Thursday, October 22, 2009


[4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the reason for the demise of Onida’s Devil, the latest in a list of disappearing mascots]

First things first. Why are mascots created? Be it the Energiser Bunny, the MGM Lion, the McDonald’s clown Ronald, the Merrill Lynch Bull, the Eveready Cat, Smokey the Bear, the Jolly Green Giant … don’t they still reverberate endearingly in public memory, projecting their own brand of charm? Smart, evolved and insightful marketers unleashed these characters with a clear focused agenda – create something memorable in tune with the architecture and value of the brand and project it in a warm, human way that will connect simply and easily with the prospective customer. Make the inanimate come alive in an entertaining and public-friendly way so that, soon, it acquires a life of its own. Leverage it creatively to fuel brand recall.

In recent times, however, this thinking has gone in for a re-think! Be it the adorable Murphy-baby, HMV dog, Asian Paints Gattu, they’ve all exited. Even the iconic Maharajah was handed his walking slick and hat (crown?) before the Air India biggies realised their blunder and brought him back. Thank God, the Amul mascot still cavorts around … As this goes into print, Onida’s ‘Devil’ has been put to sleep – the symbol that epitomised the brand and show-pieced several memorable ad campaigns. What’s behind these dramatic shifts? A hysterical anxiety to be perceived as modern, contemporary, tuned-in and global in today’s competitive and cluttered market? A pitch for relevance and the here n’ now, soft focusing mushy sentimentality and obsolescence? Global companies don’t seem to be in such a tearing hurry to bid their mascots goodbye … why us?

Sid Ray, Executive Director of Response (Kolkatta) fires the first salvo. While he completely goes along the way the KFC and McDonald’s mascots have been successfully retained (even when the look and feel of their focus has been Indianised) he reckons that the Devil is a different kettle of fish. “It is possible that the marketing team felt that with capital investment involved in an age of heavy-duty competition, techno-onslaught and product features playing a key role, the Devil and the slogan have been rendered obsolete. They don’t fit into the scheme of things”. Dipankar Mukherjee, VP – Marketing, Ideas (East) agrees. “Competition, technology but most importantly cost structures have, I guess, forced them to re-look and re-invent their focus. Mascots anyway are cute and stuff but at crunch-time, they are unlikely to influence the purchase intent. Other more compelling, market and consumer-driven aspects come into play”. However, both agree that often, new teams, have a tendency to sling out everything that the old team had brought to the table – just to signal their entry and prove a point!

Veteran Ad-Guru Alyque Padamsee is up next with all cylinders firing! He endorses the last point vehemently. “New agencies inducted, immediately get into the act and one of the first things they do is trash the stuff that the previous agency did”. He cites the case of the classic LIRIL campaign where the girl, waterfall and signature tune defined the brand. “Now we have it replaced by this re-play of an old Levers launch of 2000! And, does anyone really care about how many parts of the body … I mean, how ridiculous!” He reminds us that THE MARLBORO MAN remains intact and continues to rule. So does the MRF mascot and the UTTERLY BUTTERLY girl. “Clients must really be very careful before leaping into a zone of changing for the sake of changing”. Hi-Profile Artist Sanjay Bhattacharya is more direct. “I think it’s become a fashion today to demolish anything that is traditional in the name of being contemporary, relevant and consumer-driven. It’s total bullcrap and only reflects their inability to intelligently and creatively blend the time-tested brand value with new-age focus. There is nothing wrong with moving away but, my feeling is that it’s done mostly to be perceived as a product or corporation that is keeping with the times … how defensive, insecure and negative!” Ogilvy’s NCD Abhijit Avasthi winds up this debate with his very own evolved perspective. “For me, a mascot is a property that any brand would have created and built up. The issue is the level and depth of work invested into this mascot over time, to constantly maintain a meaningful connect and relevance with the targeted constituency. That is THE real key”. He feels that the Onida guys must have their reasons to do away with the devil. As for new teams and agencies demolishing all work of the old teams, he believes “only a silly, insecure and immature people would take that course. Smart teams would see the big picture before deciding on the way ahead”.


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