Friday, November 16, 2007


Of ointments and Brand Endorsers

There’s an endorser in the Ointment

Q: The Private label business again. I am keen to know what’s the scenario in India compared to US. Does this business hold promise and potential?

-Ravi Sampathkumar, Chennai

A: Ravi, t
he US is a robust private label market today. Private label is seen to be
niche. And niche is considered politically correct as well. Small is

In the US market, politically correct appeals such as 'Organic", 'small
farmer grown', 'non-exploitation grown' and of course the 'sustainable'
stories seem to attract a whole host of private labels that seem to succeed
and thrive in the marketplace.

The US market is however also about the fatigue that surfaces with 'massified'
brands. When fatigue of the 'massified' offering sets in, in comes the niche
store brand, the dealers'-own-brands and what we call the Private label.

In the US, businesses are aggregated. Mom and Pop stores (‘kirana’ stores in our lingo) are small and rare. Even marginalized. The big chains command bulk of the volumes and you will find a whole host of categories with Private label brands. From dog biscuits to detergents to Cola to needles to buckets and mops even!

All of these come at discounts over the mass advertised product. The Private
label is seen to be a genuine and hard-working product that is high on
quality and comes at a 30 per cent discount to the mass brand in the same
category. It is widely assumed that since the mass market brands advertise
and the Private labels do not, the value difference is passed on to the
This is appreciated.

The potential out here in India for this business is immense. The consumer is looking for quality, consistency, reliability and value for his spend. If you are able to offer this in a ‘private label’ manner, so be it.

Q: Every company is jumping onto just about any celebrity (sports or otherwise) to rope them in as a brand ambassador? What do you attribute this trend to?

-Ateeq Khan, Bangalore

A: Ateeq, the role of a celebrity in all of branding and advertising is a defined one.

The key role is endorsement. When brand endorsement as a marketing tool was
nascent and endorsers were far and few, and further still when endorsers
were loyal to just one brand, it worked.

Brand ambassadors, in the old days, performed all the vibrant roles they
were meant to perform. The brand ambassador first of all created an instant
awareness for the product category he, she or it touched! And then they went
on to create Interest in the category on tout. This interest was further
deepened by the endorser into a Flaming desire to buy or partake of the
brand. The brand endorser helped in the action of sale. Brand endorsers
further went on to give all the positive strokes necessary to the buying
consumer in the post-purchase stage as well. Some great brand endorsers
created for the brand a re-peat purchase as well.

Those were the good old days before marketers egged-dry the goose that laid
the golden eggs.

Today, brand endorsers perform just one of these roles. They just create the
initial awareness for the brand and the category. Parker pens get a
heightened degree of awareness as a tall and lanky gent of the old
silver screen from Allahabad touts the pen. Even this is under threat though,
as the very same gent is found in 16 and a half ads on the 'telly' at the same
time. It gets difficult to distinguish which brand, which ambassador.

Brand ambassadors are getting weak in performing the other allied roles of
creating interest, desire and the sale action. Leave alone their role of
managing post sale dissonance among consumers.

The very credibility of the brand endorsement process is under threat as
marketers over-do the endorsement bit.

Marketers today jump onto the endorsement band-wagon as they find it an easy
tool to get that quick bit of eye-balls and awareness bit happening. This
eye-balls game is just as hollow as the Internet eye-balls model of some
eight years ago, when websites and self-styled Internet portal Tsars got
very very excited about the eye-balls game. The bubble finally burst when
everyone realized that just eyeballs were not enough. Sales was important as

Q: In a world that's ruled by advertising, how do some brands manage to survive without big investment on publicity?

-SS Sridharan, Chennai

A: Sridharan, brands are about the basic needs of a human being for a start. The brand is a potent thought. Nothing more and nothing less. This can be a
thought that has a commercial price-tag to it, or even better a thought that
has no price-tag to it at all! The priceless brand! A Swarovski crystal is
possibly a classic example of the brand with a price-tag, and each of our
Moms are classic examples of the price-less variety!

