Monday, March 22, 2010


Brand Re-calls and Brand-endorsements

Rahman and Brand Recalls

By Harish Bijoor

Q: With Music maestro AR Rahman winning many awards worldwide for his music, is it not time for brands to use him in their advertsing as a super-star?
-SK Raman, Chennai

A: Raman-sir, I agree with you. AR Rahman has arrived on the firmament of music excellence with a big bang. The recognitions are just pouring in, quarter after quarter.
There is really a state of under-use in the persona of AR Rahman as a brand endorser as of now. The most visible one has been the one in which the now-defunct Worldspace Radio used him to optimal benefit and visibility norms.
AR Rahman's Grammy is an acknowledgement of musical genius and hard work. I do believe it is all about the new fact that brilliance will find recognition, does not matter which geography it resides in. India is a happening story as of now. It is about IT, ITES, Bollywood, Music and more. And Rahman is the latest icon.

AR Rahman as a brand-endorser is something that is to be considered seriously now. Rahman is a brand in himself. It is important for this brand to associate with brands that actually add value to the Rahman brand rather than to run in the pursuit of money and wide-spectrum endorsements. To that extent, Rahman's work with the now defunct Worldspace was an excellent fit. It added value to brand Rahman, and in return Rahman gave a positive rub-off to brand Worldspace. Intelligent use of brand Rahman needs to be one of symbiotic use.

Categories reasonably umblical to the genius in terms of music, or with categories that are all about excellence, rigor and perfection. A bit like the fit we saw with Tiger Woods and what Accenture wanted to say, until the recent mishap of events that rolled out.

Keep one thing in mind though. Rahman is actually a difficult endorser. As a persona he comes through as one that shuns it all. Bringing such a persona into the forefront of advertising and branding glare, at times could prove counter-productive.

Whichever brand uses Rahman needs to build a completely organic story of involvement. Nothing must appear forced. And that is a tough one.

I do therefore believe that Rahman as a brand-endorser will have limited queues and limited appeal altogether And this in many ways is very good for Rahman. His image will remain intact, without being eaten into by the canker of brand-endorsement that on many an occasion hurts and eats into the persona of the endorser.

As far as price is concerned, I do believe he needs to demand a big price now. He needs to endorse very few brands, but he needs to milk the maximum value from those few brands.

Q: We are living in a year of brand recalls it seems. Auto-makers world-wide are recalling millions of vehicles. Nokia did it in India on a battery problem. Mattel did it in toys . And many more.
How does a recall affect the ‘brand’? And what are the steps one takes?
-Jyothi Saklecha, Mumbai

A: Jyothi, strangely and quite contrary to popular feeling and sentiment, a brand-recall works very well for the brand in the long run in image terms.

Brand re-call is a step that only bold and upright brands take. When it happens in categories which people do not ingest into their bodies, such as automotive, telecom, consumer durables and clothing, consumer reaction is very different than when it happens to brands that you ingest such as food and beverages. In the case of automotive, for instance, it helps build credibility and guarantee-value into the brand DNA.

In reverse sentiment, when such an issue occurs with food and beverages, it totally damages the brand in question forever. A brand recall therefore affects brands differently, depending upon which category they belong to, ingestibles or not.

Nokia is the first one that comes to mind here. The Nokia defective battery issue in India was handled very well. I do believe this issue actually catapulted Nokia's brand image in the Indian market into the stratosphere of good consumer-practice and reliable behaviour. A brand is a reputation. Nokia managed this brand reputation for itself very well.

A company really decides on a brand recall when it is very sure that its brand can actually harm a set of consumers. Never mind how small a set of consumers with the potential of damage, responsible companies decide to recall quickly.

The first step is one of creating widespread awareness of the issue and fault at hand. This is to ensure that the public is fore-warned to be careful. The second step is setting up a standard operating procedure for recall. Here, the entire mechanics of recall is laid out. The third step is PR. Managing the issue at hand responsibly and with the least damage to the reputation of the company and brand.

The fourth step is actual recall. The fifth step is more important than any: instilling credibility into the company, the brand concerned and the collective selling and using environment at large.
Q: With number-portability round the corner, how is the telecom market going to get affected?
Number-portability will work in many ways for different players. Here are some scenarios I paint:

1. Users of major networks who are sitting on the wall of dissatisfaction due to poor network coverage, poor customer service and poor much else, are going to use this opportunity to jump. This will bite the biggest players such as Airtel and Reliance the most. The biggest player loses the most. Though in percentage terms this could mean a small percentage altogether, in sheer number terms the loss could be substantial. This loss-kitty is something all small players will be salivating about to gain from.

2.Large players will have yet another effect biting into them. This is one of revenue loss due to schemes that will need to be unleashed to keep high ARPU users from jumping out. Every large player will therefore play the price game and drive prices down further. This will be particularly applicable to deep-ARPU customers.

3. Newer players will be looking for positive churn. There is a big kitty of Gen 1 user of the mobile, whose ARPU is deep. This customer is going to be up for grabs now. Newer players will offer seamless service and seamless customer service norms as differentiators to attract this custom. So expect a lot of action in this space.

The author is a brand-strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

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