MADE FOR EACH OTHER

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mehndiwalis, caterers, photographers, decorators, designers, dancers and of course those harried wedding planners...phew! The Great Indian Wedding has inspired a whole new breed of businesses...

What’s common between Subrata Roy, L.N. Mittal, Laloo Prasad Yadav and Sant Chatwal? They organised weddings for their children in a manner which left the world gasping! Not just business tycoons, even ordinary folk today want the moon for the wedding of their young ones. Right from the wedding card to the ‘thank you card’ everything is done in a lavish manner – opening the doors for many business activities.

The Indian wedding today is turning into a big industry. It’s currently estimated at Rs.50000 crore, and is all set to grow by approximately 25% annually. If you are a creative entrepreneur, this is one industry which is very lucrative to work in. The customer is in a spending mood. You could charge a ridiculously large amount – if you have something unique to offer. The wedding ceremony is one day when no one is bothered about ‘return on investments’. According to some, it is the only ‘recession-free’ industry in India, spawning a gamut of new businesses and new entrepreneurs. In fact, almost every industry is today looking at weddings to give a boost to their business. Be it hotels, tent wallahs, dress designers or caterers, every one is doing their best and growing and gaining from the ubiquitous wedding. Considering the fact that around 1 crore couples get married every year, there is a huge demand for all marriage related services, and a huge opportunity for one to churn out a great career. Let’s look at how so many varied businesses are booming as we go about tying the nuptial knot.

Online and marriages

Today it’s no more astrologers or priests or your aunty in Canada who are fixing up marriages. A lot is happening on matrimonial websites. Today matrimonial websites have become the best way to find that perfect match. Shaadi.com has 7 million members and gets 8 million page views a day. No wonder advertisers are flocking in to promote their goods on these sites. The users of these sites are highly focused – their specific purpose is to start a family and they are looking for information that will help them do it. Maruti Alto, IFB, LG and ORRA jewellery found how profitable it was advertising and promoting their goods on these websites. Not just Indians one can reach out to a large chunk of NRI’s through these sites (since around 30% of the users are NRI’s). So, in effect, it is profitable to start a matrimonial website and also to advertise on it!

Careers and marriages

Thanks to heavily promoted celebrity weddings, today every couple wants something new and different as they say “I do”, and the trend has opened up a whole lot of new businesses and careers. Back in the 90’s a specialisation in ‘wedding management’ was something to be smirked at. Today it is a profitable career.

Trousseau and gift packing is a profession where one can charge anywhere between Rs.50,000 to Rs.1 lakh!!

Wedding planners are the new breed of hot professionals who promise to give you whatever you want to make the D-day your most memorable one. They come in all shape and sizes – from J.Lo in the Wedding Planner to Dubey in Monsoon Wedding – you can choose whoever you want. Be it a beach wedding or a skydiving wedding or a fairytale wedding – you ask for it, they will do it.

Every wedding ceremony is a business opportunity. Rajendra Singh was a poor kathak dancer living in Mumbai a few years back. Today he is a ‘Masterji’ who jet sets around the world teaching nubile women to dance to Dola Re for sangeet ceremonies. Similarly, Chandraprakash Agle, grew up in a slum and today exports mandaps to NRI’s in UK and the US.

The Best Guests Centre, based in Jodhpur even supplies guests in case you are running short of them – to make the wedding look grand! £10 for fair skinned English-speaking ones and £6 for Hindi-speaking ones!

Even the real estate biggies are being lured by the grand wedding market. Omaxe Construction has opened a mega mall to cater to this insatiable consumer. Wedding malls and wedding exhibitions are growing at a very fast pace. Bridal Asia started as a small exhibition. Today it’s the subcontinent’s largest wedding exhibition and a one-stop-shop for prospective brides and grooms. Today wedding festivals are booming and are a sure shot way to boost business. Not just Bridal Asia, you now have Vivah, the Marwar Mega Wedding show and many more.

After all a wedding is the most anticipated event and everyone wants the best. So all you young & dynamic entrepreneurs – look around. As two people take the saat-pheras you too could be tying the knot with a bright future...

Tourism and Wedding

Kerela was once known for its awesome backwaters and beaches. Today it’s a popular wedding destination and Kerala tourism is planning to promote it as an exotic locale for wedding ceremonies, to attract international tourists. Udaipur is offering heritage palace-hotels for a memorable once-in-a-lifetime ‘Royal Wedding’. NRIs are a big market for these destination weddings, the most popular being Goa, Agra and Varanasi, among others.

Today approximately 5,000 international weddings take place every year. An average NRI wedding organised in India costs Rs.50 lakh and could go up to Rs.3 crore easily. Laxmi Mittal spent $55 million for his daughter’s wedding. From Elizabeth Hurley to Vikram Chatwal, everyone is getting married in India and all this has increased the Indian tourism earnings to $42 billion.

Cox & Kings saw a 15% increase in the number of wedding clients. In fact, weddings are causing crazy earnings for all associated with the tourism industry. Not surprising then that many tour operators are becoming wedding planners as well. According to experts, wedding tourism is growing at 100% year-on-year.

Marketing and Marriages

The minimum budget for a wedding ceremony is $34,000 and business houses have taken note of this. This is one season, when come what may people are most willing to open their wallets. So smart marketers are using ‘weddings’ as a sure shot opportunity to increase sales. Companies like Sony, Samsung and LG now time their discounts according to the wedding season. It is wedding time when couples buy electronics, household appliances as they start a new life. So Bang and Olufsen, the Danish entertainment giants decided to launch their new range during this time last year.

The mammoth size of the wedding market tempted ‘Bregeut’ the world’s most expensive luxury watch brand to launch in India. Rado of Switzerland too came out with a wedding package of two elegant watches for the bride and groom. Not just that, they even organised a contest where the lucky couple could win a 7-day honeymoon trip to Switzerland!

Titan, India’s leading watch manufacturer too launched its jewellery watches in 2004 in the country, just before the wedding season.

This is that time of the year when Indians have to shop. The favourite item on their wedding list is ‘gold’. So ICICI Bank has come out with 99.99% pure gold coins-which they launched just before the wedding season this year. India after all is the largest consumer of gold with 20% of global consumption happening here, and marriages are the perfect excuse to buy this favoured yellow metal. Marriages bring along with them a whole lot of business opportunities. From hoteliers to chefs to beauticians – all seems to flourish with the advent of the marriage season. Be it VLCC or Kaaya Skin Clinic – all have special packages promising to turn you into a beauty queen on your marriage day, only of course if you are ready to pay a bomb.

With marriage comes honeymoon – the most memorable trip of your life and many tourism departments have worked out special honeymoon packages to attract newly weds. From Australia, to Mauritius, to South Africa, all plan their promotions and advertisements around this time, so much so that Star Cruise has launched a cruise to Lakshadweep keeping those lovey-dovey honeymooners in mind!!

Bollywood Marriages

Is there more of Bollywood in marriages or more of marriages in Bollywood movies? That’s a tough one to answer. Today most Indian marriages are celebrated in Bollywood style – complete with the gloss and glamour of Bollywood movies. If marriages today look straight from a Bollywood flick, then movies and televisions serials are being made straight from real marriages.

The much-talked-about and one-of-its kind wedding of hotelier Vikram Chatwal and model Priya Sachdev has been turned into a television serial on Discovery Travel and Living channel named “The Great Indian Wedding”. The wedding boom also inspired Sony Television to launch a reality wedding show Kahin na Kahin Koi Hai. It was anchored by the gorgeous Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit.

Not just television serials, a whole lot of movies have been inspired by weddings. Be it Bollywood or Hollywood this is one subject which never fails to attract attention anywhere in the world. The sheer joy, excitement, euphoria surrounding this occasion is unmatchable. Be it Hum Aapke Hai Kaun or Bride and Prejudice, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or Four Wedding and a Funeral – all have been box-office smash hits and the aura of a wedding was the heart of all these movies. Seems marriages do make both, Bollywood movies and the box office, rock!

As the girl and boy look deep into each others eyes and proclaim their love for each other a whole lot of business houses too get a twinkle in their eyes. For along with the wedding bells they can also hear their cash registers ringing. The marriage industry is a “profit guaranteed” industry. As long as people will fall in love, the industry will prosper.

So pull out your thinking caps and see how you can grab a portion of this pie, for a smart entrepreneur knows that marriages and business profits are made for each other.

...The Marketing of a President

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Eye-popping celebrity branding, aggressive promotional schemes, astounding discount offers, unbelievable package deals... No, we’re not at all referring to some fabulous new product being introduced; rather, it’s all about...

They are gathering data – very detailed data on you. Things like, which car you drive, which magazines you read, are you married, do you have kids, how old are you, where do you live. They are not marketing whiz-kids collecting data to help their company launch a new soap, or plan a new marketing campaign for a refrigerator! They are the kids with Palm-tops and other gadgets knocking on people’s doors and gathering a whole lot of information, which is then fed into software. The software then helps the political parties figure out what issues would be of importance to a person with a particular profile. Accordingly, they can plan their political campaigns. Welcome to the modern way of tracking and monitoring potential voters. Yes, just like potential consumers, today political parties are keeping track of their potential voters and doing everything to woo them! The Presidential elections of USA have today become the biggest showcase of political marketing. The candidates are marketed in almost the same way as a shampoo or a face cream. The voters are pursued like consumers. The advertising campaigns are as glossy and slick. After all, we live in a fast food nation and our target is the Pepsi Generation. It’s about youth and fun and whatever your age, everyone is young. So if you want them to come and vote, you have to follow the advice of the marketing gurus who know this clientele very well.

