Of HOST BRANDS, SYMBOLSAND ‘CULTURE BRANDING’

Thursday, June 17, 2010
How long does it take to summarize two hundred years of a nation’s history? Ans: Exactly 181 seconds! This is the way Argentina is celebrating its bicentennial. The story of the nation is being told through a 181-second story of the county’s most loved and strongest brands. With the help of each brand, a tale is woven around the growth and development of the nation and the brand – for these brands are no ordinary brands; their makers didn’t just believe in earning profits but in earning pride for their nation. One 181-second story is on Quilmes beer. It traces the history of how the brewery was set up, which slowly changed the fortunes and lifestyles of the people of that area. As the nation prospered, so did Quilmes. When T.V. came to the country, Quilmes became the first advertiser. Then one day, Quilmes picked up its local soccer team, backed it with sponsorship, enthusiastically supported it through the years, while the team went ahead and started playing for the nation and one day got Argentinaits fi rst World Cup.

30 such local brands are being showcased to celebrate Argentina’s 200 years. This goes on to show that brands are today symbols of our society and brand builders are even society builders. Brands have a symbolic power and some of them have so deeply ingrained themselves into our culture, that they even give consumers a way to identify themselves – I am who I am partly because of the brands I use.


Turn your brand into a ‘host’ brand
If your brand can become a part of the local culture and sneak into popular conversation, you have won the loyalty of your consumers. In my previous write-up, I mentioned how interesting ‘brand stories’ make the brand more endearing and popular than just plain facts about its various attributes. Well, the best brand stories are those that are in sync with the culture of the country. The brand that understands the cultural sensibilities of its consumers always has the upper hand. As Julien and Eric remarked in their study on branding, marketers must view branding as a “culturally malleable” mode of communication.

The FIFA World cup fever is on as everybody from Timbuktu to Tamil Nadu, from Beijing to Bhubaneswar will be engrossed in this mega event. Sab Miller, the South African beer brand, did not waste this opportunity to connect with people. It may not be the ‘offi cial beer’ of FIFA, but it found a way using its culture knowledge. “Bula Boot” is one such typically African concept. It’s all about spontaneously having a party from the ‘boot’ of your car, usually near a sports match, or music concert. SAB Miller distributed many Bula Boot kits. 100 teams of tow people went around the various football venues with South African fl ags, chairs and the beer to, well, Bula Boot. It sure booted out the offi -cial sponsor of FIFA, Budweiser, out of everyone’s mind. SAB used its cultural heritage brilliantly to gain the upper hand. Today, it’s extremely important to stay culturally relevant. The American T.V. channel Telemundo, which broadcasts in Spanish, went ahead and got research done to understand the Latin community better and to fi nd out what they identifi ed with, demanded and wanted. Gone are the days when just demographic studies were enough. This time, the research studied cultural infl uences, sexual preferences, and other such issues. They uncovered a spectrum of rich identities, which were overlooked earlier by marketers. On the basis of this, Telemundo can and will create newer, more relevant T.V. programmes – and of course, keep its lead vis-à-vis other T.V. Channels.

Brands are symbols
Clearly, brands are not just making a difference to the bottom lines of companies, but to our way of life too. They are infl uencing us socially, culturally and even po-litically. When Tunisian-born French citizen Tawfi k Mathlouthi launched the Mecca Cola in France, he was not competing against just Coke or Pepsi. It was a symbolic war against Americanism. It just goes on to prove better that brands are symbols of our society. Coke symbolized everything American, and Mecca Cola anti- American. Mecca-Cola versus Cola-Cola is a fi ght of not just cultures but politics too. Tawfi k could easily win an election, for Mecca Cola symbolizes his ideology.

This is a fact that brands have begun to aggressively leverage their intended product attributes. Disney is not just a fi lm company or a theme park. Disneysymbolizes children’s entertainment –when you choose Disney, your mind thinks, “If it’s Disney, it’s good, safe and right for my kids.” Disney is very careful about this image. It will not make fi lms or products, which are not 100% family safe. Similarly, Nike is loved because of its symbolism and its rich stories woven around culture. It used the African- American vernacular and imagery in its advertising. Using the ‘ghetto culture’, it subtly told Americans to participate actively in sports.

For your brand to last in the memory of consumers and outlast competition, it needs to represent something. While all beer brands advertised fun and relaxation in their ads, Corona beer decided to be a little different. Corona’s ads promoted the concept that relaxation meant an ideal American holiday – that is, a tranquil beach vacation, beer and getting away from it all. Americans loved the positioning and soon, this bargain basement-beer became the choice of overworked Americans. You could escape from mundane routines and ‘chill out’ with Corona.

