Brand Wagon: Sports is the new context

Every 4 years we as a country ask this question:

Why can’t we win medals in Olympics?

Why as country we do well only in cricket, is cricket the reason that we don’t do well in Olympics?

Why cant corporates put in money as they put in Cricket?

Eventually the clamour dies down and we carry on enjoying cricket and now a variety of sports that are beyond cricket. Hockey has seen a revival, Kabbadi is being watched, and Badminton gets people to stadiums, even Formula 1 got people excited and drove them to racetrack.

The fact is India loves sports more than cricket. Cricket drives people, and is the most popular sport. Cricketers are used by the brands because they are recognized. Constant TV coverage makes them well known and that makes it easy for brands to use them.

No corporate participation?

But the corporates and brands are investing in sportsperson beyond cricket, and that is a wonderful thing. Take Olympic Gold Quest, the not for profit organization that has been working with some of the most promising athletes of India, giving them support, training, nutrition and kits. PV Sindhu, the Rio Olympic Gold Medalist is a part of Olympic Gold Quest. OGQ is the power behind 5 Olympic Gold Medals, 2 Silver and 3 Bronze.

Jindals have invested big in sports with JSW Sports, this year at Rio they scored a Bronze with Sakshi Malik in wrestling.

There are more corporates including the biggest names like Tata are involved with athletes beyond cricket.

This is an interesting conundrum. The corporates have opened up their purse for athletes other than cricket. Indians, on occasions when the athletes have competed have cheered them, rooted for them, and made them a part of their lives. Yet the broader marketing communication has not seen too many non-cricket celebrities being used as face of brands.


Brands have not been indulgent

There has been an Abhinav Bindra that was signed on by Samsung after his Gold Medal in 2008. Saina Nehwal is the face of Savlon, Iodex and Fortune Cooking Oil, but this is where it stops. Un each of the three brands she is the super performing athlete and each ad makes a strong impact for the brand.

Why is it that the brands have shied away from using the non-cricket athletes as brand endorsers? The simplistic answer may lie in the fact that these players are still high performing athletes and are not stars that public wants to mimic. The other reason may be that these athletes are backed by organizations and brands that are not in consumer spaces. OGQ has no products to sell. Mittal Champions Trust had no battle of market share to fight, JSW Sports works towards making the corporate a better neighbour.

Its easy to rope in a film star

The mainstream brands in India are too focused on either the film stars or the cricket personalities. Even Nike, the partner of OGQ, when it did communication to celebrate the athletes of India, it used Dipika Padukone as the lead and not the 6 athletes who should have been the face of the brand. Celebrities are used by the brands to gain quick awareness, but Nike as a brand has been all about sports and the brand would have done better showcasing the women athletes and letting Dipika be a part of the mix.

BMW signs up Sachin as the face of the brand, and then gifts the BMW to medal winners at Rio. Clearly in BMWs scheme of things Sachin is a better salesperson for a marquee car and that BMW is better off gaining some fame by just gifting the cars to the winners. What if BMW had signed up either of the three or all three as the faces that drive the brand in India?

Brands take easy way out

The Nike Da Ding is just a small part of the problem. Brands believe that the easiest way to gain a million plus views on a video is by using a celebrity. In India there are only two kind of celebrities: Film Actors and Cricket Players. Sachin sells BMW, Kareena sells Jaguar. May be both have limited impact on final purchase decision.

Sports Authorities need to look beyond

This year we had a film star and a cricketer as the brand ambassador for Rio Olympic. The public hue and cry and rejection of the two choices is a clear indicator that consumers want to look beyond the conventional stars. Its time the sports authorities broke the mould. Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Saina Nehwal, Vijender Singh, Yogeshwar Dutt, Karnam Malleshwari are perfectly capable of firing public imagination.

Its time we as the country started to celebrate our heroes. Its time our brands looked beyond the usual celebrities.

The consumers are ready, its time the brands shed their resistance.