The i-Pod crowd

Times have changed and the whole business of political campaigning has changed too. People are increasingly becoming more and more tech savvy. Internet has begun to play a very important role in framing people’s opinions. Thanks to the internet, information is flowing more freely – especially among the youth. They are becoming more and more aware of political issues. They are the ones who can tip the scales in your favour. Like any savvy marketer, political parties are realising the benefits of ‘catching-em-young’. After all, brand loyalties develop at an early stage and it’s easier to influence the younger lot. So in America, they started a campaign called “Rock the Vote”, which was targetted primarily at young voters, where pop-stars told the young generation to go out and vote.

It’s no more just long speeches that political candidates are using. They are doing much more to reach closer to the young generation. They now do phone polling, phone surveying and SMS text messaging to market their parties and themselves – things that the younger crowd finds cool and trendy.

Just as a brand needs to communicate the product benefits, the political candidate should be able to communicate something that the voters can understand and identify. He needs to work on a good sales pitch to increase his chances of winning. He needs to know what his target audience wants, and then he should sell that.

After all, Coca-Cola does not sell sugared water, Nike does not sell shoes and Starbucks does not sell coffee alone. What they all sell is an ‘image’, a ‘lifestyle’. Hutch does not sell ‘good connectivity’: It sells emotions. Emotions are the key word here. Our generation responds to emotions and a large part of the voters respond almost exclusively to the emotional appeal of the candidate. No wonder, when Rajiv Gandhi, a total novice, wept on his mother’s pyre, the whole nation wept and voted for him. He was the last superstar of Indian politics. He had the right image and evoked the right emotions.

If products need images to sell, then politicians need personalities to sell themselves. It all comes down to this basic fact, and Gallop surveys are a proof of the fact that time and again, in a Presidential race, it’s the personality factor that has played a critical role in deciding who would be the winning candidate. You need to master the art of knowing what is it that attracts the audience and reach out to them. A research has revealed that most of the people have no clue and no understanding of the candidate’s stand on issues. Most of them don’t understand the Presidential debates. It was said that people who voted for John Kerry in the 2004 elections believed in his health program and people who voted for Bush were concerned about the terror and national security and values.

On closer examination, it was found that hardly anyone understood the stand of both the candidates. They were all voting for the image that they liked. After all, all soaps clean germs, yet you pick up one and not the other – for no strong rational reason – but probably because you liked the model or the image shown in the commercial. The same was true for the Presidential elections too. Most don’t understand the rationale; and the few who do, don’t believe that political candidates would live up to their promises. So, if you have to win the voters over, you have to use your personality and evoke the right emotions to make them come out and vote for you.

The marketing battlefield

Elections are today nothing but marketing warfares! The mid-term election held in USA in November 2006 has been the bloodiest marketing battlefield. The media was splurged with ads of all kinds. According to Nielson Media Research, American TV viewers were exposed to around a million political ads between August and October this year. Compared to the last mid-term elections, there was a 31% increase in advertisements. Historically, America has always had a very low voter turn-out. As is the case everywhere, people don’t believe it’s important to vote, and don’t take it seriously. This time around, America went all out to reverse this trend. All possible marketing gimmicks were used to make the voter come out and cast his ballot.

If you have a five-year old at home, then you know how effective freebies are in selling a product. A packet of cornflakes assumes a whole new meaning if it comes with a free Spiderman projector. If free gifts attract a 5-year old, then they even attract a twenty five or a fifty-year old. So, in Florida, all those who voted, got free vaccination (which otherwise cost $25) against flu. “Vote and Vaccinate” worked quiet well. In Colorado, voters were given free rides from their homes to the polling booths in a limousine (A strech-limo rents at $500 a day!). If that were not enough, then in Arizona, Mark Osterloh had an irresistible trick to lure voters into polling booths. He offered a $1 million lottery. One lucky voter could change his fortunes!

A lot of gloss and glamour has been added to election campaigns nowadays. You now have Hollywood actresses featuring in advertisements and engaging in sexual innuendos – about the “first time” they voted – to Hollywood actors like Robert De Niro leaving messages on your answering machine to go out and vote for Hillary Clinton! During the 2004 Presidential elections, from music albums like Rock Against Bush to full length feature films like Farenheit 9/11, we saw them all being made to convince people to vote against Bush and his policies. If serious logic didn’t work, then humour was used to change people’s mind. Ergo, we had humourous ads like “Anyone but Bush” to humourous slogans on T-shirts proclaiming “No flip-flops in the White House” (a jab on John Kerry’s indecisiveness)

America leads the way. If these marketing gimmicks have worked in America, they would so in the rest of the world too. The fastest learner has been Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who has given his people free riders on a new metro line, free tickets to a rock concert, and even an unexpectedly large bonus – worth three times the monthly salary – just before the re-elections. His opponent, Manuel Rosales, in retaliation gave away free debit cards to more than two million poor Venezuelan households, allowing them to withdraw around 250 pounds a month. Freebies have some kind of a magical pull. The exiled child king of Bulgaria, Simeon Saxe-Coburg, used lottery power to win the elections. The lucky ones won cars, holiday packages and televisions. Not just this, he even had an exciting slogan. He promised to change the living standards radically in 800 days. He and his young team of economists – trained in the city of London – sure had learnt their marketing lessons well! To encourage voting, Simeon even made the nation indulge in tambola through mobile phones to win exciting prizes.

After all, all countries cannot be like Australia where voting is compulsory and everyone who doesn’t vote pays a $20 fine. No wonder they have a 95% voter turn-out. Till it isn’t made compulsory, we all need to open our marketing books to pull out some new tricks, to make people come & vote for us!

It’s all about money
Today elections are a game of money. The ones with the deepest of pockets survive. In fact, it’s become the norm in America since 1976, that the candidate who has raised the most money by the end of the year preceding the election, has become his party’s nominee for President. Bush and Kerry raised a total of nearly half a billion dollars each for the 2004 Presidential elections. The battle between the Republicans and Democrats is fought primarily on TV, thus making it a very expensive warfare. During the mid-term polls held this year, some $2 billion were spent on the United States election campaign ads.

The fact is that it’s not enough being a good candidate, just as much as the fact that it’s not enough simply being a good product. You need to know your marketing extremely well to make it successful. The electoral marketing battle has to include all the tips and tricks strategically used while marketing products and services. From celebrity endorsements to malicious and attacking comparative marketing, direct mailers to internet campaigns, from emotional speeches to kissing underprivileged children, you need to do it all – and it doesn’t come cheap. That’s the price of democracy. The making of a President is actually nothing but the “Marketing of the President”.

The new box office Heroes

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Brad Pitt? No chance! George Clooney? Naah! Ashton Kutcher? Impossible! The way cartoons and animation movies are churning money, it won’t be long before top actors smashingly go...out of business!


Superman, Batman, Spiderman and now Hanuman. Yes, it seems to be a man’s world out there. A mention of the word ‘cartoon’ and probably these are the names that would spring up in everybody’s mind. As little children, we all used to wait for Sunday to watch ‘Spiderman, Spiderman… friendly neighbourhood Spiderman’ to do out of this world antics and mesmerise us. As young teenagers, we all read Archies and fancied going to the same Riverdale school where Archie and his cool gang used to study. Yash Chopra may rule Bollywood with his enthralling triangle love stories, but it’s Archie, Betty and Veronica, whose love triangle entertained us in our teenage years the most.

That’s the impact of animation in our lives. Probably some of our best, sweetest and most innocent memories are around animation. The world of animation is just unique. Just as love breaks all the barriers of language, religion, cast, creed and colour, similarly, animation is a universal language. It appeals to all people of almost all age groups all over the world. After all, from Timbuktoo to Tamil Nadu, every one laughs at the antics of Tom & Jerry. That’s the biggest advantage of making animated films. The world is your market, for cartoon characters face no language or culture barriers. They are watched with the same enthusiasm world over.

The Digital Miracle

The Walt Disney Company was fighting desperately to avoid a corporate takeover attempt in the 1980s. In fact, back then it was finding it so difficult to keep out of the red that it was considering abandoning the production of feature length animated films. Then they decided to give it one last shot and collaborated with Steven Spielberg to produce the animated feature film, “Who Framed Roger rabbit.” The film was a smash hit and suddenly, animation became the buzz word for success. What followed was a line of successful films from the Disney stable, like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and, of course, the biggest hit of all, The Lion king. It surpassed the wildest dreams of the studio. Soon, everyone wanted to do an animated movie. All the big movie studios tried their hands with computer animated feature films. From Dreamworks to Century Fox to Paramount Pictures, everyone started making animated feature films. All did reasonably well, but none could match the charm of a Disney film.

However, Disney was so successful because of Steve Jobs and his Pixar Animation. He was the one who had mastered the art of 3-D animation, also known as CGI. In the past, films had been made using the 2-D animation technique, which relies on hand-drawn animation. Today, computer generated or CG animated feature films rule the roost, and Pixar was the first to produce the first completely computer-generated feature film, Toy Story. The movie was a phenomenal success so probably is ‘Pixar’, which is the true star responsible for making animation such a big draw both for children and adults.

With animation, a new life has been infused in films targeted at adults. It has made it possible to let you run your imagination in the wildest of directions. You dream of any situation and think of any idea, animation will help you to achieve it. It’s a digital miracle that made Tom Hanks shake hands with President John F. Kennedy in the film Forrest Gump (shot decades after Kennedy was assassinated). It was the computer imagery apart from Kate Winslet’s beauty, which made Titanic such a realistic and awesome film. It was also the computer, which helped in sending shivers down your spine as you watched hungry man-eating lions in The Ghost and the Darkness.

When Finding Nemo was released, Disney and Pixar kept their fingers crossed. They didn’t expect it to do well. The film went on to become the highest grosser in 2003, earning $340 million in the US alone and an excess of $800 million worldwide. All thanks to the magic of 3D animation. Those are the absolutely stunning visual effects that are fuelling the industry and helping it churn out one block-buster after another. Technology has developed a lot, and animation studios are using novel software tools to develop mind blowing effects.

