AdStand: Gandhi, Amazon and Commerce

 

This has been an interesting week with two controversies that broke out of nowhere. First involved Khadi, Gandhi and Modi. The second was about Amazon selling doormats and flip-flops with images if Indian flag and Gandhiji’s pictures, not in India though.

 

This week KVIC released calendar and diary, which had pictures of PM spinning the Charkha instead of Bapu. The picture of Bapu spinning Charkha is iconic and is almost a symbol of what the Father of Nation stood for. The outrage on social media was enormous. Reportedly even the PM was not impressed by what KVIC had done. One argument that was given out was that Modi is a bigger brand name then Gandhiji and has made a significant impact to the sale of Khadi in India.

The question then is this: is either the PM of the Father of the Nation a brand name? Brand names are transactional. There is always a give and take involved with them. Without the layer of commerce and transaction a brand is just a method of recognition.

For me both the icons belong to the whole country and have no connection with being a brand. They espouse a certain symbology that has wider meaning than narrow commercial interests. Khadi can do with both the icons coming together to create a narrative that is uniquely Indian. Remember an American Denim brand can take khadi and launch ultra expensive pair of trousers and meet with commercial success.

Khadi needs a consistent brand building effort; it is an icon of India’s cultural heritage. What it needs is more contemporary image, something that may not get crafted by merely replacing one icon with another without changing the symbology. May be there is a lot that PM can give to Khadi.

 

The second controversy was about Amazon Canada selling doormats with Indian Flag and then Amazon selling Flip-Flops with Gandhi’s image. Both created a flurry of activity on social media with the External Affairs Minister leading the attack on Amazon.

We can debate whether the attack was an over reaction, and whether the might of Government could have been used to exert pressure on Amazon to remove the offending products from sale. When it comes to commerce, louder the noise wider the impact.

There are some lessons that Amazon can learn from Facebook which has a fairly stringent community guidelines about the kind of stuff that can be posted. Many of these are automated and FB bars using from posting stuff.

There are countries that have no qualms when the national icons are used for commerce, like USA allows the graphics of its flag to be used commercially, but we in India don’t. In the hyper connected world Amazon has no option but to live by the rules that have been set by various countries. Using global icons like Gandhi for commerce also falls in the same category, especially when the product becomes offensive.

 

Using icons of national importance for commerce is always a tough thing to do. Culturally India keeps commerce and national icons fairly insulated from each other. When Khadi uses Gandhi’s images it uses the images to build on the rich heritage of Indian and values India stands for. The imagery is of defiance, determination, and walking on a self-created path. We don’t use the national symbols fir commerce for we keep them at a higher pedestal than mere transactions.

These are lessons that are not easy to learn for those who are not seeped into India.

Let the PM endorse Khadi, but let him do it in newer more contemporary ways. Let him show the new path of discovery and determination.

Original Published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/01/ad-stand-gandhi-amazon-and-commerce/

AdStand: The Gender Balance In Advertising

 

On the New Year eve, the act that happened in Bangalore shocked the nation. There were men caught on camera groping women and misbehaving. The reaction from political class was on expected lines, blaming the western culture and the usual unseen monsters. The outrage this time was serious and intense, this forced the CM of Karnataka to acknowledge the problem and apologise.

This one incident forced me to think why we in advertising cannot change the narrative. There are some outlier brands that are talking of gender sensitivity, but most brands are about playing the dominant societal codes in their communication. Brands often do not reflect the progressive mindset, they reflect the dominant ones, and this helps them be seen positively by the mainstream consumers.

The question then to debate is this: what happens if the brands decide to relook at most of the dominant codes they push in advertising. What happens if the brands actually push the new gender sensibilities? Maybe the brands can become the drivers of new sensibilities. If the advertising campaigns can drive the new sensibilities, the consumers will connect in stronger, engaging ways.

The first thing that needs to change is the way mothers are portrayed. The mothers are always the nurturer, the provider of food, the ones who take care of hair, teach beauty tips to daughters, get evaluated for making fluffy chapattis and see love soar because they can make tea. Change this scenario. Let mothers only be seen with sons. The conversation between mother and sons is about being responsible, about being responsive, about knowing how house is run, discovering that there are no demons in kitchen. The conversation can go beyond mother and son to between mother-son-daughter. This is the conversation where the son actually listens to life’s truth as told by sister. There is a huge change in perspective that advertising can drive. From noodles to atta to tea to milk additives, mothers can drive a change that needs to be driven.

The second thing that needs to change is the entire alpha male portrayal. Why should men be in control in categories like automobiles and deodorants?

