AdStand: Communicating the ‘Hawa’

Fans, Coolers and Air Conditioners are three vastly different categories. They target different audiences, different needs and different life stage; yet there is something common to all three categories. Increasingly the appeals across categories have started to overlap, with fans becoming like air conditioners, coolers becoming like air conditioners and air conditioners becoming more like air purifiers.

Fans is a tough category. There is very little rational difference that can be created, and despite sameness the brands have to create a difference. Orient won the game by clever alphabet soup calling it PSPO. They built the appeal so effectively that eventually they mocked people who didn’t know PSPO. The literally blew away the competitors.

Symphony, the original organized sector cooler brand added to the category by claiming to keep India cooler.

Ills of summer, sweat, corners of room that received no draft of air and motors that were all powerful was what built the category.

What is happening today?

“Hawa” became the driver for Havels, its not alone now

Havel’s has to be credited with changing the narrative for Fans. They were the ones who used “Hawa” in the broader societal sense. They were clever to find ills of society, like this latest tackles things like black money . Changing “Hawa” can change the ills of society and the Havels is the fan that changes Hawa is a very tenuous connection, one that Havel’s has made successfully. They have stayed away from complicated product demos, product claims and an over the top voice that sometimes becomes a part of brand narrative. They might have had some con troversy and bad blood with their take on reservations

(Is reservation a social ill?) they have largely been very good at connection a societal issue with fan. Havels as a brand also has been super successful in keeping the context of the advertising very middle class massy India, and that too adds to the overall appeal of advertising.

Standard Fans has gone in similar territory with Alia Bhat, but not as brand that hinges on societal issues, but as someone who changes the domestic look. The ad  featuring Alia Bhat living in an ultra stylish, uber cool pad but a messy pad is surprised to receive a call from her mom that she is coming to see her. Alia bursts into frenzy cleaning the house, brooming and mopping and spilling the water all over the floor. It takes flick of switch and the fan magically makes the water dry up. Does the tale work? By keeping the context set within home of a celebrity and building upmarket cues, it takes a lot away from the brand. Too much of gloss for a fan brand, and making it hook to ‘energy of young India’ may leave people wonder more.

The original tech babble brand has changed

For sometime the original PSPO brand built itself as the smarter fan with MS Dhoni as its brand ambassador. Fans with remote control, colours, power saving became the dominating theme for the brand. It has now moved on to happiness, making fan almost like almighty. The ad is more like a homage to Dhoni then a commercial for Fan. From building the legend of Dhoni to fan being the one that showers happiness when you look up us a rather tenuous connection and a big leap of faith. Next time don’t look up to heavens, just look up to ceiling

Cooler brands and air filtration

Its taken Air Conditioners a lot of time and effort to build air purification as the differentiator. LG built healthy air for long; Samsung even had a Virus Doctor. Its time for AC’s to vacate the perch and hand it over to coolers.

Take a look at Symphony , they have added many layers to the cooler communication by building on the air purification story. There are filters, blockers and solution to outside pollution and irritants that make you go dough cough. For the low-end cooler category, this is a very clever way of building relevance for the brand.

Voltas has combined the ‘Hawa’ with purification to make your home fresh like Hill Station (remember Electrolux AC ad?). Voltas has taken a tongue in cheek narrative of troubles of a young couple urging them to build a love pad with Voltas Cooler and has done it well

Young Couples are in Vogue

If Voltas Cooler was about young couples trying to find a little space of solitude, Crompton is about a young couple setting up a new home. Crompton has done a great job of building the context of young couples setting up homes that reflect their love for each other. We can debate if the husband had to be the workaholic on his computer and wife cleaning up home is a bit stereotypical and what if they had pushed the envelope.

There are overlaps in appeals, fans, coolers, air conditioners are merging into one another. The coming of air purifiers as a category will make the air more muddled.

As the last thing, I would like you to watch this. We are better then Fan, and better than AC. Colloquially Vego is vague. Is this ad in that zone?

Original published here:

AdStand: Breaking stereotypes or strengthening them?