India, the new hub

The Lion King, Finding Nemo, Lord of the Rings, all have got one thing in common – they all were made with Indian expertise. Ralph Bakshi helped in the making of Lord of the Rings. He also created a well labelled TV series named Mighty Mouse. Ergo, Indians have oodles of talent and apart from that, this talent is available at a very cheap price. The cost of making a movie like Spiderman is $100 million in US. If you make a full length animated movie in India, it costs $15-25 million. No wonder, all eyes in Hollywood are directed towards India. Hollywood companies are increasingly outsourcing cartoon characters and special effects in India. So, a part of the success of Stuart Little and the terror of The Mummy was created right here in India. Indian animation companies are charging very low, and are thus able to divert a lot of work from China, Korea, Taiwan & Philippines. In the past, we have been exporting Tea and making a name for ourselves in the world market. With the amount of work we’re doing in the animated films, this could perhaps be our next big export globally.

After all, we have everything that takes to make us the animation hub of the world. India has the world’s largest entertainment industry in terms of the number of films produced. The Indian Entertainment Industry is expected to grow at 18% per annum and reach over $10 billion by 2009. Animation and special effects are making their presence felt here, too. After all, Hum Tum and Krrish would not be the same without the touch of animation and visual effects. A whole lot of animation studios have mushroomed all over. The prominent ones being Toonz Animation (biggest in India), UTV Toons, Padmalays Telefilms (Zee’s animation arm), Mays Entertainment, Crest Communication, to name a few.

They all have very talented manpower and are considered some of the best animation houses in the world. It’s enough reason for the biggies like Sony, Walt Disney, Imax and Warner Brothers to sign up huge contracts with these Indian animation companies. More so because apart from the fact that our manpower is talented and low cost, another big advantage is the knowledge of English.

At the same time, Indian mythologies are a treasure house of stories, which appeal to all. In fact, those were the Japanese who were the first to realise the potential of Indian myths and made the Ramayan in the 1990s. It was Disney, which made the little Indian jungle boy ‘Mowgli’ popular the world over with the movie Jungle Book.

Indians are waking up to the fact that we have characters like the ten-headed Ravan, which have the potential to mesmerise not just Indians, but audiences the world over. So Toonz Animation has created Adventures of Hanuman and also Adventures of Tenali Raman, India’s first animated television series. We are no longer just servicing western movie studios, but are signing co-production deals too. We are not just low cost content providers to Hollywood. We have moved up the value chain by not just keeping our costs down, but our quality consistent and of very high standards.

We have talent and content, and Richard Branson has decided to make full use of it. He has teamed up with Deepak Chopra and Shekhar Kapoor to come out with Virgin Comics. The three titles – Devi, Snakewoman and The Sadhu are all inspired by Indian gods and goddesses. The world seems to be in love with Indian animation. From Ramayan, to Mahabharat, to Devi – we seem to have it all. The market seems ripe for the animation industry. Is it a surprise then that the market for comics and graphic novels worldwide is exploding? It grew by 44.7% in US and 50% in UK (Virgin statistics). Even the number of cartoon channels are increasing rapidly on TV. What’s most interesting is that the growth in both countries has come due to Asian comics.

Definitively, animation has become widely accepted and is the new innovation of the 21st century. Movie-goers have accepted computer generated characters in films. It would not be long before there would be fully animated films featuring virtual human actors! Not just viewers, even the Oscars have accepted it; and in 2001, they introduced a new category “Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.” That year, Shrek won the award. Animation has made a place for itself in our lives and is here to stay for a long long time.

So what’s common between Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Star Wars and Jurassic Park? They all grossed between $900 million to $1800 million in the box-office. They all have the computer to thank, which gave their movie such tremendous aura and awe inspiring look.

According to a survey, Mickey Mouse made $5.8 billion in 2003, while Harry Potter earned $2.8 billion, Nemo $2 billion and Spiderman $1.3 billion. That’s a cool sum for someone who has created with a ‘click-and-enter’ on the computer. These are the new favourites of the world. They are the new celebrities. What’s most interesting is that they come with no star-tantrums, no date problems and no scandle-problems! They work the way you want them to work. They are loved by the whole world and they always keep the cash registers jingling.

So move away Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and make way for the new box-office heroes!

The Power of One

Thursday, November 9, 2006

One viewpoint, one vision, one concept, one experience, one belief, one opinion, one deduction, one intuition, one surmise, one inference, one conjecture, one premise... for a passionate man, all it takes to change the world is that one big Idea!


A chance meeting of this man, while taking a walk in a village, with a woman who used to weave bamboo stools, changed the life of many poor Bangladeshis. Muhammad Yunus met Sufiya Khatun, a widow, in 1976. She used to make bamboo stools and earned two cents a day. The reason for such low profits was that the person who would lend her the money to buy the bamboo, also bought her final product. No surprise then that he gave her minimum possible. Yunus looked around and found 42 people who required a total of $26, which could change their lives forever. Within two years, he established his first “Grameen Bank” that would give credit to the poor – whom the other banks found worthless. Today Yunus’s Grameen Bank has more than 1,000 branches. He gives $40 million a month as loans. It has over two million customers; 94% of them women. What’s most commendable is the fact that 97% of its loans are repaid – a record comparable to the repayment rate at Chase Manhattan Bank!

It was the vision of one man and his commitment to the poorest of poor that he discovered a clientele, which would probably never have been discovered by the free market. His bank charges four point above the commercial rate, never forgives loans and provides no free services. Yet, it remains profitable and its efficiency is comparable to, and sometimes even better than, many high profile multi-national banks. One man, one vision and he changed the face of poverty.

Henry Ford changed the American way of life when he reduced the price of his best selling car “Model T” by 58%. While the demand for his car was rising, any normal businessman would have increased the prices, but Ford decreased the prices. Not just this, he even doubled the average wage for workers and introduced the $5 per day wage standard. While the industrial world criticized Ford heavily, he firmly believed that low prices and higher wages would eventually lead to greater sales. And his vision proved to be right.

An old story goes like this. A little boy was assigned to draw flowers in his art class. The little one sketched a face in the centre of each flower. His teacher was not impressed and found it weird that a boy could give eyes and lips to a flower. The teacher failed to see the spark which would start a fire in the years to come. The boy was Walt Disney.

With nothing but a suitcase full of dreams and an unfinished print of an animated movie The Alice Comedies, Walt Disney reached Hollywood to start a new business. He was 21. He had nothing but ideas; and many a time, people found them ridiculous. When no one believed that there’s a market for full-length animated films, that’s when Walt Disney launched Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. The film was a roaring success and even today is regarded as one of the greatest monuments of the motion picture industry.

In 1930s, Walt created a character which changed the future of his company and became synonymous with him. It was Mickey Mouse, which helped Walt reap millions for himself.

One man, one idea and he changed the way children, world over, would dream and play. We owe him a lot!

One idea

When you don’t accept the norm and move away from the tradition, that’s when you create miracles. It is this process of thinking differently that has given birth to new ideas and new millions to the thinkers.

It’s a sport whose origin can be traced back to the 13th century. The first big match was fought in Sussex in 1697. The sport is cricket, which is almost our national obsession. However, it was the rebel streak of an Australian business tycoon, which changed the game forever. Kerry Packer saw how a long-drawn five day match seemed boring to many. It was the era of fast-food, fast-life, fast-cars and if cricket could be made fast too, he could find many more spectators and sponsors. So in 1971, in Melbourne, cricket – which was traditionally played in white clothes – saw a make over. The first one-day international was played and cricketers wore coloured clothing. Since then, cricket has never been the same again. Kerry Packer, whose father once described him as “the family idiot,” died a very rich man. A lot of his millions came from Cricket ODIs!

Low-cost airlines had been there for a long time. It was not a new concept. However, Southwest Airlines showed how to make it a successful business venture. Pacific SouthWest Airlines had been there in the United States since 1949, but it was SouthWest that proved to the world how to make an icon out of something so cheap! When Herb Kelleher started SouthWest, his vision was clear, people wanted to get to their destinations on time and at the lowest possible fares. He did just that. No wonder SouthWest is one of the few airlines that have not made any loss since 1973! Today it’s America’s largest and best-loved airlines. It’s been a major inspiration to other low-cost airlines who have tried to copy its business strategy. It’s called the SouthWest effect!

Steve Jobs changed the world with one innovative idea. While the world believed that a computer had to be a gigantic and an inscrutable mass of vacuum tubes only to be used by big business and government, along came this twenty one year old who changed it all. With just a vision, he and his friend designed the Apple computer in Job’s bedroom. The Apple, whose prototype was built in a garage, started a revolution and changed our lives forever.

Not many know that McDonald’s was not started by Ray Kroc, but by the McDonald brothers: Dick and Mac. They were the ones who invented the “Speedee Service System” in 1948. They were the ones who discovered this whole concept of a “fast-food restaurant”. Not just this, they had also started franchising their restaurant. Ray Kroc’s genius lay in the fact that he realised the tremendous potential of this business model and in due time, spread it at a break neck speed all over America.

There were 1.7 million retail establishments in the United States in 1945. However, one of them grew to become the largest discount chain of the world. The store was Wal-Mart, started by Sam Walton and his brother in 1962. By 2001, there were more than 4,500 Wal-Mart stores worldwide. He knew everybody loves low prices and that’s just what he offered them. The slogan “Everyday Low Prices” turned this small retail shop into a global giant!

There is no dearth of cosmetic companies, but this one, which was started in a kitchen, gave a tough competition to many big established names. Estée Lauder began selling creams made by her uncle who was a chemist. She did just one thing different from other makers of cosmetics. She started giving free samples and free demos of her products to people, and most of them became her customers. Very soon, her company grew into a giant organisation owning many big brands like Clinic, M.A.C., Aramis etc.

River blindness is a disease that had infected over a million people. Now, that’s a large market for any pharmaceutical company. Merck thought too, and the company soon developed a drug called Mectizan. However, when there were no buyers for its product, the company gave it for free to all who needed it. Merck had done the same thing in Japan when it brought streptomycin to help eliminate tuberculosis. It was the long term vision of this company which helped it grow. No points for guessing then, which is the largest American pharmaceutical company in Japan. Yes, it is Merck!