A deodorant is the category where man gets to choose girl or girls depending on his sex appeal that is enhanced exponentially. The narrative can change. If deodorants is about sexual attraction than the attraction can be crafted in reverse. The choice moves from men to women, who chose based on factors far more than pure machismo. If the category is built on sexual attraction, then the category can build narratives that are driven from women’s point of view. Male superiority works for the alpha male, but also becomes the wrong narrative for the wider society. This is true even more of automobile category. Here the male becomes attractive thanks to a set of two or more wheels. It’s easy to move the needle and make women attractive thanks to two or more wheels. There are many more things that can change in this category, all with the underlying theme of male superiority.

Financial category has always portrayed father in control, and often the context is of father and family with son playing a prominent role. This is a category where the predominant roles of males need to be tempered and balanced to create a far more balanced narrative. This has implications beyond gender balance, more so because the category has poor penetration among women.

The issue of subservience of women in society is deep rooted. These are realities that find their way into advertising and through ads into popular culture without trying too hard. The spiral continues, the perceptions get hardened and pop culture moves in certain direction, doesn’t evolve to a new look. With the deep-rooted biases against women now being played out in open in the biggest of cities in India, we need systemic intervention to change.

Advertising has the power to drive change, advertising can create new reality. Its time that we collectively stepped up and make this small change in narrative. The change cannot be driven by an odd outlier brand.

Original published here http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/01/ad-stand-the-gender-balance-in-advertising/

AdStand: Imperial Blue, AVT and Panasonic

2017 is here and so are some new commercials. Last year had its moments, but largely it was a lukewarm year. For me last year was about Kalki’s Printing Machine, Kenzo’s awesome long format ad, Nike’s demolition of the iconic Just do it line for Olympics, the quirky Swedish Tourism Campaign, and Ariel’s interesting Share the Load campaign.

 

The Imperial Blue and continuing story

Imperial Blue has built a very nice narrative around Men will be Men. The series of commercials the brand has done have hilarious take on how testosterone driven males often lose their ability to judge or be nice when they see an attractive female. The diamond buying husband because he missed the anniversary or the guy pretending to own that big black car for he saw a girl or wanting to go up and down in lift with a girl around, the brand has played the male desires in a far better way than say Axe.

The new commercial has a girl walking into the aircraft and two men looking at her with empty seat between them. If you know Imperial Blue as a brand, then you know what will happen in the commercial from here. After five years may be expect a little more from the brand, of it not being so predictable. It’s the predictability that takes away from the commercial. Many-many years ago, before YouTube and Facebook came into being, Lakme did a commercial with exactly similar setting and a far better take on the single attractive girl in the aircraft.

 

Tea and AVT

I normally would not have noticed this ad, but for the PR the brand has done for the commercial. This is the usual tea commercial. The lazy son on a rocking chair wants a cup of tea, that only mother can make. Mother wants the newlywed daughter-in-law to make the tea. And the secret to good tea is the brand. May be we just sat in a time machine and travelled back to 70s. Every stereotype that can be thought of about husband, wife and mother-in-law are at play here. Coming on back of campaigns like Ariel’s #ShareTheLoad and even Amazon’s Don’t Adjust, this one has no hope. With more and more husbands entering kitchen, this one has no hope. May be the tea needs to give a jolt of inspiration.

 

Panasonic Smart Phones and the wanderlust

Cell phones are very product centric in their communication, they are a lot about the features and technical mumbo jumbo, or they are about camera and pictures. Panasonic has taken the camera angle to create a new social campaign #LiveYourDreams. This is a simple sweepstake with a rather longwinded film that directs you to a website with a very simplistic non-involving way of participating. Both the film and the contest are disjoint and archaic. How does Panasonic solve the issue of overworked female executive who wants to travel? The process of winning a sweepstakes by getting more likes is five year old. Apple with its Shot on iPhone campaign has taken the camera game many notches up. There is an idea in what Panasonic thought if, it needed better craft to become something that catches the imagination.

 

Here’s wishing everyone a blessed 2017, we need to make it the most rocking year. India has taken a bold step to break from past. As Indians if we can accept new monetary habits, then brands can do with fresh, exciting narratives.

Original published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/01/adstand-imperial-blue-avt-and-panasonic/

 

AdStand: 2016 The Year of Do Good

This is the last AdStand of 2016, and this has been a roller coaster year. The year started with promise of being an extremely good year for advertising. Ecom wars truly came to India. Flipkart and Amazon fought pitched battle, Myntra gobbled up Jabong, more fashion startups got launched. The classified listing sites continued to push new messages. The year ended in a whimper with money going out of circulation. Demonetization was more than a bump, it was like a pause. What happened as fashion though were brands latching on to socially relevant messages in a big way.

