive rivalry. Relative weaklings are ousted in due course, as consolidation takes place, and then the remaining players find their niche. This is what has already happened in many segments of the consumer durables industry in India. This is what is currently happening in the aviation industry.

Bargain basement brands can survive as long as they can exercise tight cost control. Product portfolio rationalisation, Standardisation et al, need to be undertaken. Many garment exporters have forayed into domestic market, since they were already used to running a tight ship. Vishal Megamart has faced difficulties, because it expanded beyond its limits.

Unique brands survive on constant innovation. Microsoft has launched version Windows 7 through planned obsolescence and iPod is in its fourth incarnation. On the other hand, Facebook has successfully challenged Orkut. These are high-margin brands almost monopolising a specific subsegment of the market.

Finally, benefit brands like Nokia, Frito Lays, Haldiram fast food and their ilk, thrive through being very responsive to changing market needs and continually attempting to improve their offerings, while simultaneously looking for opportunities to shave costs. These brands enjoy a large market share and keep their shareholders happy. So if one has a choice, one should join the league of Valued – unique or benefit – brands. But then, the contest is truly fierce. For most, it would be, like they say, “If only, wishes were horses...”


Thursday, August 12, 2010


World Cup 2010 saw many cheers and tears. Shakira sang, Octo-Paul chose, Spain won, and the other teams taught us some valuable marketing lessons

Last year in South Korea, a parrot was pitted against 10 stock traders. Their performance was measured on returns earned over a period of six weeks. The parrot outperformed most of its rivals, earning a very decent 16% return. So did the parrot have lot of clairvoyance capabilities or was it being more astute than its competitors? Neither, if you ask us. The contest only highlighted the unpredictable nature of the stock market. Taking a cue, the uncannily accurate predictions of the Oracle Octo should be treated as nothing more than interesting coincidences. In any case, Paul the soothsayer has turned a recluse now and is unavailable for making forecasts.

30 days, 65 matches and 32 participating teams. One does not really need an eight-legged creature to draw lessons in management and marketing which were unfolding right in front of one. But if, like most viewers, you spent hours only lazing around drinking beer, watching the lithe body of Shakira singing Waka Waka, Messi figure-skating past defenders, or Diego Forlan producing a goal out of thin air, all this too being half asleep, then let us do the search for you, and give you the enduring takeaways that the teams and the tournament delivered for us. So here goes:

THE TROPHY GOES TO... SOUTH AFRICA: The real winner was Brand South Africa. The initial apprehensions over crime, racial skirmishes and terrorist onslaughts vanished soon. Not even one tourist had a cause for complaint. The infrastructure was excellent. Most impressively the matches were so well organised that there were no annoying queues at the stadia, despite elaborate security checks. Every single citizen seemed to have taken the job of hospitality upon himself. Little wonder then that whereas in a May 2010 poll 56 % had pronounced South Africa ‘unsafe’, towards the end of the World Cup more than half of total respondents declared the host nation to be quite safe. Marketing lesson: If you have a sense of ownership, your brand gains dizzying heights! Hoping against hopes, we wish we could say the same thing about Brand India after the Commonwealth games are concluded in October, 2010.

CHINA: It is not for nothing that China is proclaimed to be a ‘merchant to the world’. The country had a tangible presence in the World Cup 2010. It usurped the contract for making the Jubilanis from traditional football makers in Pakistan’s Sialkot. Vuvuzelas, stuffed Zakumi mascots, wigs, condoms, seats for the stadia – Chinese rolled out all of them and more. Up to 90 % of those honking plastic trumpets sold in South Africa during the World Cup were supplied by China. And mind you, the demand is not merely confined to the African nation or only for the period of the tournament. Marketing lesson: Grab an opportunity when it presents itself. India in contrast became happy supplying only football bladders!

AMBUSH MARKETERS: An analysis of online blogs, message boards, and social networking sites by the Nielson company found that Nike was more frequently linked to the World Cup than any official sponsor, including Adidas. Carlsberg beer attracted four times as many mentions in English messages relating to the tournament than official sponsors Budweiser. Back home many would be able to recollect clarion call of Pepsi – “nothing official about it” – when the company had lost the World Cup in cricket sponsorship rights to Coke. Marketing lesson: Savvy marketing saves millions in sponsorship investment.

Shakira’s anthem-song, translated in English, means: “Do it – get the task done”. Inertia is the enemy of initiative. Colgate kept on procrastinating about standing up to the challenge being offered by Close Up in the gel-based toothpaste market; lost the battle forever. Bajaj delayed upgrading styling and technology of its scooters and became extinct. When it comes to marketing, pace is another P in the arsenal of the marketer. Marketing lesson: The brand which seizes the moment, wins the moment.

HYPE DOES NOT NECESSARILY GENERATE A BETTER PERFORMANCE: Ronaldo, Rooney, Kaka and Messi were supposed to be the stars. Alas, the quartet barely scored enough goals to match even the individual number of goals scored by less famous players like Forlan or Mueller. Edsel from Ford partly failed to move because of the hype created about an unseen, unproven product. A low profile Rock On actually rocked among the movie goers but the Salman starrer much publicised Veer failed to win over the audience. Marketing lesson: Clever publicity can generate a lot of hype – but winners are the ones which exceed the expectations of the buyers.

MARADONAS OF THE WORLD: Argentina faced a humiliating defeat. They concentrated on stellar individual performances but failed to play as a team. They got dismissed 0-4 by Germany. And yet World Cup 2010 will be remembered for Maradona’s charisma, antics, and fiery press conferences. There were more banners and posters of him than of any other player in the matches Argentina played. Even after his team’s disastrous exit, he continued to hog the limelight. The player and the Argentinian govt. are unlikely to let him go. Marketing lesson: Temporary blips fail to make a dent in the fortune of an enduring brand.

SPAIN, THE WINNERS: Keep believing and you will get there in the end. Spain had never been past the quarter-finals ever before. But this time they offered lessons in perseverance. Marketing lesson: Hang on there; don’t give up the faith; you are likely to make it in the end. That’s the reason a Kellog succeeds in India or Tanishq leads in the jewellery market.