One man or one company’s vision and commitment can change a lot.

Each of us has a tremendous potential within us. We have to sit up and do something. We may, as individuals, appear small in front of large organisations, countries or communities. But one idea can snowball into a large movement.

So look around and take charge. After all, the only thing that ever sat its way to success was a hen! You can change lives. You can build an empire. Don’t underestimate the power of one.

DON’T SAY GOODBYE TO YESTERDAY

Thursday, October 26, 2006

If you really wish to recreate the wheel, go ahead, give it your best shot... Or better, learn world class ad-making from history books


All of us remember the good old memories of how we used to curl up in bed at night and mom used to read out amazing stories, transporting us instantly into a different magical world every night. It’s said the learning process of a child starts when he hears the world-famous words “Once upon a time...” from his grandmother/father. “Once upon a time...” is actually a simplistic way of narrating history to children and everyone knows the study of history is important. It teaches us a lot!

History gives us our “Today”. It is a collection of experiences and perceptions. Time waits for none, moments keep passing and there is absolutely no way of going back. Once time has passed, all that remains are our perceptions. History itself is our collective perception of the past. It helps to keep in mind our past. Not just do we learn from others’ mistakes, we learn from their achievements too. As in other fields, so too in advertising, it always pays to pause and look back to see what we can learn from the campaigns of yesteryears. If history is a collection of perceptions, then creativity is the ability to grasp, to perceive emotions and thoughts, and to communicate this perception successfully.

The best gems of advertising excellence can be found in our backyards itself. From Leela Chitnis – India’s first brand ambassador – to Shah Rukh Khan – India’s current heartthrob – Lux has managed to remain a household name and outlasted many soaps. Great brands are built through great advertising campaigns. As each Bollywood beauty queen disclosed her “khubsuratee ka raaz” (her beauty secret), advertisers discovered a few secrets of making successful long-lasting campaigns.

Lalitaji showed her “samajhdari” in buying Surf and Surf has continued to benefit from her wisdom. She may no more be there, on our TV screens, but just as the then housewives used to identify with her and Surf, the modern homemaker continues to identify with the brand and says confidently “Daag achche hai.” Surf has continued to win all kinds of brand wars, price wars and still managed to hold its turf. Afterall, “Campaign achcha hai”!! In 2002 “India” was repackaged and relaunched in the world market. Through the “Incredible India” campaign, travellers once again started trotting back to India to discover the different aspects of Indian culture, yoga and spirituality – as was portrayed in the advertisements. The efforts were good and incredibly rewarding. Thumbelina, princess of Indian advertising – the girl in the polka dotted frock – needs no introduction. Amul has a masterpiece of a campaign, which has ensured that the only brand to be consistently found on almost every Indian’s breakfast table is Amul Butter. The ad agency sure knows which side of the bread is buttered!!

It was the itsy... bitsy...teeny... weenie green bikini, which raked in the moolah for Liril. From Karen Lunel to Preity Zinta, all have been Liril girls helping to make it the strongest brand.

And who could have thought that devils could be used as brand ambassadors! However, it’s the green horned devil who made Onida TV a neighbour’s envy and owner’s pride. Today, the devil is back, albeit in a new avatar, but has managed to make people take notice of him and his product once again.

“There are three things in the world every person can do better than anyone else. One is to coach football; second is to judge a beauty contest. And the third, is to write advertising,” said someone a long time ago. However, what is it that makes some campaigns so successful and others totally forgettable? Why are there some ads that make a whole nation hum their tune (remember the Lifebuoy jingle, “Tandurusti ki raksha karta hai Lifebuoy”)? What is it that made us smile for years every time the little girl came on our TV screens and said, “I love you Rasna.”

Simplicity

K.I.S.S. Keep it Short and Simple. Yes, kiss-n-tell seems to be the magic mantra, which has kept so many campaigns going on and on for years. A message that is simple to understand.

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was invited to make a speech at Gettysburg to honour all those who had given their lives in the war. There are very few speeches that are as loved as the prose poem Abraham Lincoln delivered that day. What’s important to note is that on that day, Edward Everett, the nation’s foremost rhetorician, too spoke for two hours. His speech was long forgotten. Lincoln’s speech is the pristine example of simplicity and clarity. It is the best example of what clear and concise writing can do for you. Complicated messages confuse people and they ignore your whole message. A simple punchline, a simple jingle, is more effective and memorable and likeable.

Continuity

A good campaign is one that can go on and on. Cigarette advertising is banned, but we still remember the “Made for each other” campaign of Wills. The illustration has remained almost unchanged, still it’s managed to retain its freshness.

The advertisements of Absolut Vodka can go on and on forever. It is this campaign which changed the face of magazine advertising almost single-handedly. The campaign ran for 25 years. There were 1,500 versions of print ads built around the shape of its bottle. Now, that’s a lot! The idea behind the campaign was such that its creators could go on and on with innumerable innovations. Hence, while working on an advertising campaign, the most critical part is deciding the campaign theme. An interesting yet, simple theme is what will guarantee the longevity of the campaign.

Warmth

A good idea with a dash of humour is a lethal combination. The Chloromint ads have made it very clear what a good laugh can do for your brand. Dubaara mat poochhna!

The bottom line is: The ad should not just sell the product, it should also be enjoyable to watch again and again. You could make it interesting by using cute faces, good music, funny situations, or even emotions. In the Cadbury chocolate advertisement, the impromptu jig done by the girl on the cricket stadium after her boyfriend scores a six, made many smile and feel good. The little Hutch boy and his cute dog made you want the ad to go on forever. The fun and carefree lives of young boys and girls, and also the music in Bacardi advertisements make you want to dance with them, too. The advertisements for Titan watches filled many eyes with tears.

When you can strike a chord with the audience, they not just love your advertisement, but also your product. Some images and icons are just instant successes because they are quickly endeared by all. Take the case of the Air India Maharaja – who was the loving mascot of our national carrier. The Pillsbury dough boy was loved by adults and children alike. Ronald McDonald is an integral part of McDonald’s advertising campaign. Charlie Chaplin became synonymous with Cherry Blossom. He brought about an added dimension of fun to the product. Sometimes, the success of an advertising campaign is simply determined by the jingles used, or even by the characters that we use – real, fictional or cartoon. The viewer then surely connects more easily to the respective brand.

It’s only when you enjoy something and it touches your heart, do you want to watch it again & again. No wonder, even today you enjoy the moves of The Sound of Music. It has no special effects, no item numbers, but just a good story told well. When you create an advertisement, remember to take a look at what the gurus had done in the past. You would know immediately what works & will sustain and what will not.

Times may have changed, but our basic feelings have not changed much. We still cry a laugh at the same things today as our ancestors did yesterday. Some success mantras just never fail to work. So go down the memory lane and take a look at the ad campaigns gone by, and you can get your own winning idea. Many of the ad campaigns are not running anymore, however, they have left an indelible mark on us. They are valuable sources of ideas. They will always teach us a lot. So don’t forget them. It’s true that we will always learn a lot from history. So don’t say goodbye to yesterday.

You’ve come the "Wrong" way baby

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Surely, the fair, slim and dedicated housewife is the epitome of all that a woman stands for today, right? Wrong!

Back in the 1960s, a delightful series of tongue-in-cheek ads appeared in the magazine for a cigarette called ‘Virginia Slims’. It showed two sets of images – one of women in the 1900s and the other, juxtaposed next to it, of a happy modern women. The punch line that accompanied all these ads read, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” It helped create an aspirational image, which appealed to women. This was the 60s and the feminism movement was just beginning to take shape. The strategy worked delightfully well for the company Philip Morris, and from 1968 through 1980s, the brand saw its market share grow up from 0.24% to 3.16%. The ads showed how the modern women was more in control of her life and free to make her own choices. However, the question is really important: Is the modern woman really free? Or has she been simply ‘bondaged’ by modern advertising to live in a world of illusionary freedom? Today, the way women are depicted in ads makes one think – are they a happier lot now, with more freedom and financial independence? Or is it just a superficial change on the surface.

Fair game?

For decades, women have been portrayed in stereotypical roles. Has anything really changed? They are still shown as housewives dependent on men, and as sex objects in advertisements. The mould has been cast and it seems near impossible to break it. You may not see her much in a saree today, or with the vermillion on her forehead, but deep inside, she is very much the same. She is still insecure if her skin colour is not fair and lovely. The numerous advertisements for the varied types of fairness products show how it’s important to be “fair skinned.” Success for a woman is still defined by her fairness quotient. Fair skin is considered an asset in India and advertisements are leaving no stone unturned to prove it so, that your skin colour decides your future. Consider the ad for “Fair and Lovely”, one of India’s leading fairness creams. The father of a dark skinned girl is trying to get her married to an old bald man. However, she manages to change her destiny in the nick of time when she starts using the fairness cream.

In another of its ads, Fair & Lovely shows a young talented girl with a strong potential of becoming a cricket commentator. But to be successful, she is advised by her friend to not spend so much time practicing on a make-believe mike, but rather spend time in front of the mirror and change her skin colour, for turning her dreams into reality. After all, talent is not important, and a fair skin obviously guarantees a fair future, doesn’t it?

If that’s not enough of a humiliation, then Godrej Fair Glow goes a step further to show how, if you are dark skinned, your life is confined to the dark corners of your home. You could, however, use Fair Glow fairness cream to become spotlessly fair and develop the confidence to face people. Now others would find it worthy to talk to you & be friends with you.

Clearly, if you are dark, you are a burden to your family, and your father feels cursed, for how on earth could you foot the bill for his favourite coffee?!!? You however have the option of using the fairness cream to change the fortunes of your family and make them proud of you. How ridiculous is that! Whatever happened to the good old attributes of education and hard work, which were the prerequisites of success. Is it true then that parameters of success are different for men and different for women?