 

Ariel Share the Load campaign is now part of advertising folklore. The Dad’s take on how he should have taught his son about sharing the load of household work was crafted very well and the message delivered with impact. Ariel has done campaigns earlier with similar messages, specially the one where the husband does laundry for his wife (kuch paane ke liye kuch dhona padta hai) but somehow the brands moved away from husband wife bonding and stayed in the functional washing cleanest zone. This campaign seems to have sparked a whole trend of brands creating more purposeful communication that go beyond mere functional messages. Not all were winners though.

Earlier this year Bournvita’s #ExamKiTayyari hit all the right notes in marks obsessed exam totting country. For a brand that was about excellence in studies too (Tan Ki Shakti, Man Ki Shakti) this was a remarkable departure. For a brand to use the School Principal as the protagonist and debunk the culture of marks is breaking many molds. This was even more path breaking then Ariel’s Share the Load campaign. The million plus views on YT alone tell you that the world sat up and clapped at the ad. For a brand built on loads of scientific babel about ADA and Vitamins, this is a welcome departure. Bournvita has a winner.

Hero Motors did a salute the soldiers’ ad immediately after the POK strike was built on the emotion of the moment. The ad is about a biker helping a soldier catch the bus by racing ahead of bus and stopping it. At almost 2 million views the ad was liked for the context it leveraged. This could have been a much better crafted ad. While the ad leveraged the mood of the nation and had a relevant social message, its script was flawed and could have been far more realistic. For brands to be riding the wave of purposeful messages, it is necessary to go beyond symbolism to create the relevant connect with the brand.

By the end of the year Amazon  released an ad that was dripping with goodness and was sugary sweet in its execution. While the message was socially relevant with the right insight, its execution was way too filmy, or way to TV Serialish to be impactful. This is often the issue with messages that need to be socially relevant, they need to go execute the message with certain class and intrigue. Amazon’s own Priest and Imam ad

rises many notches up in both craft and messaging. They broke through the goodness trap by building anticipation and heightening drama.

 

While there are brands that used large socially relevant messages, some did ride on to the wider societal issues, without being only about goodness in brand messaging.

Nescafe in India did a second commercial after the famous standup comic featuring an out of work cartoonist. They tapped into the wider issue of diminishing readership of newspaper and the cartoonist becoming an Internet sensation. Kohinoor Rice created a story about an Indian Boy and Pakistani Girl who do not agree upon anything. The differences in both countries are played out in the stereotypical way, and predictably they agree that Kohinoor is the best rice. The commercial refuses to rise above the ordinary narrative, despite having an international set up and aimed at global audiences.

In staying with socially relevant messages Tea-A-Me did the Tea for Trump  stunt by sending Donald Trump, the presidential candidate 4 years worth of Green Tea supply for him to drink green tea and soak in the goodness. Tea-A-Me is an unknown tea brand and despite the stunt has remained an unknown tea brand. The stunt though will be remembered for sometime, more so because Trump won the elections

 

In creating the messages that latch on to social goodness, brands need to start from the wider societal issue but then craft the appeal that makes it own able by the brand. This is a fairly challenging task and often the cause becomes bigger then the brand. Brands need to be intrusive in messaging, and by just remaining focused more on goodness, they can lose the ability to create the impact. For brands to truly leverage the goodness quotient, they need to do more then just create broadcast message.

This is not the easiest thing to do.

Original published here http://bestmediainfo.com/2016/12/ad-stand-2016-the-year-of-do-good/

AdStand: The diminishing power of impulse buying

Online shopping has changed many things. Things are available all the time, at the click of button and delivered instantaneously. This has killed the spontaneity of shopping. Earlier the brands used the point of payments to sell mints, razors, batteries, and in India candies. Even otherwise the joy of discovering something that wasn’t on the shopping list and buying it was an important part of the shopping expedition. Many a times consumers did pick up brands that they didn’t expect to buy on a whim and categories benefited from that behavior. With smart algorithms, shopping tips from the sites and suggested things to buy, the power of impulse has started to go down sharply.

 

 Shopping is now a lot about Like and Tags and Shares

There is a new filter that consumers now apply to shopping. This filter is of likes they will get on social media or the shares and comments they will have once they buy the brand. For instance the reason to buy a new cellphone is often how the circle of friends will react to the post and very little about how ‘I’ would feel about using the product.  Gaining approval and exerting influence are the new reasons to buy a brand and this is the factor that brands have to now factor in their communication strategies. Even trivial choices like the food to eat or movie to watch needs a pre-validation from friends and social circles. This is the new currency if digitally connected youth as digital conversations get ingrained in their lives, and this is where the influencers take over and impulse steps back.