In between a Swarovski at one end and a Mom at another, lie a whole host of
brands. The ones closest to Swarovski are the brands with a price tag to it
and the ones closest to Mom are the ones that do not depend on the imagery
of advertising. Come what may, you will gravitate towards these brands. It
is these brands that do not require advertising. Do not require high-decibel
shout levels to sell.

Look at an MTR in Bangalore. It hardly does anything in terms of advertising for its restaurant. The queues are never ending though. You will give your right arm
for a butter 'masala dosa'! These brands draw consumers and keep them in their
fold by the quality offering at hand.

In a world where everyone advertises, the brands that do not advertise and
yet thrive are the ones that have truly arrived!

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Email your questions to:

Sunday, November 11, 2007


How will small retailers survive the onslaught of modern retail?

Nudging the Future

Q: I recently saw this ad for a light switch which just does not make sense. This lady throws a book at a switch. Everything breaks but this switch is intact. Bizarre!

What is this all about?

-Rupa Kulkarni, Mumbai

A: Rupa, I have seen this one as well, and have kept wondering.

There are two ways of looking at this. One is the intelligent way, imagining that there is method in the madness of this ad. The other is to say that this is a foolish ad.

This ad comes from the genre of drama that is heightened for effect. The story line is clear. Here is a sturdy switch. The drama that surrounds it all is meant to arrest the viewer. Arrest him enough to remember the brand name in question. I am sure this ad does the job on that score.

Sometimes, brands tend to advertise with the ridiculous. The intelligent idea is to stand out from the clutter of well-made ads. Ads which make consumers ask questions such as the ones you ask, serve a purpose as well. The brand name comes to the fore. Is this buzz advertising of a kind? Advertising that is purposely bizarre and ridiculous? Just to make you sit up and remember the brand name? Maybe yes. Maybe no.

The point to think is this. When all ads start looking alike, the one ad that looks different stands out. In this day and age of clutter, the marketer is possibly willing to use anything to stand apart from the rest and make the best of the fragmented TRPs he is getting.

Remember the PSPO Fan ad of yore? A high decibel ad that had everyone shouting from the rooftop.

Q: With the Indian market for retail opening up to foreign players, albeit slowly, how will Indian retailers cope? Are we in for trouble?

-Amit Agnihotri, New Delhi


A: Amit, with the domestic retail environment opening up, Indian retailers will be forced to compete with better quality, a distinctive array in terms of range of offering and more realistic prices.

In many ways, this churn will result in the traditional margins of retailers undergoing
a squeeze. The clever retailer will however reinvent himself to face the

India is a nation of shop-keepers. 12.2 million shop keepers to take care of
the needs of a billion plus people. The ratio of shop to human being is
better than the ratio of doctor to human being in this country.

These shop-keepers come in an amalgam of sizes. At one end we have a
nano-percentage of stores that are large format super-markets. Just below
them we have a larger medium-sized grocer and retailer of this and that, be
it lingerie, cosmetic or fancy good. And then right at the bottom of the
proverbial pyramid are a whole host of small shop-keepers who help this
country run its business.

I do believe the small shop-keeper will largely remain unaffected by the
aggregation of business with retailers from overseas entering the Indian
market. These nifty operators are widely dispersed in terms of geography and
cater to an important need of the masses. Organized retail as
attempted in developed economies, cannot aspire to cater to this role played by the micro-outfits of the day, with efficiency. These tiny outfits will therefore not only survive, but thrive as well.

The ones who will be really hit are the medium sized stores. They will slip
between two stools. At one end they do not have the scale and the
efficiency that comes from scale. And at the other end, neither do they
fulfill a vital irreplaceable role that the smallest of small retailers
perform in this country.

These medium sized retailers will suffer a process of sudden death. As large
format retail enters the Indian market, it will take all of 2-5 years for
these medium sized retailers to collapse, reinvent other models to survive,
and migrate out of the retail business of yore altogether.

The battle of Indian retail will therefore be one between the Goliath from
overseas and the David’s of medium sized Indian retail. The Lilliputs of
retail on the other hand will survive and thrive. These are the guys who run
this nation of shop-keepers.

Q: Mars has re-branded itself as a chocolate. What is this “Belief” branding all about?