Years ago, Vicco Turmeric cream showed how it was really important to look fair on your wedding day – for that was the only attribute for a girl. Even after so many years, the ‘Snow White syndrome’ has not left us. Rather, it’s gained stronger and larger proportions. These advertisements have taken our obsession with fairness to greater heights.

The fairness cream market is humongous in India – about Rs.1,000 crores plus – and HLL, with its Fair & Lovely brand, is the market leader. While the “Raymond’s Man” is the “Complete Man,” a woman is not of any worth till she is fair. How fair is that? Shouldn’t she too be judged on the basis of her inner talent and capabilities than just on her skin colour. The ads should stop showing that dark skin is bad and unsuccessful. Fair is not necessarily lovely. We must give all skin colours a fair chance. Hey mothers, stop asking your little girls not to play in the sun, lest they should become dark. Hey, advertisers, wake up to the fact that beauty is not skin deep.

Power of images

Advertisers today don’t sell products. They sell a life style, an image. The images of women being portrayed in advertisements is scary. It’s sending all the wrong signals – especially to teenagers and young girls, who try to copy the images doled out in generous quantities by advertisers. But the ridicule doesn’t stop ‘fairly’. On another front, all ads showing women put a premium on ‘slimness’. As early as the 1920s, some ads for a cigarette brand ‘Lucky Strike’ ran a punch line, which read – “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” It tried to associate ‘smoking’ with ‘slim’. That was the start!

Even today, advertisers obsession with slim women has not changed. Unnaturally and unhealthily thin models are fast becoming the role models of young girls. No wonder, most of them suffer from eating disorders. Of all the people suffering from eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, 90% are girls. The ultra-thin, airbrushed images of women with flawless skins and perfect figures have resulted in almost 66% of women having a low self-esteem about themselves. The ads have changed the way society views beauty. Women, today, are being objectified and almost victimized by having to live up to ideal (and impossible) standards.

Today, ads sell more than products – they sell dreams. However, some of those dreams are turning into nightmares for many girls trying desperately to ape the women shown in ads. All successful females are shown as slim – and fair – and hence happy. How many real women look like that. Isn’t it time someone wakes up to this fact? Dove was one of the few gutsy beauty products to come out with ads which harped on the “real” beauty of women. It showed “real women” in its ads, and proclaimed to the world that they should be proud of themselves. Beauty was all about being positive, being confident and not about having to fit into a particular mould. It helped a lot of young girls feel good about themselves.

Twenty years ago, models weighed around 8% less than the average woman. Today, they weigh a whopping 23% less! Did someone talk about women’s liberation? She was better off yesterday than she is today. Isn’t it time we redefined beauty? Images are powerful & it’s time we showed women as images of power.

Home, garden, housekeeping

Yes, that’s what women were confined to years ago, and nothing much has changed since then. Even though today, more women work outside home, earn and control significant amounts of money, and make large important purchases (like automobiles, computers), they are still always shown in advertisements of household products. The woman’s opinion is important only as far as washing machines and microwave ovens are concerned. So the “Whirlpool mom” is a superhit because she stays in the house and the biggest kick she gets in her life is when she can remove the stains from the children’s clothes in a jiffy. And when it comes to cars, the woman is shown scantily clad, lying idly on the roof top, doing nothing much(!), while it’s the man who is the decision maker as car is his symbol of success! And for woman, the symbol is the bunch of spotless white clothes of her family.

Yes, women are shown in power settings, where they are dressed as commandos wearing thick protective attire. They land from a plane and search the entire locality, till they reach their destination – a germ infected toilet. Then comes the punch line – “Here comes the expert in cleaning toilets,” (Harpic!). Is this all she is capable of? With an increase in the number of father-headed single parent homes, men too are actively involved in the purchase of home products. However, even today the so called “liberated” women is expected to be the perfect home maker. So Videocon says, “You and Videocon, the perfect homemakers.” It’s time we moved on.

Women are from Venus

Yes women are different from men, and need to be portrayed differently. However, somewhere down the line, some aspects got overlooked, and some overemphasized. Fair or dark, a woman is beautiful. You don’t expect her to look up to Michael Jackson (who changed his skin from black to white) as a role model when it comes to skin colour. Today, women entrepreneurs abound and we need to recognize that. Women have moved ahead and some advertisers like LIC are showing the way. Their radio ads show how everyone insures the life of the male – the head – but forget to insure the life of the woman who is a life-giver herself! Yes, there is a ray of hope. Let it grow stronger.

This time round, while keeping our navratra fasts, let’s just pause for a second to ponder. These nine days we would be thanking the female forces of nature. We would be praying to the three main goddesses of Hinduism – Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati – all of them epitomes of Shakti. All of them revered and respected by men and women alike. We spend nine nights acknowledging the presence of these goddesses that live within us, imbibing us with their spiritual energy and power. Could we take nine minutes to ponder over the merciless slaughter of women in our advertisements?

Today, women have achieved great heights. They have come a long way. However, our advertisements depict a different picture. It’s time to rework their images, for the woman portrayed in most ads today makes one feel not that she’s come a long way – but that she’s going the “wrong” way.

Th Big Fight!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

If you were looking for the best tactic to hit your competitors in a short time, look no further, the answer is in... Comparative Advertising!

William Bernbach, the greatest guru of advertising, once said, “You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. But you’ve get to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut; because if they don’t feel that, nothing will happen.” The battle for market share is really tough, with so many competitors in every product category. The most significant way to win, is to make your mark quickly and indelibly. And the fastest way to ensuring the viewer’s attention towards your product is through the mother of all big fights, namely, comparative advertising. It’s one of the most potent arrows in the strategy quiver of advertising. Hence, only the bravest should use it. And generally, only the bravest do!

Compare This!

Comparative advertising has been lauded for being the most aggressive and factual of all advertising strategies. If handled intelligently, it always works. Comparative ads cannot be denied of their charm. It’s high-decibel marketing, which attracts viewers and advertisers alike. It gets you hooked as you wait expectantly for the competitor’s next move. But the critical aspect you need to master even before entering this war zone is speed. You need to think and act at lightening speed to win this game of one-upmanship. Competitive reactions to comparative ads are the fastest, and most debilitating. Ergo, if your response is not fast enough – and factually superior – you might just have signed your last pay cheque. Consequently, your strategy has to be flawless, for any weakness can prove hugely beneficial for your competitors, who would be anyway braying blood because of your initial brazen attack. Clearly, ‘comparative’ could easily end up being more than what you asked for!

Many ostensibly classic comparative ads fell flat when the advertisers realised that not only was the competing brand getting more publicity, but also was in reality better. That’s the killing part of the story. Firstly, when you compare your product with the competitor’s, both get a share of the limelight – the other brand gets a free piggy-ride on your back. But secondly, and most importantly, your arguments have to be strong for the spotlight to remain on you. If you are not 100% sure of your product, it’s strongly advisable not to go for comparative advertising.

Comparative B’advertising

Some classic examples have benchmarked the history of comparative advertising. And leading the fight club is the protagonist of this story, Pepsodent, which, in its advertisements, claimed, “New Pepsodent is 102% better than the leading toothpaste.” The ad showed two boys being asked the name of the toothpaste brand that they used. One happily exclaims Pepsodent, while the other’s disgruntled response, though muted, clearly points cynically towards Colgate (especially as a background jingle similar to the one in Colgate’s ads is used quite appropriately). Incidentally, at that time, Colgate toothpaste ruled the market with a massive 59% market share. Expectedly, Colgate took HLL (which owns Pepsodent) to court, and HLL had to withdraw its ads.

On the personal care front, HLL stirred another hornet’s nest when it came out with an advertisement that read, “The Truth, Not Just Promises.” The ad went on to explain how ‘Fair & Lovely’ was much more effective than ‘No Marks’. Ozone Ayurvedics, the owners of ‘No Marks’, did not take this lightly. They felt this was wrong & unethical. They got their facts in order, and claimed in return that No Marks had the highest content level of active ingredients – about 59.5% of their product’s total composition, compared to 0.66% in Fair & Lovely. With these and many more such shocking statistics, No Marks sure had a point to prove. HLL is surely getting cold feet on seeing a much stronger competitor; and if it continues like this, the faith of consumers might slowly get eroded.

Similarly, the Kiwi Liquid Wax Polish ad showed a squeamy and clearly unlikable liquid (polish) dripping from a bottle marked X, while no such liquid dripped from the Kiwi bottle (what else!). The shape of the bottle X left no doubt that it was Cherry Blossom. Amusingly, even the government body MRTP agreed so – and the ad was ruled a case of disparagement. Subsequently, Kiwi was asked to discontinue the same.

But poor Colgate, its cup full of woes continued from another front. When Vicco tooth powder (remember the inimitable Vajradanti!), in its ads showed an allegedly useless – and obviously unattractive – oval shaped tin of a competitor, though without any label, everyone could still identify the “useless tin” as a Colgate tooth powder can. Once again, MRTP noted that the advertisement created an impression in the viewers’ minds that the can was of Colgate, and they would be inclined to believe that the product was absolutely useless, which was not right.

As must be clear by now, though effective, comparative advertising should be used with extreme caution. Comparative advertising is most effective when it’s factual, and there are significant & meaningful points of differences that are highlighted.

Guerilla warfare!

A term made famous by the duo of Al Ries and Jack Trout, guerilla warfare signifies a tactic that can be quite beneficially used in advertisements by new players entering the market. Under this, if you really are offering a better deal, it’s best to attack the leader headlong. And the louder you are, the better!