GERMANY: Germans were described as dour, even if efficient and methodical; as Italians with worse haircuts. But not this time. They played attacking football, made impregnable defence against Argentina. Most importantly they played as a team, and played to win. Only the ruthlessness of the Spanish defence (and not the clairvoyance of Paul,silly!) snuffed them out. They offered two marketing lessons. Marketing lesson #1: Give yourself a style makeover and the world will love you. That’s why Enid Blyton stories are being rewritten as are mythologies in India being recreated to appeal to the newer target segments. Marketing lesson #2: The brand leadership lies in the ability to turn an organisation of disparate experts into a living, working team. That’s how while Bharti Telecom (Airtel) was scaling new heights , Idea was groping to find, well, a winning Idea.

GHANA: Ghana’s exit brought many to a grief. Perhaps because they fought well and were so near to becoming the first African nation to enter World Cup semis. So remember: Everybody likes a fighter who plays by the rules of the game, even if he loses.

ITALY: Defending champions and four times World Cup winners gave their worst ever performance, not being able to manage a single victory. Remember, a fine pedigree provides no clue as to how you are likely to perform in future. A constant renewal and rediscovery is what is needed. When was the last time you heard someone use a Promise toothpaste?

FRANCE: 1998 Champions and 2006 finalists put up an equally dismal show. The players did not cover themselves with glory. What with Frank Ribery being caught in a tangle with a prostitute and Nicholas Anelka getting the marching orders for abusing the coach. To top it all the players went on a strike! We could put of course more teams under the scanner – the Dutch, South Koreans, North Koreans, and of course the English team – but we would wait for another occasion.

We sign off quoting an example of Indian ingenuity (detractors would, sure, call it illegal imitation): Shakira’s Waka Waka has become Lakka Lakka in Kerala – the desi version of the song sung by Malayali singer Liji Francis; the video is almost an exact replica of Shakira’s video in terms of music, imagery, and choreography. We leave it to you to draw your own marketing lessons from this.


Thursday, July 15, 2010


As a brand owner you need to knock at the gateway to the user’s mind. But the main task is to locate these gateways

Have you noticed that six months ago MTV dropped the words ‘music’ and ‘television’ from its logo? MTV is no more about English music or even music or dating shows. It has customised its programming strategy to include show genres like relationships, careers, campus fests, reality shows, dating, and even films of one hour duration. Over the past couple of years MTV has brought several non-music programs like Roadies, Splitsvilla, and Stuntmania to offer shows which developed cult following. And why not, nearly 88% of the youth have at least one favourite channel, which they tune into regularly. So the idea behind transformation: To compete in the space that youth identifies with while viewing TV as the entertainment category. The broader question of course is: How do you actually market a specific brand when it is surrounded by near identical offerings from rivals? The total number of ads on TV, print, and radio together everyday exceeded 65,000 last year. An average consumer is bombarded by an estimated 3,000 advertising messages from all the media, not counting Internet. So how does our brand win? Well, the simple proposition is that a successful brand belongs to the consumer, not the marketer. Go ahead and create a sense of belongingness. Customise and personalise the offering to the extent possible. So earn the love, intimacy, and respect for your brand. Then translate them into loyalty. Question is, how? As the brand owner you need to knock at the gateway to the user’s mind. So, the main task is to locate these gateways. This is what this article seeks to do for you.


When Onida decided to enter the TV industry, it had two problems at hand. It was actually a watch making company with little known brand equity. Second, its promotional budget was very limited. But the product did have certain distinct advantages. It was a vertical set with controls at the bottom. All the other sets had the horizontal look, with the controls along the sides of the screen. Besides looking different the set performed better in terms of picture quality, sharpness, etc. The initial message: “The boss is not late. It is the others who arrived in a hurry.” The company consciously decided against a feature based campaign, since most leading competitors were inundating the public with these kind of messages. Instead, the company decided to use envy as an emotional platform, personified by the green devil: ‘Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’ is one of the classic campaign which very successfully highlighted the points of differentiation. The dare devilry immortalised an unknown brand.

Principle-1: In a seemingly commoditised category make a last ditch attempt to locate some points of difference. Present it dramatically before the target audience. Keep your communication refreshed over time.


After Coca Cola left India, Thums Up replaced it successfully. There were many consumers who relished the image of a fizzy aerated water in a crowned bottle, which could be popped to yield a profusion of foam. Yet, there was a significant section, which wanted the most preferred taste with similar imagery, yet considered a fizzy drink to be unhealthy. Came in Frooti, which offered mango as a drink, not a juice – an entirely new product concept. The advertising task was to sell the idea to the young generation that no fizz did not mean staid or flat; rather, it connotes fun. The punch line used – ‘a real fruit drink in a freaked out pack.’ The ad moved away from the niceties of Queen’s English and utilised language straight from teenager parlance. It won instant favour with the TG.

Principle-2: Catapult your brand into a different or even ‘unrelated’ category where your brand can belong legitimately.


Jaago Re campaign of Tata Tea was started in 2007. It continues successfully to appeal to the norms and value system of the target audience. It attempts to project tea from merely being a physical and emotional revitaliser to become a catalyst for social awareness. While normal tea is just about waking up, Tata Tea campaign aims at creating an awakening exhorting Indians to act against their own apathy and mediocrity towards social issues.

Principle-3: Appeal to the consumer’s sense of duty, morals, pride, etc.


Very few things have the power to evoke in us the sense of being one nation. Pakistan as an adversary, a cricket victory, or may be a disaster like Gujarat earthquake. And of course Hamara Bajaj. No ad, essentially trying to defend a product, has ever managed to evoke in its viewers the intense, incredibly sweet feeling of being Indian. Towards end 1989 Vespa and Honda technologies had arrived in Indian Scooters market. Bajaj needed to upgrade too. The competitors were trying to (de)market Bajaj as behind times and fuddyduddy. It was decided to broaden the Bajaj positioning beyond the mere transportation onto larger canvas of Indian way of living. To convert the idea into a commercial where typically Indian situations were shown where Bajaj Scooter was being used in some way or the other that every Indian could identify with: Parsis who were so fastidious in cleaning their scooters or a Punjabi family en masse riding on its scooter. The shooting was not around the product, because of the product primarily, but around the emotions and moments shared with the product, around the product, because of the product. The lyrics translated in English read: This earth, this sky, our legacy, our past... This glorious tapestry of our glorious India – Humara Bajaj. The immensely successful commercial looked at the product in a macro cultural perspective and gave it a status beyond its usage, beyond its competition, built on the deepest sentiments of a diverse nation.

Principle-4: Position your brand as a cultural asset that plays an important role beyond mere functionality.