Original Published Here:









Your home comes with a famous face

Celebrities are an enduring theme of advertising. More and more celebrities of every kind are being used by marketers to push their brand messages. Let’s be honest, we know celebrity advertising works. We all fall to the charms of celebrity that is being used in advertising. The astronomical sums that the celebs command as fees are proof that their charm engulfs everyone.

The interesting part of the usage of celebrity is that we all know that the products will not make us more beautiful, or fairer, or smarter or sexy. Yet we as consumers connect with the brand because we like the values that the brand represents. Our feelings of self identity, affirmation and insecurity have made celebrities into mainstream culture.

We know brands carefully spend time choosing the right celebrity. These are a few principles that the brand may follow in order to choose the right celebrity for its branding activities

Compatibility: The brand and the celebrity have to work in tandem. The celebrity has to transfer his or her own value system on to the brand and vice versa. Compatibility is one factor in determining the eventual success of any campaign

Credibility: Both the brand and the brand have to be high on personal credibility. If either of the subjects is low on credibility it will impact the overall outcome in a negative way. From Tiger Woods to Maruti Versa, examples of both are abound

Collaboration: The brand and the celebrity have to have a collaborative effect on each others’ identity, personality, values, market standing and brand positioning. This will define the efficacy of the use of celebrity and the eventual impact.

If done the right way, it helps the brand to gain attention, add to its credibility and even ensure that the celebrity does not overshadow the brand.

So why is it that suddenly the real estate brands have started to use celebrities in a big way? From MS Dhoni to Yuvraj Singh, to Sushmita Sen, to even an IPL team, real estate brands are hiring them to lure potential home owners.

One possible reason for this may be the increasing commoditization of the real estate brands. They all seem to follow (at least most of them) one formula, and the consumer eventually may be left confused. The celebrity at least at one level ensures attention. However does it add to credibility?

Buying a home remains one of the most cherished dreams of every Indian. Purchase of a home is a very long drawn process with many layers and many players. Everyone looks for a different pay off from the purchase. From pride to security, buying a home evokes a complex bouquet of emotions.

Do celebrities add to the process? Does the use of celebrity ease some of the anxiety? Does the use of celebrity add to the trust factor? Does the use of celebrity create a buying short cut? The consumers know that the celebrities they are seeing in the advertising are not the potential consumers.

May be the real estate brands need to put the power of idea back in their communication and not replace it with a celebrity. Or else even the celebrities will become blind spots in the increasing commoditization of the category.

Lessons from Reality TV

Some reality TV shows have been asked to be broadcast after 11 pm by the ministry of information and broadcasting, based on public outcry on vulgarity and abusive language in the shows.

In times when the television has replaced the erstwhile joint family’s grandfather as the grand storyteller of life and its lessons, of values and popular culture, it may be moot to take a look at what people derive from the facts and fiction that television brings to their living rooms. After all, every evening, families across India do gather around their TV sets.

There are lessons – good and bad – that people could be deriving from a host of reality shows such as Bigg Boss 4, MasterChef India and, say, Kaun Banega Crorepati 4, all ongoing shows. These are randomly named and in no way mean that the other reality shows have nothing to teach us.

There are four potentially harmful lessons to be learnt. First, that it pays to be bad. The louder you are, the crasser you are, the greater your fan following. Politeness and compassion are out. Second, that it pays to be self-centered. It is fine to speak the language of ‘I, me, and myself’ if you are anchoring a show – there’s no need for consideration for others or respect for their skills.

Third, that you should never try to separate fact from fiction. It’s all right to add drama to some mundane, perfectly normal everyday situations. When you add such drama, you become a media star. Every channel follows you, wants your opinion on everything and it may even land you your own TV show.

Fourth, that relationships are a matter of convenience. What’s good today may not be good tomorrow. You must constantly evaluate your relationships to see what works for the moment. It’s perfectly fine to switch sides if it works for you.