-Sajini Shetty, Bangalore

A: Sajini, first of all, nothing is sacrosanct. Even brand names must and can change.

The new branding initiatives of Mars and others at large that look at themes such as Belief and Faith and Trust are embracing a brand new inclusive branding movement.

Brands have over-done the limited brand propositions to death thus far. In the beginning, one spoke of a toothpaste that brushes your teeth well and clean. Then it went on to say that it whitens the best. And then one added colours to the toothpaste. There came red stripes and then blue and then all three red, white and blue in one toothpaste.

When consumers got tired of this, in came the gels of different colours. The colours kept changing. And in came the gel with sparkles. And then in comes toothpaste with Oxygen in it!

When one tires of all the physical product and imagery propositions and appeals that seem just too rational, the marketer explores the irrational a bit more. Here one is experimenting with concepts that talk about what a toothpaste can do to you emotionally. Even this is done to death. Toothpaste that can make you fall in love? A toothpaste that can get you a new job?

And then one taps into the final frontier. This frontier is what I call inclusive branding.

Branding is essentially an exclusive process. It is all about offering the exclusive to the exclusive.

Inclusive branding s about building brand propositions that embrace one and all and make the brand accessible to an inclusive mass of people.

Inclusive branding is all about taking the mega thought and platform. The big idea that is really, really big. So big, that it sounds ridiculous when first adopted by the brand. Faith is one such. Belief is another. Truth can be another.

These brands are trying to exploit the underlying need for these large formatted life propositions.

While doing this one needs to be careful to integrate these large-format ideas seamlessly into the brand and must leave the consumer with a credible notion and not a notion that can put the consumer off or make her laugh.

The Mars effort is one such. Nudging at the edge of the future.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.


Sunday, November 04, 2007


First movers and Retirement marketing

The First Mover Advantage?

By Harish Bijoor

Q: What is the right time for the launch of a cool drink variant from an existing good brand like Coke or Pepsi? Should the variant be launched in peak summer, just before summer or in winter?


A: Murali, there was a time when marketing folk operated on rules carved out on very tough stone. A brand of colored, flavored, carbonated water could be launched only in the summer months. These were to be the peak thirst months. Months in which soft-drink off-takes from shelves were meant to be very high. High enough for the new brand to be able to make an impact and gain a share of throat and bladder alike.

The days have however changed. Today, a whole new set of “non-rules” apply. The old paradigms of when to launch a soft-drink have been shattered. The answer to your question would be: launch whenever you want to.

If you launch it in peak summer, you benefit from big off-takes, but also suffer from high decibel media activity levels from all players, including your own high profile brands. It is quite likely that your carefully thought out advertising plan could get badly lost amidst the clutter.

If you launch it just before summer, you are quite likely to benefit from possibilities of good shelf placements, but you might as well get swamped by everyone else who is preparing for the summer months ahead.

A winter launch would mean exposing your brand and its appeal in months when smaller numbers of consumers swim in the market of consumption. If you expose it all in winter, it gives the competitor plenty of time to plan the summer offensive against your specific positioning stance for sure.

Murali, the choice is yours. Just as it is Hobson’s.

Q: Your 'Pan-wallah' distribution system answer some weeks ago was interesting. Can one segment this distribution system? How?

-Ranjit Sinha, New Delhi

A: Ranjit, there are indeed three types of 'pan-wallahs' in the country. Right at the top of the pyramid is the prosperous heavy foot-fall 'pan-wallah'. Every city
has a minimum of three of these. Indore of course has twenty! These
high-footfall 'pan-wallahs' will sell nothing else but pan. Consumers who walk
in are from every prosperous segment of society and the sole purpose of the
walk-in is to pick up the pan. This segment is not exciting to the marketer.

The second rung 'pan-wallah' is the guy who has a mixed foot-fall for this and
that. These are location-driven 'pan-wallahs', who by virtue of having
occupied the 10 X 10 ft location just outside the UPSC Bhavan, do a roaring
business. These guys are prime targets for every new marketer around. It is
at time tough to get an entry for the new product here.

The third rung 'pan-wallah' is the one who is not necessarily in the high
traffic density locations. These are open to enrich their businesses by
stocking new products of every kind.