When Whisper entered the market, it took its competitor Carefree (J&J) headlong in true guerilla style by vociferously showing how it was qualitatively superior to the market leader – and all this without once naming the product. “Expensive BAS***DS!” was the advertisement that the budget airline Ryanair came out with, indicating in not so subtle a way how BA – that is, British Airways – was more expensive than Ryanair. British Airways did try to take them to court, but the judge concluded that the average consumer would not see the price comparison as misleading, and in substance the advertisement was true! So not only did Ryanair win the case, they won a lot of customers too.

When Captain Cook first launched its salt in India, it made an extremely loud reference to Tata Salt by showing a package that looked exactly like the Tata product. The ad showed how Captain Cook was better than the competitor’s salt because it was the only “free flowing salt.” This was an attribute that Tata Salt lacked, and Captain Cook made its mark in the marketplace by highlighting this aspect.

At the guerilla extreme, Duracell showed two Bunnies racing in its commercial, where the bunny powered by Duracell battery won the race hands down, while the other bunny with a black battery lost the race. The voice-over at the end of the commercial dramatically stated, “While Duracell Alkaline keeps on running, Eveready Super Heavy Duty can’t keep up... With up to three times more power, Duracell always beats Eveready Super Heavy Duty.” How much further overt could one get? This Eveready damning ad ran on Australian TV; and even though Eveready sued Duracell, it was of no use since the court concluded that the ad was not showing anything that was untruthful.

The joke’s on you!

Humour cuts ice like nothing else can, and especially so in comparative advertising. When Coke was selected as the official drink for the cricket World Cup series, Pepsi came out with a campaign, which went like, “Nothing Official About It!” And it was perceived as really cool. The campaign was probably one of the most memorable ones on Indian turfs. Similarly, in America, when Michael Jackson (Pepsi’s endorser) fainted during one of his stage shows, Coke came up with an ad that said, “Dehydrated? Try Coke!” People smiled, and both Coke – and even Pepsi lovers – enjoyed the ads.

A word of caution though. Comparative advertising is not mudslinging. Tongue-in-cheek humour is acceptable, and in fact appreciable. However, when you poke fun at someone, it can well hold you in bad light, if the ad is distasteful. When Pepsi came out with an ad that was a spoof on Hrithik Roshan, it was not appreciated by many. There were so many Pepsi drinkers who were Hrithik Roshan fans, and it hurt them to see Pepsi poke fun at their heartthrob. To top it all, Pepsi was not only sued by Coke, but as well as by Hrithik Roshan. In much similar fashion, Hyundai had, in many of its previous ads, made it almost a strategy to hit its competitors below the belt. Against Ford Ikon, it came out with acceptable ads that went, “Santro ends Ikon’s Josh.” But when Hyundai saw the Matiz car brand in trouble during the time when rumours were adrift that Daewoo (the parent company) was in the process of closing down, the northern dealers of Hyundai came out with ads, which screamed quite distastefully and unpleasantly in Hindi, “Car ghar par, company sadak par!” (Car’s at your home, company’s on the road). Though Daewoo did sue Hyundai, the bigger loss Hyundai suffered was because of subsequent consumer response.

The Last Word

Comparative advertising is actually a service to the customers. If it’s truthful and not unpleasantly disparaging, it can actually help customers make more informed choices. As David Ogilvy said a long time back, “The customer isn’t a moron; she’s your wife!” So if your product is superior, don’t hesitate to compare it with the leader and surge ahead. Truly, only the strong & confident can indulge in & win the big fight.

s w a n s o n g

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The crescendo cannot be ignored; the innuendos cannot be overlooked; traditional is dead, noveau is alive!a Music industry has been transformed, and like nobody could’ve ever imagined

Traditionally, male singers with a deep voice were considered to be better than others.

Traditionally, female singers with a high pitched voice were considered to be better.

Traditionally, you never bought a music cassette after listening to it in the shop.

Traditionally, you bought the whole album – even if you liked one or two songs.

Traditionally, artists worked for years before achieving success.

Traditionally, record companies signed on young talented groups and nurtured them, till they were ready to earn the big moolah for them.

Traditionally, you either had to be very talented or very rich to be able to cut-out an album.

Traditionally, you had to drive down to the music store to buy music.

Traditionally, music companies decided whether you were good or not – not the listeners.

Traditionally, it was your voice that was your biggest asset – as a singer.

Traditionally, you knew an artist was good if you heard him often on the radio.

Traditionally, singers were heard more and seen less of.

Well, all that, as is mentioned, was traditional. Today, it has all changed. Today, the music industry is undergoing a major transformation. All the old rules are being challenged and all the norms are being broken.

Singing has changed!...

“Unconventional” is the conventional now. Everything you knew about traditional singing has changed. Today, everybody is looking for a “newer” and “fresher” voice. Songs that were totally unimaginable in the 80s are superhits today. If you are different, you are successful. There is no “typical voice” that you require today. The unusual is the hit number. So Mitwa quickly rose up the popularity charts, with its different music and different treatment and the outstanding voice of Pakistani singer Shafqat Amanant Ali. So the movie Corporate used the unconventional voice of Gary Lawyer for its title track. And Gangster of course had lovely songs – especially Ya Ali sung by Zubeen Garg of Assam. He was so popular, his voice helped sell 38,000 CDs in Assam alone, within the first few weeks of the album’s release. So today, Himesh Reshammiya, with his rather unique vocals, is the one who belts out the maximum hits. In the 70s or 80s, no one could have even imagined a voice like that would work. Not to forget Rabbi Shergill and his Bulla number that shot to fame in no time at all.

Singing has truly changed! Good or bad is debatable. The larger and more interesting the vocal canvas, the higher the chances of success. The more you experiment, the better off you are. People are ready to give a chance to new voices & even new ways of singing.

Till very recently, ‘Remixes’ were the shortest routes to success. Officially, everyone dislikes them, but if numbers are to believed, then in India, seven out of the top ten numbers are remix albums. If Rs.620 crores is the estimated size of the legitimate music industry, then remixes alone account for as much as Rs.125 crores, which is a big piece of the pie! Moreover, the Copyright Act allows you to pick up any composition that is more than two years old and remix it. You just need to inform the parent recording company & pay 5% royalty on the retail price of every cassette sold. So music companies holding rights of old music – like Saregama, and Sony Music – are churning out remix albums and spinning the money wheel again & again.

...And singers have changed!

Today, the fact that you will become a successful singer has got very little to do with your voice. Since singing has become more visual than audio. Britney Spears is probably not as talented, but she makes a good visual package on stage and on your TV screens. So she became a singing sensation among the teens. Her albums make record runs (Of course, today she is busier making babies than albums. She probably would make more money selling exclusive rights of her baby’s photos to magazines!!)

You don’t just need to sing well, you need to look the part too. So Lindsay Lohan’s shrinking waist line helps to keep in check any ‘shrinkages’ in her album sales. People have to like what they see. Singers are as prominent and in the spotlight as any of the filmstars. It’s not enough to have a good voice – one has to be a great performer as well.

The route to success has changed!

A massive rally rolled out in Guwahati some months back. A door-to-door campaign was launched in the city of Silchar asking people to vote for the “Son of the Soil.” Northeast was united like never before. Everybody was talking about him. Debojit was no political leader, but a finalist of the TV show, Sa Re Ga Ma. Debojit finally won the contest with 2.2 million SMS messages being sent in his favour, of which 1.5 million came from the Northeast!

The fact is that record companies or music companies don’t really decide who will make it big today. Today, with numerous reality shows, contests and programmes on TV, it’s more a war of SMS messages than an appreciation for sur & taal.

The reality talent hunt show Indian Idol changed the fortunes of not just its winner, Abhijeet Sawant, but also of the TV channel Sony.

for free, all in the comfort of your home. It couldn’t get better than this. There are file-sharing networks like Napster, eDonkey etc. where you can download music for free.

Would it result in music stores becoming redundant in the future? No one knows, but music companies are sitting up and taking notice of the havoc the internet is capable of doing to their bottom lines. Virgin Megastore was the first to have “listening stations” in its stores to make it possible for the customers to sample the music before buying. Now everybody is following this practice.

With music being so freely available, the hold of music companies on Radio stations is decreasing. If grapevine is to be believed, big companies used to bribe these stations to play more of their music. Today, listeners are moving to the net to hear the music they want, if they don’t get it on the radio. Technology has made it much cheaper to cut an album. So bands are boycotting studios & turning to home studios. The marginal cost of producing copies of the music CD is almost zero.

Artists can also distribute their music on the net. If the songs are popular, listeners ‘will’ download. Not surprising that “Viral music” is the craze among youngsters. Maybe in the future, the internet, and not the music companies, would define music.

Buying patterns have changed

Those were the days when you’d go to a store and buy the whole album. Imagine asking the retailer to sell only one song from the cassette or the CD. The reality today is that no one is interested in buying the whole album anymore. Apple’s data shows that customers buy more singles than the whole album. Some 12 singles were purchased for every one album sold at iTunes, Apple’s online music store. Not just this, the sale of CDs is decreasing. Thanks to ipods and itunes, people prefer to buy music online. The public doesn’t care about labels – but songs. They want instant gratification. If they can get it for free, on the net, they’ll really look no further than their computers.

Music companies are changing

The “big four” internationally – Sony/BMG (the largest music company in the world; turnover $55 billion), Universal, Warner and EMI – are feeling the heat. Their music sales fell by a fifth between 1999 and 2003. Their hold on radio stations has decreased. Artists are now using technology to bypass them. In fact, entertainment is getting a new definition. The shelf space in stores like Walmart is being dedicated more and more to DVDs and video games and less to music CDs. No wonder, CD prices are getting reduced.

The old model of doing business is changing for these companies. They have to rely on overnight hits, and create and churn out artists quickly, and in large numbers – for that’s what teens like. But these teens don’t like buying music when they can get it for free! Thus, putting the music companies in a catch 22 situation.

The stock market is impatient. It can’t wait for them to find a Michael Jackson and nurture him for more stable and long term gains. And this is putting music companies in a soup.