Fortunately, in midst of a host of reality shows that teach dangerous lessons, there is a show that teaches lessons of humility, politeness, respect and compassion. The fact that the lessons of humility and politeness come from India’s biggest movie icon, only add to overall weight of the lessons.  The fact that his shows are pulling more eyeballs than any other show tells that people do hold old world values in high regard and don’t get swayed by attention-grabbing gimmicks.

All this has implications not only on the emerging popular culture but also on brands. All brands are a function of two contexts: the content of brands and the environment in which they live. Brands control their content, and leverage the environment. If a brand lives in the right environment, it creates the right feeling about itself. If it lives in the wrong environment, it weakens and can eventually destroy its own equity.

There are many brands that are riding on the TV reality shows. They are present either as sponsors, or as advertisers in the commercial breaks, or in programme placements. If a brand appears in an environment where the values propounded by the show are contrary to what the brand stands for, should it evaluate its presence? Brands go to great lengths to test their creative content, measure their advertising impact, and track their efficacy. Maybe it is time they also added the effect of environment on themselves.

So, will brands ever do that? Rise above the ordinary and take a wider responsibility? Or will we, as consumers, have to trigger the change?


Published in Hindustan Times 22.10.2010

The Impalling Vuvuzela Effect on Indian Media

I happened to watch the opening ceremony of the 19th commonwealth games in the orange capital of India. I also happened to watch with a bunch of people who were what any one will call us average Indians. Ordinary people who work hard, who are successful in what they do, and who live in the smaller towns of India. It was amazing to watch the ceremony with them. The feeling of pride at what India had dished out at that evening was really infectious. Most of us watched the ceremony with our jaws open and were taken in by the opulence and pizzazz of the ceremony.

This led them to ask the most obvious question, is this event being held in India or this is some other country? Where are the stadiums that were about to collapse? Is this aerostat which was creating all the controversy? But this balloon looks fantastic. So what was the entire cacophony all about?

These are the people who we in our world say chasing the rating points. Coming from the heartland of India they make up the numbers and the channel content is geared to them. The more I spoke with them, the more it looked like that the news channels are suffering from the Vuvuzella effect.

Vuvuzella became popular at the FIFA world cup in South Africa. The make an awful lot of racket and people love to blow it. The louder it is the better is the instrument. However the instrument only produces one kind of sound and when they are blown collectively it sounds like a zillions bees have come swarming into the stadium. They make a lot of noise but they make a noise that can’t be differentiated

Vuvuzella allows people to whip up frenzy. It forces people to blow harder so that they make noise that is louder than the other. This sounds strangely similar to what we are seeing happen in the world of news media

The media generally is blowing harder and harder to make more and more noise. News is being turned into entertainment. Comedy shows and daily soaps get more prominence than what can be called is news. The headlines in newspapers look like titles of upcoming serials. More cricket being played on news channels than on field. The viewer or the reader is left asking where the news?

The Vuvuzella mindset is destroying the credibility and authenticity of media as a whole. There is a strange disconnection from reality that media has started to display. Media above all has a very big responsibility. They are the watchdogs of the society. They are supposed to be thorough, sensitive and diligent. Sadly the media has started to speak within itself and not to its audience. You can see it happen with almost every event that happens in the country is reported in a shrill and insensitive manner. Somehow the, media has started to lose its edge, and it’s losing it with what it calls its prime audience.

Enough has been said about media getting closer to its constituents and reflecting their views. It seems that media has decided to become more populist than an expert. While there are a few good men in there, and they are well respected, but the rank and file is simply blowing the Vuvuzella and not making music.

It’s time that the media introspected and decided to banish their Vuvuzellas. The audience is waiting for a symphony. I suspect that the media itself may be surprised by the audience reaction.

Now the big question: will they?

