Thursday, December 15, 2011
“Why this murderous rage, girl?” has become the rage of the nation. It’s the ultimate song for the youth and almost everybody below 20 has made it their anthem. Come to think of it, the lyrics are ridiculously funny, the tune is very simple and yet this ‘soup song’ (meaning, a heartbreak song) just gets on you. It’s so easy to remember and so hummable that you cant stop singing after hearing it! But most importantly, it’s a song that every music company would want in their kitty today, it’s a viral campaign that every marketer dreams of making, it has such crazy levels of popularity that would be a dream for any celebrity and, it has reached an iconic status that every brand would die for. It is an excellent example of how to establish a name, an idea, in today’s crowded market place, filled with consumers who understand all marketing gimmicks; who hate being marketed to and who are a most aware and a sceptic lot.


Why has ‘Kolaveri’ become so popular? It’s the simplicity of the message and the magic of the internet that have made it so popular. Gone are the days when one had to wait for the mainstream media to pick up your story and make it popular by writing about it in their newspapers and magazines or showing it on TV. Today, thanks to the internet, you can go directly to the consumer and be heard. If your message is interesting, it will spread like, well, a viral ! This is exactly what happened to the ‘Kolaveri’ video when it was posted online a few weeks ago. Shot inside the recording studio, the rough version of the song made it to the internet through the backdoor, making it an instant hit and forcing Sony Music to release the song much earlier than planned. Its foot tapping beats made it irresistible to anyone who heard it, and today, it has got more than 22 million hits on YouTube. In fact, so much is the craze for this song that anything associated with it is becoming a hit too. Sonu Nigam’s son has sung a ‘milk version’ of the soup song and that, too, is set to become a rage on the internet. A good and interesting idea spreads like wildfire. You must know what the audience wants and give it to them, as John St., a Toronto based ad firm did. To market its services, it circulated a viral based on a satirical idea of how ‘catvertising’, that is videos with cats in them, would be the most watched videos on the internet by 2015! Tongue in cheek, the advertising agency explains how it has now opened the world’s first ‘cat video’ division to stay on top of competition, for everyone likes to see videos of cats, and cats are good for business. Considering the fact that everything in the world today is just a ‘mouse-click’ away, the ‘cat videos’ are bound to be a hit. Not surprising, then, that the ‘catvertising’ viral has got more than a million hits already. What is it that makes these videos become such a craze? From the ‘Kolaveri’ viral in India to the ‘catvertising’ one in Canada, what is it that makes them so popular? They have the ability to connect with the viewers instantly. They have a simple message told quickly and in an interesting manner. Most importantly they are fun!


The web can make you famous instantly, and it can make your brand the most talked about. After all, the most powerful tool of marketing is word-of-mouth. Nowadays, of course, it’s the word-of-mouse with the web gaining importance. It is a tool that is being used by marketers across the globe. You could be selling any product; if you have a great viral also in place, it will help your brand in becoming more popular and talked about.

The most popular viral advertising campaign of 2011 has been that of Volkswagen Passat featuring an adorable kid in a Darth Vader mask, trying to use his ‘Force’ to move and control things right from his dog to his toy and even his sandwich. Much to his disappointment, nothing seems to work till his Dad comes home in the Passat. He tries his ‘powers’ on the car and voil√†, it starts! The kid is elated and totally overjoyed with the fact that the ‘force’ finally worked, not realising that his father had secretly turned the car on with his remote. What an endearing way of highlighting the new feature of the car that it could be started with a remote. It is so lovable and so watchable, which is why it has been viewed more than 62 million times on YouTube.

To get people interested in its new range of shoes, Nike made Kobe Bryant jump over a whole lot of crazy things like an Aston Martin, a pool of snakes, et al. The videos and the feats shown were nearly impossible to believe and generated a lot of comments online. Whatever the comments, Nike had managed to draw the people’s attention, which is the basic purpose of all marketing campaigns.

When it comes to drawing attention, there are two viral campaigns that literally changed the world of online marketing. The first one was the viral released for the movie ‘The Blair Witch’. The world was new to the internet and its new users thought that they had ‘chanced’ upon a video footage of some vanished teenagers showing supernatural events. The word spread like wildfire and soon mainstream media too was carrying this story and talking about it. It’s only later when people realised that this was actually a campaign for a movie. The viral had built so much excitement around the movie, making it one of the most profitable movies of all times. The second most remarkable viral campaign has been that of Barack Obama. One of the first to realise the importance of the internet and the social networking sites, he used it to campaign extensively and actually go on to become the President of USA.

A good viral can grant you popularity but if the product is not good, it cannot help much. To give a boost to its sagging sales, Fiat, too, launched a viral campaign featuring Jennifer Lopez. The star was big, the script was great and the views were huge. With more than 27 million views, this viral is one of the most popular virals of 2011; yet it did nothing for the sales of the car, for it was more about Ms. Lopez and less about Fiat. As a result, everyone conveniently forgot about the car as they ogled at Lopez. The sales did not turn out to be even half as exciting as the viral.

A great marketing campaign has to be backed with an equally great product to be able to fight competitors, or else all the extra attention that you get from the great marketing campaign could actually prove fatal for you and your brand. In today’s day and age, it is extremely easy to film a video and it costs nothing to upload it on YouTube. The tough part is making it work for you.

So while the internet is filled with opportunities, it is a medium that has to be handled cautiously too. While a great viral campaign can do wonders for your bottom lines, a wrong one could conversely generate immense negative publicity for your brand. It is, nevertheless, a place where it’s not the size of your budget but your creativity that can help you beat even the biggest of competitors. A man was looking for a job and wanted to get the attention of some of the best marketing companies. Instead of working on a great CV, he worked on an e-book and called it ‘Marketing Apple’. The free ebook got some of the top bloggers talking about him and soon, he was a popular name; making more money an hour than he could have dreamt of. When Universal Studios wanted to launch the new Harry Potter area in its theme park, it did not work on making an advertisement; instead, it worked on identifying the biggest Harry Potter fan sites on the internet. The owners of these sites (just seven of them) were told that they had been especially selected to break the news to the Harry Potter fans, for the fans should be the first to know and they should not see it in an advertisement. The strategy worked like magic and within days, the new addition to Universal Studios was a mega hit. The best part is that the company hardly spent any money in promoting it.

Great brands have always been built on simple ideas. Great brands under-promise and over-deliver; much like the Kolaveri song, which is so down to earth and yet, it’s pure entertainment.

So as you sit and plan out your viral marketing campaign, remember that it needn’t be very professional, it needn’t be long; but what it must be is simple, endearing, give a clear message, and soon you too could be singing ‘Kolaveri’ on your way to the bank, and not asking your boss, “Why this Kolaveri, Sir?”.


Thursday, December 1, 2011
Apple is a unique company for it’s loved by many and envied too by an equal number of people, especially its competitors. First, every mobile phone company tried to copy the iPhone; and now, taking subtle shots at the iPhone is a gimmick being used by all. However, in November 2011, Apple’s most aggressive competitor Samsung went a step further as it blatantly compared its Galaxy S II model with the iPhone. The advertisements poked fun at the iPhone buyers who were shown as people ready to stand in a queue for days to get their hands on the latest iPhone, while a better phone (meaning the Galaxy) was already there with the smarter ones. The ad mocked the iPhone users for buying the iPhone4S when in fact there was no visible difference between iPhone4 and 4S. Moreover it did not have a great battery life and its screen was not as wide as that of the Galaxy. Whether the Galaxy is better than the iPhone is secondary, the debate is, “Is this kind of advertising going to work for Samsung?” It has managed to get everybody’s attention with its provocative ads; but would this help it sustain in the market place?

