AdStand: The Cry for Freedom on Independence Day

How did the business of advertising start? There is very little that is known about it.

True the merchants worked hard to attract potential customers to their wares. There was no branding, the merchant was the brand and the merchant didn’t operate from a fixed location. The initial business was about those who created flyers on behalf of large shops. These people were more of printers (publishers in today’s parlance) and not really creators.

Then sometimes in 60’s one visionary Copywriter teamed up with an Art Director and new foundation of today’s advertising business as we know was laid. This partnership became very successful and a soon a business manager got attached to them. Then a media person got attached to this team. Eventually a media planner and business manager got together and a function called planner was born. This system of advertising has been in vogue since and advertising agencies have run for a long time on this basis.

The business of advertising became fat, complex and unwieldy.

The holding companies in their greed to make the most of growing industry bundled many agencies to play on size. As the size became a deterrent they tried to unbundle and broke them into smaller sizes.

Agencies are at war today; they are in a war of survival. The old creative duo combination, which was the foundation of agencies, is under attack from generalists. The Digital technologist, the CRM specialist, the event marketers, the media agencies are all running after the same pie and are all wanting to be full service. Add the consulting companies to the mix and you get a scenario where the entire business is under severe pressure.

Is there a way out?

May be this Independence Day, we can look at the way out. There are independent agencies across the globe that have started to redefine the way brands engage with clients.

Freedom from Silos

There are too many silos in advertising business today. There are the traditional copy-art duo, add to this mix the technologist, the media blokes, the event marketers, the PR professionals and many more.

Agencies are not about creative; the fundamental foundation of agencies is ideation. The entire creative process needs to be re-crafted. The traditional copy art duo needs to become better integrated with new age creators like publishers, the bloggers, and the technology solution providers. Increasingly the new breed of independent agencies are breaking the walls and opening the process of creation to become idea centric.


Freedom from Mass Media thinking

For way too long the communication business has been about ‘creating’ TV commercials. This model worked because the brands were about driving awareness and penetration. Broadcast was the easiest way to create traction for the brand. The new media explosion has meant that brands need to add a new layer to broadcast. This layer is to ensure that the communication becomes sharper, more contextualized and more engaging. The new communication is all about relooking the engagement between consumers and brands. Despite the entire conversation about brands wanting to be on two-way communication with consumers, I don’t believe it is necessarily true. Brands still need to be intrusive, just that intrusion is nor driven by a big mass media broadcast solution alone.


Freedom from cheaper and faster

The single biggest disservice the holding companies did to the business was to make everything either cheaper or faster. Because they could not create the differentiation through ‘creative product’ they created the new evaluation metric of cost and time. This has been the biggest failure of advertising industry. Simply put, this has meant that clients drove a hard bargain by pitting multiple agencies of same holding company in a mad reverse bidding war where the lowest cost won. Then they went out to specialized shops to hire top talent and pay top dollar. The advertising industry in mad scramble to win business chopped the very branch it sat on.

Advertising is supposed to build brands; the advertising agencies never built their own legend.


Freedom from complexity

Creation and ideation are always risky. New ideas are created when old idioms are challenged, when old rules are broken. The ideation process has been made complex with too many people having a stake in it. Societies collapse when they become complex. Complexities make them inflexible. Being inflexible makes it difficult for them to respond to change. The agencies stopped taking risk to break the idioms. If the business has to flourish, the agencies have to reduce complexities, become simpler to respond to the new challenges.

The original was published here:


This Independence Day, the spirit of independence can recharge the communication business.





AdStand: When Sale is a strategy

There is a lot happening in the consumer space. More brands are on sale then ever. Homes are on sale, cars are on sale, phones are on sale, even brands are on sale. If you are a consumer, then this is the time to go shopping.

Conventional marketing theories have been about building strong pull for the brand by building on core values. Brands should demand a price premium and consumers should seek them out. Price offs are tactical ways to expand the franchise and bring more people in. Marketing managers in past have spared no effort to study the impact of price drop on overall profitability of the brand.

All this is now history. Now sale is the dominant consumer strategy. And if the brand is not on sale, it might have a deal being offered by some deal app.

