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Brands have social responsibilities

Last evening I was watching something on TV and this ad appeared.  It’s an ad for a phone brand called LYF.

I don’t know about you but I found it cringe worthy. No I am not talking about the lack of an idea or even the poor execution or anything like that. Here we have a bunch of guys sitting around watching a woman taking off some item of clothing and then dancing to an item number.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I found the ad offensive. Then again, I do see many offensive ads. But when we have someone like a Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin and so on, watching Kangana Ranaut do a number it gives permission to a whole bunch of men around the country to expect women to do the same.

I know there will be a lot of people saying that I am over reacting, but we are a country where people even copy hair styles of their heroes. And at a time when we are rocked pretty regularly with horrible stories of how a woman got mistreated by a guy I strongly believe that brands that can, should be more responsible, than only trying to sell their product.

And we have examples of brands doing just that..marrying a social message with a brand one.

Started in Canada but quickly became a global phenomenon was Dove.

 

They have continued with the same message in many countries. Their campaign for real beauty has consistently tried to reinforce the idea that one should be proud of the way one looks and not be forced to align to stereotypes.

Closer home is Ariel. With their campaign #Sharetheload they have tried to ask the Q: Why should laundry (and indeed housework) only be the woman’s duty.

There are many more examples, of brands that have risen above the short term need to meet a quarter’s numbers to deliver a higher message that tries to change the way society behaves.

I believe all brands have this responsibility. The bigger brands more so, as they have the ability and credibility to do so.

Brands are not just what you see on a shelf. Celebrities are brands too.

Celebrities that endorse brands should keep an eye on the script and have a point of view on whether they support the point of view of the ad. After all if a Virat Kohli refuses to do an item number ad, he also sends a message to his peers and the brands that seek his endorsement that he expects a certain behaviour.

The same is true with our movie stars. As long as they are shown, on screen, killing people, beating their women and children, smoking and so on, we are going to have millions of people who ape them blindly. I am, not for a moment, blaming society’s ills on them of course, but we all have a role to play if we want to rid society of the demons we have.

It is not hard for big brands to align their brand messaging to a higher purpose creating a movement that they can ride on. From Dove’s case we have seen that it is global, sustaining over time and beneficial to the brand.

Brands should lead society, not just reflect them.

What’s your story?

Shamitabh-

Today I saw the trailer of a movie called Shamitabh.

This reminded me of something I read about the conception of the movie.

Apparently Balki, the director of the movie, came up with the idea while stuck in a traffic jam to Amitabh Bachchan’s house. Once he reached there he told him the story, and Amitabh agreed on the spot. Now I am sure there is embellishment to that story but the basics struck a chord with me.

What did Balki say to Amitabh at a party that not just communicated the story but got him excited enough to say yes?

That is the kind of story telling we need on our brands every day.

Our consumers are like Amitabh at a party. They are amidst a lot of noise. Some of it enjoyable. They are going about their lives. And along comes someone saying ‘ hey got a minute? I have something to tell you’.

Does your brand, or you, have such a story?

If you do victory is yours.

And here is the link to the trailer: SHAMITABH.

AAP in the air

April 17, 2014 3 comments

India’s big election day is today. With another one to follow in a few weeks.

This time it has been more interesting than usual due to the arrival of a political party called AAP. They have fired the imagination of the common man and, I think, triggered a desire for change among a large section of the population. However, there’ve been missteps and opinions are divided. Some of my dear friends have signed up to be AAP members as well.

As a marketer, and sitting miles away from the action, I have been viewing the developments in India from a brand/communications angle than a political one and here is where I landed.

1. Imagine you see an ad for a detergent X that says quite clearly ‘ washes whitest. white as new’. You see it and think to yourself ‘yes I need that. My clothes have had this yellowish/beige feel about them and i really need to get them clean’. But then you notice that your neighbour, a rugby player, who gets his clothes dirtier than anyone you know doesn’t use X. In fact he uses Y. And that makes you pause and rethink.