Celebrity is the most commonly employed brand strategy to stand out and build image. In this hyper connected world, the strategy is to find a provocative social problem and create a branded message around it. There have been a slew of brands from telecom to fashion that have used progressive feministic appeals to cut through clutter.

Latest to join the battle is Biba.

Biba is an ethnic wear brand for women; its early days were about being the official partners to movies and dressed up many a star. End of last month it released a campaign – #changeisbeautiful – about breaking a few stereotypes and creating a new convention. It uses adusky protagonist, questions conventions and establishes new conventions. It has been rewarded with thirteen million plus views on the web. Clearly it has been a viral hit and has generated a conversation.

The commercial starts with food (how can I marry a person over samosa) and ends over food (does the groom know how to cook?). Somehow in our progressive brand worlds, cooking and dusky skins take centrestage. Biba while having good intentions and wanting to get into progressive conversations actually stays in the conventional zone. To a certain extent it is comical in its characterization, and that takes away from the hard-hitting appeal it could have had. Biba I feel missed more than it scored.

I would like Biba to look at these two TVCs from Bharat Matrimony. The first commercial is about husband seeing off wife who has had an opportunity of lifetime, and the second is about the husband being the critic of the wife’s stage performance. These two are not viral hits on net, but are far more compelling and could easily fit the #changeisbeautiful narrative. Bharat Matrimony does not get into overt drama, or into a preachy mode and definitely stays away from Kitchen. Bharat Matrimony scores many points with its sensitive portrayal. The ads are about letting wives chase their passion, about giving wives the space they need, about husbands that stand by them, and all this is delivered with powerful portrayal. To me Bharat Matrimony broke the stereotypes that we in advertising have built over the years.

Brooke Bond tea’s latest transgender band is attempt in the same direction. Co-created with YRF, endorsed by Sonu Nigam, Brooke Bond has taken the initiative to further the cause of gender equality in India. The band’s first song is the cover version of Pharrell William’s global hit ‘Happy’. What the brand does well is to stay away from meddling with the overall construct of the narrative; it’s not overtly branded for a tea brand. What it does not achieve is true gender diversity conversation. It leaves the conversation in the known stereotypical zone. I hope as the initiative progresses, they actually do something about the problems of community and truly work towards generating equality. For me, it is an initiative that has the ability to grow into something very substantial for the brand.

The way to merge social stereotypes and have a hard hitting commentary about it has been shown by Kalki in this video.

Printing Machine, written and narrated by her, is a powerful statement on what today’s news media does to women. How everything is seen from sensationalizing angle, on how every event that happens will be used to create commerce.

Click click clika lika lik lik the tap on the lap goes zip zap is very much a commentary on how we in advertising sometimes mindlessly use social cause to create messages to be vain, progressive, forward thinking, when we are actually stuck in our own stereotypes. Remember this too is a commercial message from a brand of cosmetics, and that makes it super powerful.

original published here

Shocking, Bizarre or Strategically Sound?

Can any brand ever imagine that a billboard done by it four years back and displayed in one city would be remembered? The almost impossible was achieved by C Krishnaiah Chetty and Sons, a jeweller from Bengaluru. For those who may not remember, the billboard screamed, “Let the world see your family jewels”. Serious, no jokes. They put this in the main city square, big and bold. Internet hasn’t stopped laughing ever since.

Grabbing attention to become memorable is the reason brands advertise. Attention is a rare commodity, it is not easy to find. Memorability is even rarer. In the cacophony of brand messages, status updates, newsbreaks, cricket scores, football goals, news of bans, WhatsApp jokes, et al, how much can one remember?

Today, more so, brands have it tougher grabbing attention. With the rise of social media, consumers have more things to do and watching and commenting on ads is just one more activity. Is creating bizarre ads with over the top appeal the best way to gain attention? Does it always work for the brand?

Scotch Brite had a hilariously comical conversation between a woman and God and how God blessed the Scotch Brite instead of her as God was distracted. The TVC is designed to be comical and make the viewer laugh. Dish cleaning is not the most involved category; making the consumer excited about the category is not easy. If anything, the brand garnered attention and conversation.

