Once Upon A Time: Brands That Told A Tale

OnceUponATimeBrands typically launch a number of products during the course of their lives.  Needless to say a large number of them are supported with campaigns.  The products of course could be variants, new products or another category under the same mother brand.

Now when brands are creating communication for any campaign they go to great lengths to ensure all the varied pieces straddled across time and media come together to create one beautiful picture and deliver the brand message to the target consumer.

SignalDecayAt this juncture I shall introduce a concept from physics called decay.  Explained in layman terms, it refers to the behaviour of a signal for convenience say sound. A signal that is generated does not have a sudden death once the broadcast ceases, it remains alive gradually losing intensity over time (refer figure).

What does that have to do with our discussion? Well if we were to juxtapose the logic to communication that brands send out.  We could argue that long after the campaign has stopped there is still bound to be a residue of that communication. Perhaps the reason why brands remain in the collective memory if not the collective consciousness. It is this residue that feeds brands long after they are gone. Going a step forward it is this that makes it a challenge when brands want to reposition themselves.

Now unless a brand wants to replace a new message with an existing one communication residues are something that can be used to a brands advantage. They can well serve as a springboard for your next and then your next communication. The caveat is congruence.

There aren’t many, but there are enough examples of brands that have leveraged “ad memory” and built on it.  The subconscious mind stores a plethora of messages only to draw them when triggered. Here’s an attempt to present a few.

The important aspect to note is that the brands took the story forward with each of these communications that were spread over time.  Some over a short time some over an extended period.  However, they all used a common thread to move their stories forward. Some depicted the progress of the protagonist made in life or love, others retained a core ingredient like an audio element, while some attired their central character in a certain way to show changing times. Regardless, they all took their messages deeper into the minds of their respective consumers.

At the end of the day all branding exercises are a battle for a space in the consumers mind, so why waste the space you already made!


The Green Mile : Are Brands Walking the Talk?

Are Brands Walking the Talk?

Are Brands Walking the Talk?

When was the last time you paused to think of the environmental consequences of our actions? Wait. Did I just say environmental?  Right. Most of us find it hard to believe that the choices we make at an individual level as consumers are of any consequence to anyone else.   However, as marketers we have many a time attempted to speak to this very side of the consumer and awaken their conscience.  Green Marketing as it has come to be known has been around for quite a few years now.  Several brands have incorporated “green” into their scheme of things.  As the world environment day nears we shall yet again witness brands trying to associate with green in turn expecting consumers to associate with them/make the right choice.

The question that needs to be asked though is, “Has it had any impact?” How many brands reported back on the impact “the choice” really made in clear quantifiable terms?

It is tough for the cynic in many consumers to actually believe that the brands have their heart and soul in the causes they espouse. The responsibility of making the consumers believe in a purpose beyond the commercial lies with us marketers.  It is for us to not make the consumers think of them as “gimmicks”.  What good is a commitment that is doubted?

Several brands have in their own way communicated their “Green” intent.  Some have coaxed the customers to partake in their cause whilst others have demanded a premium on account of being green.  However, not all have done a good job of sustaining (pun unintended) the conversation.  The efforts by most brands have tended to be sporadic.  A TVC here, a print ad there and oh yes the digital led activation too!  In short the treatment has been that of a campaign.

One wonders whether these efforts are less owing to intent and more due to regulatory pressures.  Atleast as far as India is concerned there is the mandatory 2% CSR rule (not necessarily to be read as green initiatives though).  Are the brands then doing whatever it is they wanted to do in the first place and giving it the green tint? There are no easy answers for that one.  The day is not far away when organisation shall need to start reporting their carbon credits along with other financials.

In all fairness there are some brands that have visibly stuck to the task, brands that have integrated green into their way of working beyond product and design. Some are already putting these principle into practice whilst others are preparing to.  Some me that demonstrate sincerity and commitment while some smack of commercial opportunism with little follow up.  Here is an attempt to showcase some of those efforts that caught the author’s eye. Please judge for yourselves.


More on Sustainability from Nokia


Toyota NDTV Greenathon


Killer Jeans

Minus One Project (Cheil/Samsung)

The Green Mile is a long arduous path, there unfortunately are no shortcuts.  Brands do not need necessarily turn crusaders, they have every right and responsibility to ensure profits for their stakeholders. Point is, once they signal intent they must walk the talk.

In the Line Of Fire: Dealing with Adversity

The Line of FireThey say that adversity is the true test of character. It is a fact that everyone be it individuals, communities, countries, teams, businesses at some point or the other shall face times that are tough. We as marketers have always looked for examples in war, sports, celluloid, politics, simply put life for understanding and propounding theories with regard to brands and their behaviour.