Artists are getting smarter and want a bigger share from the profits. They do not want to give more to the record labels. The managers of groups like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, and of singers like Shania Twain would do anything to prevent record labels from grabbing any share of “non-recorded income.” This would include sponsorship deals, touring profits, merchandise sales etc; the only “shared revenue” would be CD sales. With revenues shrinking, the marketing clout of these music companies is also losing its lustre and artists are gaining more power. The top Indian recording labels – T-Series, Sony-BMG, and Saregama – are finding their share of the pie shrinking too. Film music success is keeping them happy, but again, a lot of it is being taken by Yash Raj Music.

There is the problem of royalties, which is not very high either. The mobile-phone culture is changing all dynamics. With services like Airtel’s Hello Tunes, it would become easier for users to download the song than to pay for a CD. To top it all, the music industry is not getting its share of revenues for their songs that end up as ringtone downloads. According to industry estimates, nearly two lakh ringtones are downloaded in India everyday; while 60% of the charges for downloading a ringtone is taken by the mobile service provider, only 25% goes to the music companies (and 15% to the government). So while telecom companies are enjoying the extra inflow, the others are sulking.

Music companies have to think hard. If they have to survive, they have to change and evolve. They have to give better artists. They have to make better music. They have to not just market & distribute music, but look into the issue of artistic development too.

They have to change their attitude towards distribution. They have to make friends with their enemies – the internet and the file-sharing networks. Sueing them would not help. The next decade is full of risks. They have to be ready – creatively & technologically, or else, they could very well be singing a new original song... their own swan song.

Shop till you drop

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nobody would have betted on India being the world’s number one retail market; it’s a slight change now – Everybody does!


When was the last time you sauntered across the road in front of your house to a Wal-Mart to buy a pair of sneakers? And then ambled a block away to a Target supermall to grab grocery for home? And then scampered a block further to the Macy’s superstore to buy a set of Chanel’s top-line perfumes? Let me guess the answer... Never! But hey, this dreamy vision just might come true, right here in India, where a retail boom is sweeping across with astounding velocity.

The retail industry has been estimated to be around Rs.90,000 crores – which, according to some, seems a very conservative estimate! India seems to represent the most compelling international investment opportunity. According to A.T. Kearney’s 2005 Global Retail Development Index (GRDI) India moved from the second place to the first, displacing Russia as the top hot spot for investing in retail. In 2006 too, India retained its top spot in the index. If things go as planned, then organized retailing in India has the potential of creating over 2 million new (direct) jobs within the next six years.

The market is surely bursting with growth potential, and retailers are queuing up to grab a portion of the retail pie. So while luxury retail chains like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior & the new entrant Versace have gingerly placed their feet on Indian shores, vast numbers of others are waiting in the wings; in fact, the likes of Gucci, Armani, Jimmy Choo, Tumi Luggege are just starting to unfold their plans. But what’s interesting is that by 2015, India would have over 550 million people under the age of 20, making it a vast playground for kids and teen retailers. No wonder, in India the Walt Disney Company has decided to launch its range of toys, clothing etc designed around the popular Disney show “Power Rangers” in collaboration with Shopper’s Stop, Archies, Funskool etc.

The wonder of it all is that those are not just the foreign brands and chains, but Indian retail chains too, which are gearing up for a huge expansion plan. No one wants to miss the opportunity of growth that India is offering now. If global behemoths like Wal-Mart and Carrefour are planning to come to town, the RPG group – with its Rs.200 crores planned investment and long creditworthy Spencers brand – might be the least of worries they’ll have to face. The biggest headache, a debilitating one in all probability, for these international leaders would definitely be Mukesh Ambani, who plans to invest an eye popping Rs.25,000 crores, and employ a soul stopping one million employees over the next few years on retail. Reliance could well be the Indian Wal-Mart. And I’ve not even started talking about companies like Pantaloon, which have already started consolidating their presence in the retail sector. In fact, even companies like Siyaram – one of the few brands that was able to give Raymonds a run for its money – are planning to introduce retail outlets across the nation. Indian corporations surely seem to be in the know of phenomenal gumption and confidence to fight foreign brands on home-turf. Retail is surely in!

On the food front, while McDonald’s has already invested Rs.800 crores, it plans to invest an additional Rs.300 crores in the next three years and open at least 100 more outlets! While no MNC has been able to stand up to the might of Amul, the company is taking no chances and it too has expansion plans up its sleeve and plans to increase its ice-cream outlets from 60,000 to 80,000 this year. Not to be left behind, Shopper’s Stop has been keeping an eye on the changing food habits of youngsters and is planning to set up food carts, which would give tough competition to the likes of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut & Barista etc.

With almost everyone planning huge expansion plans, what exactly are the various factors that are key to operating a successful retail chain? Especially given the fact that retail is a “people oriented” business, and the way one interacts with customers is of paramount importance – the customer of today is very aware, very discerning; he is more demanding and winning his loyalty is tough – so how do you keep them flocking in?

Location

If there are three things to keep in mind while opening a retail outlet, they would be (1)Location! (2)Location! (3)Location! Yes, that’s how important it is. While there perhaps can be no location better than Oxford Street for a retailer to ensure that people pop in at least once to take a look, Wal-Mart, on the other hand, located itself in small towns – which none of the other big retailers were targeting – and soon became a roaring success. In straightforward terms, the outlet’s location should be within easy distance of the target audience. ITC made its e-chaupals highly successful by locating themselves near their target audience – the villagers who earlier had no shopping opportunities. The corollary is that one needs to understand extremely well the demographic profile of customers residing within the geographical area in consideration. Simply said, open a high-end store in the high-end part of a town; and a low-end one, in the low-end part. Take time to choose the right location. It’s worth it!

Image

In 2002, the Minneapolis–based Target Corporation leapfrogged over all other competitors to become the number two discounter – just a few steps behind the colossal giant – Wal-Mart. Today, its giving Wal-Mart a few lessons in retailing. Target realized there was no point in taking Wal-Mart head-on. It needed to make its own position. So while Wal-Mart had got the price advantage and was perceived as the ‘Everyday Low Prices’ outlet, Target had to build a new image for itself. Target very cautiously started to build an image of ‘Cheap-chic’. Clever partnerships with designers, and creative advertising made it sure that young, better educated and more affluent customers started frequenting Target. The supermarket soon made a name for itself as a happening and fun-place to be. So much so, it made Wal-Mart look old and frumpy. Target became hip and cool.

The image people have about your retail outlet is very important in ensuring customer loyalty. So Big Bazaar is known as a no-frills-discount store. If you are looking for a great buy, then this is the place. Shopper’s Stop, on the other hand, is for the upwardly mobile and trendy. And the fact is that you need to weave your advertising strategy around this image too. Years ago, Bloomingdale’s did this by using the tag line, ‘Like no other store in the world’. It immediately cast an aura around the store and set it apart-so much so that when Queen Elizabeth visited USA, she stopped at Bloomingdale’s!

Supply-chain management

This store made retail history when its founder Kresge started a ‘Five & Dime Store’ and introduced the world to the concept of a discount store. The concept was a super-hit and soon, in just one year, this chain grew to a smashing 63 stores. That was 1963. The same store created history once more when in 2002, it filed for bankruptcy protection. The store was K-Mart.

Both K-Mart and Wal-Mart started in the same year; yet, what is it that caused K-Mart to go bankrupt and Wal-Mart to prosper? In certain terms, tt was the poor supply-chain management of K-Mart, which was the cause for its downfall. Wal-Mart used information technology to keep track of its sales. It knew quickly when to order which product, which product was a best seller, which a loser. It developed a sophisticated hub & spoke supply-chain system, innovating (then) the global usage of bar code tracking, and (even now) RFID tags. K-Mart, on the other hand, relied on quasi-manual systems. As a result, goods were not ordered & delivered on time. Shelves stayed empty. Managers had very less clue on which goods were doing well, and which weren’t. The outdated technology often resulted in goods sitting in trucks parked behind stores, all because there was no storage space. By 1983, while Wal-Mart was spending only 2 cents per dollar in getting goods into stores, K-Mart was spending a pathetic 150% more. No surprise then that Wal-Mart could offer products at prices that were 3% lower than those offered by K-Mart; this soon eroded K-Mart’s customer base substantially.

Shopping experience

The customer is “gold” and should be treated like that. Treating customers with respect and going that extra mile for them, always helps build loyalty. Those are the small touches that ensure that the shopping experience of customers is exhilarating, and that they come back to your store and go nowhere else.

H&M, one of Europe’s most successful fashion chains, takes care that its stores are brightly lit, there is trendy music playing always and the shelves and goods are placed in unobstructed straight lines – all for the benefit and comfort of the shopper. In fact, outside some Japanese malls, one can even find numerous bicycle sheds. There, people cycle a lot and sheds are a convenience being offered to them. If that’s giving a lot, think about this Swedish furniture company, which was ranked 11th, not in terms of its furniture business, but for being one of the best-earning ‘eateries’! Furniture giant Ikea lures customers with cheap warm meals! One out of every 20 euros spent at Ikea goes into its cheap meals menu. It’s not just a hot dog for €1, the company also provides free baby-sitting services, so moms and dads can shop in peace.

Clearly, the customer should not just be well taken care of, but also be provided an environment that astounds their experience pleasurably.

Your employees

Sales are made not so much with low prices as with emotions. Get enthusiastic young turks to manage your shop floor. Their energy and emotions will rub-off on the consumers too. Take care of your employees they in turn will take care of your customers. Have in–store award programs, acknowledge special achievements. Give them responsibilities and reward them frequently.

The Merchandise

While profits of stores like GAP and Marks & Spencer fell, things seemed to be going great for the Spanish retailer Zara. Today, its founder has become one of the richest men in Spain. His policy was straight and simple. People were looking for fashionable things – not necessarily things that would last for ages. So he gave them clothes that were different and fashionable without the hefty price tag, and kept changing the range constantly. The word-of-mouth about Zara’s excellent merchandise kept customers pouring in. In short, select your merchandise carefully. It should be in-sync with the image. Have an assortment of things to meet the needs of the people. Knowing what to keep & what to discard is the key to an expanding customer base.