Segmentation is certainly possible, and this is but the tip-of-the-iceberg kind of segmentation I have attempted. More can be done. Excitingly more.

Q: Is the advantage of the “first-mover” still working in Indian markets?

-Sheetal Pinheiro, Pune

Sheetal, the first mover advantage worked in the old days. It does not anymore. The new age marketer has to be completely amoebic in his marketing orientation.

The consumer is indeed changing much faster than the marketer is. The marketer needs to be prepared to morph. The marketing person needs to be prepared for catharsis of every kind. It is this catharsis that keeps her running and ahead of the pack, and not necessarily the fact that the first mover advantage is with the marketer.

The First mover advantage today is quite a bit of a myth. Life in the marketing fast lane is tricky today. It is a slippery totem pole you are climbing out there. No one is a leader forever, never mind if you were the first one there.

The amoebic chameleon marketer is the successful marketer. Change your shape. Change your color. Change everything that needs to be changed with consumer need, want, desire and aspiration. Nothing needs to be sacrosanct anymore.

Q: The retired-folk market seems to be a reasonably large segment with plenty of potential. How does one crack in?

-Jyoti Paluskar, Mumbai

A: Jyoti, the retired folk market of tomorrow is different from the retired-folk market of yesterday.

Those who retire ten years hence are different sets of consumers altogether.
There is a generational shift in affordability and the attendant attitude
and propensity to spend.

Look back at the tens of generations that have gone by. Every generation has
seen a morph in terms of values. Most of these value changes have been due to
the impact of media, availability of more money as disposable income,
environmental situations of peace that has spurred on the spending attitude,
and much more.

Today, with the stock market boom at hand, real estate at peak levels,
investments from Mutual Funds offering more and more solidity in terms of
the liquid assets of people, and most certainly the Insurance era which
takes care of the unforeseen events, the consumer at large is that much more
secure in his spending pattern.

Those retiring ten years hence are rather well taken care of. A pampered lot
even. Plus, there is the prosperity brought in by new wealth from the
e-economy. The electronic economy has brought prosperity that is what I
classify as new wealth. This wealth in the hands of the retiree is easier to
spend than "old wealth" as signified by the wealth transferred over the
generations in terms of land and gold and money as well.

The new retiree will therefore be an E-retiree. Or a wealthy retiree with
new attitudes to savings and spends. This new retiree ten years from now has
spent his matured days under the umbrella of the credit card culture which
encourages you to spend more than you have as well.

This new generation will believe in the power of spending. The power of Now
is a potent thought with them. Add this attitude to money in the bank, and
you have a more aggressive spending consumer at hand.

Most of these new consumers in the age group of retirement will be
empty-nesters with their kids having settled down well enough. Now, it is
husband and wife again in most cases. Time to do the entire things one missed
out on. Time to take that bit of travel, and splurge on brands and their
respective brand appeals as well.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.


Thursday, November 01, 2007


People Brands marrying one another

Abhi-Aish and the brand thereafter…..

By Harish Bijoor

Q: With the wedding of Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai just ahead, how do you see these two mega-brands ride into the future? What is the brand dynamics at play here?

-Anjan Parekh, Mumbai

A: Anjan, these sure are two big mega brands from tinsel town. Brands that have whole sets of consumers swooning on their respective aura.

A marriage of two such mega brands with one another is not quite like the corporate marriage of two mega brands that go to make an even bigger brand presence felt. Remember, this is 'Bollywood'. And ‘Bollywood’ survives on the whims and fancies of its viewers.

While a Tata-Corus deal might cause for a bigger Tata-Corus entity in the future, I can’t say just the same will happen to the Abhi-Aish brand of the future.

Why so? Very simply because we must remember the audience of ‘Bollywood’ that resides in our country is a chauvinistic one in many ways. If you study the history of what has happened over the last fifty years in Bollywood, the trend is all about the male brand gaining form a marriage and the feminine brand losing.

I do believe this mega brand-marriage is going to be a positive stroke to brand Abhishek and a rather negative stroke to brand Aishwarya. Why so again? Very simply because the audience at hand is a chauvinistic one.