101 New Heroes

Between 3rd and 14th October 2010, India has seen birth of 101 new heroes. These heroes are ordinary Indians like you and me, who through their talent, determination, grit, hard work and dedication have made the country proud. Each one of these 101 new heroes is a symbol of the new resurgent India that the world is watching with awe.
One of the ways of defining the richness of any culture is the number of heroes that they have. Heroes infuse new thoughts, show an alternate path, shape new rituals, and become role models. They are leaders in their own right, they are epitome of excellence. For a long period of time we have had just a handful of the role models. Cricket has contributed a few, and movies have contributed a few more, and the world of business too has had its share. Unfortunately we have had just a handful of icons. More so the world of advertising and marketing has always felt this lacuna where icons from popular culture help in creating engaging messages. It has always fallen short of the role models and has ended up choosing either cricketers or glamour stars from world of movies. Once in a while there have been odd beauty queens or glamorous tennis players.
Clearly the new heroes have caught the nations fancy. People came out in large numbers cheering for them. They braved many negatives and inconvenience to come out and connect with their new found idols. The cheering and the celebration every time they won indicated that there is public following for them. For once India stepped out of their homes to cheer for players who are not cricketers, and also who are not hockey players. Shooters, wrestlers, squash players, athletes, boxers all were adopted willingly.
For once we have a host of icons that can be leveraged to push a new agenda for the society. These are icons that will have far greater credibility, power to engage and power to craft opinions. One of the biggest issue that any brand faces is the credibility of the icon it wants to use and more often than not the communication fails to work due to poor fit of celebrities.
So what are the new possibilities? Here are a few
Haryana has redefined success in sports, and not just men, women have been leading the charge. How about the state of Haryana launching a campaign to promote gender equality, adopting the girl child with open arms and giving the infamous Khap Panchayats a new agenda to follow. Who can say it better than the winning grapplers and runners from Haryana?
The anti smoking lobby can do with a host of heroes who can motivate the impressionable young minds to kick the butt and kick some ball. Kicking the ball is in reality far cooler than lighting up.
Strength is a big dimension for many brands. There are a very few icons that represent strength in a real meaningful way. We have icons now that represent strength in the best possible way. Who can better personify strength than the boxers and wrestlers who have nerves of steel?
Commitment is another huge dimension that the brands strive to build. There are a host of heroes who represent commitment in ample measure. The relay runners, the discus throwers, the gymnasts and even the swimmers are great examples of heroes who are symbols of commitment
There are many more dimensions that the 101 new icons collectively can open up. Team work, pride, passion, nimbleness, triumph over adversity, unconventional path to success and above all a never say dies spirit.
By learning from and working with the new icons the world of advertising and marketing should start a completely new conversation. Conversation that is more real does not have cynicism and drives new behaviour.
The 101 new icons have opened up possibilities of shaping a new India. Let’s not lose the advantage. And let’s also build on their success to create a new culture of success.
Published at

CWG: Everybody is a player

The 19th edition of Common wealth Games to be held in Delhi are in midst of a huge crisis. Obviously the brand CWG is floundering under the sustained media pressure and this in turn is knocking at India’s equity too.

The media has been running a sustained and high pressure campaign dubbing the Commonwealth Games as common stealth games. Everyday there is a new revelation about a misdoing or corruption. The key opinion makers too have had field day writing about what is wrong with the games.

One leading writer of popular fiction has called for the boycott of games, called it the tool of repression and has gone to the extent of saying that the games should be used a tool to overthrow the current Government and install a new regime. In saying so he is only furthering the views of the ex sports minister of India. The jingoism has sunk to a new depth.

As it happens in any prolonged debate, the facts get muddled and perceptions start to become reality. A lot of the facts and figured that are being quoted by various people are more fiction than reality. The Indian Express story on tracking the expenses is possibly the only contrary voice in the debate.

The debates are now slipping into a very predictable pattern of raising a lot of issues but offering no solution. Interestingly the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and even the impending London Olympics are not beyond criticism. There was a very harsh criticism of estimated $6Bn (yes 6Bn Dollars, and by a first world country where supposedly the infrastructure is not a problem) spent by Canada in hosting the games, and London is facing criticism on its entire branding programme, which they say isn’t ‘British’ enough.