During the 90s Bata Power shoes ad campaign was created to gain new converts & reassure the faithfuls. ‘You are tired of being just a roll number. Another pair of blue jeans in the crowd. There is more to life than coffee & cigarettes... And spouting Marxian thoughts aloud. There is majesty to be found in the mountains. All it takes is some gasoline. And the power to have a dream.’ The Power shoes were expected to be a tool for self expression.

Interestingly, there is a new hypothesis being propagated nowadays: Men now are more concerned about their physical appearance because more and more women are becoming independent, financially as also in term of deciding whether to bear a child or not. So men have developed a sense of threatened masculinity. Since men have had to relinquish their traditional roles as breadwinners, fathers, etc, it leaves them with only their own body to demonstrate their masculinity. Wonder if there are hidden lessons in this for the brand owners!

Principle-5: Power up your brand with a provocative ideology that your consumer wishes to subscribe.


VST realised that while demographically cigarette smokers were becoming younger, psychographically their lifestyle had changed. But brand personality of most brands in the cigarette market was similar to the macho he man or the successful executive / businessman. VST decided to offer a new brand Charms, which aimed to create for itself a new brand image, but which would match with the self image of the TG – the college & new graduate group. This group gave importance to intellectual and emotional liberty, freedom of all senses. So the ad said: ‘Charms is the spirit of freedom. Charms is the way you are.’ Note, first, the articulation of the need of the TG – the spirit of freedom. And then the insistence on identification – ‘Charms is the way you are.’ Within two years, the brand had 13% share of the cigarette market.

Principle-6: Solidarity principle: Position your brand as an ally on one important emotional issue that others have ignored, denied, or not understood.


Thursday, June 17, 2010


There is no one single “humdrum” marketing or advertising strategy that will get you across to the “typical Indian customer”. The ball game is different in Bharat!

T ractors with green colours are not liked in China. Why? Well, let that be an unresolved mystery. Let’s concentrate on another puzzle. The third largest American tractor company realised in India that rolling out a flashy new design with a rounded hood is inviting disaster for oneself? Because in India tractors run for almost 12-16 hours a day, though they spend only half the time doing the actual farmwork. Away from the fields they are pressed into service as passenger vehicles. So a square hood, instead of a round one, is a very good feature to have because it can accommodate more people.

Welcome to the Indian marketplace and its peculiarities.


Notwithstanding the weight of mighty ones like Theodore Levitt and Thomas Friedman who pitched for oneness of the world, the fact is that there is no universally applicable marketing strategy. So you need to tweak your learnings from Kotler to adapt them to specific (in our case Indian) realities. India for example, is both young and old. Snail mails and social media co-exist here. We are modern but retain our old cultural values; both the forces operate and interact to influence consumer behaviour. Valentine’s Day and Wedding muhurat, both are prefixed. Since Indians are relationship oriented, coffee cafes are likely to work as meeting place. Yet, culturally rooted food habits will ensure that bacon ice cream (coffee ice cream with cinnamon and bacon fat) or mango and lemon grass kulfi with tandoori fruits in it will remain items for the niche market for a long period of time to come...

India actually is a sum of many parts. You need to study the market well. Ford came to India with Escort, its sedan; it did no good to the company. Mondeo provided no succour either, nor did Endeavour help to the extent expected. The Ikon designed for India created a buzz though. But the neglect of the most significant car market segment proved dear. So Ford Figo has had an India focus. Out of the 84 prototype mules that were built for it, 64 were manufactured in India. The development process involved over 8,000 individual tests, 20 crash tests, and 7 lakh km of driving on 134 pre-production models that were made.

In one of the ads in the latest four parts campaign for Volkswagen Polo, a man driving a Polo car puts a large egg in front of the car and then runs his car over it. He finds an angry mother ostrich storming towards him. The voice over says: “The Volkswagen Polo. Our engineers have tested the ground clearance. So you don’t need to.” The series is actually trying to highlight that the company understands typical needs of Indian buyer and the car has been built for the Indian conditions.
Lesson 1: Each market is unique. Study it well before attempting to serve it.


In the Indian metros, a typical youngster buys about five pairs of jeans annually for very practical reasons: Versatility of the garment. It is perfect for college, partying, and now even for a formal occasion. Yet, the ratio between ethnic wear to Western wear hovers around 50:50 for women. Even those who prefer Western attire have nearly 20-30% of their wardrobe consisting of Indian wear. To add to the complexity further, fusion wear is gaining increasing acceptance: Kurti with jeans, clinging tees with ethnic print skirts or tunics with churidar style leggings.

India is tuned to today but tagged to the old. Many Indian dream merchants have developed a thing for phoren maal, be it in the form of a Hollywood celeb appearance, fair-skinned dancers, or international trainers. Look at the Indian Bollywood industry for that matter. 27 out of the 40 recent titles had English (or Hinglish) names. These filmmakers feel English titles help draw the multiplex audiences, since such names give the movie an international feel. And since a lot of money comes from international audience, even films with Hindi titles have English taglines. This affects foreign film buffs on one side, while it keeps the name desi enough for small time cinegoers. 64% of the 600 plus prints of Avatar were dubbed in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu. Hindi version incidentally earned the highest – 40% – revenue share followed by English at 36%. Café Coffee Day (CCD) has nearly 1000 outlets which are classified under high street, highways, shop in shop, transportation hubs, corporates, hospitals and educational institutions.

Lesson 2: Indian market is highly segmented. Be clear which segment(s) you wish to target.

Ranbir Kapoor works in Ajab Prem... but fails in Rocket Singh. The segment targeted still wants its quota of songs, dances, comic tracks, over the top lines, and of course, a heroine!


Shallow ideas (and products based on them) fail to enthuse the customers. Indian audience rooted for the blood-pumping exercise of Wanted, but Chandni Chowk to China proved to be a little too cheesy. For them rom-com stands for Ajab Prem... and not Kambakht Ishq. In the past Sangam of Raj Kapoor did well with a total run of nearly 4 hours and 2 intervals, but today Kites was tweaked to a length of 90 minutes for foreign viewers (and 2 hours in India) And yet it failed to fly since 90% dialogues are in English and Spanish. Archie Comics batting for family values now has Kevin Keller, a gay character. When road network started spreading countrywide, Tata Motors sensed business opportunity in providing the last mile transportation and offered Tata Ace – a miniature version of an HCV.