Does this work in categories, which are not low involvement?

AskMeBazaar has a strange take on online shopping. With Farhan Akhtar as brand ambassador, the brand has a
more comical take on shopping, services and other stuff that the brand does. Instead of what could have been a very engaging take from the brand on shifting habits from offline to online, what we get is a bizarre caricature of the brand.

GreenPly has had a melody chocolate moment (Melody itni Chocolaty kaise hai) with its series on Ask Greenply, the
context setting has no connection with the question being raised or the connection with the category. Many years ago Asian Paints had an almost similar take on home painting services: that take was brilliant.

These are just a few examples of ads from categories that are high involvement, where the task of generating interest is tough and where the image of the brand matters in making the choice.

Today, with millions of messages consumed across the day, being able to make an impression has become difficult.
Perhaps that is the reason brands are getting funnier.

Bizarre, funny or not, I think there are some things that brands do need to keep in mind to get attention. These are classical, old world rules that still work in today’s day and age.

One: Brands solve a problem; the reason they exist is because they have a unique solution to every day’s boring, mundane issues. They have to be meaningful in the way they approach the issue at hand and have an outlook that makes the brand stand out. Brands are not always about being faster, taller, grander, sometimes the brands are about doing one thing, but doing that one thing in a manner that others don’t do.

Two: The brand has to have a wider perspective, has to have a purpose to exist. The brand’s purpose has to be more than the sum of features that it has, has to be more than the what, where and how issues that brands often communicate. Purpose is a wider belief that works for consumers in the ever-changing world. Purpose gives the brand a charter to live by, a sense of manifesto that they can adhere to, a belief system that makes the brand long lasting. Consumer attention is scarce and miniscule; a sharply defined purpose will always get her attention.

Over-the-top cheesy brand appeals are created to grab attention. There is nothing wrong with doing so till the time the brand stays true to its purpose. When the brand loses focus and cracks jokes for the sake of cracking jokes, it becomes difficult for the brand to stand out.

Three: No brand can survive without the context. The context has to be real, relevant and something that makes consumers look at the brand. Often in being comical or strange or bizarre, brands lose their sense of context and then stand out like a sore thumb. When brands get the context correct, the creative metaphor becomes an easy vehicle to deliver the message.

Over-the-top cheesy brand appeals are created to grab attention. There is nothing wrong with doing so till the time the brand stays true to its purpose. When the brand loses focus and cracks jokes for the sake of cracking jokes, it becomes difficult for the brand to stand out.Even over the top appeals need an underpinning of smart strategy. Or else as the brand that promised something about family jewels, the world laughs and moves on.

Original published here

Mother brand appeals

Car brands have a peculiar grammar. Most car ads have two messages – one for the brand that they are advertising and the other for the mother brand that owns the brand. Theoretically, the mother brand statement should have an impact on the overall brand message of each sub-brand. Theoretically, the one difference every sub-brand should make is to that overall mother brand appeal. With every car brand having multiple brands with multiple configurations at multiple price points aimed at drivers at different life stages, the mother brand appeal needs to be built sub-brand by sub-brand.

Renault signs off with “Passion for Life”. It has just unveiled a new TVC with Ranbir Kapoor and music by AR Rehman on celebrating life, being good and surprising people. The word passion gets spoken in the commercial, it does build a sense of liveliness for the brand. The same liveliness is not reflected in the other commercial that they are running for Lodgy.

While on life, Fiat signs off all brand messages with “Hello Life”. For a brand that has the kind of design and brand heritage that Fiat has, the car maker doesn’t capture any of that in India. The overall mother brand appeal does not guide what the brand does.

Maruti Suzuki is the third brand that builds on Life. “Way of Life” defines Maruti Suzuki in the most apt way. The brand is omnipresent, defines what cars mean to India. Should the brand be left at one indulgent habit the country has or can there be something more that the brand can interpret and build in advertising?