Talking of ‘provocative’ advertisements Unilever found itself in a tight spot when its internet campaign for Lynx deodorants was banned by Advertising Standards Authority (US) as it was considered degrading to women. To prevent further damage, on November 25, 2011, Unilever immediately posted a “Sorry from Lynx” video on YouTube, which featured the same model (this time, less provocatively dressed) returning all the props she had used in the ad and saying sorry to the viewers. Sometimes brands lose focus and do things, which appear to give quick results but can actually prove fatal for the brand in the long run. It was named one of America’s hottest brands in 2010. After spending close to $23 million in advertising (in 2009) on its ‘Easy- Tone’ shoes, Reebok was hot property as its shoes sold like hot cakes. Approximately 5 million pairs of ‘EasyTones’ were sold in 2010 alone. Every woman wanted these ‘magic’ shoes that could do wonders to her figure without much effort. It seemed too good to be true. Well, it probably was, for in September 2011, the Federal Trade Commission (US) announced that Reebok had deceptively advertised toning shoes and apparel; subsequently, Reebok was asked to withdraw its advertisements and pay $25 million as settlement charges. The marketer, though still standing by its claims, said that it agreed to pay to avoid a protracted legal battle. For a company that spent $23 million in 2009, then another $31 million in 2010 and add to that another $10 million in 2011 in marketing its ‘toning’ products, this was a big blow. It was after all a brand positioning strategy that was created and nurtured for 3 years. Now the company will not be able to use this strategy anymore.

Yes, the market place is tough and times are even tougher nowadays, but this growing competitiveness should not force marketers (and definitely not the big ones) to succumb to pressure and take recourse to unethical means. Poking fun, using sexual innuendos or making promises that are just not true are not things that the consumer of today likes.

The consumer is very finicky and your unethical means may put him off.


As products get similar, as market shares get reduced, companies are doing what it takes to win in the market place. Even before the consumer responds, it’s your competitor who responds to your marketing strategy immediately. The response could be a counter advertisement or even a complaint. Gone are the days when companies were content to fight on TV through commercials or in the grocery-aisles; today, increasingly, the battle is fought in the courtrooms. Not surprising that the number of complaints to get the competitor’s advertisements withdrawn have increased manifold. In fact, according to an article in the New York Times, never have there been so many complaints been lodged by brands against their competing brands as have been done in the past few years. The number of legal battles has increased dramatically too, especially after the recession. The goal is not to get money, but to snatch away market share. Everybody is keeping an eagle watch on everybody else. Brands are going to any extent to pull the competitor down. Pantene Conditioner challenged Dove on its claim that it ‘repaired’ hair better than Pantene. To prove its claim, Dove did a study which measured the ‘combing force’ required for treated hair, it also provided statistics on number of hair breakages in a 200- strokes-per-tresses test. Finally, it got an expert to defend its decision of using ‘wet combing’ instead of ‘dry combing’.

You need to go to ridiculous heights to stay in business. Most importantly, you need to be alert or else you could get sued and lose out to your competitors. A few months back, Molson Coors was quick to complain that its competitor Heineken’s ads, which showed a man at a party impressing the guests with his stylish moves, was an irresponsible ad because it gave the impression that alcohol could enhance personal qualities and talents. Heinekin managed to prove that this was not so as nowhere was the man actually shown drinking the beer. It saved a good ad from being taken off air by irrational complaints from competitors. The point is, right or wrong, you will have competitors gunning after you, trying their best to pull you down; so just making a good advertisement is not enough. You must have your defenses, your justifications planned even before you release the advertisement, or else you might not be able to save your best campaign and you may lose the market share!


It’s true that brands are doing everything possible to pull their competitors down. Is it worth the trouble? In 2008, Campbell Soup claimed that its soups were made with ‘tender love and care’ while those of General Mills were made with MSG (a banned chemical). As expected, General Mills too immediately retaliated. Then both companies went and complained to the advertising review division. The outcome of the complaint and counter complaint is not important. What’s interesting to note is that the sales of the soups of both companies have kept declining ever since. The consumer refused to trust either of them.

When healthy comparisons turn to mud slinging, both parties lose. A brand is a promise and all brand makers should remember this fact and honor it. As consumers, we love our brands and listen to their claims and trust those claims. An intelligent marketer will never ever mess with the trust his consumers put on him. He will not use dirty tricks to outsmart his competitors, as in the long run, it’s the stronger brand that survives and wins. These petty tricks do manage to get attention, but they tend to put the consumer off too. The flip side is that today, the market is a very rough place and you need to be on your toes all the time. One wrong move could be disastrous.

There are better ways of increasing market share. Some of the good old things never get old-fashioned. Dove realized this as this year has seen its sales soar globally. No cheap gimmicks, it just concentrated on giving better products and its advertisements managed to strike an emotional chord with the consumers. Similarly, Chevrolet Cruze this year has become GM’s hottest selling car brand. When it comes to cars today, the consumer is looking for fuel efficiency and that is exactly what the brand promised in its advertisements: “40 miles per litre...”

It was not lawsuits and unethical ads that ensured that the Korean car manufacturer Kia became the most successful car of the year, but rather its focus on the consumer. Its target were young buyers so it focused on things this group liked; for example, an upmarket sound system, a robust engine, good mileage and some hamsters too! It used three cute hamsters in its advertisements to showcase the merits of its car ‘Soul’ – and voila, the car and the company today feature in America’s list of hottest brands! No poking fun at the competitor; but just a serious focus on brand building, and this mobile phone company has beaten the Goliaths hollow. It sold more smartphones in the third quarter than Apple or Samsung! HTC set out on its own just two years back (it used to be a nameless manufacturer that made phones for other brands) and today, this brand tops the US smartphone market.

There is no shortcut to success and nothing succeeds like simple hard work. The laws of business have probably not changed much as all these brands have shown. If you want to win, play with sincerity; for a brand is a promise and those who keep promises are loved the most. As with people so with brands, don’t let the other person lose trust in you. It’s the only way to become a true hero !


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Companies are worried about the coveted FDI regulations for this market. Economists are worried about its massive poverty indicators and growing inequality. Politicians are worried about their next elections as usual, but perhaps much more today about simply getting caught! Business in general is worried about favourable government policies and reforms and also about the appalling Indian version of the term “infrastructure”. And on top of all these, the common man is worried about (including infrastructure, of course) rising prices on all fronts, corrupt and inefficient systems, uncertain markets, lack of a social security net… the list is quite endless.

Welcome to “Incredible India”, the term itself a perfect fit for this country, and not just because the words are catchy and rhyme well. It’s also because of their meaning. Not great, or awesome; but ‘incredible’, in simple terms, hard to believe. And that’s how intellectuals at different points of time have described the ascent of the Indian economy.

Nevertheless, marketers love stories, and the Indian story attracts them like few do. Goldman Sachs’ BRIC report laid the groundwork followed by many others. Another exhaustive report by McKinsey in 2007 gave some important indications of where India could potentially be. It projected, with an assumed CAGR of 7.3%, that India would triple its income levels by 2025. That will bring around 291 million people out of poverty and the middle class will rise by ten times over the period to around 500 million. What’s more, 23 million people would count among the wealthy, which would be more than Australia’s current population (around 22.7 million, Australian Bureau of Statistics, October 17). And the most exciting part, of course, is that the country has a combined young & working age population (14-60 years of age) that comprises nearly 54% of the total (UN, 2009 figures). Another 31.3% are in the wings to enter this group (age 0-14 years). India’s working age population is expected to edge out China by 2028.

This is a brief of the larger India story that marketers across the globe have grown to believe; and all it seems to say is that – unless you want to be a bit player on the global stage a few decades from now; it’s imperative that you invest in India. Of course, it’s a great story for shareholders of a number of MNCs as well, who have been terribly short of good news lately. However, before you hop on to the India bandwagon, you have to understand the fact that although the macro picture makes a valid case, it’s very easy to get lost in a maze if you are unable to grasp the intricacies unique to this market.

One of the most critical and overlooked aspects of this market is culture. Generally, marketers and analysts have attempted to either club the entire India as one (using economic segmentation) and look for a unifying theme, or considered it just too diverse to really merit the time and energy in segmenting it in this manner. Either approach is dangerous. In fact, my ongoing research provides compelling logic that supports the existence of India as 4 nations – North, South, East & West – and this has profound implications for today’s marketers. These divisions have a strong historical context and continue to be extremely relevant even today.


Art is a very apt reflection of life. And if you look at our movies, there are a number of stereotypes that have been used to define Indians in different zones. A Punjabi is often pictured as brash, impulsive, imposing and ready to pick up a brawl, or even join an ongoing one for company sake! Conversely, a person from Tamil Nadu is pictured as relatively submissive and also deeply rigid about his style of living. Mumbai residents are typically shown as immensely practical and down to earth. And a person from the city of Kolkata will be portrayed as too passionate about his state, ready to revolt at the slightest excuse and be ready for an intellectual solution to every problem, if not a practical one.