In the tough times do emerge interesting characters who deal (or don’t deal) with adversity in their own unique way and more often than not brands that we use, buy and deal with fall into one of these.  For the purpose of this post I have chosen to label these characters and shall explain the traits of each citing examples from politics, sport, film etc. as applicable.

  • The CrusaderThe Crusaders: These are people/brands that believe and live for a larger cause and continue to do so even in the times of adversity. Regardless of the tide being in their favour or against the cause remains front and centre to everything including their response. The focus on the larger good often may even come at a high price but are well worth the sacrifice.  There are two examples that instantly strike my mind one from the world of business, the other from politics. In both these cases there was a higher price to pay and the brands/people in question did pay.

Case 1: Nokia Battery Recall

An isolated incident of a battery exploding became a PR nightmare for brand Nokia, rumour mills working overtime did not help the cause either.  The brands response however did not go through the traditional cycle (at least to the outside world) of denial, acceptance, risk assessment and corrective action.  The brand behaved in an extremely responsible manner.   The risk, probability and reasons were explained to the consumer, a robust mechanism was first put into place and the brand then recalled the batteries in question.  Not only did the brand gain consumer confidence it shot up to the #1 position in the Most Trusted Brands survey in the same year!

Case 2: AAP

The jury is still out on this one.  The Aam Aadmi Party almost swept the Delhi assembly polls nudging out a formidable Bhartiya Janata Party to form the government in Delhi.  The party under severe pressure to deliver on its tall promises in its blink and you miss stint resigned from power on their rai·son d’être; their version of the Jan Lokpal Bill.


  • The FighterThe Fighters:  The label is self-explanatory.  These are brands or individuals that bring about changes in themselves, work-out hard and train to come back better and stronger.  They are extremely competitive in their fabric and hate losing to anyone or anything.  They always believe that their best shot is the next one.  What shouldn’t be undermined here is the emotion is complemented in full measure by blood, sweat and toil.  Here are examples of 3 individuals to build my argument.

Case 1: Rocky Balboa

Yes its clichéd and has been over-used but the success of the Rocky franchise over twenty years, if nothing else has taught us one lesson;  a fall, a failure, a defeat is not the end, it is the beginning of your climb back to the top.  We love it when our heroes have their backs against the wall. We love it when they scratch for every inch and fight with every ounce of strength in their bodies.  Somewhere perhaps we all identify with failure and success has always been aspirational.  Here is a brand that ruled got written off, yet came out a winner!

Case 2: Yuvraj Singh

It purely is a question of individual assessment, but then blogs are just that aren’t they?  Here is a guy who was perhaps at the peak of his prowess. The quintessential watch out for this guy from the start he delivered big time and was the hero of India’s 2011 ICC World Cup triumph. Then followed the fight with cancer and his amazing return to health and fitness in the span of a year.  His performance have been debated and arguably have been patchy and nowhere near his best.  As much as we love making heroes we seem to love pulling them down even more.  Yuvraj as I write this piece has his back to the ropes and carries the burden of India’s loss in the ICC World Cup T20 finals.  A 100 bucks say that the story ain’t over.

Case 3: Steve Jobs

This I use as an example from the world of business.  A man who was kicked out from the very company he founded.  Did his time and came back with a bang!  The brand Steve Jobs was as much about not giving up as it was about innovation. Whether in life dealing with his ill-health or in business the approach and resolve remained consistent.

All the of the above had perseverance and preparation in common apart from a come-back.

  • The Rabble-rouserThe Rabble-rousers:  These are the wise guys the smart Alec’s or the sly foxes of the world. Their method of dealing with trouble is to create diversions or smoke-screens.  They are also the brands/people that pick, point to and amplify flaws in their competition when themselves in trouble. Yes as much as we would like to disbelieve the Dirty Tricks Department does exist and the if I am bad he’s badder game has been played in sports, politics and business alike.  To avoid controversy I will not cite examples or names but would point out to a two political outfits in a prosperous western state of India.  They are by no means the only examples of fighting adversity with diversion.


  • The FaderThe Faders:  These are the kind that never stood up and fought.  For reasons best known to them they never responded to the situation or put up a fight. They laid down their weapons and turned their backs to the situation.

Case: Dr.  Manmohan Singh

Hailed as the father of India’s liberalization and economic surge the Prime Minister of India has been under the pump for close to two years and there seems to be no end in sight.  The media and opposition alike have accused him of everything including being weak, inactive, indecisive etc.  For a brand that he once was his “history will judge me kindly” press conference was a sad sight to watch.


