let’s stop being exploitative and start being creative

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ask yourself the reason why, while feverishly flipping through this magazine, you’ve suddenly stopped at this particular article! Is it because you have religiously followed this section on marketing strategies for the past year? Well, is that so?!?

A man walked into a large room full of people. He was supposed to address them. However, no one was paying attention and it was too noisy to be audible to all. So he went up to a board that was kept there and wrote something. There was a sudden silence in the room as everyone waited for him to speak. The man started, “Now that I have your attention, I will start my talk...” All that he had written was “SEX,” in bold letters on the board and had managed to get the attention of every single person in the room. ‘Sex’ is one word, which arouses a lot of curiosity and has a strong psychological appeal. Is it true then that sex sells? Well, a recent study showed that sex in print advertisements improved the effectiveness of the advertisement, made the ad – and the product – more likeable, and increased the “purchase intent” – especially for men.

Products are everywhere, brands are popping out of every nook and corner screaming, “Buy me, Buy me!” How do you make sure your products outsell those of competitors? For that, you would necessarily need to have a clear understanding of “why” & “how” people buy.

Vance Packard, in his landmark book, The Hidden Persuaders, explains the shopping phenomena, which was researched by the Du Pont company. For years, this company had been surveying the shopping habits of American housewives. An interesting discovery was that only one shopper in five had a list of what he/she needed to buy. Yet, all shoppers managed to fill their shopping carts with lots of goodies. The simple shopping rule is – seven out of ten of today’s purchases are decided in the store, where the shoppers buy on impulse. The study found most of the shoppers in a “just-for-the-heck-of-it-mood” while visiting stores. One just needed to catch their eyes to up the chances of their buying the product! Marketers are thus using subliminal seductions and sexual come-ons to sell their products and keep the consumers hooked.

Women are being portrayed as those objects, which help you remain hooked to the advertisement and the product. Images of pretty and very often scantily dressed women have appeared in ads, even without any connection to the product being sold. For years, advertisers have used several tactics to get people interested in their products; they have used humour, peer pressure, self esteem and many other things – but using women as sex objects seems to be the most effective technique in attracting attention.

Earlier ads showed women in traditional homemaker and mother roles; but today, this has decreased a lot. Around 60% increase was observed in ads using women as decorative objects. One look at the various advertisements makes it clear how women’s bodies are used in order to grab the viewer’s attention. So much so that 38% of female characters in video games were scantily clad. Tomb Raider, after all, would not have been such a hit video game if it did not have Angelina Lara Croft Jolie dressing and looking the way she did in the Tomb Raider movie!

Calvin Klein once said, “Jeans are about sex.” Who would you have thought that trousers stitched out of material meant to make tents could metamorphose into such a phenomena! Both Brooke Shields and Levis jeans shot to fame when Brooke Shields appeared in the ad which claimed, “Nothing comes between me and my Levis!” Back home too, jeans seem to be turning up the heat in more ways than one. The Wrangler jeans ad showed a woman faced with the emergency of dousing a burning haystack. She quickly strips off her jeans and douses out the fire, as a group of men stare at her – mouths wide open. Second in the series showed her walk up to the boys and demand “drop your pants,” and throw some Wrangler jeans at them. The ad saw a radical increase both in the awareness of the jeans brand and in the temper of Sushma Swaraj (who demanded its immediate withdrawal).

When Kwality Walls Ice Cream wanted to promote its product, Feast Ice Cream Bar, the ad agency Lintas created a series of ads for them with a tag line, “Mate your stick.” Certain symbols like a car, a key, a stereo system etc. were embossed on the sticks of Feast Ice Cream. The first four people who were able to combine the symbols of ‘car’ and ‘key’ would win a Mahindra Classic vehicle and the first 50 people who could combine the symbols ‘music system’ and ‘treble clef’ would win a Sony Hi-fi music system. Basically, if you got two sticks, one with the ‘car’ symbol and the other with a ‘key’ symbol, you won the car. So the ‘car’ had to find it’s ‘key’, and the ‘treble clef’ had to find a ‘music system’. Hence, one stick was looking for the right mate. Their ads showed a young girl sizing up three men as she suggestively looked downwards and then turned her face in distaste. She finally approved of the third man and looked at the stick in her hand. The jingle in the background kept up the “Mate your stick” ruckus. The ads had to be pulled out quickly as they didn’t go down well with the public.