While extreme, these stereotypes are not without basis! Some research into consumer buying habits also brings out some vital differences in the four zones. A small perception-based survey across 4 metros revealed some interesting characteristics. West Bengal, for instance, has a strong history of revolution, and they harbor a fierce sense of pride in their culture. They are highly intellectual and able to achieve their goals (financial or otherwise) through proper planning. Purchases made by them are skewed towards long term assets like real estate. New Delhi has been an epicenter of power and also attracted a mix of cultures from across India, with a larger influence from the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. There is a great obsession with earning money, and perhaps an even greater one with flaunting it. Down south in Chennai, one sees a conservative society that has a deep sense of traditionalism as well as a bit of a colonial hangover. Higher education rates and rise of industries like IT here have attracted wealth to a great degree from abroad, and people here do invest in certain luxuries as well. But customs and traditions are strong influencers, visible with the amount of jewellery they buy; an integral part of traditional attire. When you look west in a city like Mumbai, there is a very strong influence of the British Raj as well as of the traders that frequented the city’s shores. The city works strongly on the ‘time is money’ mentality and is tremendously practical and pragmatic; a vivid barometer of which are the local trains, used by people of all economic classes.

Now take a look at how this reflects on purchases. The benchmark J.D. Power Asia Pacific 2011 India Escaped Shopper Study talks about how regional patterns affect purchases. Exterior designing and style dominates in the North, while the West looks for acquisition costs as well as total running costs. The South in comparison looks for utility, is extremely sensitive on price and even considers opinions of friends and family before taking a purchase decision. The Vizisense New Age Shopaholics survey analysed the trends of users on group buying sites and saw West and South leading over the North when it came to online shopping. An eBay India study showed that South Indians were the most active buyers at the site at 41% followed by West at 27%. North seems more skewed towards offline buying. Divisions in the zones also reflect in reading habits. The National Youth Readership survey 2010 reveals that the southern region leads with 24% youth readers, followed by the west and east with 22%, the north with 13%, central with 12% and north-east with 7% readers. Food patterns are a very obvious differentiator across regions. For instance, mustard and soya oil is preferred in the north, sunflower oil is used commonly in the west and cottonseed/groundnut oil is used in the south.

Besides, there is a definite distinction in terms of the kind of advertising. Milward Brown studied nearly a thousand advertisements across markets in India and concluded that only one in seven had a pan-Indian appeal. Leading advertising agency Ogilvy launched a unique initiative Ogilvy Dakshin, in recognition of the marked differences in which North and South India perceived advertising and the observation that brands who were simply doing language translations were only spending money on further disconnecting from customers. By using local actors, dialects, songs, et al, Ogilvy Dakshin campaigns have successfully delivered visible growth for brands like Coke, Thums Up, Asian Paints & Fortune Sunflower Oil. One campaign worth discussing is the Fortune Sunflower campaign, since the brand was totally out of consideration for Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The agency devised a series of campaigns showing south Indians confessing on their issues with eating restrictions and the advertisements talked about how having food cooked in Sunflower Oil was light and one could eat to his/her heart’s content. The campaign took Fortune Oil to number 2 in Tamil Nadu. The characters were so successful that the agency created a kind of serial (actually a series of ads with them). They also held roadshows that honoured women and gave them free snacks and had other entertainment activities. But the killer was the shuttle service they organised from one music sabha to another (Chennai has a plethora of these sabhas playing Carnatic music towards the end of the year). They distributed snacks cooked in Fortune oil in the buses, roped in caterers at these sabhas to use Fortune Oil and promoted all this through a media campaign. When you get that much into the local flavor, success can’t be far away.


When it comes to success stories, there are in fact three broad categories that you can define – Indian companies successfully adopting regional positioning, regional Indian players becoming national/ global brands and MNCs leveraging regional diversity.

In the first category, one brand that comes to mind is The Times of India (TOI). Till a little over a decade back, the English daily market in India was broadly defined as TOI in Mumbai, Statesman in Kolkata, Hindustan Times in Delhi and Hindu in Chennai. It is said that changing newspapers is as difficult as changing your cup of tea/coffee. But within a few years, TOI raised the stakes with its invitation pricing strategy and became the leading English broadsheet of not just India, but also the world (readership of 7.47 million by June 2011 as per IRS). Its success mantra to a large extent was also customisation of content to suit local audiences. Rahul Kansal, CMO, Bennett, Coleman & Co., affirms, “Kolkata for example, is a group with a highly eclectic set of interests. So we have kept an eclecticmix of contents in our Calcutta Times. We may have, on the other hand, a far more Bollywood-oriented mix in some other markets like Delhi for instance; as I don’t think it is as wide (the readership orientation). Chennai is a city where even the English reader seems far more comfortable with his own traditions. The newspaper there reflects that.” Dabur is another instance, which successfully forayed into South India using local branding, marketing strategy and brand names. For instance, it renamed its ‘Dabur’s Lal Dant Manjan’ as ‘Dabur Sivappu Pal Podi’ (red toothpowder in Tamil) for the South Indian market. It launched Dabur Herbal Toothpaste in Kerala and Tamil Nadu due to their preference for Southern products and Dabur Shwaasamrit in Karnataka and Kerala as it provides relief from cough, cold and bronchitis that’s quite common in these regions. TV advertisements were also customised to provide a more rational appeal since that works more with South Indian audiences. Parle acquired Tops and the brand successfully took around 10% of the market in West Bengal & Assam in direct competition to a strong regional brand like Bisk Farm. It also took its Jhalmuri flavoured wafers national. Similarly, ITC launched Bingo Masala Chips for North India and then took the flavour across India. Local flavours in general do have a certain appeal across the nation. Apollo Tyres used the concept of diversity as well. Company Chairman O. S. Kanwar emphasised on this thus, “North Indian truck drivers tend to overload their trucks as compared to South Indian drivers. So we researched and developed different tyres for the two segments!”

When it comes to regional brands going national, the telecom sector is full of them. Bharti Airtel itself started from New Delhi and went into more circles across India and went global through a spate of acquisitions. The most recent case of a regional brand going national is Aircel. Till around four years back, it was limited to South India. With aggressive national intent, it launched simultaneously in eight new circles. Then it made a bid for 3G licences and did a national branding for itself by using Indian cricket team captain M. S. Dhoni. It has also brought customised offers for various regions. In Odisha, it launched the Rs.30p/min. call for STD from Aircel to any other operator and a balance transfer facility for its pre-paid subscribers in Odisha and unlimited free Aircel to Aircel calling in Bihar and Jharkhand for 30 days at a price of Rs.349/-. Its 3G services are now available across India barring 3 circles. The company, which had around 31 million subscribers by end-2009, crossed 50 million in January this year. Cavincare’s story is well known, which started from founder C. K. Ranganathan’s initiative of selling Chik shampoo satchets through bicycle vendors. He later took the brand to overseas markets like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Another instance is Amrapali Jewels, which started with one retail store in Jaipur. Rather than being conservative, they selected the most unique pieces of jewellery from across India and set up a luxury jewellery business, which has a presence across India and in UK, US, Sri Lanka, Spain & Nigeria (they designed the entire jewellery for the Hollywood flick Troy, which really launched them on the global stage). Waghbakri tea and MTR Foods are other instances of brands that leveraged their regional strengths to go national and global.

Some MNCs have also got equal to the task. Unilever’s India arm has understood it only too well after a number of setbacks from regional players like Wipro’s Santoor, Anchor Health & Beauty, Godrej’s No.1, Ghadi & Sasa. Now it wants to act like a regional player. An interesting instance is HUL’s launch of Brooke Bond Sehatmand tea, a tea they developed for the regional (more specifically rural) market with vitamins fused into each granule, positioning it as a health supplement. They further ensured that they customised tastes to regions, like catering to South Indian taste for strong flavours and dark colours. The Bharti-Wal-Mart venture, rather than go pan-India at the outset, decided to start with Amritsar in Punjab and then go further to North India with its cash & carry stores as it found the agri-rich state to be a lucrative starting point where it could start building a strong supply chain. Actually, the company strongly believes that supply chains have to be regional in India at least for now, since national supply chains aren’t so strong yet. Nestle’s Maggi has been a traditional success story of launching regional flavours from time to time and so has Lays from Pepsico.