  • The DeserverThe Deservers: These are the brands/people that deserved what they got. They eroded and abused one of the core components of a brand Trust. Their vehement denial of any wrongdoing and desire to retain the high pedestal dragged them into infamy, deservedly so.

Case 1: Lance Armstrong

Individuals and businesses alike would have taken inspiration from Lance Armstrong.  However, the web of deceit that he spun left a bitter taste in the mouths of everyone who believed his incredible tale of will over all else!  The collateral damage was the loss of reputation for the Lance Armstrong Foundation that did genuine good work for and on behalf of cancer patients. Today it exists under the name of LiveStrong and a stigma.

Are these characters exhaustive, are there more?  The author believes that the characters though not exhaustive are definitive of what one gets to see.

To close I would like to draw attention to an article titled “The Inevitability of Fires”   by Shekhar Swamy of RK Swamy BBDO fame in the book Brands Under Fire.

In his article Swamy talks about how crises are inevitable and on the importance of TRUST and TRUST Balance, relevant excerpts as below.

It is a truism that any crisis can confront any brand or company at any time.  It’s not a question of whether any crisis will occur in a brand’s life.   It is only a question of when.

At the core of all successful brands lies that big T word-TRUST.  When that trust is violated, the reaction is one of hurt and suspicion that can easily turn to anger and rejection.

The only way to be ready for any crisis is to continuously build and hold a vast credit balance of TRUST vis-à-vis the consumer.  Indeed this is true in any relationship.  As long as there is a credit balance, one can draw on this in times of crisis.

The Crusaders and Fighters make credits on account of their actions into their TRUST Balance, the Rabble-Rouser perhaps manages to get away with neither a credit nor a debit, the Faders loose credit significantly and the Deservers are the ones who go bankrupt!

The Sound of Music: KaChing!!

SoMKaChingRare would be the people who’d say they dislike music. That being said how many of this majority that loves music would be willing to make an “effort” either monetary or physical to acquire music.  We have been living in the age of digital music for almost a generation now.  The era of vinyl discs (gramophones), audio cassettes and compact discs is long gone. With that has also gone the tangible aspect of music.  Piracy has afflicted music industry for a while now. Somehow when it comes to copying, sharing and transferring music it is not a question of scruples.  There were days we’d get the music dubbed from one cassette to the other today we just transfer it from one memory stick to the other. One of the leading record labels in India started off distributing pirated content and illegal covers.  The readers of this post may belong to different generations but almost all would be guilty of acquiring music in, to mildly put it, not a legal way.  For most of us therefore music is “Free”.  Chris Anderson in his book by the same name goes on to define and describe various kinds of free. Piracy he says is an imposed form of free.

With this as a background, creating a music service and offering it to consumers is rather a brave effort especially in a country like India where ahem…scruples are a non-issue.  So have brands not made the effort to monetize music? Sure they have, snack sized music in terms of ringtones and CRBT (Call Ring Back Tunes) which has metamorphosed into a multi-crore industry. What about pure play music then? Yes there have been brands that have carried the torch for that as well. With that have emerged different business models for monetizing music as a service.  The Apple iTunes store did not launch in India perhaps for these very reasons.

Nokia altered its concept and delivery of music radically when it launched its music store and comes with music. There was an evolution in the way “free” music was delivered.  Initially, select devices that were positioned as music devices started coming pre-loaded generic content, then exclusive content etc. Eventually, the devices came with buffet style free unlimited music from the store.  The model was simple the brand paid and built it into the price of the tangible product i.e. the mobile phone.  The consumer was happy since they technically weren’t paying for the music and all you can eat was the smokescreen.  Of course charges for data were applicable, which meant data packs therefore a win-win for both the device manufacturers and the telecom service providers.

Then again there was the desi jugaad that had emerged with the proliferation of SD card enabled mobile phones.  Retail stores would sell memory cards and a service that was inbuilt was loading of content music, porn etc.  In this model though no one paid for the content, except perhaps the consumer when he desired to refresh the content.

Over the past seven to eight years though the landscape has changed as far as the devices and the telecom services are concerned. There are new players and new leaders today. Music however has continued to rule roost as far as showcased services are concerned.  Yes today in India music much like the west also has a visual connotation.  Bollywood has seized the opportunity that exists in mobile music rights are sold specifically and separately for mobile today. Airplays on radio and television are invariably accompanied by short-codes for ringtones and CRBT.

So if people are actually making money out of it and the consumer seems to think it’s free then some good has come out of it.