Hindi cinema is all about chemistry. The chemistry that the lead pair is able to exude, hold, tantalize with and subliminate finally. Viewers love the chemistry that exists between two stars who are not married as yet. A marriage actually sublimates this chemistry and the audience wants something else!

When Amitabh and Jaya were yet to be married to one another, their movies did very well, as did their respective brands. When they did get married, things turned different. The Amitabh-Rekha movies were forever a hit, right up to Silsila. The chemistry was intact. I do believe it still is. Audiences love this chemistry.

A marriage of two big mega brands from ‘Bollywood’ therefore does not result in a bigger still brand post-marriage. Instead, it is a smaller brand of Aish and a slightly bigger brand of Abhishek. I just however hope I am wrong this time round.

Hollywood on the other hand is different. A Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston and now a Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie are indeed bigger brands as a whole than their individual parts. And ‘Bollywood’ is different.

Q: The World Cup is barely two months away and we don't see any ads
highlighting cricketers like we did even during the last world cup?

-Dhruv Vashisth, Delhi

A: Dhruv, cricket is still on the back-burner of the marketing company. Remember, it
still is on the burner, but the brand-cricket-policy is that much more

Let's remember, cricket itself is a brand. A powerful brand that evokes
emotion positive and negative among large sets of consumers in this country.
As a sub-set of the big mother brand CRICKET, exist the brands of
cricketers. A Sachin, A Saurav and a Dhoni are all but sub-set brands. Both
are indeed complimentary to one another.

In the current case, cricket the mother-brand reigns supreme even today. The
lack of performance of the sub-set player brands has created the current
lack-luster cricket-advertising environment.

Cricket as such is an over-hyped game in the continent in any case. The
valuation commanded by the stars of cricket in any case make people in
discerning marketing companies sit up and think. Now even more so, as the
team does not perform to expectation. But wait and watch. Every match can make a difference.

Q: If you look at 2006, what is the biggest marketing idea of the year at large?

SK Sampath, Chennai

A: Mr. Sampath, the biggest idea of 2006 was not a single brand idea; instead it was a very big idea at large. The Idea of the Indian at large.

This was not an idea put forth by any advertising agency as such. Instead,
it was the India story at large dominating the psyche of the Indian and the
world-citizen at large.

In the old days, the dominant thought was:" India Happens!"

The year just gone by has transformed that thought to a very hip: "India

Everyone therefore wants a piece of the action.

This Big Idea has percolated the consumer psyche at large not through a
top--down brand-building process. Instead, it is a thought that has happened
bottom-up. It is therefore that much more solid. More real, as contrasted to
thoughts built by advertising inputs of the high decibel kind!

The India brand and the India story is what I would vote as the biggest of
the big ideas.

Q: Please explain the paradox of a no-name brand with special reference to agricultural products.

-Jayant Joshipura, Pune

A: Jayant, I personally do not believe in a no-name brand. The brand is essentially a name for a start. A name that is recognition and a distinction from everything else around.

No-name brands are surely a paradox in themselves. Do remember, a brand is meant to command and elicit a premium from its consumers. A premium that sets it apart from the commodity at large. A no-name brand is never successful at this.

Agri-products must transform themselves onto the branding movement if they are to truly capitalize on true-value.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.



Marketing an NGO

NGO Marketing

By Harish Bijoor

Q: As one who is engaged in fund-raising for a well-known nature conservation NGO I find that the competition here is almost as severe as it is where the private sector is an active participant. Specifically, the competition is mainly from fellow-NGOs who predominantly are focused on human-centric issues such as child development, caring for old age, cancer patients, etc. which, in a country like ours, naturally take precedence over others when it comes to patronage.

I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts and ideas as to how our NGO could position itself such as to elicit a more positive response from the corporates and others.



A: Dear KVL, I do emote with the problem just as you do. India is indeed the land of the LCD (lowest common denominator) issue at large, when it comes to fund-raising. Our issues in these categories are so large that most other issues get swept under the carpet, however honorable..

It is very important for you to be completely data-based in this exercise of fund raising. One must remember what happened with Tsunami relief. There was so much of money out there that one did not know what to do with it, without wastage and sub-optimal utilization hitting the category.