Abercrombie & Fitch, the American apparel manufacturers, came out with their catalogue titled ‘XXX Wet, Hot Summer Fun’, which featured boys and girls wearing nothing at all – not quite what you would expect from a catalogue meant to showcase the latest fashion clothing! Benetton too followed this strategy of showing shocking images instead of clothes to promote their brand. The Charlie perfume ad shows a couple walking down the street, very happy and satisfied in each other’s company. The woman then laughs, reaches over and pats the behind of the man. She is, after all, a “Charlie woman”. Almost all perfume ads have used sexual images, either subtle or blatant. Similarly, beer ads exploit men and women and their bodies to make the purchase of beer more ‘desirable’. From shampoos to cosmetics to toiletries, all products are being advertised using seductive women.

When marketers can’t figure out a good marketing and advertising strategy, they use “provocation” as a theme, which, they are sure, would always manage to grab eyeballs. No wonder a whole lot of tasteless advertisements are crowding the advertising horizon. Some advertisers, as a strategy use nudity to shock and stun the viewers and create a controversy. However, in the long run, this doesn’t seem a good move. You run the risk of offending viewers and turning them off completely.

Compare how males and females are depicted in advertising campaigns that use separate ads focusing on men and women. For example, both the Vuitton and Milk campaigns use a man and a woman to sell the same product, but note how the image of women are more sexualized than those of the men! You may attract men using sexual innuendos, but a team of researchers at the University of Florida concluded – the more seductive the model, the more it left the women bored and uninterested.

Laugh it off as a case of jealously or whatever, but if you have to sell to the woman, you should know what she wants. She is someone you cannot ignore. Surveys show that those are women who are the big spenders in the family. Out of the Rs.8,000 crore ad industry money, over 70% of the ad revenue on television came from ads that targeted women. It makes business sense not to offend her, after all, she buys for herself, the children and the house. So the fashion label ‘Guess’ has now changed its advertising campaign to include photographs of innocence and purity. Look around you, there are brands that have been top selling for years without using sexual advertising. One such company is Nike. Its creative ads have kept generations of youngsters hooked on.

Ads have to stop showing that women are nothing but beautiful and desirable. Media has to stop viewing girls as only sex objects. A women does not have to be always tall, slim, young, light skinned and perfect. Probably, ‘Dove’ soap’s “Real Women” campaign is trying to show just this. After all, we would not want our young girls to suffer from eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression – most of which are directly linked to the “image” they see and try to ape in advertisements.

Projecting just one aspect of their being is wrong, derogatory and unethical. There is much more to them. Over the years, they have achieved a lot, brought about changes in the system and have earned a place for themselves in the world. Advertising can no longer take advantage of a woman’s beauty. The job of advertising is to sell the product. If you rack your grey cells harder, you can come out with ideas which are more pleasant and effective. It’s time advertisers stopped being exploitative and started being creative.

Want Free GIFTS?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Everything you did right last year, seems to be stuttering away to glorious ignominy this year; competition’s biting painfully hard; sales are stabbing away; consumers aren’t even giving a third glance; the heat seems to be getting too hot... If you’re at your wit’s end, relax, we’ve got the mother of all solutions – give away your product... for FREE!


My six year old walked into a departmental store and went up to the gentleman at the counter and asked him, “Which one of these packets have the free gifts inside them? Please show me.” My jaw dropped as I watched him shop along piling things onto the shopping cart on the basis of which car, or Power Ranger toy or Superman projector they had inside them. Soon I realized I had four untouched packets of Kellogg’s Chocos, and many Sunfeast biscuits and Horlicks bottles. Once the “free gift” was taken out of them, they were abandoned by my little one, leaving me the headache of finishing them off. My first reaction to this shopping escapade was, “He is watching too much TV, and too many advertisements.” However, later I realized a simple truth: if there is one word that attracts people the world over, it’s the word ‘FREE’! This word has the capacity to stop you dead on your tracks. After all, everybody – from six year olds to sixty year olds – loves a free gift! Who could have understood this concept better than marketers who have been using this bait for years to lure unsuspecting customers into buying their products!