Current crop of customers believe that it has very little time and a lot to do. So being impatient is OK. And the product and services too must be tailored to this profile. T20 instead of a five dayer, 5 seconders instead of 30 second commercial, speed dating against steady romances et al, cater to this mindset. Besides, when consumers have shorter lifecycles of interest and shorter patience platforms, brand loyalty gives way to brand promiscuity. So the marketer needs to develop multiple brands with different positioning. Amway sells (only in India) products in various pack sizes because consumers expect a wide range of choices. It is only in India that Amway sells low-end products as compared to highly concentrated and premium products sold elsewhere. Corporate hospitals in India are tweaking up services, working longer, and rushing medicare to the sick at a telephone call. They are opening neighbourhood clinics. Archie Comics is being launched in Hindi and Malyalam. Indian mythological characters are being modernised. In Amar Chitra Katha (Stage-1) there were divine monkey calendar images flying away with an entire mountain. Ramanand Sagar made Dara Singh Hanuman (Stage-2) with plastered lips, misty eyes, and with constant chant of Prabhu. In the 21st century (Stage-3), now Hanuman returns to bless the earth as a cherubic mischief monger dodging bullets like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. The avataar has been contemporised to suit the sensibilities of the target audience.

Lesson-3: Once you know your targeted customer group, fabricate a product, or modify the existing one, to suit his needs, whims and fancies.

Laurel & Hardy will find audience, so will perhaps Soori-Poori (a new animation series with Indian caricatures).

India has 5 metros, 5 mini-metros, 33 tier-1 towns, 28 tier-2 towns, 152 tier-3 towns, 201 tier-4 towns, nearly 4600 peri-urban markets (population between 5000-99,999) and 6 lakh villages. There are nearly 10 lakh millionaire households in India in peri-urban locations, and 13 lakh in the country’s villages. India is a huge market needing all kind of products. Only word of caution: You will invite failure if you try to sell silicon supports to Pam Anderson (of Baywatch and VIP fame) or slimming shots to Shilpa Shetty!


We are talking about bromide prints of the model, silly! But then marketing is all about delivery of right value at right price.

BMW and Mercedes have realised that by cutting down on some features and shaving a few lakh rupees off the price tag, they have been able to attract buyers who may otherwise have opted for the top of the range models from mass market manufacturers. The models priced at around Rs.25 lakh have opened up the luxury car market for buyers who would have earlier thought of them being way beyond their precious budgets.

The other India is game for a basic cellphone, a portable refrigerator the size of a small cooler and many other products which are result of frugal engineering. But mind you frugal engineering is nor merely low cost production; the focus rather is on avoiding unnecessary costs and adding more value. In case of Tata Nano for example, the space that otherwise would have been occupied by a ratio is given as storage space since a typical buyer prefers latter to the former. In the process of course, cost was cut too. Nokia provides monochrome screen not merely to make the phone affordable but also to save power, since most such users don’t enjoy the luxury of power supply when needed; polychromatic phones use sophisticated software which uses lot of power. Nokia 1100 provided non-slip silicon coating on the keypad and sides to avoid problems due to intense humidity. McDonald’s prices of course, are well known for making the brand successful in India.

Lesson-4: Indian consumer is value seeker. Only that the connotation of value varies from one segment to another.


As marketer you need to talk to the target audience in the language and idiom he identifies with. Maruti sells nearly 18% of its cars in non-urban areas. Initially the efforts to take these villagers to the dealers in big towns did not lead to much success because the potential buyers found it intimidating in plush showrooms. So, the company rooted for local talent and appointed them as sales executives in taluk headquarters.If you wish to wear the sexy biege saree look alike that Priyanka Chopra wore in Dostana then online sites enable you to browse and get the look copied.

Diesel, Timberland, or Hard Rock Café hire from amongst NIFT graduates, DJs, fashion models, yoga instructors, or Shiamak Davar trainees; in brief, youngsters who are interested in rock music, fashion, adventure sports, etc. and ‘belong’ to the target customer group itself. Advertisements and brand projection of cola drinks have a key bearing on the final choice. Youth should be able to find themselves in the communications exercise in order to build a suitable connect. M&M, Nike, DOCOMO, Quaker Oats and many more are using the net to talk to the tweeting generation. Slumdog Millionaire was promoted 90% on social media. Brands are creating communities and creating contents specifically for promotion.

Lesson -5: Communicate to compete in the language and media dictated by your target audience

That is why Dev-D and Devdas. So in less than 140 characters (as permitted on the Twitter), what is the success mantra: Identify and isolate your target audience and stitch your marketing strategy as per his dictates. Else, you will join the Hall of fame with the makers of Goal, De Dhana Dhan, Dil Bole Hadippa, Jannat and their ilk. And review your lessons of Marketing 101.


Thursday, May 20, 2010


Satisfaction suffices, delight dazzles, but an enthralled customer acts like a brand advocate. Thus, a marketer’s aim should be to have customers who are both satisfied and enthusiastic towards his brand. And how? By building relationships!

A well known brand of writing instruments received a package at its corporate office. The infuriated buyer had used all the invectives he presumably knew to lambaste the brand and had returned the non-functioning pen. He received a package in turn by return mail containing a new pen. Plus a letter which politely reminded him that the pen that he had sent to the said company actually was from another brand! Nonetheless, for the effort he had expended this company was sending him its complements. This is relationship building at its best.

Yours truly bought an expensive pair of leather shoes of an internationally reputed brand. Upon discovering manufacturing deficiencies a replacement was sought. The company flatly refused. The buyer has vowed never to buy again from the same manufacturer as also to influence others to do likewise. Incidentally, while one in two of the existing customer is likely to repeat purchase a brand, only 1 out of 16 prospective customers is likely to do so. On average a company loses 15% of its customers every year; in three years it would have lost nearly 50% of them. Retention marketing is surely worth the efforts. Strive to hold on to your customers.

Bordello need not be the only place where customer comes first!

An enthralled customer acts like a brand advocate. A brand has to overconform to customer expectations first time, every time. Marketing is no longer transaction oriented where one time sale signals is an end to the interface between the brand and its customer. Relationship entails a logical affiliation, a mutually beneficial association. Relationship marketing is based on 4 R’s of marketing: recruitment (of customers), reaping (the pay off), retaining, and regaining (in case of attrition) of valued customers. And why not? A Michigan University study found that higher the loyalty, greater were the returns on the company assets. Another study calculated that at 40% customer retention rate the customers will spend about $9 million extra on the marketer’s offering, while at 90% retention rate the additional earnings would be $24 million.

