Thursday, July 29, 2010


Bollywood-Stars’ Merchandise Fails to Ignite Sales! Reasons?
As everybody and their toothless aunts know, it doesn’t get hotter than Bollywood when it comes to connecting with the teeming masses in India. Movies, shows, endorsements... stars rock big! By the same token, shouldn’t co-branding or lending their name [or initials] to merchandise spell an automatic, super-duper sale? In the West, it sure does! Be it Paris Hilton, Tiger Woods, Britney Spears, Michael Jordan, Kate Winslet, J.Lo, Justin Timberlake, Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta Jones, they all burn the consumer radar.

Alas, here – despite the Bolly-crazed fans – the same doesn’t seem to find the resonance of the West. The sizzling sex-symbol of the seventies, Zeenat Aman was first off the block with a perfume named after her. Nightingale Lata Mangeshkar followed. The luminous beauty Madhuri Dixit joined the party too with a range of herbal hair and skin care products by Emami (under the brand Beauty Secrets by Madhuri). In more recent times, John Abraham’s The John Abraham Wrangler Clothing, a premium prêt denim line, took off, as did Shilpa Shetty’s S2, a new fragrance. “The fragrance pays homage to Shilpa’s Indian heritage and appeal to the European market,” explains the perfume creator, Mark Earnshaw. Reports indicated that in the West, the brand beat off stiff competition from such big stars like Paris Hilton, J.Lo and Sarah Jessica Parker to reach the number 3 spot in two weeks flat of its launch! Shilpa and Bipasha Basu also have workout videos now; and before we forget, even the Little Master Sachin Tendulkar co-created a toothpaste named Sach with the Future Group (with the tagline, ‘Ab din ki shurvat, Sach se!’).

The Big B and SRK have also done their number in this area. While Paris-based perfume major Lomani launched a perfume named after Amitabh Bachchan, a French company, Jeanne Arthes introduced a perfume, Tiger Eyes by SRK, and flooded lifestyle outlets and malls with it. “For his zillion fans, it is the romantic King Khan captured in a bottle,” says Director of Jeannes Arthes Board, Thibaud Perrin.

Has all of this, however, captured the popular imagination of the Indian consumer? Have the B-town worshippers been inspired, motivated, charged or excited to turn buyer and choose these specific brands as their ‘preferred’ ones because of loyalty?

Surveys and studies reveal that the Indian consumer definitely loves the Bolly-stars – then what comes when it’s about picking perfumes? Explains 19-year old Mumbai-based Maya Sen. “I wouldn’t dream of picking up any of the local perfumes! For me, I’d stick to my foreign brands, any day”. She is not alone. Vinod Behl agrees. The 25-year-old Bangalore based techie says, “The Big B, SRK and gang are cool stars. I love watching their moves & antics but buying their named brands is not for me! I’d happily stick to overseas brands, anytime.” Strangely, current research corroborates this think amongst the consumer class of today.

Harmeet Singh of Fragrance Lounge confesses that few people buy fragrances for the celeb factor. “It’s invariably Dior, Givenchy, Calvin Klein & Armani that are in high demand. Neither markets nor mindscapes are developed or sophisticated enough for the local fare,” says Macwinn Fernandes, spokesperson for the perfumes division of the multi-brand store, Shoppers Stop.

Why this West-is-best movement? Behavioural Scientist Anand Halve believes it is both about mental conditioning and track record. “From time immemorial, ‘foreign’ and ‘imported’ have been magical words, right? They have evoked images of quality and class in look, feel and delivery. Even today in most FMCGs, the stuff from abroad is ‘perceived’ to be superior, right? Can the best of whisky, wines or beer; apparel, footwear or perfumes, gadgets... whatever, match theirs? This is not to devalue our stuff, but it is truly an unequal battle. Besides, the core competence of celebrities – especially ours – is not attuned towards a practical brand-fit. Think about it: Lata and perfumes? Sachin and toothpaste?”

For decades, big iconic foreign names have dominated our minds when perfumes, bags, belts and female toiletries & accessories are discussed. These are revered global brands, hymned and celebrated from time immemorial. Compared to them, the B-town offerings are new, untried and untested, with only the celeb-name lending it some credibility. They could well be excellent, but to build brand confidence, credibility and equity in another sphere against world class brands like Dior or Givenchy, is going to be very difficult. In today’s world, a discerning consumer actually buys a highbrow branded product (a Louis Vuitton product, for example) because it actually lasts longer, looks better, and satisfies the utility factor to a much larger extent than other brands.