 

Is trust then a big factor?

Trust is the result of impulse. While it sounds like trust and impulse don’t meet, this isn’t true. Most path-to-purchase start with impulse and repeat buys makes the impulse into habit. Its habit that eventually leads to trust. We trust those brands that we either buy often or we intend to buy in future. With new social buying driven far more from social pre-approval, the comfort of looking at the brand that is used by many stops becoming a motivating factor. In the digital scenario trust is really about fulfillment and not about usage experience. With a favourable delivery experience and acceptance from social peers, the whole trust game takes a new angle. This is a huge challenge for brands as poor delivery experience impacts the brand and not the site that delivered it, but a good delivery experience impacts the site and not the brand that was ordered. Brands will have to rewrite their strategies with trust becoming a less potent force to drive brand loyalty.

 

So then can brands be really single minded?

The diminishing importance of impulse is also diminishing the need for brands to be single minded. In the era of media proliferation brands pushed the same message across multiple channels to build same impression in minds. Has this started to change? In the earlier era of broadcast, it paid to be single minded. In the era if personal media, it pays to be intrusive.  If the message is not intrusive, the chances of it not being consumed are very large. If we look around, the biggest brands are not really single minded. Apple, Google, Amazon are far more than just one thing. They have crafted a wider narrative to overcome the pre-approval mindset of consumers. As the brands proliferate and media becomes personal, brands have to become more intrusive. Is the intrusion crafted with a single minded feature or a host of cleverly created connected features will be the difference between success and impending doom

 

Marketing theories in 2017 will need new editions, and some of it is a function of new consumer behaviours. Impulse is diminishing, the need for brands isn’t

Original published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2016/12/ad-stand-the-diminishing-power-of-impulse-buying

Adstand: Going cashless

In last one month or so, India has learnt two new words. Both can be treated as a stimulous, the response to both has a deep sense of patriotism. One is ‘surgical strike’; the other is ‘cashless’. The two are interconnected. It’s the surgical strike that has aided the rise of narrative of cashless.  Surgical strike has not made it to the brands’ arsenal as yet, cashless has.

We know that India loves cash. Our cultural reference to riches is golden chest with piles of cash in it. Our symbol of someone being rich is someone who sits on pile of cash and carries not just a golden hue, but wears a lot of real gold. With such cultural reference, its tough for brands to build narratives around being cashless. What is helping the brands is the context. The country has gone cashless, not by choice, but driven by circumstances.

 

Cashless is new tactical opportunity

Snapdeal is running large print ads for what they call ‘unbox cash free sale’. For all ecom brands sale is a strategic reason to advertise, unlike brick and mortar brands that treat sale as a tactical activity. The cash less sale is mere branding for another of many sales that Snapdeal keeps announcing. The promise of keeping the transactions alive even if you dint have cash is a but too brand speak. It would have made far better sense if they had nit made it so transactional. Did the brand miss a big opportunity by not being strategic about it?

Toyota is the other brand that has made cashless the theme of its advertising. Every day finance offers are tactical activities for an auto brand and that is exactly how Toyota has treated the subject. Car brands have offered 100% financing for a long time, even if they don’t offer 100% financing, they rarely accept cash. The brand has just used the plank to be in the current context. Make My Trip too has jumped on the wave of cash crunch, and like the others has just mentioned the word.

 

Government’s public service ads

Surprisingly it’s the Government ads that seem to be doing a better job of connecting the issue with how it impacts people’s lives. The series of radio ads detailing how phone can be used for everyday transactions are doing a good job. Government’s entire campaign is to connect with the lowest common denominator and instill a sense of confidence. The campaign may have started late, but does the job. The narrative currently for all the ads is instructional. All the ads are about one urban erudite person telling the other person about how they can make use of phone to transact. May be the next phase of ads will become more conversational and less instructional.

 

The windfall for wallet brands

The wallet brands have seen unprecedented growth. The wallet brands have responded by being aggressively building traction. In last two weeks, PayTM has stolen the lead. It has almost become the default mobile wallet brand. The three options that most merchants today give are Cheque, Card or PayTM. This is making life tough for Mobikwik or PayU or Freecharge or even Mastercard who have been spending money. As the category moves on and becomes big, brands will have to occupy distinct spaces. This is the time when the category is in infancy and often the early leaders tend to become stronger. Its time for all the mobile wallet brands to step up. The challenge for them is tougher with PayTM launching payments bank and UPI becoming the new protocol of payments. The category called mobile wallets itself will mutate into something else. What will become even stronger is payment on the go. This is where the opportunity for brands exists. This is the edge they need to build; this is the long-term asset they can build.