If all soaps can clean, if all detergents can remove dirt, if all creams could nourish the skin, if all hair oils make your hair black and shiny, then which one does one buy – probably the one with a free gift inside it. No wonder then that from cars to TVs to breakfast cereals, all are using some freebie or the other to outdo their competitors. The best part is that most of the time, they are successful as these gimmicks do work. When Pepsi was being launched in India, it came out with advertisements that invited the reader to try out the product. The headline ran like this, “Come on Bangalore! Taste the magic today!” All one had to do was tear out the advertisement, take it to any soft drink shop and exchange it for a bottle of Pepsi – for FREE! Retailers ran out of stock by the afternoon. This was an offer, which made everyone happy – the consumers, the retailers (who now were more willing to stack this new product) and of course, the company! In one go, they had created instant awareness about their brand. That day, all that Bangalore was talking about was, “Did you get your Pepsi bottle?”

Time your moves well

Sales promotion has arguably become the most important marketing tool today. It is like a short term tactile weapon available to businesses. The biggest benefit of sales promotion is that it can be conceived and implemented in a matter of days and the results can be seen in a matter of weeks, thus making it a very quick and effective technique. The immense speed with which sales promotions can be devised, organized and implemented, make the game of marketing very thrilling and exciting. In India, the best time to experience this thrill is during the festive season starting from October to January. It’s that time of the year when India goes on a buying spree, like there’s no tomorrow. As we light crackers and celebrate our Diwalis and Dussehras, corporations are busy crackling the market with fervent activity, offers and promotions. Last year, all white-good manufacturers fought the promotion war with great fervour. Samsung came out with its “Pehla Kamaal, Doosra Dhamaal” offer, where it lured customers with “assured gifts” on any purchase from its product range. This was the “Pehla Kamaal!” And a bumper prize, that is, your second chance to win a gift was the “Doosra Dhamaal!” Its competitor LG too came up with a similar offer called “Mangal Hi Mangal!” It too promised “assured gifts” on every purchase of LG products. On similar lines, you had Whirlpool with its “Take a chance or buy Whirlpool” scheme. Sansui called its offer “Ek Pataka, Double Dhamaka.” Haier too joined the frey with its “Lucky Luckier Luckiest” offer. ALL of them basically promised the same thing – just the names were different. It’s worth the effort, for according to Mr. Arvind Uppal, MD, Whirlpool India, 25% of their annual sales occur during September and October. No retailer wants to miss out on this golden opportunity when everybody is in a shopping mood! A freebie here or there always does the trick. In fact LG’s “Mangal Hi Mangal” offer was such a super success that the company recorded sales worth Rs.2,500 crores during the festive season. It was worth earmarking Rs.100 crores as the marketing budget for the season for LG. Samsung had achieved the same success a few years back with its “Phod Ke Dekho” and “Phir Se Phod Ke Dekho” campaigns.

“Phod Ke Dekho” was an offer that came packaged inside a coconut, which contained two silver coins; and the third coin had the surprise gift written on it, which could be a Samsung air conditioner or refrigerator or TV etc. The company made more than Rs.250 crores by just spending Rs. 15-20 crores! The same success story continued with their “Phir Se Phod Ke Dekho” campaign. All the action and excitement was once again packed inside a coconut. The company this time around expected to generate sales worth Rs.350 crores between October and November. And to think that it spent Rs.20 crores only.

According to market research, 16% more chocolates are sold between October and December, 20% more cars are sold and 30% more consumer durables are sold during this time. So if you want your sales promos to be successful, then timing them correctly would be very important. In India, October to December seem to be just the right months for these activities.