Escape you could also with another drink, which studied culture deeply andused it to market their brand, a move that shook up even biggies like Coke and Pepsi. Launched as a small start-up, the company began to symbolize the ‘hillbillies’, the not-so-sophisticated and uncultured gentry, as being the consumers of their drink. Sales blew through the roof in the non-urban, working class of the country. When the society changed its profi le, Mountain Dew changed its symbolizations too. In the nineties, it was ‘Do the Dew’. Bored of mundane jobs, the youth wanted something to get their adrenaline juices fl owing. So Mountain Dew now symbolized extreme sports and daredevil stunts. The society was looking for symbols to show their masculinity – a Mountain Dew in hand gave them that. A long time back, the Marlboro cowboy had done the same symbolisation. But the Marlboro Man is dead today and smoking is ‘uncool’.

Today’s consumers use brands to build their own identities. Some even like to be known by the brands that they use. If your brand can give them that, it will survive, and if the identity takes into account the cultural aspects of the consumers, they will love your brand and make it immortal.

FIFA – the global benchmark
Brands need to value the culture, using the uniqueness of target groups to market themselves accordingly. Those who have done that, have been the most successful. McDonald’s may be the most global brand, but it has customised the most to suit each culture. Tesco in UK recognized a large Polish community, so it launched the “own-brand” products for the home-sick Poles in UK. A mobile operator in Germany launched brands specifi cally targeting the Turkish population in Germany. In south India, Meera Hair Powder is what people reach out to once their hair problems start. Shampoos are good, modern, convenient, but we go back to traditional solutions when in trouble. By keeping its name, packaging and promotion totally traditional, Meera has been able to compete with the so called ‘Western’ concepts of hair shampoo!

It pays to be in touch with your culture and build brands around it. After all, very few brands enjoy global acceptance like FIFA – the only truly global game and global brand. Kofi Annan once remarked how he envied the football World Cup, as the “only truly global game, played in every country by every race and religion,” was more universal than UN – FIFA has 207 members, while the UN has only 191. The whole planet loves FIFA and being a part of the World Cup is a matter of national pride for any country – except of course the UN!

Few brands, corporations can transcend all barriers to be like FIFA and become global favorites. For the lesser mortals, let us look deeply into the cultures, pull out relevant stories and weave our brands into them. It’s the most long-lasting strategy and might someday turn your brand into a globally mesmerizing identity like FIFA.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Thursday, June 3, 2010
It started with a rivet. Born in Germany this man migrated to USA, settled in San Francisco and became a trader. Jacob Davis a tailor, started buying cloth from him to stitch pants. One of his customers kept ripping his pockets on his pants & Jacob had a tough time repairing it time & again, till he came upon the idea of putting copper rivets at the stress points on the pocket corner. His “riveted work pants” very quickly became a craze. Worried that someone would steal his idea, he called on his friend, the trader. Together they patented his invention. For twenty years Jacob and his friend Levi were the only company allowed to make riveted work pants. This is how the story of Levis “jeans” started – with a rivet.

In today’s world too, its “riveting” stories that bring success. Every time you look at a Levis jeans you remember the rivet story. Good stories stick on and make the brand name stick on too.

Stories don’t just save lives
There was woman named Scheherazade who was one of the many slaves of the Sultan. The Sultan was known for beheading anyone who displeased him. The intelligent woman found a unique way to save her life… every night she told him a story, but would stop at the most exciting part and make the Sultan wait until the next evening to hear the end. For 1001 nights she did this. It impressed the king so much that he not only granted her life, but also married her.

A great story is what is responsible for the survival of great brands too. We all love stories. We love to listen to them, narrate them & we all love great story tellers. Great stories never die – look at the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Similarly great brands built on great stories live on.

“Intel Inside” is one of the shortest, yet one of the most successful stories ever told. Not many know or understand the benefit of an Intel processor in their computer, yet it’s these two words that make them feel confident that they have made the right choice.