May be there is a new wave of communication coming from wallets.

Today going cashless is driven by extraneous factors. Brands have the ability to impact culture, change behavior. Can they do the same with the need for cash?

Original published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2016/12/ad-stand-going-cashless/

 

AdStand: Branded Diwali

Diwali is great time for any brand. This is the only time when Indian consumers happily open up their purses, heartily shopping for brands across spectrum. The social media has become the platform for people to even announce what they bought, with people posting pictures of crowded markets, crowded malls, traffic jams and all the bargains they located. For the consumption society, Diwali is perfect festival; it’s a five-day long shopping festival with days dedicated to categories. There are auspicious reasons to buy bullion, buy clothes, buy appliances, buy sweetmeats, buy crackers, meet friends and exchange gifts. No wonder brands love Diwali.

 

The newspapers turned into flyers

Newspapers are well and truly alive for the marketing fraternity. This Diwali the newspapers got fatter, became so obese that delivery boys needed wheelbarrows to deliver them to every doorstep. The newspapers gleefully carried multiple jackets, gatefolds, reverse gatefolds and many more innovations that we may not have heard of. What is not alive and kicking were the brands and the ideas that they put out. Almost every brand turned large expensive ads into a list of things they have to offer. From Snapdeal to Amazon to Samsung to Sony, all the brands put out were Rangoli, Diyas and grids and grids of product listing. May be for brands the presence on print is bigger issue then what they put out as stimulus. I hope the consumers responded to each ad is large numbers. This Diwali, one thing was clear, there is no issue with the importance of print, the ideas on print is completely different story.

 

The season of giving?

Did the brands start their Diwali campaign hoping to go viral on Social Media? There cant be another reason for many brands to turn Diwali into a season of giving. Culturally we are not the most giving community. The consumerism driven society is more about consuming and less about sharing. If giving was such a big issue with consumers, then the anti cracker campaign would have been an unqualified success. Reliance Fresh and Surf Excel had almost similar messages; make lives of people around you happier. Both brands celebrate the goodness of those who are blessed with wealth and showcase their desire to share happiness. Pepperfry takes the same thought and celebrates the joy of sharing between two roommates, one of whom is senior of the other.  The battle of giving has been won by Big Bazaar. They have carried their Paper Patakha idea and given it a different spin. The celebration of Diwali with less fortunate bunch of children is very well crafted.

 

Celebrating Personal Relationships

Amazon stayed within the personal relationship space it has crafted and this Diwali is a story between father and daughter. Amazon does leave you with a lump in your throat, may be the insight is sharper, and may be the story is more heartwarming. Snapdeal stays within the zone of boxes and giving out box of Zindagi. Snapdeal stayed safe, the boxes didn’t light up the screen. One Plus did an indulgent long format film about homecoming, new beginning and video calling. OnePlus did manage to tug a few heartstrings through this commercial. Was there anything like OnePlus in the commercial? As a brand it celebrates rewriting rules, this film is like many others done in past. The Coke Diwali.  Homecoming film done a couple years back is far more heartwarming.

Not all brands were about giving

Its not that this Diwali most brands were on giving as a theme. Many brands were about pure indulgence and being unapologetic about it. Apart from Tanishq, almost every other brand was about being celebrating your own good fortune. Jabong turned self-indulgence into an almost new kind of social language. Jabong made its consumers selfish by turning them into a Festival. The #YouAreTheFestival campaign is the other end of spectrum of what most brands created this Diwali. Did Jabong go too far in celebrating the sense of personal importance?

 

Netflix, what is wrong with you?

Netflix has a MBA problem. MBA is Manufacturers Belly Ache, the MBA syndrome is at full display by Netflix. The best it could do was to mock the festival and ask people to watch Netflix. As someone said on Twitter, “is this the best Netflix can do? Mock Diwali?”

Vimal Pan Masala (a category that is in all kind of wrong news) did the same with a rather tasteless Diwali ad. The line of crackers going off wishing people “Dumdar Diwali” was really the worse ad of this Diwali.

 

Now that India’s shopping festival is over, it will be interesting to watch if the brands stay in the zone of giving and build a longer narrative around it. Slipping into indulgent territory of self-importance is easy; staying in the self less territory is tough.

Original published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2016/11/ad-stand-branded-diwali/