It is important for you to build a hierarchy of needs across the various causes that dot our land. It is equally important for you to address fund raising for your specific cause as a very specific campaign that is dealt out 1:1.

I would advise a very quick re-orientation of your target, away from the Corporates and focused very clearly on individuals.

I do believe the era of Corporate Social Responsibility is and should be on the wane. What will emerge as an exciting alternative is ISR. Individual Social Responsibility. A situation where the money-empowered individual who sits right atop Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs in terms of his own economic status, is all ready to self-actualize. It is this individual who is self-actualizing who will be the prime donor to your cause.

Identify these specifically, and market to them 1:1. Move away from any focus on the Corporate organization altogether. Focus on the individual. And look at large numbers of these self-actualizing individuals. And segment them. You will find a whole host of individuals who emote with the cause at hand.

Q: There is Yoga from India and then there is the IIT. What is your take on these global brand concepts from India?

-Shashi Sinha, Kolkata

A: Shashi, I do believe these are essentially Big Ideas. Big thoughts that emanate out
of India, traverse the continents all around, and establish themselves as
solid brands of the present and the future.

My definition of the brand is a simple one. "The brand is a thought". A
thought that lives in peoples minds.

Each of these, Yoga, the IIT, the IIMs, individual spiritual Gurus and their branded
outputs, such as TM, are all but thoughts. Potent thoughts that live in
peoples minds. These thoughts are solid manifestations of people’s needs,
wants, desires and aspirations.

These are indeed global brand concepts that emanate out of India. They take
birth here, but quite like Yoga, they are far bigger and far more profitable
brands out in the West.

Each of these brands has a global momentum of their own for sure. Take
Yoga. It is a multi-billion dollar industry. The practitioners of this
absolutely large industry are largely not of Indian origin alone.

And then there are thoughts such as the IIT. The BPO is another such
thought. Outsourcing. These are powerful brands on their own as well.

The benefit of these brands is that they are created not in the manner that
typical brands are created. They are mostly viral brands. They happen
through the editorial route, rather than the advertised route. They are
content dependant rather than hype dependant.

Brands can be created in one of two manners. Top down, or Bottom up. Top down
branding is all about creating a brand from scratch with investments in
Market research, branding and advertising. Colgate has been built this way.

And the second way of building brands is bottom-up. This is a process where
the utility or the merit of the work of the entity counts a lot. Mahatma
Gandhi was built bottom up. Gandhiji did not take full page ads in
newspapers saying "Gandhi Shining"! instead, Gandhiji the brand happened by
sheer dint of hard work at the ground level. The Dandi Salt March, the
non-violence movement, the Khadi movement, et al! Gandhi the brand was
built bottom up.

Brands built bottom-up have a longer life-span than those that depend on the
ICU inputs of advertising and continuous doses of marketing insulin.

Brand built bottom-up are popularized by a mass movement of consumer
acceptance that does not necessarily depend on advertising. The factor of
trust is deeper in these brands than in those brands that are built

One other aspect of these macro brands is the fact that they are not
necessarily brands that enjoy a B2B relationship. These brands are not about
B2C relationships as well. They are all about C2C relationships. Consumer to
consumer relationships that help build long lasting brand properties.

Q: Can we continue to export agricultural commodities in bulk? Please explain the opportunities that exist for export of branded products.

-Rohit Vadda, Ahmedabad

Rohit, I think we can continue to do bulk exports. But not bulk-exports as usual. Instead, branding must seep in aggressively into Bulk exports as well.

Take coffee as an example. The new big market out there in the consuming countries of the world is liquid coffee. The most convenient coffee of them all. A convenient form that beats soluble coffee by a mile in terms of quality and taste.

India has immense opportunity of becoming a bulk supplier of the liquid form. It is however important to do this in a branded bulk format. If we continue to focus on green coffee as we have done over these hundred and odd years, and if we keep the blinkers on when it comes to new opportunities, we will be left behind in the race.

It is important to export in bulk forms. The new bulk form of export will and should however be the branded-bulk form.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.


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