Bolly-brands have to realise that the Indian mind has to be first de-colonised and seduced with reasons that better be really convincing, both on the ground [Why should I buy it? How is it better than them?] and in the mind [what will it do to me, for me? How will it empower me?]. The day that happens, Shilpa Shetty will have scored a bull’s eye.

Until then, Bolly celebs with merchandise named after them... freeze! Clearly, it’s not an idea whose time has come!


Thursday, July 15, 2010


Love, love, love... Look around, and chances are you’ll find a marketer peddling love faster than you’d your own spectacles. Will we ever get over this infatuation with love?

The maximum number of songs are made on one topic – love – in the same way as the maximum number of advertisements are. Read one novel that does not entertain the philosophy of love (or its anti-thesis, hatred) and most probably you’d be reading your college course notes. Specialised ad agencies like Love Advertising (which handles ads for Papa John’s, Luby’s, USO and others), Love Creative (Nike, Microsoft, BBC...) are thriving on tom-tomming their niche specialization in creating ‘love’ ads. Novels like All’s Fair in Love and Advertising (Lenore Black), Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel (Jean Kilbourne) are thriving on the over-infatuation with love of the ad-world and of consumers too one might feel. ABC’s best known print ads (to promote their soaps) still are their decades old Love In The Afternoon ad series; Apple till date sells the Mac with the punch line Why You’ll Love The Mac! You might adore the concept or detest it, but that makes no difference to the fact that love drives much of the commercial communication material for marketers. Isn’t it time we got over this infatuation with ‘love’ and moved over to presenting hard facts about the product/service/offering? Well, the anti-thesis is, should we even try to?

Corporate consultant Isha Khan comments, “Never in recorded history has there been such a titanic need, hunger and desire for love. Quickly translated, the market for love is… unimaginable! Look around and you see this strange scene with human beings longing to invest in emotion, love, imagination and feelings, both in their life and work, but most of them have one major problem: They don’t have a clue! They are caught flat-footed in the challenge of translating love into a palpable, tangible and credible action.” To grounded people (not totally consumed or corrupted by gross and crass materialism that surrounds us), the solution is simple: Get back to basics. Junk those bulky reports. Dump those research studies. Exploit love. Leverage this amazing dopamine as a strategic device for an enduring emotional connect – with every member across your target group/constituency – and watch the bottom line soar on the backs of addicts, love addicts!

One does accept that even genuine, sensitive and smart communicators have recognized and leveraged this emotion intelligently to escape from the dreaded ‘commodity trap’ and place brands where they actually belong – emotional centric-stage. Confesses veteran behavioural scientist and communication watcher Kishore Dave, “This is a hallowed space reserved for charismatic brands, which inspire a kind of passion and loyalty that are both off-limits and non-negotiable to the touts. Also, what better time than now – harsh, tough, cynical and complex – to bring back the past and get love back-on-track. Celebrate love as emotion, inspiration and motivation number one! Reaffirm what smart ad guys and marketers have known all along... that in the endless battle lines between emotion and reason, the former leads to action; the latter, only to conclusion”.

Starbucks, Cafe Coffee Day, Barista and the new Bank (ICICI) ads seem to be doing it, brilliantly, all the time. Explains Creative Director Kaushik Sen, “They’ve understood that the rules of the game have changed. It’s no longer only about consumer contact programmes; it’s about hanging out and being involved.”

The April rose that only grows in early spring, nature’s way of giving a reason to living, the golden crown that makes a man a king? You decide, but yes… the popular consensus is that everything considered, love is indeed the CEO that presides over all target groups simply because it unfailingly conquers the most significant, critical, precious sacrosanct and rewarding territory of all… your heart! Our call – just do it!