There have been instances of failures or setbacks for major brands too, like HUL mentioned above. Wipro’s Santoor overtook Lux in south India while Godrej No.1 overtook Lux and Lifebuoy in the north in 2009. It’s amazing how Maruti, which is considered more apt for conservative and tradition loving customers, was not accepted too well in the South as it was perceived as a North Indian firm (south just accounted for around 20% of national sales till a few years back). Through innovative campaigns like the annual Dakshin Dare rally and launch of more economical diesel variants, the company claims to have improved its standing. Coca Cola faced a different kind of failure when it refused to acknowledge or appreciate local farmer concerns over water shortages in Plachimada, Kerala, and had to shut down its plant.

All in all, it’s time marketers understood the relevance of cultural diversity in India and bring it into this ‘4 nation’ framework. And like their environment keeps telling them everyday, they cannot rest at that, as they have to also then look at diversity within regions! Besides, the post-1991 generation, which accounts for over 50% of India, is confronting traditional values as well as getting exposed to modern, global ways of living. Not much research has been done on what kind of cultural orientations this youth market will display in the coming time and whether the diversity of previous generations will diminish or get stronger. Food for thought, isn’t it?


Thursday, November 17, 2011
We are a nation that lives and breathes cricket, yet many feel that they are now getting an overdose of it. The 15-20 year olds today do not identify so much with cricket. They want something different, something fast and something trendy. Formula One seems to be the answer.


Kingfisher went ballistic with the promotions of its beer at the Indian Grand Prix held in Noida last month. Airtel was the title sponsor of the event. It ended its sponsorship of the Champions League Twenty-20 cricket even before the three-year deal ended. For a nation that is obsessed with cricket and for a sport that dominates advertising in India, when a big sponsor like Airtel backs out, is it an indication that things are changing? Is cricket facing boredom? Is there oversaturation of cricket? Perhaps. Think about it, Neo Sports, the official broadcaster of the India-West Indies series gave a 40-60% discount for a 10 second ad spot; add to that the falling viewership rating of the sport and you have your answer. Today, advertisers are looking for big sports properties other than cricket. Agreed, cricket was and will remain a religion in India, but the youth wants something more, and F1 is the sport that’s fashionable to follow and appeals to the young and restless. In spite of initial scepticism, the inaugural Formula One race was a success. To the surprise of many, the 3-day event drew a crowd of 95,000 spectators on race day.


When it comes to sports, India has never really left a lasting impression. Except for cricket, there is hardly any other sport where it stands out. When it comes to international sporting events, then most often we have been left red-faced. Take the Commonwealth Games for instance, which generated a lot of bad publicity for India, and showed us in shoddy light. In contrast, the inaugural F1 race was loved by all. Finally, an international event was executed flawlessly by India. With only private players and with no government support, the event did well.

It makes complete business sense to be a part of the Formula One event. It offers global reach to both sponsors and fans alike. F1 is a far more lucrative sport than cricket. It has a reach that is much wider than cricket. The Indian Grand Prix was telecasted to 550 million viewers in 200 countries. It provides a global platform to brands, which events like T20 cricket fail to do. Consider this, there is zero audience for cricket in major economies like France, Germany, Italy, Brazil and Russia. At the end of the day, it is imperative for any sport to reach out to more people and F1 has that mass appeal.

Today, growth in businesses is going to come from emerging market like Brazil, China etc, and cricket does not excite many of them. If a global sponsor has to reach them, he needs a sport like F1 with a more global appeal. Indian companies are going global too. Many of our home-grown brands are growing fast and becoming big players in the new emerging markets.

Bagging the ‘title’ sponsorship was definitely a big deal for Airtel. For a game like Formula One, where team title sponsorships are rarely available, this was a golden opportunity for Airtel. Being the title sponsor gives one the maximum branding presence. The advantages are huge. Petronas, the international oil and gas corporation, last year renewed its title sponsorship of the Malaysian round of the Formula One and will hold the rights till 2015. In fact, this year the championship will be known as the ‘Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix’ (just as the Indian one is known as the Airtel Grand Prix). Not only will the event give Petronas huge visibility and global appeal, but will position Malaysia as a major motorsport hub and tourist destination.

In fact, that is why it is so difficult to get the title sponsorship, and it is usually contracted for a minimum of five years. The big title sponsors of Formula One have been, Vodafone, Renault, Virgin, DHL, Etihad Airways and Red Bull.

Red Bull in fact is an interesting case study. The sports drink manufacturer has spent more than $600 million in the last five years on F1 sponsorships and has its logo emblazoned on two teams’ cars. It was worth the money and effort for last year Red Bull received more than four hours of ‘free’ television airtime during the first fifteen F1 races. No one even came close to that amount of coverage save LG (LG incidentally did not invest much in cricket in India this festive season in spite of being a key player in IPL 4). More than being seen, it’s also important to be seen in the right places and F1 is ‘the’ place to be seen at for everybody. No wonder the US company Gulf Oil, which believes in being at the right place at the right time, decided to make its presence felt at the Indian F1 too.

F1 is bigger in all terms. Be it the money involved, the viewership, or even the duration of the event , it beats all sports including cricket or football. Many sports events finish in a day. F1 is a three day event where the biggest of sponsors, the biggest of companies and the biggest of business leaders hobnob. It’s a sport of big monies. Delta 3 is a company that receives all its revenues from fees that TV stations pay to screen F1 as well as the fees paid by circuits and sponsors of the sport. Despite facing the worst recession in living memory, in 2009, Delta 3 saw its revenues grow 6.4% to a record of $1.1billion. Bernie Ecclestone the founder of F1 and the CEO of Delta 3’s ultimate owner Delta Topco sure knows what will work and he definitely has a winner in his hands.


However, with Europe reaching its saturation, with France backing out from the GP, Bernie needs a new and thriving market. Add to this the fact that UK has abolished tobacco advertising, along with the European Union , that has banned tobacco companies from sponsoring or advertising within sporting events, leaving Marlboro (from the Philip Morris International group), one of the biggest sponsors of F1, looking for new places to advertise. In fact, Marlboro had to remove its logo from the F1 Ferrari cars due to this ban. However, so high is the advantage of being associated with this sport that neither Ferrari nor Marlboro want to end their association. So they have found a new way to get out of this tricky situation. The Ferrari cars now do not (or rather cannot) carry the Marlboro logo but they now carry a ‘bar code’ design which is exactly like the bottom of the Marlboro cigarette pack! The team, after all, has a contract with Marlboro till 2011 worth a total of $1 billion and the team’s official name even now is “Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro”. Seems like a tough association to break.

Though F1 was primarily a European sport, the last decade has seen a shift ,with half the races being held in Asia (Korea, Japan, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, India, Singapore and China) as many of the Asian countries are moving from the developing to developed nation status.

For the F1 organizers too, it makes business sense. India is a big market andits middle class is finally getting introduced to global brands. India is on the fast lane today, with its trillion-plus-dollar economy, it is Asia’s largest after Japan and China.

If F1 has helped improve India’s image on the international stage (after the debacle of the CWG), then on the flip-side India is a market with a vast potential that cannot be ignored by F1. According to a survey conducted by TAM Sports, the Indian Grand Prix garnered six times more average TRPs (television rating points) than any other Grand Prix ever held. Bookmyshow.com in three hours sold tickets worth Rs.1.5 crores.

The sponsors for long have been investing in cricket and there seems to be a fatigue creeping in. With such excitement around F1 among the Indian audience, sponsors have suddenly found new avenues to advertise in and diversify their portfolio. Not surprisingly, Amul decided to sponsor the Swiss F1 team Sauber. The sponsors are slowly warming up to the idea as is visible from the number of local brands that have associated with the sport. Red Bull and Tag Heuer have been old loyalists of the sport, but now we have Reebok, Gitanjali, Lifestyle, JK Tyre and many others joining in.

The sport is here to stay and slowly but surely it will develop a strong foothold in this market too, and give cricket a run for its money.

Be it the viewers, or the sponsors or the organizers, suddenly everybody is talking about and is excited about a new player in town. Move over cricket, the cars are here!


