Thursday, November 19, 2009


New, insane endorsement-economics is blitzing B-town. Does it add up to make sense?! 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri tries to decode this new phenomenon...

Celeb Advertising & Brand Endorsements have always come with the territory in Adville – especially in the last decade and a half. The Big B, SRK and M. S. Dhoni have (for example) rewritten the rules game to showcase every conceivable FMCG product category, attracting fee-deals that could wake the dead … or finance a couple of five-year plans of newly, independent countries – which ever came first! Revered icons with proven track record, their insane package (swear advertisers) is in direct proportion to their astonishing connect with every section of a celeb-hungry nation and thumping brand-equity they invest in the products they endorse. Fair enough … although TAM surveys and reports continue to indicate that less than 10% of the consumer-base of these ads actually purchase the products these (or any) stars endorse. Despite this, the fever rages on…

If that is difficult to fathom for the sane and logical mind, imagine hearing about new stars nowhere near the power and glory of the older lot, with no great earth-shaking track-record, charisma or mass-appeal (‘theek-theek’ according to a young Bolly-junkie) demanding and scooping up crazy paychecks on the endorsement front. Ranbir Kapoor – with one spectacular dud and one decent hit – is said to be hitting the Rs.4 crore mark! Imran Khan, with one decent hit and two dabbas is reportedly asking Rs.3.5 crore per endorsement. (It’s another matter that no one is playing ball, as yet!) Deepika Padukone – possibly the most successful of the lot – is in the Rs.2 crore bracket with Genelia D’souza, a little behind with Rs.1.5 crore. Interestingly, all of them (except Imran) have tripled their endorsement fees in the last few months and – well – are getting takers! So, who’s lost it, guys – the Advertisers, these new kids or the celeb-hungry bozos dedicating their life and times to B-town moves?
“The Dodo Advertisers who believe that casting a celeb will instantly rock their product’s image and bottom lines!” That’s the iconoclastic Pritish Nandy, forever ready to tilt at windmills. While it is totally true that movie stars and cricketers are perceived as the nation’s most glamorous, popular and favourite role-models, Nandy believes that there are two bigger truths defining the space “both advertiser-driven. One is the desire to do a quick kill in terms of public attention without the appropriate consideration to the brand fit. Two, the hysterical anxiety to be seen with these stars to go up the social ladder among his peer group.” The best advertising (ZooZoo, HDFC, Vodafone) don’t need to pursue this track, says Nandy, and are none the poorer for it. Ogilvy’s resident dude Sumanto Chat comes in next. He believes that it has to do with the huge youth-connect that these star-kids enjoy in a space and categories that cater to youngistan. Then, of course, there is a celeb-struck nation and finally “a leg-up in image for the Advertiser and his company!

A Ranbir-Deepika jodi coming to launch his product and then gracing the dinner that follows could catapult him to Page 3 status and is likely to do wonders for the employee-morale present at the event”.

Ad-Guru Alyque Padamse too is convinced that it defines categorically the “thirst that both the Advertiser and general public have for celebhood with ad frat desperate to cash in on it”. However, he warns, that care should be taken to prioritise … otherwise Deepika outscoring the product endorsed in recall value, could be tragic news for the Advertiser! Leo Burnett’s Sainath brings his own spin to the debate. He believes ultimately it is about “effective clutter-busting. New-age India looks for and at new-age stars. There are two kinds of stars. The timeless variety – SRK, Big B, Sachin, Akshay – and the new kids. If the consumer is growing older, he will look for older icons; if he is getting younger, star-kids zoom centre-stage. In a young, resurgent India, this is completely appropriate. A sign of the times.” Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Media wraps up this debate with her insightful, knowledgeable and authoritative take. She reckons it has largely to do with the shortage of credible celebs available for endorsement. “SRK and the Big B have been done to death (Remember BINANI CEMENT & LINC PENS? Jeeezus!) – and there is a genuine dearth of sexy, young stars in an environment bursting at the seams with youth-driven products for a gigantic youth market. So I guess, for a quick-hit, grab the latest flavour of the day and go with the flow. The stars too know that this is a cool way to make quick mega-bucks, so strike when the iron is hot. Kal kisne dekha…!”

At the end of the day, certain path-breaking facts emerge. One (unlike earlier times), a star doesn’t have to slog for years and reach a status to gain credibility and pulling-power in the Ad-market. One big hit does it! Two, the publicity machinery has taken on critical dimensions, so media-driven hype (of any sort) for Bolly-stars is big stuff. Finally, Bollywood has discovered the importance of brand-building and with smart packaging go all out to create an image, aura and climate that sells … the result? Its rainin’ moolahs for the Bachhalog, guys!! 