Thursday, July 01, 2010


Suddenly its ‘rush-hour’ for ads that are exhibitionistic, corny, pontifical, brain-dead, boring... Why such hara-kiri and determination to muck it up? Here’s a checkout!
It is a sad commentary of contemporary life that while communication continues to take quantum leaps towards building bridges (thanks to technological advancements), the barrier between individuals, at a human level, continues to widen, mocking the grand design. Sane and clued-in communicators keep trying to keep the equilibrium in balance, but mostly, it’s a losing battle. Why? Answers eminent social scientist Ashish Nandy, “The communication is sabotaged by the hysterical anxiety of some individuals, organisations and brand-custodians to be seen, heard and noticed at any cost! Sign of the times, I suppose”. Okay, ready to cut to the chase? All set to identify five simple identifiable common mistakes that invariably rain on the ad-parade? Here’s the list:


Whether it’s the iconic Big B endorsing Binani Cement, Hema Malini praising Kent Water Purifier, Dhoni championing the cause of Amrapali, advertisers have used celebrities with a certain logic in their mind. Unfortunately, this has also resulted in many others jumping onto celebrities without any real reason – be it new cell phone manufacturers using cricketers, or photographer Atul Kasbekar selling a car or even the erstwhile New Delhi traffic commissioner Kiran Bedi indicating Ariel is the best. Where’s the rhyme or reason? The whopper example was when brewery giant Anheuser-Busch used Eric Clapton (and one of his songs) for their ads, at a time when Eric Clapton was a self-confessed alcoholic spending time in a detox facility. Lesson 1: Don’t use celebrities just for the heck of it!


Once upon a time, there reigned the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) as invented by the great Rosser Reeves. It worked because some products were indeed blessed with unique and special attributes. Today, thanks to technology, most attributes are generic, duplicable and hence vulnerable, leading guru John Hegarty to say, “USP has given way to ESP, Emotional Selling Proposition. Why does one eat, buy, wear, listen, engage with particular brands, people, things? How does it make them feel special or different?” Sadly, of the zillion ads that blitz our eyes (detergents, skin-whiteners, toilet cleaners, toothpaste...), most appear totally interchangeable! Where’s that critical differentiation presented with colour and drama? Where’s the big idea? Why is your car better than the competitors’ cars? Simply because the bozzo in your ad has a taped grin on his face 24x7? Do you really expect consumers to fall head over heels for that?


It is true that we live in stress-driven times and escapist entertainment provides a great break, but it is hard to ignore the famous saying, “No one buys from clowns.” Unlike movies or entertainment avenues, advertising has a job to do – and a critical one at that – Sell! If the basic idea is going to be hijacked by humour or entertainment that is so overwhelming (in style or substance), it becomes black comedy and savagely self-cancelling! There has to be a definite, visible, comprehensible bridge that links the humour to the brand value designed to impact the consumer. As Ad and theatre veteran Bharat Dabolkar says, “Sense of tumour has replaced humour in many ads! The fit has to be seamless, not contrived and promoting the brand, not the joke or the individual.”


“Sure, sex is a traffic-stopper (Crash! Bang!) and sensationalism can get the eyes and mouth to widen like crazy. But at best, these unusual contortions can produce only a one-time sale and contribute zilch towards building brand-values or sustain long-term growth,” says Delhi-based ad veteran Esha Guha. She points out to the Amul Macho, Lux Cosy, flavoured condoms kind of ads and doesn’t know whether “to die laughing or puke all summer!” Like celeb and humour, this genre also demands a definite brand-fit. Outstanding examples are Axe, Tag, Old Spice – products that promote themselves as uncomplicated sexual attractant enhancers. Calvin Klein is another iconic example of successfully imbuing its brand identity with sexuality. Ditto, Victoria’s Secret. Blazing the titillation of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink kind invites attention, err, of the wrong kind. Nothing more.


No ideas? Hit the patriotism button, guys! Come Independence Day, Republic Day, the birth/death anniversary of any great national leader and suddenly the ad-frat freaks out to outdo each other in paying homage to great noble souls whose path/footsteps we are committed to follow. Corny, clichéd visuals accompanied by syrup-drenched text defines these ad aberrations. Does anybody read, notice, remember or care a fig about these zillion ads blitzing supplements? Not a hope in hell! Ad veteran Nargis Wadia points to the recent Gandhi-Mont Blanc ad and is shocked at the insensitivity and the bizarre connect! “For a man who defined simplicity, austerity and a saintly life, this projection was unbelievably weird! Attention at any cost? What’s the world coming to…”! Please, do ditch the patriotic button, if not for the sake of sensibilities, at least for the sake of the nation.