Thursday, October 6, 2011
Last month, a beautiful film named Dolphin Tale hit the theatres. Based on a true story, it’s a ‘tale’ about a dolphin without a ‘tail’. It’s the story about a young boy’s efforts to convince scientists to create a prosthetic tail for this dolphin named Winter , whose tail had got amputated. In doing so, he not just changes the life of the dolphin but also of the people around him. It’s a story of grit and determination. It made the audiences cry and the producers fly high – in North America, the movie grossed $14 million from Friday to Sunday. It opened at #3 but rose to the #1 spot in the second week, something not very common.


Not just is Warner Bros very happy with the performance of the film, but so is ‘Clearwater Marine Aquarium’. This is the water-park in Florida where the movie was filmed, and Clearwater cannot thank its stars enough. Even before the movie opened, visitors to the water park increased tremendously. The impact of the movie has been so great that the aquarium is now spending $12 million in expansion including a new “Dolphin Tale” exhibit. The aquarium now also has a new website and calls itself “The home of Winter”.

The dolphin’s tale of survival has worked wonders for a lot of people and a lot of brands too, apart from the Clearwater aquarium.

It shows the little boy doing all his searches, not on Google but on Gigablast which calls itself the ‘leading clean-energy search engine’ as it uses wind energy to provide 90% of the power required to run its servers. The movie also features Dell laptops and a whole lot of other brands. Both marketers and viewers are more than familiar with this form of marketing. The trick is to do it intelligently so that it creates an impact and does not look tacky. There is hardly any big film released today without brands being an integral part of them. This medium is after all the most powerful of all and can do wonders for a brand.


Some products that have benefitted the most out of in-film branding have not just been ‘products’ but rather countries. Just as Clearwater Aquarium has benefitted from the movie Dolphin Tale, so have a whole lot of other places. After Lost in Translation was released, everyone wanted to go to Tokyo. Almost all of Yash Chopra’s films have worked as powerful advertisements for Switzerland. Hrithik’s debut film Kaho Na Pyar Hai was responsible for doubling the Indian tourism to New Zealand. The latest to hit the Indian box office, Zindagi Na Milege Dobara, will do wonders for Spain.

If there is one city that has been featured innumerable times in films , then it is New York. Every year, hundreds of films feature New York and the city understands the impact this has on its tourism. So the Mayor’s Office in New York offers free filming permits, police assistance and even gives you location advice if you want to shoot a film there. After all, product placement of the city will help both the parties – for if a film is able to capture the essence of a city on camera, then it becomes the most powerful promotional tool for the city.

James Bond films have been most famous for in-film branding. When the Aston Martin was featured in the Bond film Goldfinger, it was such a big hit that the company put it on its brochure. Product placement specialist Karen Sortito ensured that BMW’s new model Z3 shone as bright as James Bond in the film Golden Eye. In fact, the in film placement was so successful that not just did the sales of the BMW, Z4 skyrocket after the movie’s release, but Karen found a long line of brands waiting at her doorstep to help them get visibility. For the next Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, she could well rope in $100 million worth of tie-ups with brands like Omega, L’Oreal, Avis etc.

Your product might be good but it needs the right ‘image’ to stand out in the marketplace. It has to have a distinct personality which its buyers can associate with. In film branding helps it do just that.

If there is one company that understands the power of in-film branding, it’s Apple. Think of any hit movie and chances are you will find an Apple product. Be it blockbusters like Ironman, The Social Network, Tron, The Twilight Saga, 17 Again, Transformers, Cars 2 , Green Lantern, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Apple has been the constant star.

When it comes to product placement dominance, this brand leads. For more than three years in a row, Apple has been the most visible brand in films. This year, it featured in 13 films. The next visible brand is Chevrolet that featured in 9 movies. In 2009, it topped the charts by featuring in 19 movies; then, again in 2010, it ranked one, for it was seen in 10 films. The next in line on visibility in movies is Nike. It appeared in 8 films. There is no formula yet to calculate ROI but it’s clear that it pays to be in the limelight! The wine company ‘Clos Du Val’ ensured that it made an appearance in 100 films by simply sending the directors of the movies free cases of its wine. The winery reported an increase of 50 percent in its sales after this!


Movies do influence our buying decisions. As Andy Warhol put it beautifully years ago, “It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.”

Once a brand is featured in a movie, it changes its image totally. The brand develops a personality of its own based on which star uses it in the movie, where it’s used and how it’s used. Think about it – if Pepsi succeeds in convincing Spiderman to drink Pepsi in the movie, I am sure it would defeat Coke, for every child would want it, to become like Spiderman. It’s all about personality. Be it politics or business, the one with the ‘coolest’ personality always outshines others. Movies develop an aura around a brand and give it a unique personality which helps it differentiate itself from competitors and win market share. Years ago, Morgan Spurlock made a documentary on McDonald’s, titled Supersize Me. In this docu, Morgan ate only at Mc-Donald’s for a month and showed how he gained weight and developed a whole lot of health problems, proving how dangerous fast food is. The film got everyone thinking, including McDonald’s which now has introduced healthier options in its menu. That’s the power of a strong image and nothing can get stronger than the images one sees on that huge screen in the movie hall. It creates the strongest of impressions. To prove how strong ‘images’ are, Spurlock made a documentary again which got everyone talking, yet again. The documentary was titled “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” He shows the effect of product placement and advertorial tie-ups at the movies. In fact, the title of his film itself proves how strong an impact a movie can create. The full name of his documentary is “POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold” and the pomegranate juice manufacturer Pom Wonderful paid him $1 million for the title. Morgan made his point even before one saw the first scene of the film. He says after seeing his documentary the public would change their whole perceptions about the movies.

Yes, the key word is perception. That’s exactly what movies build and once your brand is featured in a blockbuster, it will change the way the audience looks at your brand.

So if you really want your brand to become a star, you need to head for the movies, for that’s the place where stars are made.


Thursday, September 22, 2011
Early this month, Nike did something a lot of movie fans and shoe collectors were waiting for. It created the exact replica of the shoes worn by Michael J. Fox in the popular 1989 flick ‘Back to the Future’. He wore the shoes when he travelled to 2015 in the movie. 1500 shoes were put on e-bay for auction – they were sold out faster than one could imagine; the campaign has been evidently massively successful. This sneaker is getting Nike extra attention not just because of the ‘limited edition’ of the shoes but also because all the proceeds will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s disease research. To top it all, Sergey Brin has pledged to match the donations made to the foundation up to the next year (to a maximum of $50 million). The shoes have been auctioned for anywhere between $3,500 to $10,000 with the British rapper Tinie Tempah even paying $37,500 for his pair! The purchase of the year did help Tinie jump into the spotlight, but this has kept Nike in the news too and for some good reasons.

Brands need to be in the news for the right things. When a brand associates itself with the right cause, it gets noticed and spoken about, and that’s where it has a chance to overtake its competitors. Hugo Boss released a campaign this month for its perfume Boss Orange. However it was not the regular ‘glamour shoot’ that most perfume advertisements are about; instead, it talked of development of schools in Madagascar. Boss Orange has donated $300,000 to the ‘Schools of Africa’ initiative and through this campaign, it hopes to help at least 60,000 pre-school children in Africa. It used celebrities Sienna Miller and Orlando Bloom to propagate the idea that ‘every child has the right to an education’ – and Boss, along with UNICEF, would help do this “Today. To Help. Together”. When Bloom was chosen as the perfume’s brand ambassador in 2010, he said he identified with Boss Orange immediately because “it had a laid back spontaneous quality,” much like he had. So while Boss and Orlando were working on giving the brand a distinct identity, associating it with a cause made it stand out.

When a brand associates itself with a cause, it changes the total image and reputation of the company. Research has proved that firms that are socially responsible are considered by consumers to have a good reputation. In a study done by British Telecom in 2002, as much as 25% of a company’s reputation was dependant on its commitment to society.

