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.