With opening of ecommerce brands and the race to acquire customers, the money they spend on sale far exceeds the money they spend on brand building. Today Amazon is on sale, Myntra is on sale, Jabong is on sale (and is up for sale).

Meanwhile a brand in US has just introduced drinkable Marijuana Tonics.


Myntra is on sale


Its not just a sale, its India’s largest fashion sale. Heck, they even have Hritik Roshan getting ready to shop on Myntra. Asking people to create a wish list is simple, that’s what people do before a sale. Myntra even created a behind the scene video of how they are getting ready for the increased demand. There is nothing unusual about the video, just a brand telling its own story.

The big take out from the campaign is simple, you need a big superstar to build traction for sale, that will last two days.


Amazon is on Sale

Amazon’s latest fashion campaign has a bus, has a few youngsters who are on a road trip, while on the trip they showcase fashion styles from global ramps. Interestingly, there is another brand that a year ago was doing the same. A bus, a road trip, a bunch of youngsters celebrating life, but not from Amazon, from Jabong.

They called this the Citizen of Fashion campaign, and did a sale extension of the same campaign. Even before Citizen of Fashion could be established, the brand moved on to sale. Clearly offering fashion cheaper is more important that offering fashion.

Clearly, price is a strategy and not a tactic


Jabong is on sale

Jabong created a completely different persona for the brand. They went younger and rebellious. This was Jabong’s way of building credential as high fashion brand. They too are on sale. The big brand sale has number of people jumping all over the screen to create high energy impact.

Jabong too has used the sale strategically. Its not a build on the brand tonality they had. They even dropped the brand signature. For the ecom brand, sale is the strategy


Sale is the dominant tactic

For most ecom brands, and not just the three fashion brands, sale has become the dominant strategy. Sale has been topped by cashbacks, deals and more tactics that tell consumers ‘we are cheap’. Brands today spend a huge marketing money to ‘announce’ price deals. This is not the conventional branding logic. There are two issues at play here.

One, the ecom brands are actually retailers who leverage the brands they sell. Are they harming the brands by being on sale?

Two, will the consumer go back to these ‘brands’ if they stopped the discounts?


Meanwhile there is a store in US has launched a brand called Legal. Here’s the video

Now this may be really differentiated brand thinking

Road Ahead For Media Planners

The Original Article

Future is always complex. Predicting future is fraught with danger. Chances of getting future wrong are bright. However future is always built on contexts that are current. Future is always shaped by the challenges faced in present.

There is a lot happening in our world at this time. Technology is progressing at a pace that is hard to keep track of. Just for example in last three years the mobile penetration has doubled, homes with digital TV subscription have gone up exponentially; the FM stations have moved from metros to class one and class two towns. The changes are not just tech driven.  The demographic changes are re-crafting the entire society. The rapid urbanization is throwing up challenges not faced before. There are no indicators suggesting that the speed of change will slow down or the transformation is eased off.

Here are three challenges that we are likely to face in coming years. First is the challenge of nomadic audiences.  Second the challenge of contexts. Last is the challenge of measurement.

Challenge of Nomadic Audiences

Media planning and buying is dependent on a set of audience being available to receive the message. The process of enumeration assumes that the audience is stationary, and once counted is always available. In today’s technology empowered scenario, the audience is not stationary. Rapid adoption of net enabled personal devices like tablets is making media portable. This has serious implications. It means that mass media will get empowered by personal media. It means that that notion of fixed audience will have to shelved. It means that media buyers will have to find a way of synthesizing the broadcast media with new age portable media. Nomadic audiences and personal portable media are forces that have will permanently change the media landscape

Challenge of contexts

Let’s take this rise of portable personal media and the possible stagnation of traditional mass media forward. Till now the media planning was built on increasing salience, so that it impacted interest in brand so that it lead to positive action on retail point. This is straight forward and linear in approach. This has delivered great results for brands. Today, the entire context of brand consumption is changing. Salience matters and salience impacts the interest in a brand, but from here on two new forces comes into play. The personal portable media is the transformational force. It makes Search and Share more important than mere Action of the traditional AIDA theory. Today everything is searchable, and people share everything. We know that this peer to peer network has an amazing power to influence brand choices. This change in context is already a reality and will only grow in future.