She was called the ‘Mother Teresa’ of the business world, because she believed in not just doing business, but doing it with some heart too. Anita Roddick never forgot the African women who shared their skin care secrets with her, which she used to make her creams and lotions for her cosmetics brand ‘Body Shop’. The key to Body Shop’s success was not just its interesting products but the numerous social causes the brand stood for. It played an active role in Save the Whales campaign in 1985; again in 1989, it stood behind the cause of saving the Brazilian forests; and again in 1990, it energetically supported the petition against testing of animals. These were some of the numerous causes that Anita Roddick and Body Shop fought for and her customers (the young women) just loved her for it. This dynamic woman breathed her last four years ago in September 2007, but she showed the world how business does not just mean a crazy obsession with profits, but also a crazy obsession with the society. Body Shop gave crazily and the more it gave, the bigger it grew – and Anita Roddick soon became the fourth richest woman in Britain in 1990. CSR is a powerful tool and cannot be ignored. With the youth of today having a greater and louder voice in purchase decisions, companies that look after the society find increased customer loyalty as they increase their commitment towards the society. Customer loyalty is the one factor all brands would give their right arm for, and socially responsible organizations get it, since the customers respect them, and the word-of-mouth around these companies is so good that customers perceive their products to be more reliable and of better quality. As a result, they are ready to pay a higher price for these products and feel good about it.

When Bono, the legendary singer of the rock band U2, launched his brand ‘Product Red’, he got himself some real heavyweight partners. From American Express, Gap, Nike, to Armani, everyone announced their range of RED products, the sales of which would go to Bono’s Product Red to help fight AIDS in Africa. These brands and their products instantly got a lot of buzz and shot to fame and Bono raised $140 million.

Marks and Spencer has found a cause that is close to our hearts... useless hangers! According to a survey, some 100 million hangers are thrown away and they take as much as 100 years to degrade. So in July this year, Marks & Spencer tied up with UNICEF to launch a new campaign, which urged customers not to take the hangers home when they bought clothes from the store – and for every such purchase, the company would donate 50p to UNICEF to help it transform the lives of some of the poorest children in the world. All people had to do was make a simple choice and it made them feel good about it. Isn’t branding all about making the customer feel good? When you undertake socially responsible work, you not just make the customer feel good but you also do good to the world.

From Oprah to Lady Gaga, everyone knows what a strong impact these activities have on their fans. When Japan was hit by the earthquake this year, Lady Gaga was the first to quickly offer the ‘We pray for Japan’ wristband and encouraged her fans the ‘little monsters’ to buy the band to help the country. In just two days the bracelets made gross sales above $250,000. It was Nike that started this craze for bracelets in 2004 when it teamed up with Lance Armstrong and came up with this idea to raise funds for cancer. No one in their wildest of imaginations thought this would become a fashion item as youngsters proudly wore their cause on their wrists! Till date, more than 70 million of these bracelets have been sold and millions of dollars raised.

Last year, Oprah took up the cause of distracted driving, an issue that has led to many accidents. Oprah asked her fans to fill up a “No phone pledge” form, where they would pledge to not text or call while driving.

What’s business without a little giving! And one such self-made businessman is Renzo Rosso, the founder of Diesel clothing company. His foundation ‘Only the Brave’ pledges to change villages in Africa and remove extreme poverty. He believes brands can be used to do a lot more than just being fashion labels. Business is not just about earning but also about giving.


Business is marketing and marketing is a lot about advertising. Not just our business vision, but our advertising also should be responsible. After all, it pays to be responsible. Last month, Nivea For Men launched an advertisement for its cream, which showed a short haired, black model tossing the head of a black man with an Afro-American hair and beard. That head represented his ‘before- Nivea self’. The ad ended with the caption, “Look Like You Give A Damn…. Re-Civilize Yourself”. The ad did not go down well with the viewers as it alluded that Afro-Americans were not civilized, and people decided to not buy Nivea if it believed in such racist stuff. Nivea realized its irresponsible behaviour and quickly posted an apology on its Facebook page and withdrew the advertisement.

Advertising is a potent tool and needs to be used very carefully. Cadbury too tread on the danger line when the ad for its ‘Bliss’ range of dark chocolates ran into slight trouble this year. The chocolate bars were promoted with a strapline, “Move over Naomi, there is a new diva in town”. The black model Naomi Campbell did not take it too well and said she found it insulting, hurtful and racist. The ads were pulled out and Cadbury had to apologize to Naomi.

A little bit of sensitivity goes a long way in building a strong brand reputation. With competition increasing and with the consumer confused about product quality, these are the cues on the basis of which a consumer builds a perception about your product. Marketers should be careful about their image.


It’s been proved that employees who work in ethically and socially responsible organizations are more committed to it. The young are choosing organizations that show a commitment towards society and are ethical. Finally, employees are your first customers, and it makes business sense to keep them happy. They have the strongest influence on ‘word of mouth’ about your brand and your business.

Be good, be responsible. That is what will help you sustain in this highly competitive world. Let’s make a commitment to not just make profits but in our own way heal the world, make it a better place.


Thursday, September 8, 2011
Early this month, the UK Daily Telegraph ran a strange story that went like this: “Domino’s Pizza has announced plans to conquer the final frontier by opening the first pizza restaurant on the moon”. As expected, the story became the most read story in the newspaper and got people talking. Some even smiled and wondered if its “free if not delivered in 30 minutes” rule would be applicable for this branch! Domino’s is known for its wacky marketing and this one got everybody talking. You need to get noticed if you want to stay on top of the consumer’s mind. There is too much of clutter and only the ones who dare to be different stand out and lead.

A few years back (1993), D.C. Comics released a comic book The Death of Superman. A character that had been a part of our lives for decades (Superman was born in 1938) would suddenly be no more – this created a ripple and the media covered it almost as seriously as if a head of state had passed away. As expected, the comic book sold out on the first day itself. Numerous other issues were released after this and eventually the company came out with another iconic issue, which was titled Return of the Superman. Just when D.C. Comics found the interest of the customers falling, it decided to get the excitement back into the brand by announcing the death of its most popular character! It worked.


You need to keep the excitement levels up to retain interest. Be it business or be it personal relationships; if things get stagnant, the relationship starts to falter. You may have a popular product, you may have the best quality product too, but if it gets boring, it is doomed.

Beating boredom was a challenge that these brands had to overcome. One was Ariel. A detergent is not a very interesting product category but Ariel did some interesting stuff, which got people talking about washing. At the Stockholm railway station, it set up a glass box which had clothes revolving on a stand. In front was a robot which squirted out chocolate, ketchup, jam etc. The game was, if you managed to aim well and stain a cloth, it would be washed then and there with Ariel and given to you for free (of course, stain free). The best part was that you could play this game on Facebook too! Washing suddenly became fun and got people talking about it.

So when the movie Green Lantern was about to be launched in Brazil last month, the moviemakers thought of an interesting idea. They put green LED lights on bicycle tyres and when the wheels started spinning, the lights made the logo of Green Lantern on the wheel, along with the release date of the movie. It caught the attention of the young viewers who found it cool, apart from making the cycles more visible to car drivers… which was an added bonus!

Apart from giving a good product, give people something to talk about, give them a good story and it will sell your product more. Marketing is not a one-time activity; rather, it’s a continuous process and many a time, doing something out of the ordinary just works like magic. Amazon.com has launched a new feature on Kindle (its e-reader). While reading a book, you can also send tweets to the author of the book and ask him questions. His answers will come in your e-mail. It just makes reading a bit more interactive and fun!

After all, you need to break the monotony and do different and interesting things to remain relevant. Throughout history, great entrepreneurs have not just worked on making a good product, but also on finding interesting and engaging ways to inform the public about them. Many of these stunts today have become historical events. When newspaper publisher Henri Desgrange started a bicycle race to promote his newspaper, he never in his wildest imagination thought that it would be the world’s most awaited bicycle race. Tour de France, started more than 100 years ago, today promotes a whole lot of brands and is one of the most loved events. Similarly, when Atlantic City wanted to attract tourists to its city, it thought of a novel idea of starting the Miss America Pageant in 1921. The event has snowballed into a big show watched by millions even today. Pillsbury launched its Pillsbury Bake-Off as a one time event never knowing that the idea would be such a hit that this would become its annual event. Even today, the event has not lost its popularity.

Many of these ideas are simple and not really expensive, but they work – much like some low-budget movies that work in spite of being made in a simple manner. This one gave Hollywood its famous star apart from five sequels. The movie in question is Rocky, inspired by Chuck Wepner’s fight against Ali, made on a small budget of $1000,000 the movie broke all expectations and records as it became a super hit and grossed $225,000,000!