Closer home, HTA (now JWT) estimated that lifetime value (LTV) of a cigarette smoker was Rs.1.10 lakh over a 10 year period, i.e., roughly 7,000 times the value of a single pack of a cigarette. LTV of all consumer products and services over 25 years period for a typical household amounts to Rs.14 crore (at 1995-96 prices). Include the household’s role of it being an influencer and the value goes up to Rs.25 crore. A typical 10 trucks fleet owner in India buys tyres worth nearly Rs.1.68 crore for his fleet. Due to a successful CRM Program Apollo Tyres extended a privilege card scheme to 42,000 of them out of an estimated 1,50,000 trucks owners. We could multiply the examples.

The aim should be to have customers who are both satisfied and enthusiastic towards the marketer’s brand. A customer who is high on satisfaction and high on enthusiasm is a star customer whereas someone who is low on both these counts is a potential defector.

Similarly, a customer who is low on loyalty and low on satisfaction acts like a terrorist, dissatisfied and highly critical of the brand; he is constantly spreading negative word of mouth. Even a highly satisfied but low on loyalty customer acts like a mercenary, satisfied but does not find the brand uniquely beneficial, he is constantly looking around for a better deal.

Is it chuk de or cheque de?

Relationship building is of course neither easy nor straight forward. Surely a scheme to add extra miles on the loyalty card of frequent flyer would definitely be an insensitive compensation for the horrifying experience of the airplane door throwing open mid-air (no exaggeration; it had actually happened in India)! Indeed the buyer seller relationship evolves through four successive stages. In stage 1 there exist a predetermined group of buyers who will certainly buy. Individual differences don’t matter. Products are created without much feedback from the customers. Communication is one way only. Monopoly suppliers like electricity distribution companies are typical example. In stage 2 the customer becomes an individual statistic, but without much of a unique identity. Database on him exits. Customer is spoken to, feedback obtained, and change is incorporated towards redesigning the product. Auto companies follow this approach. In stage 3 a customer is identified as a unique individual with specific wants. The products are reconfigured based on deep understanding of his needs. Communication is one to one. Custom building of car bodies by Dilip Chhabaria perhaps conforms to this model. Finally in stage 4, the customer is treated as co-creator, a partner. Marketer holds an active dialogue with him. Most fashion designers fabricating for film stars would aptly illustrate this category.

Bonding between customers & brands that they use could be positive, when the relationship is assessed to be fruitful & voluntarily maintained, or neutral, when it is fruitful but involuntary, and negative, when the relationship is sought to be avoided by the customer.

So, whether the customer would spurn a brand, will be a hostage to it, or will cherish the bonding will depend on the type of relationship he maintains with it. Bajaj Scooters started performing poorly, even though Honda subsequently launched successful models in the same category. Nearly 58% of Maruti buyers repeat their purchase from Maruti family. More than 80% of new vehicle owners are satisfied with originally fitted tyres; not only they would like to repurchase the same brand, they are highly likely to recommend the same brand to others, says JD Power 2010 India Original Equipment Tire Customer Satisfaction Study. In the premium chocolate segment, brands like Lindt, Hershey’s, Patchi, et al, have strong brand loyalty. On the other hand, majority cellphone service users are dissatisfied with their service provider; in one phase 31% were terrorists, 25% were mercenaries, and 11% were in the hostages’ category. Put it the other way, 67% market was open to being lured by the rivals.

Slime in the Lotus Pond

Remember, however, that neither all loyal customers are worth retaining nor for that matter all disloyal/less loyal customers should be allowed to migrate. We need to juxtapose loyalty factor on to the LTV of the customer. Thus, we may have a failed ferrous (low loyalty, low LTV) who is a good riddance, or a spent silver (high loyalty, but low LTV) who should be induced to part company, gilded gold (low loyalty but high LTV) who needs to be cultivated, or precious platinum (high loyalty and high LTV) in whose case the brand must travel the extra mile to retain him.

The crunch however lies in implementing the CRM program. The customer is no help at all. A recent KPMG survey reports that while customers expect the sellers to have a detailed understanding of the former, they are unwilling to provide companies with personal information. 79% want marketers to remember their preferences but only 39% would allow them to collate data on them as individuals. 54% of potentials customers feel unhappy about being contacted by new suppliers. Why, nearly 33% would be irritated if informed about new or other products even by their existing suppliers.

CRM is a commitment to a fundamental philosophy which in turn needs to be converted into integrated systems supported by proven technologies. Apollo Tyers put together the Apollo membership centre through which the company tracks its sales and even finds out when the brand switch happens. For instance, if an average truck requires at least eight tyres a year and an AMC member does not return to buy new tyres, there is a possibility of brand switch. Apollo Tyres immediately contacts the customer to reason why.

Khushwant Singh once said that monogamy is an institution forced upon human beings through social sanctions. It does not come to them naturally. Most of us are infidel by natural instinct. The job of a marketer is to curb this instinct. This is what retention marketing is all about. Period.


Thursday, April 8, 2010


Bollywood films no longer need to clearly demarcate the line between the white & the black. They have started showing grey shades and are succeeding

Rocket Singh, the movie, had everything going for it. Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood’s new white hope, good direction, excellent script, and enough of preaching. Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani (Ranbir again) was more basic, more outlined, an old style all purpose Bollywood flick with a liberal dose of romance, songs and dance. The girl beautifully compliments the boy: he is the mover, she is the shaker. New Bollywood in old Nautanki style. No radical departure. Rocket Singh fails sans songs, heroine, over the top lines, or a comic strip built in; Ajab Prem succeeds because there is a very significant segment that still roots for the blood pumping exercise of ‘wanted’ or syrupy romance of Jodha Akbar. Kambakht Ishq gets a Golden Kela (Indian version of Hollywood’s Razzies, which are given to disaster makers who disappoint their viewers) for being the worst film of 2009. Dil Bole Hadippa, a carbon copy of Hollywood’s She is the Man gets the boot, it being a very bad photocopy of the original. The audience can see through Kurbaan because it wants to tell the movie makers unequivocally: don’t spend big money on shallow ideas. Putting lipstick on a pig does not work.

Luck By Chance?

