Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do Contrarian Brand - Images Work?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri Revisits The Montblanc Advertisement, Adds a few more of his Own, And Does a Reality-Check of This Unique form of Advertising – Using Contrarian Images TO Attract Attention while Attempting Brand-Building

Seen the limited-edition Mahatma Gandhi Montblanc Pen (ad) priced at Rs.1.1 million ($ 23,000; 14,400 pounds) with an 18-carat solid gold, rhodium-plated nib engraved with Gandhi’s image and a “saffron-coloured mandarin garnet” on the clip, unveiled on Gandhi’s birthday last year? Dilip R. Doshi, Chairman of Entrack, Montblanc’s distributor in India, said the pen embodied Gandhi’s timeless philosophy on non-violence and respect for all living creatures. “We are creating a thing of simplicity and beauty that will last for centuries,” he added. Iconic Beatle John Lennon and the father of American literature Mark Twain followed Bapu’s hallowed footsteps in the ad-trail. While the Gandhi edition elicited mixed reaction – “Wow, a $23,000 pen to honour someone who lived on rice and carrots” – and while the jury is not really out on that one, contrarian brand-images (those that perceptually seem contrarian, even unrelated to the brand in question) seem to be doing the rounds in no uncertain a manner. The Big B & Binani Cement. M. S. Dhoni & Amrapali. SRK & Nerolac Paints. Hema Malini and her two daughters with Kent Water Purifier... the list keeps growing.

The point is, do contrarian brand images offer anything special, value-add towards a more meaningful consumption of the communication? Do they provide a more exciting and memorable connect due to their un-conventional pitch and take? Gandhi and an uber-luxurious writing instrument... What’s the link? Paris-based communication consultant Pia Sen, sighs before registering her informed response. “Before the ignoramus types start with their predictable smart jibes and speeches about disconnect and demeaning Gandhi, it would be cool if they cosy up to the major luxury writing instrument-maker’s history of creating limited edition collection of eminent littérateurs, artists, celebrities, revolutionaries and thinkers of the past. It is the German giant’s style of celebrating both the product and the icon. Agreed, the image in terms of product and personality profile may not enjoy a seamless, natural fuse, but the intent is celebratory, an ode, homage and tribute to a legend – not a boring, dumb, politically-correct recitation of Montblanc’s product attributes! Loosen up guys; it’s the spirit not the letter that needs to be understood,” Sen tells 4Ps B&M.

Veteran ad person Nargis Wadia doesn’t agree. The founder of Interpub, a celebrated head-turner in her days believes that contrarian image communication, especially in the Montblanc case, is both bizarre and insulting to the spirit of a man who defined austerity and simplicity. “I wish they had married the essence of the product and the philosophy of the company – integrity, uncompromising pursuit of excellence, transparency, leadership trait – to the essence of the man. It would have bene then more credible. To me, it’s a mockery right now, insensitive and exploitative,” Wadia tells 4Ps B&M.

FCB Ulka’s Head Honcho (North) Arvind Wable isn’t so sure about contrarian-image branding. “This is tricky terrain and so I will hesitate to pass a sweeping remark,” he says. He believes sensitivity – emotional, political and cultural – needs to be understood and respected before pulling the trigger. “What works in one country may not work in another. However, since there has been no major uproar about these ads, I guess, it’s okay. Besides, [even in the Montblan case] it’s possible that the Montblanc guys wanted to generate a bit of buzz in the media and public domain and so unleashed these ads. Who knows? Remember, controversy is big in the public mindspace … and when the father of the nation is involved, man, it can be a freakout!,” says Wable, who believes that contrarian brand imaging is done because it’s a quick, lazy, short-cut to getting visibility without focus or direction. “The result is that the celeb is remembered – but the product promise or value proposition is forgotten, ignored, overlooked or unregistered … a cardinal sin!,” Wable adds in his commentary.

Ad tracker/Commentator Vikas Godbole can’t figure out what this fuss is all about! “Advertisers, marketers, brand-custodians and blue-chip organisations are not duffers, masochists or champion swimmers in the high tide of CSR to splurge big bucks while crafting a communicating strategy to connect with their select constituencies. Whether it’s the Gandhi-Montblanc, Big B-Binani, Dhoni-Amrapali or Hema-Kent ads, there must be a method in their (perceived) madness? It could be a conscious, attention-grabbing controversy – this subject has been going on forever, boss! Tell me something, if there was really such a huge disconnect between the brand and the brand ambassador, then why would there continue to be such an endless boom in this marriage of stars and FMCG shops?” says Godbole.

So, at the end of the day, as the wise one said, if the subject debated (reportedly) – received the blessings of Tushar Gandhi (the Mahatma’s vocal great grandson) who received a cheque of $146,000 (91,500 pounds) to build a shelter for rescued child labourers, then (at least in this case) the pen is indeed mightier than the sword!


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