Hyundai promises “New Thinking. New Possibilities”. Ideally with a big brand tag like that, Hyundai should have a slightly inspirational tone, always building on future, always showing an unexplored angle of life. The brand delivers the thinking and possibility in design and looks, but not so much in the sub-brand communication.

“Find New Roads” from Chrysler is a promise that comes from exploring mind sets. For a category that is built on emotion of mobility, finding new roads is a very evocative promise. Yet the brand does very little in its sub-brand communication to build on the feeling of exploration and mobility.

These are not the only brands; most car brands, save for Tata, have a two-layered brand communication strategy. The German brands do it slightly differently; they build the overall appeal for the brand and not for the individual sub-brands, making the overall brand stronger and desirable.

What if the car brands actually were true to the mother brand appeals? Would the category become far more insightful?

Love in the age of Algorithm

There is a quiet little demographic change in India that has almost gone unnoticed. This change in demography is leading to a dramatic change in the oldest institution of India – marriage.

The change in demographics is the female population, their falling birth rate, their changing educational standards and their joining the workforce.

Today, according to Census of India, there are 52 per cent males to 48 per cent females. It may look insignificant, but the fact is that there are more males in the society compared to females. In the marriageable 18-year plus age band, this difference gets sharper.

The second point is the increasing ratio of working women to non-working women in the overall population. Aided by higher literacy rates, more and more women in India are joining the workforce and becoming financially independent. The growth in the number of women entering the workforce is twice that of men, and the faster growth rate will mean an even greater number of working women in the coming years.

The third and possibly the most telling factor is that women are now placing greater importance on their career then on marriage. In a research we did in 2003, we heard a quarter of women in their early 20s saying ‘career matters most’.

Today, there are fewer women than men, there are fewer women to choose from for men and the number reduces further as women have become choosier than men.

The rise of algorithm-based dating apps may be a function of this change in demographics. Three of them recently broke new campaigns and all three of them have nuanced takes on this changing demographic trend.

Bharat Matrimony is a pure play old world matrimony match making site. Marriage is not by chance, but by choice is the strong promise they make. The brand speaks from the bride’s perspective consistently. In the latest commercial, it doesn’t even show the process of match making, but builds on what happens when the girl finds a caring, understanding and sensitive partner. It’s a neat little way of putting the prospective bride on a pedestal. Bharat Matrimony celebrates the act of wedding and all the ups and downs that come with it, in a context that is modern and contemporary. This is the case of the brand trying to stay in touch with the changing times.

Contrast this to the new campaign from TrulyMadly is not a matrimonial site, it is not about the parents, it is not about searching for the right partner for matrimony, it is about searching for the right partner. Everything that matrimony sites are, match making sites aren’t. Boy Browsing, as they call it, turns the entire dating game portrayed in advertising on its head. Till yesterday, if at all the ads showcased a girl checking out the boy, it was done in a coy, shy manner with a sly smile and sly glances. TrulyMadly steps out and celebrates a behaviour that exists but has never been portrayed. The rules of dating are clearly visible here; will it lead to girls being ‘unsingle’ is another matter.

Woo, another dating app, builds a very different tale. Woo tells the tale of a classic love story that Bollywood has always celebrated. Two strangers are thrown together by chance and they cross each other many times not knowing that they are meant to be together till fate crosses paths and they fall in love.  Woo is clear in its proposition – it’s about matchmaking, it is serious and wants the relationship to last. Like Bharat Matrimony and TrulyMadly, Woo too looks at the world of dating through a woman’s eyes. The Woo ad has shades of, though the ad is seen more from a boy’s perspective.

The world of dating and mating is changing as displayed by these ads. Changing demographics is bound to drive this change deeper. Time for boys to look beyond the Axe Effect.

Original published here:

Why trust matters more than ever for brands?

We live in strange times. There are more sovereign nations that are likely to default on loans then corporations. This means today citizens can’t trust their own governmental institutions, how will they ever trust their brands? Today the consumer confidence has been eroded significantly. Brands have not remained insulated from this.

