Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Colas and CSR

CSR By Force?

By Harish Bijoor

Q: When is a brand a brand?

-Revathi Reddy, Hyderabad

A: Revathi, this is a philosophical question at large. Let me answer it with as little philosophy in the answer as possible.

I believe a brand is a brand when it is perennially in your dominant psyche. It need not be a purchase, but it very definitely needs to be a dominant thought. This will irritate the sales guy in the forefront of the marketplace. And so also your top-line sales seeking CEO. But this is true. Branding in reality, has very little to do with sales. Very little to do with buying and selling. The day you as a brand manager understand this, despite the bullying influence of your CEO from above and the sales team from below, you have arrived.

The brand is a pure form. A form that does not need the sanctification of a purchase to endorse whether the brand is a brand.

I believe a brand is a brand in the real sense of the term when you buy it without a thought even. Without even a thought to linger and say that there is a competing product to buy even. A thought that cannot be shaken or stirred, come what may.

The brand is a convenience. People like you and I are always on the run. We are forever living lives that demand decisions of every kind, every now and then. You need to decide what shirt to wear in the morning and what trouser to match. You need to decide which movie to see and which to avoid. Which friend to meet and which to run away from.

In your choice of brands as well, as a consumer, you are forever deciding. I believe a brand is a brand when you stop deciding which brand to buy altogether. When the decision comes by rote, it is indeed a brand.

In many senses then, in a category where there are no choices at all, there is a brand! When Milkmaid was all alone as a condensed milk, there was just no decision to take. When in came 'Mithai Mate', you had a choice. If you continued to ignore 'Mithai Mate' despite the allure of the company Amul, despite good quality cues, despite the allure of its advertising, and most importantly despite the allure of its price even, then Milkmaid is indeed a brand.

A brand is a brand therefore when you stop deciding. A brand is a pre-made decision. An unquestionable one. Unchallenged.

Look around our lives. How many of these exist in your brand psyche? Two? Three? Out of 800 plus that are dominant in our everyday lives? None?

Q: How come the Cola companies in India are out on a spree of looking nice and sounding right? Why all this CSR advertising?

-John A Challadurai, Trichy

A: John, I do believe the Cola category in India is going to fast become what I call the "socially ostracized” category. These are categories of non-healthy foods and beverages. Sugar, Oils, Pan and Gutkha.

Liquor and cigarettes are the prime occupants of this category. The Cola is about to join this category.

This is therefore preemptive action. Good and sound.

Sadly, companies today seem to adopt CSR stances only when pushed against the wall. On very few occasions out of their own volition

Q: What’s the role of CSR in modern marketing society? What’s the theory behind it all?

-RN Singh, Delhi

A: Singh-‘saab’, there are simply three marketing formats to follow in a society as it morphs. In the early stage, society is all about “I, me, myself”! At this stage in consumer societal evolution, the marketer gets away using the language of hedonism and pleasure. The “I, me, myself” kind of product and service works well. The ‘Axe’ effect works here!

And then there is the stage when the consumer has gone beyond that basic stage. He is now concerned about the people around him. His loved ones. His family of four. His extended family of four more, mother, father, father-in-law and mother-in-law, last to be included!

This kind of man likes brands to be inclusive in their language, tone and tenor. This kind of man wants products that are good for the entire family! Never mind the rest of society, just as long his close-knitted family is taken care of, he is fine! The 'Annapurna' atta story works here!

And then there is man who is more conscious of more people around him. This is the kind of guy who is bothered about the good of his immediate neighborhood and society! He wants his entire neighborhood to be happy! The ‘Lifebuoy’ “clean the neighborhood” story works here!

There is macro-man then. This is the kind of person who wants the good of his immediate society and his entire planet. This is the kind of guy who wants to use bio-based detergents that don’t hurt the eco-system! The ‘Surf Excel’ “Do bucket paani bachana hai” theme works here!

And finally there is Cosmos man! Concerned about the cosmos, much of which he does not know even! We are yet to get there!

CSR works at every level. CSR is an inclusive process! A process that embraces the good of society in a very inclusive manner. This inclusiveness could start at the level of the immediate family and morph on to embrace the entire Cosmos.

CSR plays a vital role in taking commercial brands out into the commercial marketplace with a theme that is appealing to the sense and sensibility of the modern consumer. CSR is therefore a valuable tool that marketers can use to market their brand of soap, detergent, sugar and tea with equal panache and commercial effectiveness.

CSR is not at all about running public hospitals and schools alone. CSR is not about sending Tsunami relief material to the trouble spots of the world. That is old hat! It is much more! The modern consumer understands CSR that much more intimately when you touch his life, with a wee bit of CSR in your soap. A wee bit in your shampoo! In your kids diapers and feminine hygiene products as well!

The future of marketing is full of CSR! Of a different kind!

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

Email: harishbijoor@hotmail.com

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