Before 2009 arrived our filmmakers lived in a make believe world assuming that with the right kind of hype they could fool all the people all the time. In 2009, over 1,000 movies were released, 95% of which failed the box office test. The industry at Rs.8,900 crore is expected to grow at 9% per annum (CAGR) and touch a figure of Rs.13,700 crore by 2014. According to a Reuters poll, 40% of those surveyed worldwide, go to the cinema often to suspend reality. The figure for India, at 61%, is even higher. So risk and reward both happen to be high. SRK offers a prescription thus for Bollywood’s woes: Learn the screenplay writing technique, visual effects know how, and the discipline and organisation in conducting film business from Hollywood. And this is the clincher, Indian film industry should not abandon its own unique drama – musical format. He adds further that there has to be a substantial investment in research as part of developing a story and converting it into a cinematic experience. Even multiplexers choose a Hindi movie by a clear majority (61%) over Hollywood ventures. 51% audience would prefer watching regional films with subtitles as opposed to world cinema. So while the audience does like the films that break away from the routine fare, it still prefers to watch formula entertainers in swanky multiplexes.

How do you then increase your probability of giving a hit? Embrace marketing.

A word of caution, however: Marketing is not mere promotion; promotion is one small component of overall marketing strategy. Thus there was this Tamil movie Chithiram Pesuthadi made on a modest budget of Rs.1.25 crore with debut stars. It bombed badly on the box office. Was relaunched with Rs.1 crore spent on promotion (mainly on the basis of a song) and it became a huge success. Telugu film industry, the second largest in India, makes sure that glamour overrides substance. While during the 1980s, Sridevi, Jaya Prada, and Jayasudha ruled with well defined meaty roles, post 2000, the success formula is: bare is here. Shriya, Ileana, and others have made vamps superfluous, since even a Mumaith Khan would fail to match them curve for curve for creating the desired sizzle on the screen. Tamil moviedom has travelled a long distance from the likes of Suhasini, Radhika, or Saritha to Namithas of the new decade who don’t mind playing the bimbo. Women are merely used as props in these movies since commercial considerations and one hundred percent hero centric scripts demand that.

But consumer oriented marketing is invoked when, say, we realise that during the past decade, and especially since 9/11, Hollywood has consciously tilted towards churning out fantasy films. Americans perhaps wish to wipe out their bad memories of terrorist attacks, wars, and economic calamity. So spaceships and hobbits are preferred to personal turmoil or the Middle East. Who, afterall, wants to go to the cinema hall to confront unsightly situations? Sorcerers, vampires, robots and aliens are more comforting. During 2010 movies like Day Breakers and Legion have continued with the fantasy genre. Since September 11, 2001, there have been only three reality-based dramatic hits in America!

Life is not so easy for a moviemaker here in India. On one hand, IPL is a formidable foe. So much so that during the current IPL season (March 12 – April 25), no major releases are planned, since the past two seasons have shown that IPL takes away the movie viewership. Besides, multiplexes themselves are screening these matches coupled with live bands, celebrity visits, and cheerleaders on stadia. On the other hand, most movie makers equate marketing with the oldest profession in the world, akin to a prostitute soliciting customers. They have a product-centric approach to exhibiting their movies.

There are nearly 12,000 screens in India. Out of these, nearly 900 are part of the multiplex chain. Yet, multiplexes bring in nearly 55-60% of a film’s revenue. Naturally, because multiplex tickets are priced between Rs.120-150, against the all-India average of Rs.30-50. However, this has created a warped thinking. Many filmmakers erroneously believe that only the multiplex audience is capable of enjoying and paying for a new genre. So, there is hardly anything interesting being made for the general audience. The fact is that Indian market is vast, unique and heterogeneous. Bollywood refuses to accept that a market in middle or lower India also exists. The result: Regional cinema from Marathi, Bengali, or Bhojpuri producers has started eating into Hindi film industry share.

The industry is at an inflexion point; it needs to undergo a correction. Quality content, market analysis, segmentation, and good marketing alone can help. 70% of the revenue comes in first week. So research orientation, cost management, innovative and customer oriented thinking reflecting audience preferences will together do the trick. AB Corp stuck to its targeted budget of Rs.15 crore for Paa. Star salaries, large sums of money on superficialities, et al, are being scrutinised. The industry is learning the importance of economies of scale.

Success Formula: Are we trying to fry a Snowball?

Movie making, like we said earlier, is a high risk high reward business. Still it is possible to reduce the risk element. While there are some constants, many variables accompany them. Let’s see which ones...

Take love and romance for example. Social conditioning and hormones both make women more emotional. All women wait for their Prince Charming, whether it is the hooker with a heart (Vivian in Pretty Woman), or an underdog (Cindrella). In the movies of yore, the love angle would have a class or social context. Now falling in love involves people who are debating about choices available (Aditya and Geet of Jab We Met, Dev D and Devdas) show the contrast between being dictated by individual freedom and social choices, a transition that slowly but surely is taking place in the Indian society. It appeals to the Indian youth. Romance today is less exalted; it is less about the idea of love, more about the individual experience, with a dose of sex may be! Paro of Dev D, now has the temerity to reject Devdas. Even taboo love (recall Pinjar, Jodha Akbar, Cheeni Kum, Nishabd, Girl Friend) between socially incompatibles on account of age, religion, gender et al, is no more an untouchable subject. So, love and romance remain eternal; only their mode of expression changes. The idea of romance of course may change with age too. So the fantasy moves to the context of marriage in India; now Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi would resonate more with the audience. Desperate Housewives are still hopelessly in love, notwithstanding the dose of sex.

Take another example. The native Indians take on the Britishers (Lagaan) and beat the imperialists at their own game. In India it could not have been any other game perhaps, since cricket has the greatest chance of succeeding at the box office. Originally, Iqbal was to be based on Malakhamb, but later, Nagesh decided to use cricket. Lagaan succeeded, because it evoked a feeling of patriotism; Chak De was about a man who had to redeem his honour against all odds. Important lesson is that the films were not about sports but about real people. Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, Dil Bole Hadippa, Jannat, and Chain Khuli Ki Main Khuli failed this test and did not pass at the box-office either. Solid script (read emotional hook) and perfect execution both are important as far as the Indian audience is concerned. So the movie must have a body and a soul.