Aim properly

Another key factor in devising a successful sales promotion is deciding who to target the promotions towards. Horlicks has its biggest market in West Bengal, and the one sport this nation-state is crazy about is football. So Horlicks devised an offer clubbing Bengal and football. Consumers were required to predict the results of 8 football matches, where the winners would get cash prizes. Special 450 gm Horlicks bottles were designed with labels. The consumers were required to attach a label from these bottles and send it with their answers. The campaign was well planned and well executed, however not many entries were received and neither did the sales of Horlicks significantly increase. The company had made a small error. The people most interested in Horlicks were young, while men aged 15-40 – the target audience of the promotional campaign – were not the main consumers of the product, nor were they the key purchasers (mostly mothers buy this product). When it comes to children, nothing works better than cartoon character freebies; and companies are using this magic mantra like never before. Frito Lay started giving Pokemon freebies in its snack packs and saw a 100 % plus growth. Kwality Walls used Scooby Doo and its ice-cream sales shot up from 48% (in 2002) to 52.3% (in 2003); so much so that the FMCG giant Hindustan Lever used Pokemon give-aways to sell its Kissan ketchup. In fact, children come with such immense pester power that Red label thought it a good idea to give away Tom and Jerry toys with its tea pack. Mother and child both would be happy. Moral of the story – when in doubt, always use ‘cartoon power’; it never fails!

Go for gold!

When Marylin Monroe crooned, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” marketers listened intently. For years, gold has been considered as a “golden” investment opportunity in India. “Gold for free” is something totally irresistible. A lot of marketers are using this bait to attract customers. Tanishq launched a very successful promotion called “Get gold free with diamonds,” where, on every purchase of diamond jewellery worth Rs.5,000 or more, you were entitled to a 22 carat one gram gold coin. The idea of “free gold” was such a hit that marketers started putting it in soaps and creams too, to give a boost to sales. So Lux came out with its Lux gold star offer where one could find a 22 carat gold coin in their soap bar. Those lucky ones who did were entitled to an additional 30 grams of gold! Fair and Lovely lured the lovely ladies with its “Dream Diamond Offer!”

If you were lucky, you could win a diamond pendant; not just this, the first 24 winners were eligible for another grand prize – a diamond set worth Rs. 1 lakh! The schemes worked like magic. Horlicks too had tried the gold-trick in the 80s. The aluminium seals in certain Horlicks jars carried a message “You have won a gold necklace” or “You have won a pair of gold earrings!” There were 20 necklaces and 250 gold earrings to be won. The result? Their sale increased by 20% during the two and half month period of the gold rush promotion!

Make them interesting

Sales promotions should be planned creatively. If they are in the form of mundane price discounts, they are not so effective. The more innovative they are, the more buff they create among the consumers, which in turn excites them to actually go shopping for the product/brand. A good offer ensures that customers remain interested and enthusiastic about your brand. With so many choices available, customers might just shift to another brand out of sheer boredom, and not because your product is bad. Sales promotions help break monotony!

Interesting names of offers – like “Pepsi’s Toss Ka Boss,” “Coke’s Aish Cash” – excite the customer and get him involved with the product. “Britannia Khao, World Cup Jao” was another promo, which sounded so catchy. and well worded that – according to research – it was the most recalled promotional activity.

Everybody is giving free gifts, but the one who does it most innovatively wins. Like Hyundai, which came out with its “Hyundai Pe Hyundai” offer where, with every purchase of Hyundai products, one got a ‘hot card’. This was not the regular scratch card, but a card which needed to be illuminated to reveal the gifts being offered. When BMW wanted to reinforce its brand value, it did a unique thing. It hired a series of race tracks around the country. The people could indulge in pigeon shooting, a non-alcoholic lunch, as well as the opportunity to circuit drive the complete BMW range. They created a lot of buzz.

Commercial property agents are everyday flooded with inspiration about new commercial developments. This particular estate agent thought of an innovative way to get the agents to visit his site. One fine morning some of the property agents received a single left hunter Wellington boot. The next day an advertisement appeared in the leading papers, listing all the agents (who had received the shoe) by name. The ad invited them to collect the matching boot on the site. A lot of them did drop by. This is a fact, customers love offers. In fact, 80% of them admit to trying a brand if it rides on the back of an offer. No wonder in 2005, 18% of overall ad space was garnered by sales promotions. So, if you want to keep the customers coming, remember to tell them first – what’s for free!

The Marketing of Love

Thursday, March 1, 2007

“I feel it in my fingers I feel it in my toes, The love is all around me, And so the feeling grows”...