Truth is the concept of value is changing, money is not the single determinant of value anymore.  Record sales might not be the indicator of success today but YouTube views, ringtone downloads and store downloads sure are.

To close a modification on the law of conservation of energy but with a simple twist based on the TANSTAFL (There ain’t no such thing as free lunch) concept.  At the end of the day I am an Engineer with a Marketing degree!

“Value can be created but not destroyed, it can only be transformed from one form to another.”

Whose line is it anyway? Are taglines the changing face of brands?

Whose Line is it AnywayTaglines have been around for as long as brands have been, forever! Just like brands there are all kinds of taglines good ones, bad ones and also the what are they trying to says. They have and shall continue to form a part of Brand quizzes the world over.  Brand taglines when and where use are an integral part of the brand identity and more often than not define the brand character.

There are brands that have stuck to the same line over years of their existence while some have had their taglines evolve. No wrongs or rights here. Just knowing what works for you best. Wait a minute! Did I just say what works for you? Damn right I did. That is precisely the trip most brand heads are on! Often we forget that as brands establish themselves the consumers become stakeholders, at the end of the day aren’t they the ones giving the equity?

Not so long ago, at one of the organisations I worked with, we were on the hunt for a new creative agency.  So started my journey of identifying, short-listing and inviting agencies to pitch for our creative account.  The invite was as is the custom accompanied by a brief. A week or more of clarification and discussions happened for the agencies to build their understanding and appreciate the brief.  Without exception each of the six agencies that had confirmed participation asked us the same question.

“How amenable are you to changing the tag line?”

The tag line was to all of them and rightly so, the articulation of the brand intent/philosophy.  Coming back, our response was of course “Open to discussion for the purpose of the pitch.”  We had given the agencies the part that they loved best, a license for a creative tangent.

When they came back all of them, basis the homework they had done gave us their understanding of our understanding, the understanding of our customers and consumers and finally a prescription for where the brand should head. Different yet interesting perspectives all.

Point is, here were a set of people who were actually seeking to receive the messages that we were sending out into space and this was their interpretation of what we were trying to say. Imagine the number of interpretations that would exist in the real world where people are not seeking you out.

How many actually register these one, two or probably five words that we as brand creators and custodians plaster all over the place with our other identity marks?   Assuming they are registering it, how unambiguous is our articulation?

Wordsmiths and brand creators within the organisation and the agencies perhaps spend hours and days crafting those magic words to perfection.  These words that form the tag line are the brands way of telling the world at large either or all of these things, obviously just an indicative list

  • What is our philosophy
  • What we are
  • What we do
  • How we like to do things
  • What do we want you to feel
  • Where are we headed etc.

We also put frameworks in place with regard to the context, conditions and placement of the tagline on our communication and signage.  One other thing that we should as brand custodians review is how often those very words are used as filter for our everyday actions and communication.

For example, what really is Nike’s interpretation of “Just do it” how do they live and execute it in their organisation.    Most probably there is a thought through answer for this.  However, who really is ensuring or checking to see whether that is the understanding of every employee or bulk of the consumers? Does it matter and if yes, what steps are taken to improve the understanding?

There are brands that use their tagline to communicate their journey or evolution. Thus changing it along the way. Moving it a step closer or a notch higher in terms of its relevance to its consumers. Some even move from the rational to the emotional space during the course of their journey.

For example Domino’s Pizza in India started off with their process and capability based “Nobody delivers better” to “Hungry Kya” trying to own food as a category on to “Khushiyon ki Home delivery” to its present tagline “Yeh hai rishton ka time”.  Four taglines in a little under twenty years of history in India.

Another example would be that of Lenovo that went from the more cerebral “New World, New Thinking” to “For Those Who Do”.

There is also an increasing incidence of a local articulation of the global thought. Taglines that used to be sacrosanct and uniform across the globe some years ago now come in a local flavour almost like campaign lines.  This perhaps is not just true for taglines alone, some brands are allow multiple versions of their logo to co-exist, transition is not really that high on the agenda.

Some brands like Nokia on the other hand have pretty much dropped their tagline “Connecting People” from its pride of place just below the name for regular use, bringing it out only on occasion.

The rules of the game, perhaps the game itself is changing. Brand identities of today exist in multiple spaces and forms.  The role of the tagline just might be changing from registering impact to grabbing attention!

Bringing me to the starting premise what is the line for anyway? For you (the consumer) to understand me or for me (the brand) to tell you what I want to.  Is there really any purpose the taglines serve or is it just a ball of wool thrown at the curious cats in the business schools to discuss, debate and write about.

Fellow marketers your opinions please.