Similarly in these elections AAP is the party of the clean, common man. And generally they have a bunch of good candidates. But the best candidate in these elections is clearly not with them. Nandan is head and shoulders above the 540 candidates standing for elections this year. He is the perfect AAP candidate. But he is not. Why? Pause and rethink.

 

2. A couple of days later you see X saying that it washes colours well. It gives clothes a pleasant aroma. You can use it to clean windows, crockery and in fact also makes for good manure and an insecticide. Now that is confusing. All you wanted was something that cleaned your clothes white. Now if something is so multipurpose can it really be good at the whiteness claim that attracted it to you in the first place?

Similarly, AAP fired everyone’s imagination with it’s anti corruption plank. Everyone is affected by it But as time has gone by it has slowly vacated that space and is talking things not connected with corruption. So what exactly does it stand for. What is it’s core idea?

 

3. On one of your travels in the hotel there was a sachet in the room for emergency washes. You think it is a good idea to try out the brand before committing to buy a big packet. So you decide to try it on your socks. And then you find that the powder lacks consistency, is clumpy, it didn’t lather too well and didn’t wash well either. You are disappointed. A week later you see a speech by the CEO saying that they had a bad production patch and that they have now tightened their QC processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

AAP was given Delhi to run. And by their own admission now they made such a mess of it that many people wonder whether they can ever govern? if they couldn’t manage a city can they manage a country?

4. A friends tells you that X is a very good detergent but you need to ensure that you remove all your buttons before you put it in the wash else it will also clean your buttons and maybe even corrode them. That seems like an awful lot of work for a wash.

AAP has picked fights with everybody. Media should be in jail. Big businesses are bad. We don’t want foreign money. The cops are useless. And so on.

 

So that’s your dilemma:

Your kid’s school principal has said that if you don’t sort your kid’s school shirt and get it sparkling white then he will be suspended. You kind of like X and you think ‘washing white. white as new’ is exactly what you need. But you are now in two minds. Should you try something new with its weaknesses or stay with a bigger brand that you know have their weaknesses but won’t let you down when you need it the most.

What would I have advised AAP?

1. Take complete ownership of the corruption platform. It is the one thing that bothers everyone be it Ambani, or Abdul the jagdari, or Blackrock the investment management fund. If they said they were fighting just that they’d be in a great place. After all it worked for them in Delhi.

2  Actively identify the corrupt politicians and focus the fights in those seats. Thus instead of fighting in 400 seats, they’d be fighting perhaps in 200. Would’ve made for a more focused and productive battle.

3. Acknowledge that the fight is about changing status quo. So be seen as encouraging and supporting those who were fighting this battle, no matter which party. I would’ve liked to have seen a supportive message from AAP to Nandan, for example. Goes a long way to be seen as this not being a power grab, but a ‘change’ party.

4. There is good business and bad business. There is good media and bad media. Not all money is evil. If you can’t make the distinction then keep quiet. Else talk only about rooting out corruption from business, media, public life and so on.

5. Apologise for the Delhi fiasco. Upfront. That has caused hug damage to the brand. There is a difference between CEO and a union leader. Delhi made them look like the latter. India needs the former.

I am not political scientist nor a philosopher. I am a common man. I want experiments like AAP (not just the party but the idea) to succeed. I think its time has come.

Now before many people jump into this with debate with their political glasses on. I just want to state that this was meant to be more a marketing essay than a political one.

It is as much about the product as it is about marketing. They know the former. I know the latter. A teenie weenie bit.

 

Image

It’s always the little things

I love my morning tea. But, I confess, I am a bit lazy about doing the whole brewing tea leaves thing, so I use tea bags. I even like the specific brand that I use. It’s a local Kenyan brand. But what absolutely drives me crazy is that over half the time the string will detach from the tea bag causing the bag to fall into the mug and then one needs to fish it out. Annoying when all you want to do is have a sip of the stuff.