The only fact that is absolute truth in this debate is that there has been corruption in hosting these games. It also seems that entire logistics management for hosting the games has seen a collective brain freeze.

So let’s compartmentalize the whole issue.  There are the games to be hosted and there are issues in hosting the game. Should we allow the issues to overtake the event? If the brand manager messes up with the distribution should the brand be withdrawn and consigned to dustbin? Or maybe even close the company down which owns the brand? It’s become a classic case of throwing out the baby, but keeping the bathwater.

Now this raises the crucial question: who owns the brand CWG? No, it’s not the organizing committees, it’s not the sports ministries, and it’s definitely not the Governments. The brand is truly owned by the ordinary citizens of the participating countries and the host country has a special interest in the brand for a definite period of time. The athletes who will compete in the games have special interest in the brand, so do those who have competed in past and those who aim to compete in future. Unlike what the critics may be saying about who bothers about the commonwealth club, the special interest group bothers about it. We must see the brand from this prism.

The common public of India, however skeptical it may be, wants India to hold the most spectacular games ever. For its not only the athletes who would be competing in these games, it’s the whole nation that will be competing in these games. The pride, identity and value system of a whole nation is at stake. If the games are all about triumph over adversity, hard work, dedication and going for glory than the time to display all that is now.

We all own the brand, and we must ensure that we pass the right set of legacy and heritage to the next set of trustees. For that to happen, we have to ensure that we as a nation win, and not score a self goal.

Maths Of IPL

Currently there are 88 players playing in IPL, and guess how many brands are involved with them?  There are 125 brands involved with these 88 players. These are brands who are team sponsors, beverage sponsors, insurance sponsors, jersey sponsors, smile sponsors and even a university sponsor! Now that’s not where the count ends, add to it the title sponsor, the five television telecast sponsors, the strategic time out sponsor, the catch sponsor, and brands whose ads are telecast inside the stadium on giant screen, and brands that have taken the perimeter boards on the boundary, and the branding on the blimp above the stadium and the online video streaming partner, and the sixer sponsor and the four sponsor. We are looking at over 150 brands that are chasing 88 players

Is that fair?

Why is it that all brands are chasing the IPL bandwagon? The basic rule of brand communication is to do your best to avoid clutter. Brand managers work hard to ensure that they are in an environment where there is less clutter for their brand to stand out and connect better. IPL, though is different. Afterall there are 88 players and almost everyone across the world is only watching IPL, if not on TV than on you tube, and if not on you tube than in theatres. The brands have no choice but to be on IPL. How can you miss out on the good thing?

I must add here that empirical evidence is really against me at this stage. While IPL is generating good numbers, the numbers are not overwhelmingly huge. And while GEC are showing decline, the decline is not alarming.

How can than the brands miss on India’s biggest sports carnival? Here are some ideas and innovations that will go a long way in ensuring that 150 brands become 300, and the audience cheers for each brand.

There are sponsors who sponsor fours and sixes. The tourney should now have brands that sponsor singles, twos, and threes as well. And while we are at it lets get a sponsor for every dot ball and for every maiden over. In fact the most expensive sponsorship should be for the maiden over, as you are not going to get many of them. Imagine how well will the brand stand in clutter and what kind of recall it will generate.

Now let’s look at the player jersey’s. There is a lot of scope here. While the upper half of uniform is fairly branded, the lower half is fairly devoid of any branding. That is really a precious waste of advertising space. Especially when the fast bowler comes charging down to bowl and the camera pans him, there are large gaps that you can see.

The umpires too are feeling left out, as the players get to don a lot of brands, but the umpires have only one brand. This will create an imbalance that will hurt the umpires in the long run. They need to be enriched and empowered. They are waiting for brands to be associated with them. With just two umpires on field who have to constantly run across the pitch they are very valuable moving advertising mediums.

But the real waste of space is the ground itself. How unfair is to have just five logos on the ground? Imagine how much value can be unlocked by just opening the ground for brands to occupy? Imagine the revenue that can be generated if 100 square feet of area s given to each brand on ground, we can easily fit in 50 more brands.