Retailing is definitely an art. It’s the art of charming your customers. You need to be creative, you have to make them want to own what you have to sell. So put on your thinking hats and rework your retailing strategies. If you want to survive – make them shop till they drop.

MOUSE TRAP

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Build a better mousetrap and the world would beat a path to your door... Viral marketing has done just that, and is the newest rage in global marketing strategies!


A women scorned by her husband seems to have caught the attention of New Yorkers and Los Angelinos alike. It’s a woman named Emily, who discovered that her husband “Steven” has been cheating on her. She decided to get even with Steven by placing a large billboard near his office, with a message on it for him. The message went like this: “Hi Steven, Do I have your attention now? I know all about her, you dirty, sneaky, immoral, unfaithful, poorly-endowed slime ball. Everything caught on tape...

Your (soon-to-be-ex) wife, Emily

P.S. I paid for this billboard from OUR joint bank account.”

The billboard did get a lot of people talking. To top it all, Emily happened to have a blog of her own, where she wowed to go on a rampage for 14 days. Emily kept everyone guessing about her identity. People were confused. They wondered what was happening. Nevertheless, everyone wanted to keep themselves updated on the latest between Emily and Steven. The net was rife with speculation. People discussed whether it was an ad. Who was this mystery woman? People everywhere were talking about it. Radio shows were receiving calls from people who wanted to discuss the billboards. Guess who was having a field day? The ad agency who created this advertisement!

They had managed to do what every advertiser dreams about and looks for – that is, creating a buzz. In technical terms, one would call it “Viral Advertising.” Just as a viral infection spreads from one person to the other, similarly ‘viral’ ads spread from one person to others as people discuss about them or forward them to other people via SMS messages or e-mails.

Today, marketers are accepting the fact there’s too much advertising and there are too many media channels. Consequently, people are tuning out the regular advertisements. According to a study, television viewing actually took a dip this year for the first time in history. The study found that people under the age of 25 spend more time on the Internet than on television. The internet is the largest playground for this new form of communication tool called ‘viral marketing’.

The most powerful selling of products and ideas takes place not from marketers to consumers, but from consumers to consumers. It’s an old theory of the word-of-mouth being the best advertisement of a product or a brand. Viral advertising or viral marketing are its 21st century avatars! It is this viral marketing, which is largely responsible for the success of Hotmail. All Microsoft did was put a small line promoting Hotmail in every outbound message sent by a Hotmail user. “Get your private free e-mail at http://www.hotmail.com. The virus spread faster than the Avian flu and within 18 months, Hotmails subscriber base grew from nil to 12 million users. In the history of the world, no company had ever attained such a phenomenal success in such a short span. What’s amazing is the fact that all this happened on a shoe-string budget of $50,000. While its competitor, Juno, spent $20 million on traditional marketing during that time, it failed to create any impact. In countries like India, where Hotmail had done no marketing, it got the largest clients. That’s the magic of the viral.

The “CLICK” and “SEND” form of marketing

Today, it’s ‘online’ that clients are making a beeline for. Viral marketing is much cheaper than traditional methods. It’s more believable than a regular advertisement. It’s more interactive and interesting than the mundane marketing gimmicks. So when Axe wanted to popularise its brand, it took recourses to the net. It created a video showing a news reporter talking about how Axe deodorant was sprayed on the town of Ravenstroke from an aeroplane; and how, consequently, hundreds of beautiful women raided the town. The video was a big hit with youngsters who forwarded the same to many more.

On the same lines, HLL too initiated an online campaign for its Sunsilk Shampoo. HLL no more convinces girls to use their shampoo, rather encourages them to visit sunsilkgangofgirls.com. It’s trying to build India’s first online all-girl community. Rohan Sippy too created a viral campaign to promote his movie Bluffmaster. Users could play on a slot machine; and on pulling the lever thrice, they were informed that they had won $500,000. Later, they received an e-mail informing them that this was a bluff. If they wanted to find out who had bluffed them, they could follow the link. The link took them to the Bluffmaster movie’s webpage. If they wanted to bluff their friends, they could forward the game to them too! They managed to bluff about 1 lakh people with panache!

Mazda Motors of UK came up with a unique idea of not just entertaining net users, but providing tangible brand benefits with the help of its online viral marketing campaign. One of the movie clips posted went like this – “All I can say is clever, very clever. Now let’s see her get out.” It was commenting on the car parking capabilities of a man versus a female. The campaign struck a chord with the viewers. Soon, everyone was talking about it. Mazda’s “parking campaign” almost sparked off a global debate! Blogs soon popped up and within a month, almost one million people had viewed the video clip. It’s a kind of concentrated viewing that would be desired by any ad man for his ad. The video gave such high brand exposure that it increased the brand recall tremendously. Even though Mazda’s products were not extraordinary, its sales vis-à-vis its competitors started to increase.

On the web, word spreads faster than fire; and if your content is good, its popularity grows exponentially. After all, all you’ve got to do is click on ‘forward’, then add the ten addresses of your close circle of friends, and press ‘send’. It’s done!

It’s the “word-of-mouse” which works

If there are two things that string the youth of the world together, then they would be music and the World Wide Web. No wonder, big ad spenders have combined both to create a heady mixture. Bacardi is spending $40 million to fund an online radio station called ‘Bacardi B Live Radio’. It would primarily play dance music with exclusive mixes provided by popular DJs. Not to be left behind in delighting its customers, Coca Cola has launched a website called www.stageside.tv. Here visitors can enjoy exclusive live performances, behind-the-scenes footage and personal interviews of their favorite artists. They can download all contents for free – with compliments from Coca Cola! After all, if you drink Coke, you deserve to live the “Coke side of life!”

These sites don’t just entertain, but help build a “feel good” factor around the brand. They are ways of connecting with the young consumers, who don’t waste a second in forwarding contents that they like to tens of other friends! The net is where young people interact with each other. If you can catch their fancy, they become the best promoters of your product or brand. They spread the message with dedication and do all the awareness building for you. And now, advertisers are specifically allocating budgets for viral advertising campaigns. Volkswagen, for example, decided to release some of its advertisements exclusively on the web.

MakeMyTrip has its USP in that it offers the lowest airfare. They claim to foot the difference in fares in case the customer can find someone offering fare lower than their’s. They decided to use the net to spearhead their promotion strategy. The agency Webchutney was roped in to create a viral campaign for MakeMyTrip.com. The ads were fun to watch and were forwarded to fellow friends at an astonishing speed. After all, the best way to judge the success or failure of an viral ad campaign is the number of times it is forwarded. On that ground, MakeMyTrip came out a winner (The ads were based on various themes picked up from Ramayana and in fact worked really well in India).

Weeks before Britney Spears launched her perfume named ‘Curious’, a banner ad was released on the web with a photo of Britney. The ad asked girls to type their cell phone digits & zip codes. More than 30,000 girls typed in their numbers to receive a 45 second recorded message from Britney, where she told them how she was working on a fragrance and was really excited. Later they received a text message from Britney telling them about the launch & where the perfume was available. In all, the campaign succeeded in reaching out to a sizable number of 300,000 girls!

When Burger King wanted to promote its chicken sandwiches, it used ingenuity to promote its product. They used a man dressed in a chicken outfit and made a video, which was released exclusively on the net video. One could make the chicken do anything. All one had to do was type a command and the chicken would obey. It could dance to push-ups; or even watch TV! This “Subservient Chicken” was an instant hit on the net. One million hits were recorded in one day. Burger King had proved its point – you can have a chicken any way you like! It did it without spending money on traditional forms of advertising.

Back in India, brands like Itchguard & L.I.C are going in for viral ads – and winning awards too! With times changing and with technical innovations, it’s the ‘word-of-mouse’ that is responsible for creating the longest hype and the biggest buzz around a product. No wonder, products as diverse as Vanilla Coke, or Kingfisher F1 club or Standard Chartered Bank or even the Yash Raj film ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’ have all incorporated viral ads in their strategies.

What makes a good viral campaign

It should have the “Wow!” factor: A dash of humour, or an unexpected ending always helps in increasing the attention span of the viewer. If he/she has enjoyed it, he is bound to forward it to other friends. Also, chances of other media picking it up (and hence giving free publicity to the brand) are very high. Ford, with its Sportka Evil Twins “Pigeon” online viral campaign, did just that. It showed a pigeon being knocked out (or possibly killed) by the car. There was a huge uproar from pigeon lovers across the country. People debated and discussed the rights and wrongs of the campaign. BBC ran a 10 minute slot in its most watched programme ‘Top Gear’, where they showed the Sportka racing against a pigeon for over 100 miles (Of course, the pigeon won!). So while the world debated, Ford sat back and enjoyed all the limelight and editorial coverage. To top it all – it hardly cost them anything

It should provide value to the customer: There should be some benefit coming the users way. You could either offer a monetary incentive, or an intangible benefit. So Crest toothpaste has come out with a quiz, where you can check your irresistibility score! The Crest Irresistibility iQ Quiz helps you compare your score with other celebrities, and also gives you tips on increasing your score! Including freebies & sweepstakes also work as incentives. But don’t overdo it – it won’t work.

It should be easy to track: It’s always a good idea to be able to measure the effectiveness of the campaign. This is one medium where, with the help of technology, you can find out the exact timber of people who visited your site & saw your ad!

Clearly, nothing works better than a positive review from a fellow human being. It is more powerful than the largest of advertising budgets. Viral marketing does just that. You frame your contents in such a way that users are tempted to forward them to others. It is a rat race for market shares and you need to have the strongest “mouse”. As your customers network with each other on the world wide web, don’t go looking elsewhere, but plan right now, how to catch them all. Go ahead! Build your best mousetrap!