Challenge of measurement

The concept of fixed audience is ingrained in the existing media measurement systems. With the nomadic audience and the rise of personal portable medium will require a new type of measurement system to be created. Media agencies have tended to merge TV with online TV, press with Digital media and events with outdoors. Tomorrow they will have to find a system of one composite measurement that merges the traditional with new. The search and share impact on brands health will have a far greater bearing than mere rise or drop in reach and salience

Future is complex, and it is often not possible to predict it with certainty, but the present has a way of showing the impending challenges. We need to be prepared

Published in 4Ps of Business and Marketing, November 4th, 2011 Issue

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.

Non Conspicuous Consumption

There is a new trend that is blowing across the world of brands.

Brands are the great story tellers of modern times. Brands reach out to a wide set of audience. And by reaching a wider set of audience they impress upon the listeners to behave in a certain way. The audience displays the fact they have bought into the stories told by the brand by showing it to the world. This creates a large society of conformists.  As this kind of behaviour is the mass produced behaviour, a set of consumers seek differentiation from their peers. When a brand tells a story of exclusivity it promotes the feeling of status.

Symbols that are well known and allow the consumers’ to make a statement of style or class or taste will always dominate the popular culture.

This very culture of wanting to assert status is also driving the counterculture of desire for pleasure and experience that are personal and private in nature. This means that every brand needs to announce the status factor to masses, but help the consumer enjoy the status impact from their purchase in a much more inconspicuous way.

The issue with status symbols is the fact that they don’t really differentiate one consumer from another; it actually creates a ‘class’ of same kind of consumers.  Is this why consumers tend to personalize their status announcing products as quikly as they leave the shelves? Possibly this is why iPhones get funky covers and cars get different accessories? Possibly they add that extra bit to bragging rights.

This search for uniqueness is driving the sales of some very interesting brands. The VW Beetle or the retro Fiat 500 is not bought for the reasons of status or prestige. They are bought for the reasons of uniqueness. Chances are everyone knows about the driver of Beetle or 500. The brand here is not adding to the status of the owner, the brand is adding to the uniqueness of the owner. It’s arming the consumers with some very potent ingredients to tell a story.

The desire for exclusivity and uniqueness is fuelling the desire for new experiences. The desire for experiences is making pleasure a bigger driver than possessions as the generator of status symbols.  This is driving consumption of brands that is not conspicuous.

Take a look at homes becoming heavens. Increasingly home owners are investing in expensive home theatre systems, or Jacuzzis that are not the centre piece of display. They are in private spaces and to be enjoyed by the owners. They are not the most visible status symbols, till the owner decides to speak about it. This whole trend is not driven by conformity, it’s driven by individuality.

If the new status symbols can be driven not by consuming and displaying an alternative way of lifestyle than it can be used to trigger a social change by which the society can start to step of the consumption conundrum.

Can this trend drive the desire to be ecologically more responsible? Be aware of citizen rights and insist on voting in elections? Will sparing some precious personal time and devoting it to philanthropy be a change driver?

Can the non conspicuous consumption be the new conversation starter?

The rupee agenda

Money is world’s biggest commodity. It’s a perishable resource. Having money in hand does not guaranty success. If money was a differentiator than brands launched by big companies would never fail and those by smaller companies will never succeed. In early civilization it was precious metals that were used for transactions. In today’s age bullion has given way to paper or plastic.

No wonder there are a very few currencies that have a symbol. Historically the US Dollar, UK Pound, Japanese Yen and European Euro are the only currencies that have a symbol. Now India joins the elite club. Rupee now has a symbol.

So how do we transition Rupee now that we have chosen a logo?

The transition from commodity to a brand is a step by step process. The name is the first step that helps in creating recognition. Creating brand promise is the second step. Having created the promise the brand needs to create an advantage that will help it create preference. And finally the brand needs to nurture a long term relationship for it to create long lasting loyalty.
We have taken the first step with the creation of the symbol. Very soon the symbol will appear on the key boards and the world will know our currency with the new symbol. This really is the start of journey for the Rupee. We cannot stop here, we should not be happy with just having a recognizable symbol. The second step of creating the brand promise is long and arduous. Just for example look at Chinese Renminbi (or Yuan). It doesn’t have a symbol, at least not as yet, but is a far more powerful currency. It has greater weight (higher salience) and greater importance (higher market share) in the world of finance. It looks like that despite not having a logo, the brand has greater promise. The Rupee will increasingly have to battle likes of Renminbi (China), Rouble (Russia) and Real (Brazil). Our economy will have to continue to grow in years to come for the promise to come alive. We will have to work hard to trade in our own currency; we will have to ensure that our weight age in global money market keeps on increasing. This is neither going to be easy nor going to be quick.

