BRANDING THE MAHABHARATA WAY!

Thursday, February 23, 2012
There is a new guy in the world of ‘brand ambassadors’ in advertising. He is a quirky little character named Mel, who suffers from an identity crisis, for he does not know whether he is milk or granola. To put it in short, Kraft has launched a new product ‘MilkBites’, which is actually granola bites baked in milk. It’s supposed to be for people who don’t have time for breakfast. But this MilkBite needs to be stored in a refrigerator, so it’s a ‘pre-made, refrigerated cereal’. It’s a complicated product, which required a different positioning; for here is a cereal, which has to be picked up from a refrigerator in a departmental store! So Kraft decided to use this strange positioning to its advantage and came up with the character Mel, who battles with low self-esteem and deals with identity issues (something we too battle with often!). The character Mel is turning out to be an interesting fellow as you get to know him better through various advertisements; where he tells the story of his confused life, and in the process, also tells us how he is to be consumed.

MilkBites is going to be Kraft’s biggest launch this year and it’s using an underdog to win market share. No great stars, no super achievers. We have a little confused fellow as the brand mascot of Kraft. He is a misfit who has a sad story to tell.

Why would Kraft choose such a character? Think about it. On a TV channel full of happy mascots, here is a sad character, a misfit. As a result, Mel is instantly noticed. More importantly, he is instantly sympathized with, for we all love the underdogs. This is human psychology and it remains the same, whichever part of the world you go to. Everybody sides with the underdogs. Kraft probably is placing its bet on a winning strategy. Look around you and you will find that quite surprisingly, the underdog always wins!

THE CHARM OF A FAIRY TALE

Go back to your childhood and think of all the stories you loved and chances are that most of them were around a character who no one expected to win, but he/she fought against all odds and pulled off the most unlikely of victories. Cinderella became a princess. Rapunzel was united with her parents and even found her Prince Charming after all the hardships. These are very old tales. Yet, till date, they do not fail to inspire, not just us but even Hollywood and Bollywood. Cinema is cinema because of the underdog. Be it James Braddock from the movie The Cinderella Man, an impoverished ex-prize fighter who went on to win against all odds and ultimately even take on the heavyweight champion of the world; or be it Vijay Dinanath Chauhan of Agneepath, who, in spite of all difficulties, managed to avenge the killing of his father – our hearts always reach out for the weak. Julia Robertsmade us fall in love with her as the underdog in the movie Pretty Woman, where life gave her a second chance to make things better. Be it Seabiscuit, Karate Kid, 3 Idiots, Taare Zameen Par, Guru or Koi Mil Gaya; we love to watch the small guy win. This is a story line that always works. This is a strategy that never ever fails.

Take sports, as an example. Today, there is only one player in the USA who is making waves and is being talked about today. He was a star basketball player at Harvard, but after graduation (in 2010), no one showed interest in him. He spent most of the season at the end of the bench and his career seemed to be in the doldrums. But Jeremy Shu-How Lin never let go of his dreams and stuck on.

Then something magical happened this month (February). His team New York Knicks was losing and the coach decided to bring Lin in the game against Jersey Nets. This was the ‘golden ticket’ he was waiting for and he dazzled everybody by scoring 25 points and leading his team to victory. He repeated the same magic in the next match, and the next. The man from nowhere has built a frenzy around himself. He has created a new phenomena called ‘Linsanity’. He is a hero who appeared from nowhere. His story is inspiring kids to believe in their dreams, in who they are and to keep going; even when the going is tough. It’s similar to the storyof the movie ‘Rocky’, where Sylvester Stallone made it, in spite of all the odds against him.

THE CHARM OF A CHALLENGER

When a loser wins, it catches our attention like no other. This is one strategy that is bound to attract the attention of the consumer who would look at you in a more endearing way than otherwise and all intelligent brands have used this ‘underdog positioning’ strategy to pull your heartstrings and eventually your purse strings! Be it Apple, Amazon or Virgin, we all know about their humble beginnings, for they have always been very vocal about it and never ever lost an opportunity to remind us where they came from. Come to think of it, our most loved brands actually started in a garage. Harold Matson and his friend started making picture frames in a garage in 1945; and to be cost effective, used the scrapes to make dollhouses. They soon found that their dollhouses were selling better than their picture frames and soon started focusing on toys. Their company Mattel Inc. is today the highest grossing toy company in the world! Bill and Dave founded HP in a garage. That garage is today known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley and HP is today a huge company. William and his friend Arthur started making a small engine to power a bicycle from a small shed in 1901. Today, their company is the most iconic motorcycle brand of the world. William Harley and Arthur Davidson founded Harley Davidson. Microsoft may be big, but there is something different about Apple. Maybe that’s because it also started in a garage just like Amazon, Google and Disney. When you know they started from nothing, you like them much more, you believe in them much more and you forgive them much more easily for their mistakes.

In a world of cutthroat competition, this is one strategy that brands should use to connect better with their consumers and win their respect. We all look up to and appreciate someone who, despite all odds, puts up a fight. It’s much like William Wallace from the movie ‘Braveheart’, who as a child watched his father being killed and later saw his wife being murdered. This simple farmer decided to fight against injustice and lead his people to victory. Though he too was captured and beheaded; but his last words were ‘Freedom’, which motivated his people even after his death and helped them overthrow the king. These stories are what make life go on. These are stories that get woven into the very fabric of life andmotivate generations. If your brand has such a story to tell and has not told it yet, it’s time you reworked on your branding strategies and shouted out loud about how you became a hero from a zero.

When a small company takes on the giant, there is a different thrill in that. There is a unique charm associated with ‘challenger brands’. Come to think of it, even our mythological heroes were the underdogs. The Pandavas were the underdogs in the epic Mahabharata, and the story of their victory over the Kauravas is so mesmerizing that it has transcended all barriers of borders and language and has been adapted and recreated in so many lands and in so many languages.

The story of the underdog has a universal appeal, which very few stories have. It’s the little guy, the one with faults, who we like more than the ‘perfect man’. No wonder then, that for many, it’s Batman who is the real superhero and not Spiderman or Superman. This is so because Batman is human and he has his weaknesses that he has mastered. He is a hero not because he was born with special superpowers, but because he worked hard to develophis physical and mental capacities. He is the best detective and the greatest scientist who does not ‘fight off’ his opponents, but uses his intelligence to outwit them. He is someone we can aspire to be. He is someone who dares to fail; dares to dream. He is similar to our corporate heroes like Richard Branson, Narayana Murthy & Steve Jobs who started at ground zero, and through sheer hard work and courage, made it big.

Similarly, we all love the brands that are ready to fight the biggies, believe in something and have a vision. We like brands that have the courage to put up a fight; like the Pandavas, who fought the war against the mighty Kauravas, because it was the right thing to do. We get inspired by stories of underdogs. So if you want to stand out and get noticed; if you want to be loved and idolised; let the world know your ‘underdog story’, for that is the best marketing strategy. The Mahabharata did it, so can you!