In the 1990s, National Mutual (now a part of AXA Group) became very successful selling life insurance policies via mail. The company was doing very well and then one crazy young guy thought of offering a torch or a travel clock as an incentive. Everyone thought it was ridiculous; after all, people were taking a very important investment decision and these petty incentives would not change anything much. Nevertheless, the company went ahead with it. This crazy idea brought about a 37 percent increase in response rates!

If women can have a ‘walk-in’ closet in their homes, then why can’t boys have a ‘walk-in fridge’? Heineken Beer worked on this crazy idea and in 2009 released an online video where, in one part of the house, the girls jumped and shrieked at the sight of the hostess’ new walk-in closet, the guys in the other room freaked out at the sight of the ‘walk-in fridge’ lined with chilled Heineken! The crazy idea gave people something fresh and different to talk about and made it stand out vis-√†-vis its competitors.

To promote dental hygiene, Colgate decided to make the sticks inside an ice cream bar in the shape of a tooth brush. As the child finished the ice cream, he saw the toothbrush shaped stick with a reminder, “Don’t forget”! Mothers loved it and the company got a huge PR boost.

They may sound crazy but some wacky ideas just hit the imagination of the customers – and they love it, making your brand the most talked about and remembered.

In today’s world, when it’s nearly impossible to decide rationally which product to buy solely on the basis of its attributes, it becomes absolutely necessary to ensure that your product is marketed differently and retains its freshness, is talked about and remembered.


Paramount Pictures came out with a novel way of promoting their movie Mission Impossible. They teamed up with the newspaper Los Angeles Times and selected some 4,500 newspaper boxes. Every time the customer opened his box, the theme song of the movie would start playing. The problem was that the device which played the music looked like an explosive with red wires sticking out. It terrified the unwitting customers. Some got scared and called the bomb squads, while one actually blew up a news rack and caused quite a ruckus before people realized what it was all about!

Every book that Oprah Winfrey used to talk about on her talk show became a bestseller. So Pontiac decided to use her popularity to market its cars. It teamed up with Oprah and one day all the audiences on her show got a free Pontiac. It did create a lot of buzz as everybody talked about Oprah’s generosity of giving a car to her audience; but not many remembered the brand; add to that the anger of the people who received the free gift when they were asked to pay a huge tax for it. The idea crashed. Some crazy ideas may actually be crazy. Implement them with caution.


It pays to think different. As Bob Thacker of the company OfficeMax says, “Don’t make ads. Make news.” This philosophy has ensured that he spends much lesser in advertising as compared to his competitors but always catches everybody’s attention, in spite of his business being most boring. An office supply store may not be interesting but its marketing can be. During Christmas, it created a website that allowed customers to turn themselves into elves. “Elf yourself” became a hit with people sending their animated ‘elf’ avatars to their family and friends. It got 17 million unique visitors in the first year (2007) and the idea still works!

Quoting from the very famous ad of Apple, which marked the return of Steve Jobs, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people, who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

So go ahead and let go, fear not to do the crazy stuff, your crazy idea could change the world!

Do not worry if you are different. Say it with pride, “I am crazy and I love it”.


Thursday, August 25, 2011
We all love ‘Anna’! He seems to have united India and its youth. But is India really one, especially when it comes to business? This is one country where all the laws of marketing will fail, because it’s so diverse. If you have just one theory, then it will not take you anywhere. India changes every 200 km. Yes, a few basics remain the same across India, but a lot changes too. For starters, language changes (we have 192 official languages and dialects), culture changes, traditions and festivals change, food habits change. If this is not enough, think about it – even the geography and political views change. Yes, it is vast, but it is not an easy market. Only the hardy marketers will be able to survive and thrive here.


A lot of multinationals have come into India but failed – not because their products were not good, but because they failed to understand India’s culture. Globalisation has been the new trend, but ‘standardisation’ will not work always. As a marketer, you need to be sensitive to each culture’s identities and its unique regional preferences and customise your product offerings.

Our local markets are not barren as many multinationals thought. There are very strong players in almost every local market. Take the case of Kellogg’s. Apart from the taste not really matching the Indian palette (we like to put warm milk with sugar in our cereals, unlike the west that has it with cold milk), it under estimated the presence of local competitors like Mohun cornflakes (priced lesser than Kellogg’s) and Champion (whose price is almost half as that of Kellogg’s). Retail chains may never be able to understand the bonhomie that people share with their local kirana shops or the Mom & Pop stores as they are popularly called in the West. They share a bond and enjoy a mutual level of trust (giving things even on credit to their favorite customers) that big retail chains will never be able to enjoy. CavinKare challenged the multinationals in various segments. Earlier, it was Clinic shampoo and Fair & Lovely fairness cream (both from HUL) that were touted as the only good options. But homegrown brands like CavinKare are giving them a tough fight. CavinKare used sachets to sell its shampoos. It understood that the consumer was not willing to buy a whole bottle. But a small sachet was a luxury she could indulge in. [Today, 40% of the shampoo market consists of sachet buyers.] It used India’s weakness for ayurvedic products and ensured that its fairness cream Fairever – with saffron and milk – promised not just fairness but also good skin, and quickly cornered a significant chunk of the market share from the giant HUL and its brand Fair & Lovely. So strong has been this positioning that it made Fair & Lovely change its positioning from “badle aap, badle zindagi” to “gorepan se kahi zyaada, saaf gorapan”, meaning “not just fairness but a clear skin too”. CavinKare understood the Indian consumer and her changing needs, and this homegrown brand has become a formidable competitor today.

Going the ayurveda way, Emami too has managed to keep the biggies out of the way with unique Indian brands like Boroplus, Navratan oil and Fair & Handsome cream, that command a significant market share today. Marico’s Parachute oil is way ahead of HUL’s Nihaar. Agreed. Products like hair oil are distinctly Indian and MNCs may not have an edge here, but even when it comes to products like toothpaste and hair color, our Indian brands are doing a pretty good job! Dabur toothpaste is giving Colgate and HUL a tough fight. In the hair color sector, Godrej still has the largest market share (more than 30%),with L’Oreal coming a distant second (a market share of 19%).

Just because a brand has a foreign tag is no guarantee that it will be perceived as superior. It needs to match the local sensibilities too. KFC entered India with its American menu of chicken wings and wraps in Bangalore. The Indian consumer did not identify with it and it had to pack its bags and leave. In 2004 when it did come back it had a vegetarian menu, rice meals and Indianised chicken recipes. It survived.

Tupperware designed a beautiful ergonomically sound, rectangle spice box for the Indian housewife. It bombed. She was used to a round one for years and however good the rectangle box it did not work for her.

Marketers with a keen sense of observation have succeeded here. Maybe not many people can afford an Omega or a Rolex, but people love to own a good watch, and no one grabbed this opportunity better than Titan. It realised that the only watches available in India for the low-end were poor in quality and lacked after-sales services or even warranties. Today, Titan dominates the watch market and offers very good quality watches with warranties and service networks for not just the consumers at the low-end but also, pure gold watches for the ones with deeper pockets. This local hero is a big, dominant player.

These local champions have overcome all obstacles and have made their own roads. If Indian roads were not good, then Tata Motors came up with cars and trucks that had a strong and rigid suspension system. Not state of the art, but its vehicles had easy maintenance. Poor infrastructure could not deter Amul from going ahead and conquering the market. If farmers could not reach out to the company, then the company decided to go to them. Amul is an amalgamation of more than 13,000 cooperatives. It installed Automatic Milk Collection Systems in the villages, where farmers went and deposited their milk. It was immediately measured for volume and fat content and the farmer was paid instantly. It worked well for both the parties, and till date, Amul rules the Indian markets. Open your refrigerator and you will find the Amul butter packet there too!

The reason some Indian brands have become so strong is that they have understood this country and its problems well, and have found innovative ways to work around them. ITC (which began operations as an MNC in India in 1910, but whose ownership has progressively Indianised over the years) – has been in India for close to 100 years now and has understood its problems like no one else has. It realised that farmers had no access to markets or any information about markets. So it installed a PC in the house of the largest farmer in the village, providing him and the rest of the village, a window to the world. This not just improved the knowledge and awareness of the farmers, but made them fall in love with ITC. Any competitor would find it tough to break this bond. It also ensured that ITC got a steady supply of good quality soybean for its processing plant.

It takes just one strong homegrown brand to shut out a huge multinational. Only those have got it right can do so.