The third step of creating preference is going to be a real challenge. Global markets are not going to trade with us in our currency. More importantly our own exports are not going to be linked to Rupee. Dollar and Euro will continue to be the benchmarks. This is where the inherent strengths of a brand have to play a critical role. The strength of our brand is a robust domestic market, a high growth economy and stable monetary policy. This however will need to be backed by growth is market share in world economy. Till we don’t increase our share in global GDP, preference for rupee will remain a distant goal.

And this leads to the issue of enduring relationship. This is the most difficult part. For the new relationship to start, it needs to change some existing relationships. Change in relationships requires multiple triggers, triggers that usually the brand cannot do on its own. Promise and preference help in triggering the new relationship.

We have taken the first step; we have created the identity for Rupee. The journey ahead is long, and a lot needs to be accomplished.

Published at on 19th July 2010

Sports is bigger then Movie Industry

The challenges that face sports as a brand are very different from any other product. Suppose you bought a product and didn’t like the quality, you can get it fixed, or exchanged. Now if you bought a ticket to a sporting event and didn’t like the quality of sport being played, there is no refund that you will get. And if the result is not to your liking, than all you can do is suffer. There are no guarantees, no consumer courts, and at the end of it, nothing to show. And therefore marketing is a very difficult concept to grasp for sports

Yet sport is a multibillion dollar industry. There are no authentic figures, but it is upwards of $200Bn globally. This makes it much larger than say movie industry or music industry, larger than possibly both combined. In developed markets sport contributes between 2-3% of GDP of the country. By implication than sport can only be next to tourism as an industry.

What makes this an extremely challenging service to market is people’s enthusiasm for sports. People follow sports as a religion, and the sport stars as gods. And despite a Tiger Woods or Ashley Cole, there are more role models than fallen angels. It has long been believed that generally men follow sports with much greater involvement than women. I am not sure if that is necessarily true. There are two kinds of sports followers, one who is rigorous team sports enthusiasts and who follow team sports. These are people who drive the following of cricket and football and hockey. Then there is the relaxed individual sports followers who love golf, and shooting and snooker and chess. In both the sport there is no reason for women to not get involved. It’s less of a sport and more of a cultural thing. As the culture evolves, women power will grow in sport fandom.

Sport has existed in culture for generations. From eons back rulers used sport both as a tool to test human endurance and to create a feeling of superiority between kingdoms. Somewhere along the way sport started to merge with entertainment. This too is a fairly old trend. Now in modern age, its entertainment that has become the prime driver behind sport. And with people having a far greater involvement with sport, brands have leveraged them to create engagement with their consumers. This merger of human endeavour, with need for entertainment has made sports sponsorship a very sophisticated service. And with media getting fragmented sports sponsorship is possibly the best bet marketer has to aggregate eyeballs.

So what are the challenges that the marketers will face in coming years?

One big issue that sports marketers need to address is kids dwindling interest in sports. This will have a large implication on future of sports marketing. It is in marketer’s interest to work at grassroots level and keep kids engaged from an early age

The other big issue that sports marketers need to invest in is measurement of effort. This will go a long way in keeping the brands interested in sports

Sports marketers also need to expand their ambit. In India cricket dwarfs every other sport is partly also because brand marketers only market cricket. If the sports marketing pie has to be increased than sports marketers will have to ensure they expand their basket

And finally in future consumers will question the kind of brands they see involved in sports. Alcohol, tobacco and fast food brands will be seen with increased skepticism and they might find their investment not giving them optimum return

In these days of fragmented media and widening consumer power, there is no better way of creating enduring consumer engagement than through sports

(part of this article was published in Business and Economy Magazine’s March 10 Issue)