I have been humming this song for days, and wondering why! It’s one of my favourites, but not one to be sung for days. I tried to figure out why, and then realized that everywhere I looked, every shop I went to, every website I visited, every dinner I attended, there was one thing that was always present; and that too in large doses – love! Yes, I realized it’s that time of the year when love is on sale, everybody, everything, is drenched in “red,” the colour of love. The red hearts, the red roses are just ‘unmissable’.

If Saint Valentine were here, he would have been a very happy saint, for what he did in secret and under great fear, is today being done so openly and with so much gusto that even those remotely aware of him cannot miss this day.

Of Chocolates and Teddy Bears

If legend were to be believed, then Saint Valentine was a priest during the third century in Rome. At that time, Emperor Claudius II wanted more and more men to join his army; and figured out that single men made better soldiers. So he outlawed marriage. Valentine decided to help these young souls and began performing marriages for young lovers in secret. Valentine was caught and put in jail by the king. It was in the jail that the first ‘Valentine’ message was sent by him to the jailor’s daughter, with whom he fell in love. Before his death, he wrote her a letter and signed as “from your Valentine.”

That one letter has today turned into an avalanche of letters. If statistics are to be believed, then half of the US population celebrates Valentine’s Day by purchasing at least one greeting card. Who knew V’day would become the second largest holiday (after Christmas) for giving greeting cards; after all, giving a card is so much easier than writing letters, since there is now a card for every feeling and emotion... Some cynics say, Valentine’s Day was created by card companies to fill their coffers. I must say the strategy has paid off. Americans are spending to the tune of $13 billion on Valentine’s Day. Now that’s something to cheer about, not just for the card companies, but for the candy makers, the chocolate companies & teddy bear companies too. The Vermont Teddy Bear Company sells 100,000 teddy bears on this day. As much as 30% of its yearly sales come from Valentine’s Day sales itself. According to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are sold on Valentine’s Day itself!

The amount that is being spent on Valentine’s Day is increasing every year, making it a very special day for retailers the world over. Almost everyone has something unique to offer to their customers on this day.

A couple of years back, Pepsi launched ‘Pepsi, Love Wrap’, where consumers could get their messages printed on customized labels. These labels would then be stuck on 500 ml Pepsi bottles and delivered by hand to their Valentines! McDonald’s too had come out with an offer called ‘All for my love’, which was a special Valentine meal combination, and it came with a special ‘scratch-and-win’ coupon. You could win shoes, chocolates, cosmetics, music and even jewellery.

Look what’s happened to those roses!

There was a time when the demand for roses used to shoot-up because a large event was coming up. Indian roses were in huge demand when UK was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Queen ascending the throne. The Chinese New Year also gave a boost to the export market of roses sometimes. Now, every year, the demand for roses shoots-up, thanks to Valentine’s Day. Around 13 million rose stems were exported from Bangalore and Pune in 2002. For those who believed in “Love lasts forever, roses don’t,” a company called I. K. Silver has come out with roses that stay in bloom forever. Skilled artisans coat each rose with 24 carat gold, thus preserving the bloom’s loveliness. At Rs.1,000 a stem, this rose is for the not-so-thrifty lovers. If this sounds steep, then consider this – in Singapore, cupid has struck so hard that people are paying $30 for roses with the name of their loved ones printed on the petals.

The business of loving

For those who think cola and roses are cheap options, there are bigger brands that have also planned ways to help you profess your love. From Titan watches with their ‘Big Heart’ limited edition watches, to Corum and its Rs.500,000 watch, you could express your love and your bank balance on this day!

Brands are doing a whole lot of things to increase their sales. In fact, Valentine’s Day has become the perfect time to launch new products. From coffee to cola, from scooty to suitcases, from special dinners to diamonds, everything is being customized for the V’day!

La Salle decided to introduce its “Panache” range of soft luggage on this day. Christian Dior made a splash into women’s watch segment on this day. So much so that a no-fuss bank with a serious image – SBI – decided to roll out a host of direct marketing activities on this day. They sent around 30,000 direct mailers. Each mailer had a card that read, “From Your Loving Husband.” The card, however, was dated Feb 14th, 2032. The mailers went on to explain that their lifelong pensions could give you financial independence forever. Even when you are sixty and not earning a regular salary, you can still keep showering your wife with gifts on special occasions like this. How sweet!