According to some thinkers what really turns a product into a “brand” is intelligent “PR” (Public Relations). You need to let out an interesting story to the media, for people to notice you. Later on, advertising can be used to sustain the brand & survive. One company that used it the best to its advantage was the UK-based “Innocent” brand of smoothies. There was a “story” woven into every ‘P’ of marketing, right from the name – well chosen, to represent that everything in the bottle was “fresh and unadulterated” to the packaging. Short on budget, they launched the drink from a stall put up in a little music festival in London. On top of their stall they put up a sign which read thus: “Do you think we should give up our jobs to make these smoothies?” and put two bins labeled “Yes” & “No”. If you liked the smoothies you had to put the empty bottles in the “Yes” bin. At the end of the weekend the “Yes” bin was full. The two friends resigned from their jobs, and “Innocent” was born. Not just the brand name, even the logo & the packaging was designed in such a manner as to tell the story of their company’s philosophy. Their aim was to design the packaging such that it told a three word story i.e. the contents are “home-made, natural, and posh.” This helped them differentiate from the hundreds of “fresh juice” brands crowding the marketplace. The space behind the logo on the bottle was used to put down a “banana phone” number where you could call and let the company know what you thought about smoothies. You could even mail them. The unique way of telling your story via the packaging caught the fancy of consumers & shook up the beverage market. The company showed it was a good story & not big budgets that was required to win over customers & market share.

Look at great brands, and you are bound to find an interesting story. Coca- Cola, has the story of its secret formula locked up in the headquarters in Atlanta, KFC has stories of its 11 secret spices that make its chicken so “finger lick in’ good”. It’s not because Harley Davidson is the best bike in the world that people are ready to wait for months to get their dream machine, willing to pay a premium for it. When they buy a Harley, they buy a little bit of its heritage, its history too! What’s history but a great story told down the generations, which gives the brands that enigma, that power to stand out.

Stories don’t just build market share
Think of your favourite advertisements & most of them would be those that tell a story, which does not necessarily brag about the products’ attributes. The Zoozoo ads are so watchable not because the characters are so cute, but also because each ad has a short story to tell.

“They laughed when I sat down at the Pram, but when I started to play…” one of the most memorable headlines in advertising, Why? Because it told a story. Stories help build emotional connections with people. For years Coors beer told the world about its “unrelenting commitment to brewing with only Rocky mountain water” through its advertisement. This created a perception in the minds of consumers that the beer must be crisp & great to taste because of the mountain water.

If you can tell an interesting story in 60 seconds you can build a great brand. FedEx, made a whole new business model on the basis of a simple story line “wherever your destination, in the United States, your parcel would reach by 10 am the next day”. People loved it & even used it in a movie. As Julia Roberts jumps onto a FedEx truck to escape from her marriage in the movie “The Runaway Bride”, a spectator remarks, “Where’s she going?” His friend answers “Wherever it is, she will reach by 10 AM.” Great stories live on. The Aesop’s fables were written in 300 B.C. and we still read them & enjoy them today. There are some stories that are always a hit. The “rags-toriches” stories, the “underdog” stories and the “Cinderella” stories always work. Look at Hollywood or Bollywood to see how year after year, such stories are churned out and continue to keep the cash registers jingling.

Bedtime stories to Brand stories
As children, we found bedtime stories irresistible. As adult consumers, it’s ‘Brand’ stories that intrigue us. Barack Obama, built his ‘brand’ on an interesting story of “Change”. America’s first black President – it was a story every kid liked and wanted to turn to reality. Princess Diana was an interesting story of a simple girl turning into the “People’s Princess”. It is claimed that Oprah Winfrey cooked-up stories of her povertystricken childhood because they worked. Everyone loves the rags-to-riches story… Shahrukh is one of them.

In the 1890s, William Foster added spikes to the soles of his shoes to help athletes run faster. Soon the best athletes were wearing them. The runners featured in the film Chariots of Fire, wore them. Which brand? If you guessed “Nike”, I just proved my point! The brand was not Nike, it was Reebok. Nike came a full 70 years later. Phil Knight understood the power of a story & never failed to talk about one, be it the fact that Nike was named after the Greek Goddess of victory (Reebok too was named after an ancient God) or how he added a special waffle e pattern to help athletes run faster. Reebok never used stories to build on its heritage. Nike did. A good brand comes not just with good quality but good stories too. Similarly a good ad is no more about telling your USP (Unique Selling Proposition), but your “unique story proposition”.

Be it a family, a society, a country, everyone needs a good story teller to guide, & motivate others & make the world a happy place. Stories stimulate imaginations, changes or help build perceptions. They touch our deepest human emotions. Winston Churchill used his story of “Hope”. Hitler was one of the greatest story teller too!

Stories build leaders & brands. Remember, the charm of Camp Fire Nights were stories. So as you build your brand ask yourself “What’s my story”.