Thursday, November 05, 2009


By all accounts, even in your year 2009, the answer appears to be a resounding YES! 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri wonders why

The Weaker sex! The Gentler sex! A community given to listen to their heart more than their head; driven by sentiment and emotion, instead of logic and analysis; excited by the colour pink or some floral motif to go for it without a second thought … these are some of the ‘perceived’ notions of marketers across the globe while targeting women. Which world are they living in? A recent US survey has indicated that women today drive the world economy! Globally, they are said to control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, a figure that could zoom north to touch $28 trillion by 2014! Also, their $13 trillion in yearly earnings could hit the $18 trillion mark in the same period. The survey further adds that, in sheer aggregate terms, women represent a growth curve bigger than India and China combined … Despite this, it states how dumbly – and chauvinistically – computer titan Dell wooed the female consumer by its soft-sell, make-it-pink drive. The communication went consciously ‘girly’ emphasising colours, accessories and tips for finding recipes and counting calories. The response was an unanimous and spontaneous protest against “talking down in condescending, dumb-down fashion” to a target group that deserved better … Immediately, damage control and correction course measures darted into action – but the point is: why was this potentially awkward positioning triggered, in the first place? The reason is simple. The phrase “It’s a man’s world” is so deeply ingrained in the male marketer’s psyche that they believe they can get away with any and every thing. Unfortunately, this thinking today must be dumped in the ‘fiction’ area; the truth lies elsewhere. It lies in the simple fact that today’s (male) marketers need to ‘learn’ how to sell to women.

In 2008, a hi-profile, professional consulting group did a comprehensive study of how women felt about their work, lives and how they were being served by businesses. The responses would wake the dead! Generally speaking, they felt hugely undeserved and despite their quantum leaps in the professional and social space, they felt undervalued in the market place and underestimated in the work place. Their multi-tasking is there for all to see, but few marketers have bothered to respond to manufacturing time-saving solutions for products and services specifically designed for them. For example, it is still so difficult to locate a pair of trousers get solid financial advice without feeling foolish, or patronised. Companies continue to offer them poorly conceived products and services and obsolete, irrelevant, outdated marketing narratives that promote gender bias and stereotypes. Examples? Cars are designed for speed not utility, which really matters to woman. Heard – or seen – an SUV built to accommodate a mom who needs to load her two kids into it? Then there was the recent ad for Bounty Paper towels where a husband and son stand, watching a spill cross the room, until mom comes charging and happily cleans up the mess!

While each person’s perspectives are different, there are four broad areas where any sane marketer and company would be well advised to look – and tap. They comprise food, fitness, beauty and apparel. Financial services and health care are also businesses worth zeroing-into. The challenge is to offer easier and more convenient ways to make purchases in an environment where – unlike Indian husbands, 71% of who pitch in on household chores – they get no support from their spouses.

It is believed that when the recession slowly moves out, women will occupy an even more important position in the economy. Then seat belts that cut into the neck, pedals that the woman driver can’t reach, badly designed seats, nothing for women who wear high heels when they drive; kitchen shelves so high that only men can reach them, low security inside apartments should be closely reviewed. Also, in this age of working women keeping long hours in unsafe metro cities, how about a phone that has alarm buttons, instead of the corny colour pink? Or a free beeper with every working moms phone so her kids could just beep and she could call back, pronto? These points apparently were mooted, but cell phone manufacturers found them unimportant and trivial and instead concentrated on pink/floral glitter phone!

It’s time companies and marketers wake up to this new reality, cast aside chauvinistic blinkers and convert these challenges into opportunities. There is a whole slew of commercial opportunities in women’s social concerns. Women seek to buy products & services that do good for the world and hence brands that resonate physical and emotional well being, provide care and education for the disfranchised of the world and encourage love and connection, will benefit. It’s time to recognise the power and equity of the women customers. They will no longer take crap, increasingly trash male-specific selling patterns, resist being stereotyped, segmented by age or income or worse – lumped together into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ woman club.

Beyond looking at them as ‘geographical market’, they should be viewed as intelligent, respected and cherished target groups, with their very own wants, needs, apprehensions, insecurities, dreams … and of course, [sometimes] deep pockets too! That would be the best way to gain breakout growth, loyalty and market share for a sublime and undervalued fraternity who occupy half the sky.