Friday afternoon I took my colleagues out for a lunch. Good conversations and good food was had. Then it was time to leave. But for the longest time we couldn’t find a waiter to get our bill. When we did pay the bill, the wait for change took an interminable amount of time.

My final example, how many of us have had the experience of buying a bottle and when you try to open it you find that the cap and seal ring go round and round the bottle. Consumers of an Indian brand of rum called Old Monk will testify to it now being part of the brand DNA!.

My point here is that the experience of the product itself is great. The tea is good. The food is good. the rum is very good. But the little things that surround it cast a shadow over the experience and negatively impact the brand.

As an advertising agency our key outputs are presentations and ads. It drives me mental when I see spelling mistakes in the work. It is like if the strategy is sound or the work looks good these little things don’t matter.

As marketers a lot of time is spent on the core brand and the attendant elements of the marketing mix. I am sure the best brands do a world class job on it.

I submit to you, however, that the little things that the customer experiences in her/his interactions form an unplanned brand impression.

Brands like amazon and apple get it.

Amazon is the world’s best logistics company. They have mastered the science of ensuring that their job is not done with the order at a great price. It is only done when the product is delivered to customer satisfaction.

There’s a pizza brand in Nairobi called Naked Pizza. Their promise is that they will deliver their pizza in 20 minutes. And they have beaten that every time we have ordered. Again they are not just in the pizza business. They are also in the delivery business. It is not enough to be good in just one.

As more brands get into areas far beyond just production and distribution and move into customer engagement they need to ensure that they have mapped that business just as well as they have done their core. And ensure that gaps are closed and they target the same level of satisfaction as the do in their main business.

It’s not that difficult. Mapping the product journey and ensuring that at every consumer touch point excellence is targeted, we should all be good.

Very simplistically, for illustration purposes,  going back to my tea bag story a journey may look something like this

Advertising: Print, TV, OOH, digital. Ensure key message is delivered clearly and in a desirable manner

Packaging in store: Ensure branding is clear. Contents eg number of bags, flavour, tagged/individually wrapped are clearly visible

On opening the pack: The tea bags are neatly laid out, easy to take out each tea bag without damage, tags are attractive, string looks good

Brewing: Tag stays in place, string is strong, bag doesn’t open, brewing is quick

Discarding the tea bag: Make it easy

and so on.

It helps identify the points that brands can perhaps make a subtle difference and either fix a problem or make a talking point.

 

For..as Kurt Vonnegut said in a different contextimages2

Creating an identity.. simply

I’d blogged about bars before so don’t think I spend a lot of time in them.

But over the years I have been to quite a few in different parts of the world. All in the line of duty.

What I found is that while the bars all do the same thing, serve drinks to parched customers, they use a few simple devices to differentiate themselves from the rest.

While there are many I am listing just the most common ones, and then one new uncommon one I discovered this weekend.

Music : This is the most widely used technique. The nature of music played differentiates these places significantly. It is the easiest way to attract the segment you want. Hence you have bars that play jazz, blues, rock, hip/hop, bollywood, anything loud and it draws in those who prefer that type of music. There’s also the difference between live and the ipod version. So music in its various forms.

Alcohol : Clearly this is the obvious way of creating a differentiator. Getting the product right. So some places specialise in a category eg wines, single malts, beers. Others do one thing really well. Like say Martinis or Mojitos or whatever they believe will get the right type of folks in.

Location : If one is lucky to get a good location that creates the uniqueness that would be terrific. This is hard to do, given that good locations cost more and sometimes may not command the premium that a simple beer can take.

Food : Historically bars were places where people went to drink, but slowly bar food is growing in importance and getting to be a differentiator to be added to the mix. There’s a bar in Singapore that is renowned for its steak sandwiches, given for free during happy hours. The drinks are not bad either.

Staff : To my mind this is seldom, if at all used as a differentiator except in the case of Hooters which is probably the only place of its sort that I am aware of.