Bollywood women are becoming more independent, assertive, and comfortable about sex and sexuality. Meghna (Priyanka Chopra in Fashion) finds Chandigarh small for her dreams and survives in the big bad Mumbai. Sona Misra (Konkona in Luck by Chance) wants and gets success ethically. Contrarily Paro (Mahi Gill in Dev D) does not hide her wantonness, posting self nude e-mails to her lover, and is equally comfortable sleeping with other men without being in love with them. Krishna Verma (Vidya Balan) typifies Bollywood’s new bold woman for whom sex is as much pleasure as a career move. The Indian audience – atleast the urban variety – has started accepting Indian woman on the move – ambitious, spirited, independent – and at times with a darker side. So the earlier black or white characters are being increasingly replaced by shades of grey. These characters emerge from the society, which is interested in real issues – unlike Hollywood, which is becoming escapist – be they ethnic, religious, social, physical, or any other. The hero of the 1970s and 1980s would have a clichéd persona. Now people wish to watch movies that they can relate to. A dose of realism helps audience connect with the film. In Chak De the Muslim captain is branded as an anti-national. The film clearly dealt with Indian prejudices based on religion. Sarfarosh, Black Friday, Company, and others of their ilk have shown the warts of India. An Omkara mirrors the political rot in the UP, while Gangajal depicted infamous Bhagalpur blindings episode.

In the same tradition, noughties changed the caricature of heroes too. So Rizwan (SRK) suffers from Asperger Syndrome, Auro (AB) is afflicted with Progeria, Singhania (Aamir Khan) has short term memory loss problem, while Charlie and Guddu (Shahid Kapur in double role) lisp and stutter. The stars become human beings. Bollywood is experimenting with the successful Hollywood formula (Tom Hanks with a slow mind in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman as an autistic man in Rain Man, Jamie Fox as a blind person in Ray: Foxx or a blind Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman). Rani Mukherjee plays the deaf, mute and blind Michelle (Black), Kajol is blind (Fanaa) while Ajay Devgun becomes a developmentally challenged father (Main Aisa Hi Hoon). We will see Hrithik as a paraplegic in Guzaarish. Notably, Hindi movies have not dabbled with the superman genre, with the sole exception of Kkrish.

Read Tea Leaves, Poll, or Conduct Polygraph…

But Research A perceptive Ashutosh Gowariker could guess that it would be better to highlight the romance angle over the period epic aspect in Jodhaa Akbar, and this is what the movie trailer reflected. But not all filmmakers may be intuitively so accurate. Market strategists advise about the precise day that the viewers would get their first peek at Ranbir’s bare behind (Saawariya) and SRK’s six packs (Om Shanti Om). So the kitchen sink approach, where the creative would be crammed with as many film elements as possible, is a definite no no now. Thus, if women find the sound of metal shattering bone in two intensely violent scenes in Ghajini (they did, actually) only one blow is kept to kill Asin based on this feedback. For Ishqiya it was found that men were enjoying the movie more than the women. Ad spend consequently on news channels (watched more by men) went up from 5% to 20%.

Originally the scooter ride of Aamir Khan, the paralytic father, and Kareena Kapoor was not to be shown in the movie 3 Idiots. But final version had it based on pre-release research. LSD (Love, Sex, aur Dhokha) has used focused group research to assess everything from concept to marketing material.

This research of course need not be film specific. General trends prevailing in the society give us a fair idea too. Have you noticed the fact that Abhishek Bachchan was a male nurse is Dostana, Ranbir a video game developer in Bachna Ae Haseeno, Deepika Padukone a restorer of frescoes in Love Aaj Kal and SRK a Nasa engineer in Swades? It is not all creative juices flowing. Rather, this is in keeping with the general drift of the society. These careers actually make a statement about individual freedom; today’s youth is experimenting, so the movies have to reflect this. Don’t you think the career of a tarot card reader (Bipasha Basu in Rudraksh) or an RJ (Preity Zinta is Salaam Namaste) sounds really cool?

Audience ke liye kuchh bhi karega!

...So How Does One Become A Top Grosser?

Honestly, we wish we knew the magic mantra. But we can help a player score higher. Look at the table below for some distilled answers Before we sign off, let’s give you a quiz. What is common between Blue, All the Best, Jail, Wanted, Do Knot Disturb, Kites, Pyaar Impossible, Rocket Singh, and Hook Ya Crook? If you said all these are names of movies, well you got the right answer. Actually this was an easy one. But now comes the difficult part: what else is common between these movie names? O.K., so you got that right too: all these are English (or Hinglish) titles. Actually 27 out of the 40 releases in recent times had such names. Now the last part of the quiz: What is the marketing angle involved. And this time don’t expect us to spoon-feed you. Go figure it out yourself!


Thursday, March 11, 2010


PR practice is as old as the history of civilisation itself. King Kroesus of Asia Minor had his face put on the first gold coins. During the World War II, RAF bombers dropped tonnes of propaganda leaflets over Germany. What’s up in India?

Imagine the Government to be a corporation. Then our PM will be its CEO, Rahul Gandhi the heir apparent, and Sonia the family matriarch. The citizens will of course be the stakeholders. Such a Government and its divisions (read ministries) will have clear set of objectives, a five year roadmap, a statement of basic issues and challenges, and an action plan. The stakeholders will monitor the progress while the regulator (Parliament) must ensure compliance. KPIs will be created, communicated, and worked towards. And to ensure brand loyalty a constant dialogue needs to take place between the management (the PM, the council of ministers, and the bureaucrats) and the citizens, the stakeholders.

The record of this corporation is not bad at all. PricewaterhouseCoopers, in its latest report, says that India will have the highest growth rate in the next few decades, surpassing even the current favourite China. But then naysayers abound in equal if not greater number. IMF for one will certainly scoff at this line. And it is in good company; the local nabobs of negativity, including PM’s own Economic Advisory Council, mandarins from finance ministry, or Planning Commission too, contribute adversely towards creating a perception of gloom. A classic case of self-deprecating communication. Indian opinionista refuses to recognise that the coming decades belong to India.


In Orissa, anti-Posco activists kidnapped company officials while Nandigram simmered in West Bengal. Locals felt anguished against being left out by the changes taking place in their neighborhood. The local Governments failed to ‘sell’ the advantage of having such projects to these people on their land. Heartburn and violence ensued. Stern warnings were issued where confidence building measures should have preceded project site allotments.

At an NRI conference organised in New Delhi a member of Indian diaspora showed the gumption to ‘express’ disapproval of official attempts at drumming up investment from the community. One minister reacted incoherently in return. Instead of making any point wise rebuttal of the complaints, he just hurled abuses at the hapless victim, using epithets like ill informed and ill learned, in front of a congregation of nearly 150 potential investors.