While many MNCs faltered because some assumed the Indian market was behind their home market, or thought it was not yet ready for superior products, other failures thought that the “foreign” tag would be enough to attract the consumers. Thus they became myopic and failed to adapt or innovate. Such brands failed or were forced to leave the Indian market, even as so many local brands filled the void. However, there have been a whole lot of MNCs who have kept their eyes open and survived. They realised that the product could be made in any part of the world but it was important that the product be “Made FOR India” for it to succeed in this market.
McDonalds knows that food is the most culturally sensitive product, and everywhere it has gone, it has ensured that its menu is customised to suit Indian tastes. Pizza Hut has a full-vegetarian restaurant in places like Gujarat et al, where the population is mostly Jains. Nowhere in the world will you find another only vegetarian Pizza Hut. LG believes not just in localisation but micro-localisation. Its microwaves have an idli mould for the south- Indian market, and a plate for heating kulchas for the north. It sells bright colored refrigerators in Punjab, for it does not get stained easily with the strong spicy and oily cooking of that region. Samsung’s phones now have an Indian calendar too. Perfetti Van Melle knew its old distribution system was weak, so it created its own network of 5000 distributors, did not give up on the rural market and today, is way ahead of competitors. Hyundai saw that most foreign car manufacturers were selling their old models in India. It entered with new models. It even customised the Santro to suit Indian roads. It used its technical expertise, which the local manufacturers did not have and today, it holds the number 2 spot in the automarket – just behind Maruti, which has been in this market for 25 years.


As these homegrown brands learnt the hard way to survive in developing markets like India, they found a whole new set of business opportunities opening up for them in other developing markets. These markets had similar problems and opportunities. So Tata Motors found that its vehicles were in demand in many African countries where the infrastructure was not good either. ICICI Bank and many others too saw an opportunity to do business in the emerging markets of Sri Lanka, Africa, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia et al. They have mastered the art of functioning and adapting in difficult markets, and are thriving like never before in these places. These new emerging markets are the future of business, and with markets of the developed world shrinking, it is only those companies who can do business in these very markets that will survive and thrive. The MNCs of the developed world are suddenly realising that the companies they once brushed aside as small homegrown brands, have become the new and powerful multi -national giants of the emerging markets.

India is diverse and difficult. But it has proven to be an apt training ground for its homegrown brands, to prepare themselves for the future. Those who have succeeded and survived here, will be able to survive anywhere, after all there is no place in the world like India!


Thursday, August 11, 2011
This is a brand that has made the world sit up and take notice, for not only is it worth millions, but it also teaches us important lessons in Brand Building. The day she changed her name from Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta and rebranded herself as Lady Gaga, a star was born, both for the music world and the business world. Single handedly, this ‘Lady’ has shown the world how to build a brand and how to do business in today’s crowded market place.


Lady Gaga is not just a singer, she is the way of doing business in the future. If you want to ensure that your brand will survive in 2025, it’s time to learn some quick lessons from the Lady. She understands the system the best.

The business model of the future has some new rules now. However, some ground rules never change. For starters, your product has to be good. Everything depends on this. Like all good brands, she first ensured that her product is good. Yes, her music is good and she can sing. She works hard on her lyrics, writes them, conceptualizes the music, the video and the costumes. Working on her piano, she ensures that her “core product” i.e. her music is of great quality. We all know one simple fact; no amount of brand building will do you good if your product is not world class. Secondly, you need to understand your audience very well. You need to keep a finger on the pulse of the audience. No one has been able to understand the market the way she does.

She knows what excites them and what intrigues them. Many may find her costumes outlandish, but they work for her and her fans wait for her next appearance, just to see what it is that she would wear next. Whatever she does, she has them eating out of her hands. The third lesson one learns from this entertainer is the benefit of staying “in-the-news” all the time. This is not an option, but it’s a necessity of today.

In today’s market place, if you are ignored, you are doomed. That is one thing this Lady has mastered. She cannot be ignored. Every appearance of hers is well thought of and crafted. Be it a bird’s nest, a model of the solar system on her head, or be it her meat dress, she never fails to grab attention. In fact, she will go to any extent to grab attention. In one of her interviews, she recalled an incident where, during her early days of struggle, she was playing at a bar (in USA) filled with drunken NYU students and no one paid a hoot to what she was playing. She says, “I started playing in underwear at the piano,” and suddenly everyone was looking at her and listening to her song.

Just creating a buzz is not enough; you need to know the right places to create the buzz. The audience of the future will be spending a lot of time in cyberspace. Whenever Lady Gaga makes an appearance, she does it with one intention – to create the maximum buzz there. With over 145 million blogs in cyberspace, more than 50,000 new blogs being created everyday and over one million new blog posts being posted each day, the internet is a very crowded place today. To get noticed, to be written about by maximum people, requires a very sharp marketing mind. Gaga has her moves scripted so well, for she knows exactly how to get talked about. Just a great product will not get you noticed. You need to get the tongues wagging. Gaga cares not whether or not you like her, all she cares aboutis the degree of buzz that every act of hers will generate. While she works on her music, she meticulously works on how to make clips that would be lapped up by YouTube, how to dress and what to speak, so that the twitter world will start chattering! Brands too have to ensure that if they want to survive, they must have a strong presence in the cyber world, for the audience of the future is going to be here.

Her every act is a practiced, well prepared and well targeted marketing gimmick, to help build the Lady Gaga Brand. She obsesses about every little detail and it pays. Businesses of tomorrow have to remember, that if their products are not being talked about, they would disappear soon, however good their quality.


To be constantly talked about, you need to keep doing new and different things. Your brand needs to keep innovating all the time to grab that “top-of-the-mind” awareness in the consumer’s mind. Be it Madonna, or Kishore Kumar, or Lady Gaga or Big B. They all kept experimenting, kept changing, kept reinventing themselves and dared to do things others would not. They survived. Probably a lot more talented artists didn’t.

There is no perfect recipe for success. In today’s market place, brands need to move quickly. They need to know what’s cool, what’s new, and change themselves accordingly. At Cannes 2011, in June, Publicis & Contagious introduced a new concept called the “Five Percent Club”. They urged brands to take risks and invest 5 percent of their media spends into something different, something creative, outrageous and not just depend on the mundane, 30 second advertising commercial to build their brands. Heineken found a new way of engaging viewers during a football game. No, they did not just advertise, but introduced an interesting iPhone application, which rewarded viewers with points (that they could redeem later) every time they guessed the winner correctly before the game ended.

To survive, one needs to change their way of thinking. The companies of tomorrow will only be those who are willing to scrap conventional ideas, who are willing to try out new stuff and most importantly, who are willing to fail – just like Gaga who has never been spotted in an ordinary pair of jeans ever. She is always dressed to suit her image, for every second she is doing some different stuff – with just one purpose – to be noticed. Your marketing plan too should be such that every penny spent is for the purpose of making your brandstand distinctly apart from the competitor. Get noticed, you will get customers.

Until now, it was the job of the advertisers and marketers to change the audience. Before 1948, diamond rings were not synonymous with engagement or marriage the world over. Then came a campaign, “A Diamond is Forever,” and changed our thinking forever. Even in India, marriages used to be traditionally associated with gold jewellery, but De Beers, with its intelligent advertising changed that too. By linking the eternity of a diamond (it’s the hardest substance on Earth) to the eternity of a bond, it changed cultures. While everybody in America was manufacturing, marketing and selling long, sleek cars, the VW Beetle changed the people’s perceptions with the help of its “Think Small” ad campaign. Santa Clause used to be depicted as a skinny, stern, and scary figure, until Coca Cola created the chubby, cute and cherry Santa, and changed the perceptions of the world. All sports shoes were more or less similar until Nike changed it all. It is impossible to differentiate vodka on the basis of mere taste, but Absolute differentiated its product on the basis of its unique advertising and created a niche market where none existed. Marketers have changed audiences and their perceptions, but this new generation of customers is different & marketers need to change their ways to adapt to this audience.

Times are changing fast and so are the rules of marketing. Today, you need to stand out, shout out, and look out (for new trends) or else be prepared to be shut out (forgotten) by the consumers. The biggest fear for a brand is if it fails to get attention. Lady Gaga and other shrewd marketers know only one success principle, “Love me or hate me, but you can’t ignore me.”