So there you have it and I believe most bars use some combination of the above to create their own identity, This in turn attracts a certain type of clientele and thus a brand is built.

Which brings me to last weekend. We were at a bar and they were serving Mojitos in jars. IKEA jars like the one below (without the lid of Mojito containercourse)

That was certainly unique. And as I looked around every table had these jars filled with Mojitos and people looked rather pleased with themselves about it. Clearly a talking point had been created.

Sometimes that’s all that is needed to build a brand’s identity. From scraps gathered at different points of the experience consumers form their version of the brand. As a marketer it is one’s responsibility to provide these unique scraps that help build the brand.

One doesn’t need big budgets for this nor a big advertising campaign. Just some creative thinking.

So how are you doing this?

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Simplicity a la Jobs

October 7, 2011 6 comments

Every medium, every channel is awash with tributes to Steve Jobs.

Today I read someone comparing him to Edison and Einstein. Come to think of it, that is probably true, given the impact he’s had on our lives.

While I, and nearly any one can talk for hours or even days on the great things he did, I want to talk about a single thing.

Product nomenclature.

I want to buy a laptop.

I visit HP.com and select laptops as my choice.

I have to choose between mini, everyday computing, etc.

Having chosen ‘everyday computing’ here are my options

HP 2000z series

HP 2000t series

HP Pavillion g6x series

HP Pavillion g4t series

HP Pavillion g7t series

HP Pavillion g6s series

None of the numbers are of any help in deciding if a model is better than the other.

The numbers differentiate but don’t grade.

Besides there is no real logic apparent to the user.

Why are some Pavillion and some not.

The numbering looks like it was done on an engineering drawing somewhere, passed along to the shop floor and it just stayed with the brand for ever after that.

Actually HP is probably done a good job of it.

Have you tried buying a Nokia phone?

Their numbering makes no sense and till recently was not even visible on the phone.

Nokia n91 was launched in 2005. N8 in 2010.

Does that make any sense? Who spends time thinking of these brand names.

I’d like to believe that like for most normal folks 91 follows 8, so N8 should have preceded the N91 by many years.

To make matters interesting E6 came after the N8.

So if you walk into a store you have no way of knowing which is the ‘latest’ model.

In many cases I understand that when a brand is catering to multiple segments they need to have multiple sub brands.

That is exactly what BMW has. They have the 1, 3, 5, 6, 7 series which kind of makes sense. I wonder what they have against 2 and 4 though. Also 6 came before 7. Not as clean as it could be but some structure is visible and followed.

Now switch to Apple.

You want a laptop?

No problem Macbook, Macbook Pro, Macbook Air. The names tell you everything about what you can expect. Even the most un-genius person can figure out the hierarchy.

You want a phone ? Would you like the iPhone 3G, or the iPhone 3GS, or the iPhone 4G or the iPhone 4GS. Any confusion?

There is no doubt that Steve Jobs was a genius and he had fantastic team that created these products.

But he also got the basics right.

While the product is created in the factory, the brand is created in the mind of the consumer.

Make it easy for her to grasp, assimilate, understand and own it. And that doesn’t require genius.

I respect HP, some very good friends of mine work there.

I respect Nokia..have been a loyal customer from my first phone.

There are millions of people like me around.

But Apple evokes the passion, coz it made great products and even stronger brands, because finally it was about doing great things, simply.

 

Is branding irrelevant?

As per this post by Dr Fou of Omnicom it is not just irrelevant, it’s irritating, ineffective and impotent.

Through a variety of examples he goes on to prove that he is confusing branding with awareness and therefore led down a path where he makes some valid points but against the wrong subject.

There is no question that awareness is meaningless unless it leads on to preference and action. But even that is not enough.

Branding today is ‘the art and science of staying continually relevant to your customer’. That is my definition.

Be it American Express or that small store around the corner. They both need branding.

The comments in response to Fou’s blog open out the big debate.

PS: Apparently Fou in French means ‘mad man’. Apparently.

And here’s a neuroscience response to the above post..

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