Let’s evaluate the question of trust in two different contexts. One is when the slowdown had not happened and the world of brand was driven by trustful spending. The second is post the slowdown when spending became restrained; anxiety became a bigger driver of choice and thus thoughtful spending.

The trustful spending drove greater consumption where trust was the shortcut to choice. Post crisis, thoughtful spending drove better choices, and trust took a back seat.

The pre-crisis consumerism was driven by a plethora of choices was the source of identity.  Trust was the weapon that helped people cut through a maze of choices and plethora of brand messages. Brands became large when they became iconic. Trust was an integral part of brands march towards becoming icons. Together we all celebrated the consumerism.

Post-crisis everything changed. It’s not that all of us stopped buying what we needed, but the buying became a little more considerate. The need to reflect achievement and identity took other forms. The internet and online shopping made more value driven. Social media made people question even the most trusted brand. Yesterday brands made me celebrate my identity, today we are seeking different experiences, different identities.

Trust is a remnant of past when brands held a much larger place in our lives. We are living in changing times where the society is transforming. We are connecting with each other differently, technology is changing how we shop, media is fragmenting even more and status is not a driver any more.

Trust has expired and is beyond its use by date.


Published by on 20/12/2011

Is the Positioning theory working today?


First the perspective

It was in 1969 that Jack Trout introduced the term Positioning, and strangely in context of industrial marketing. It was only in 1981 that the term was popularized in the bath breaking book, “Positioning, A Battle for Your Mind” with Al Reis. Jack Trout then wrote the book “New Positioning” in late 90s that never caught reader’s imagination.

The concept of positioning is based on a simple principle of identifying a ‘differentiator” and then owning that differentiator in consumers’ mind. The ownership of the differentiator creates a lasting impression and becomes the driver of business in a wider sense of term.

The concept of positioning was created in a world where communication was just about taking off. It was necessary to differentiate one communication message from another. It was necessary to make it distinctive and build on salience. Things have changed since. We now live in over manufactured world. Today the production cycles have come down to minimum. You don’t even need to own a factory, there are factories that would gladly produce it for you and stamp your name on it. If you are in service business, you don’t even need a factory, just an idea! In an over produced world, is it still relevant to own a fixed position in consumers’ mind. Is it possible to own one, and make the distinction when the consumer is bombarded with overflowing shelves and choices?

The world of branding is witnessing something really strange. A search engine on web is world leader in digital maps. A telecom operator in India is among the largest seller of digital music. A cellphone brand is world’s largest brand of cameras. Even iconic Apple is no longer just a brand of cutting edge computers that takes on PC in an irreverent way.

The whole concept of positioning is built on a simple premise.  It starts with the product. Every product has functions, every product appeals to emotions. Every product delivers functional benefits and also delivers emotional benefits. The synthesis of this functional and emotional benefits leads to brands’ position. The brands job is to keep building on this factor.

Today, life has dramatically changed. Every brand has a context to operate in, and the contexts are rapidly changing. Is the consumer really seeking one benefit out of brand? In this over produced world is that not a recipe for disaster? After all there is always someone waiting to deliver the same benefit as your brand in better, cheaper, faster or cooler way. Even the delivery models of brands are changing. The linear old world model is not applicable to all brands any longer. So would the 70s theory work any longer?

If the old theories are not working, what is the way of making brands iconic? If we look at some of the greatest brands of our times, the answer is obvious

I believe great brands have to be about Good Karma. Good Karma not in religious sense, but in sense of action. Brands need to ensure that their actions today, impact overall wellbeing of its wider franchise. This simply means brands have to be focused on inherent beliefs and have a wider philosophy. This wider belief and philosophy of brand should be translated into a coherent action plan that propels the brand forward. This means brands need to have belief in what they are doing, and have a strong point of view on how they want to impact consumers’ lives.

There is one thing in common since the concept was propounded in early seventies; consumers need brands as much as brands need consumers. This relationship in the twenty first century needs a new charter.

It needs Good Karma