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.

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