The signals are mixed actually. With Manmohan Singh, the great liberaliser turned social entrepreneur as its mascot, Congress weaved a winning election campaign around loan waivers and NREGS. Then a fresh faced Rahul started dining with the dalits and talking to the tribals. With their people first policies the troika of Rahul, Sonia, and Manmohan is wowing the aam aadmi. The PMO has asked for report cards with vision and mission statements. The Sardar (used as a designation) has set the deadlines while Sonia and the king in the making work to the socially correct causes. But while the semantics are in place (‘governance with conscience’), the conscience keepers – the ministers and the bureaucrats – have to necessarily put their act together.

India is trapped in Liliput state. Since 1991, the liberalisation phase India has become home to ever increasing number of rupee billionaires; this meant a shift of power from the ruling classes to the entrepreneurial clan. India’s leaders have of course resented it. Under the Soviet form of communism, Indian development effort got strangulated and poverty got accentuated. However, due to the vote bank politics, poverty became a saleable item. Indian leaders thus have become reticent in claiming success with the new recipe of economic freedom and rapid growth as being the best bet to greater inclusion. The linkage and multiplier effect of rapid economic growth on employment and poverty elimination are not communicated, and deliberately so.


The Parliament elections last year, with 700 million voters, certainly made India proud. According to the 2010 Quality of Life Index published by the travel magazine International Living, India is up 35 places in the list of 194 nations, leaving behind Russia and China. According to an Economic Times-Dentsu survey of ‘Top Hits’, the Indian growth story in 2009 even in face of worldwide recession occupied top rank. There is plenty to talk about.

Even though the vibrant Gujarat Global Investor’s Summit in 2009 was a big success, the No.1 state in India has decided to adopt a modified approach for the oncoming 2011 summit. Now, it will partner with the leading industry associations (CII, FICCI…), which will be entrusted with the job of undertaking a pre-event warming up exercise like special seminars for the investors. A professionals PR agency will handle the whole event.

The phrase public relations (or, PR in management lingo) was invented by Edward L. Bernays who was deeply influenced by psychology precepts. He professed that it pays to be proactive in the battle of winning public opinion. If there is an information vacuum, then either the grapevine communication or one’s opponents will fill it with damaging assertions. The lazy minded information gathering (as against active information seeking) audience will soak it in to our detriment. We need to actively undertake public opinion building.

Political philosophy from Plato to Montesquieu had advocated that the truly free State must have tiniest possible existence. But we are living in an age of bigness. Every subsequent government is becoming increasingly inclusive in terms of the roles it plays in an ordinary citizen’s life. At the same time the resultant size, complexity, and remoteness of the government have created barriers in the path of fruitful communication between the state and the subjects.

Not that governments have not been dallying with it. PR practice is as old as the history of civilisation itself. King Kroesus of Asia Minor had his face put on the first gold coins as a glitzy reminder of who was in charge of the royal mint. During the World War II the RAF bombers were assigned to drop tonnes of propaganda leaflets over German territory claiming that the German authorities were lying about losses, urging the Germans to demand the truth from their governments. Since then the flirtation with the act of opinion building continues. Since December 1999, the Ministry of Health in India has been organising a nationwide oral polio vaccination programme, which is well publicised and promoted. Nearly 100% target population has been covered. The exercise has won approbation from many quarters, including the WHO and the UNICEF.

The short point of it thus is that in a country where 75% of the population is aged 35 or less (27% being in the age group 15-29), about 84% of 15-34 year old are optimistic about future, and 53% have high or very high aspirations, public opinion building is very important. Equally so because 68% in this age bracket suffer from high anxiety about their future; they carry the cross of free market, survival of the fittest, keep up with the Joneses society… Unemployment is a real issue for them, and not a topic for arm chair debate.

There is a need for a new demography; the early 70s can’t be the new 40s. What we need is a new social contract between the state and the governed, a contract that defines and is committed to democracy, development, and a state ready to deliver social justice.


All this will be possible only in a more open environment with lines of communication open both ways. As the saying goes in marketing communication, winking at a girl in the dark is a fruitless exercise.

Today, the combined forces of growing network of communication, education, mobility, and technology have led to an implosion of the vast and remote world. It is now important that people must understand how they are being governed. Only when they appreciate this will the government find it easy to secure their support for, and participation in, implementation of various policies and programmes. Ironically, however, public opinion building is becoming increasingly difficult because the hierarchical levels between the rulers and their subjects have lengthened creating a wide chasm. The distance is not merely geographical; it also spans the social, cultural, and emotional spectrum.

The media and the general public regard all Government PR as smacking of base propaganda and a disguised effort in censorship. Largely, these sentiments are a legacy from the past which the successive governments continue to inherit. A Press Commission report laments, “Government publicity was a child born of reluctance, out of necessity, and in the early years very sickly infant.”

A failure to appreciate the role of PR stems from a genuine lack of understanding about what it can and is supposed to accomplish. There permeates an overall attitude of not parting with any information; this myopic approach prevents any dissemination of information, including that for the government’s own good. This lack of transparency acts as a breeding ground for mutual distrust between the rulers and the ruled.

The ill-famed securities scandal of nineties assumed crisis proportions, at one time threatening to engulf the entire financial services industry. Ideally, the government should have admitted mea culpa, not necessarily because it was involved but because it was guilty of negligence. The then finance minister advanced platitudes that failed to convince anyone. A systematic plan to achieve a specific communication goal was lacking.

Such stopgap efforts, aimed at best towards belated damage control, are hallmarks of activism of most of the government’s propaganda machine. Michael Naumann of Der Spiegel thus commented wryly, “Public relation’s main task is to detract people from serious problem and focus their attention elsewhere, or… take your choice … the good looks of the president’s wife, the sexual mores of the opposition leader…”

So if a government sends Sri Sri Ravishankar to Kashmir on a peace mission, even the Economist magazine says that he sounds less like a spiritual leader and more like a politician! So dim the patriotic pitch and replace the spiritual sadhu with a communication guru. That should be the right approach.

Else, the propaganda programmes are likely to invite the comments that those RAF veterans had made sardonically, “The only thing achieved (out of the propaganda exercise by the British Government) was to supply the Continent’s requirement for toilet paper.” PR sure evokes mixed feelings. It is for the practitioner to make it work to the advantage of the organisation. While two scientists from University of California have devised a formula to determine the attractiveness of a female face and those at the University of Manchester have worked out another for a perfect hourglass figure like that of Kate Winslet unfortunately, no luck here. Till such time as the perfect recipe for success in PR is developed the only guideline shall remain: plan, execute and monitor intelligently!

A cocktail with the right blend should do the trick. But do you have the ideal mix? I don’t. Happy hunting!