And we love watching ads. We cannot do without our daily dose of ads. Before the start of ecvery match, we must screen at least 15 minutes of ads on the giant screen, and the cheerleaders should cheer every ad in their unique style.

You see, it’s not difficult to increase the number of brands involved with IPL, after all why should any brand miss out?

We at Dentsu recently did a very large study on IPL just before it commenced, and came up with some startling findings. After two years of high octane action, the recall of principle sponsor of IPL does not cross half way mark. For most teams the fans don’t know the principle sponsor, or worst their full names. People are watching the games, following the stars, but are they connecting with brands?

May be its time for the brand managers to evaluate the issue of being associated with IPL with new perspective. Either you own it in a big way, or don’t venture near it.

Not 300, may be just 30

Published at in April 2010

Integrated Communications: the new reality

Change may the only constant, but change is most hated by everyone.

Look at every new idea, and the people refused to accept the innovation.

Video didn’t kill radio, calculator didn’t make a whole generation dumb, computers didn’t make us lazy, remotes didn’t turn viewers into constantly surfing junkies

They actually did exactly the opposite. Video made radio smarter. Calculators opened up new possibilities. Computers made a whole generation smarter. Remotes forced the TV programmes to become more entertaining and less preachy

What’s my point?

We may as well see this happening with this entire theory of integrated marketing and communication.

The whole practice of Integrated Marketing is based on the belief that consumers are fragmented, and no single medium can reach them with optimum efficiency. Hence we need to surround them with as many mediums and make them see our brand in the right light. In the morning when they wake up, they must see us on newspapers, thought he day they must see us from billboards and radio. In the evening we must blast them with constant ads on TV. These days’ consumers also watch TV in morning, and hear news on TV throughout the day, so our message must be there too. Rise of mobile and internet means new mediums to should be added to the mix. So not just conventional mediums, but also new mediums. Surround the consumer with as much noise as we can, make sure that that the brand is always around them.

And we do it very simply by taking the TV idea and taking it across every medium. So one visual, one colour or one music note and the brand can communicate with its audience consistently, constantly. We can also measure not only the intensity of our message, but also the effectiveness of our message.

There is a big issue with this approach though. This approach believes that consumers are individual islands and the brands can control the interaction. Almost like what Simon and Garfunkel said in their super hit song “words of prophet are written on the subway wall, and people bowed to their Neon God”

The consumers are no longer fragmented; they have started to become collective, become one and are finding their voice. And not through the old world of unions and forums, but through the new age world of online forums, blogs, communities, Facebooks and Mouthshuts.

And the consumers are shunning authority. We no longer live in a world where people instinctively trust authority. As much social research shows, we’d rather trust our own instincts and the information we learn from our friends. For the brands, it’s better to be talked about by consumers than to try to out-shout the crowd.

These are fundamental changes that will make every theory of Integrated marketing stand on its head

The new world than is not about dominating, but is about engagement. It can sound chaotic and scary, but it needn’t be either

So what is it that the brands need to do to engage consumers?

Make the consumers look good: its not about giving the shine to brand, but to the consumer. The Coke Mentos videos on youtube made the consumers into heros for the brand

Give the consumers a platform: learn from them, see how they interact with the brand and make them central to your brand. This is radically different from the existing thought of being idea central. The idea has to take a back seat.

Let them have fun with the brand: let them customize it, use it the way they want to use it, and allow them to tell the world that they have found their own way of using it.

Speak to them in their language: for a very long time, brands have spoken to consumers in their own vocabulary. In the decontrolled world brands will need to speak with consumers in consumers’ own language

What it means is that the old rules of Integrated Marketing have to undergo a change. The centrality of TV is no longer enough. The consumer is finding a voice, and their own voice, and the brands will have to put them in centre. It is no longer about surrounding the consumer, it is about engaging the consumer

May be there are no rules in the new reality

Published in 4Ps of Marketing, January 15, 2010 issue