Not just this, the company decided to follow it up with an event at multiplexes, where visitors would be asked what they would give their wife when they would be sixty, and the best answer would win a prize of course. Pension policies never sounded more romantic.

So while you thought Valentine’s Day was only for the oh-so-much-in-love couples, a lot of firms are finding it the right day to express their love for – who else – their customers. The CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi came out with a book titled, Love Marks, the Future Beyond Brands. He proved how loving your customers generates a following for your brand, which he termed “loyalty beyond reason.” Al Ries (the famous ‘marketing warfare’ guru) too believed that tender-loving-care always helped in building loyalty for your brand; and what better a day to show it than Valentine’s Day.

Love in movies, malls and MTV

From Google changing its logo to suit the occasion, to TV channels customizing their programmes for the V’day, everyone is using love to promote themselves. Story lines of serials are changed to fit the event, so Jassi of Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin receives a Valentine gift from her boss Armaan on this day. Not to be left behind, Star Plus started a contest where you could mail Valentine messages to the characters of its popular serial Kahiin To Hoga. The best message would have won a dinner date with the stars of the serial. Zee Cinema came out with a whole movie festival around the love theme called Dil Deke Dekho.

This day of love is loved by the retailers, and where else is this more evident than in the malls. They are designing promotions in such a way that one can spend the whole day there. Keep spending, and let love keep flowing. Not surprising then, Fun Republic in Chandigarh created a record of sorts when 40,000 footfalls were clocked on 14th February (in 2005); and the McDonald’s outlet in their mall achieved its highest per day sales in the nation, at this very mall. Not just the mall, a whole lot of other brands have begun earmarking this day. MTV hosts its MTV Asia Awards bash on this day. Cashing in on love, the theme for the bash naturally is ‘Love’. Not just this, the Chicago based Wrigley decided to venture into chocolates just days before the nation, or rather the world, got into a love-frenzy. It bought a premium chocolate company in Russia just in time for Valentine’s Day! Even anti-love sells!

All those who don’t believe “love is a wonderful thing,” there are savvy marketers who have designed things to help you express your feelings. So while brands like GAP, DKNY are designing t-shirts with “I love you’s” and kisses planted on them, you could visit spreadshirt.com and design your own anti-Valentine t-shirt (and you thought only Shiv-Sena was anti-Valentine). You could get one that reads, “Love is for losers,” which, incidentally, also is also their official anti-Valentine’s day motto; or you could go in for stronger messages like “Love makes me puke.” So whether there is love in your life, or lack of it, marketers have found a way to spin money out of it. If there is something for couples, then there are a whole lot of offerings for singles too. The Taj Group has a vacation scheme for singles. The TVS Scooty invites single yuppies to answer questions like, “A Scooty Pep is preferable to a date because...”

The power of love

The business houses are loving this business of love. The V’day has cut across all barriers of caste language, religion and even age. Everybody, everywhere is celebrating it. If in 2001 people were spending on an average $82 on this day, then till last year the average spend had gone up to $100. What’s even more interesting – than the fact that the day is snowballing into a big event – is, the people in the age group of 45-54 are spending more and more each year on this day. While the 18-24 year olds actually are decreasing their spends! No wonder marketers whose target audience falls in the 40+ age group are promoting their goods like never before. In 2006, for the first time, De Beers launched its Valentine’s Day marketing campaign. The campaign was inspired from classic romance novels and ran during the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day.

While Star Plus may still be wondering if it was a good idea to run Kaun Banega Crorepati with King Khan, the department store ‘Lifestyle’ is sure its Valentine’s Day contest Kaun Banega Pati will generate a greater audience participation than KBC’s TRP. So be it Papa Murphy’s heart shaped pizzas in Vancouver (Canada) or the British Heart Foundation launching its online campaign of Valentine’s Day to encourage donation, when it comes to matters of the heart, savvy marketers know there is a lot of room for creativity and profits. After all, this is one day when you can shop to your heart’s content! “That’s the magic of the marketing of love.”