Marketing is telling believable stories

Some films succeed. Many others fail. Films are well-crafted stories. The films with stories which connect with a large number of people, succeed. The ones which tell a bad story or tell a story badly, fail.

Stories help us live a different life, even though temporarily. Seth Godin says marketing is creating and selling stories. Successful marketing means building successful stories.

Stories that connect with people.
Stories that let them live a different life, even though temporarily.
Stories that help people to lie to themselves.

In the absence of some other productive occupation, we love telling lies to ourselves. It is a distraction.  But a motivating one.

When a cream brand tells a girl that 4 out of 5 girls get softer skin after applying our cream, the girl dreams of being one of those 4. She goes and buys that cream.

Finally, after weeks of religious application of the cream with no significant improvements, the truth emerges and she lands among those 5th girls who did NOT get softer skin. This happens with 80% of the girls who buy that story of softer skin and get disappointed. By the time the futility of the promises and claims made by the company dawns upon a now-wiser girl, she gets hooked to another “New Improved” cream of yet another brand and buys another dream, believing and telling to herself the lie the brand’s advertisement said.

Thankfully for the older brand,  younger sister or cousin of this now-wiser girl grows up with dreams in her eyes and goes and buys that same cream with the dreams of softer skin.

This continues. Just like we sometimes watch the same movie or read the same book again and again even though we know everything about it, we keep buying the things we don’t need because of the lure of the story.

This is the success of marketing. Creating “New & Improved” stories and selling them.

Bad execution can undo great strategic steps

A close look at why international pen brands fail in India shows how poor quality affects the famous brands adversely.

In a very bold strategic step, a well known Indian pen manufacturer brand bought the rights to manufacture and market a famous international pen brand in India. They also hired India’s biggest superstar as the brand ambassador. A very aggressive advertising campaign was unleashed to popularize the brand in India.

But, the venture failed miserably. The sales did not grow as expected. The world famous brand could not do well in India.

Assuming that the brand will sell on its reputation only, regardless of the quality, the license holders neglected the quality of the pen. It was very very inferior compared to the imported product. The buyers who knew the brand expected that same quality from India manufactured product, but it was way down the standards.

Gradually, the hype created by the brand died down. The same is happening with many other famous international pen brands.

All these European brands are realizing that if they sell their rights to the greedy, commercial minded organizations in India, it costs very dearly to the brand’s equity.

If you compromise on quality, even the biggest superstar can’t save it.

Microsoft, Windows 8 can do much better than this…

These days, there is an active TVC campaign of Windows 8 going on the air.

A family is negotiating a job for their son in Dubai with an agent for few lakh rupees when a wise lady enters the scene with a laptop, opens a job site ( and shows there are a plethora of jobs available as shown on the web site, and her price for the service is only ‘Two Gulab Jamuns’.

There was a similar campaign earlier showing a range of options available on a matrimonial site ( while searching a groom for a daughter, making the humble Panditji look irrelevant and helpless in the face of the new ‘competition’.

Ok. These are well produced TVCs. But what about the brand communication? Is Windows 8 positioning its relevance on making job agents or Panditjis irrelevant? We all know, it can do much better.

I think the TVC is so completely irrelevant to the product, that with this same communication, the very same TVCs could have been shown to promote the laptop brand or job site (or the matrimonial site). Without ANY change in the TVC. The irrelevance of the story and the communication to express what brand Windows 8 has to offer is starkly obvious.

A job site or a matrimonial site can be opened on any machine running any OS or any smartphone running any OS. What is so great about Windows 8 being able to open web site? Which other OS can’t do that utterly routine task?

Where is the differentiation? Does the TVC say about Windows 8 being different in any way? No.

And, which segment is Microsoft targeting? It seems Microsoft is targeting the ones who are looking for jobs, brides or grooms for their children, i.e. the retired people. May be they are trying to demonstrate the ease of use through the  ‘touch’ feature, but the communication is not matching or hitting that objective either. Moreover, Apple and its clones have made ‘touch’ a given and not an ‘exclusive’ feature, which can be a worthy point of differentiation.

Also, the offer of EMIs seems inappropriate. Does brand Windows 8 have to sell on price and EMIs? Is it that bad? I don’t think so.  I am sure Windows 8 has a lot of exclusive features and benefits which can be talked about.

I think either the company and the agency are up to some very highly strategic communication agenda or they have completely missed the point. To me, the latter seems more likely.

Sometimes, even the giants miss smaller, simpler points. And they end up selling jobs, brides and grooms for selling their Operating Systems. Bad barter…

Hota hai…!

The product must match the promise of the packaging

Nandish had started a product manufacturing firm. He was very particular about the design of his office interiors. His visiting card, envelope, letterhead etc were perfect. He took a lot of pain to finalize on the logo and the signboard. His product catalog was shown as an excellent example of creativity and class.

Nandish gave the same instructions when his web site was being designed. He ensured to make it immaculate. It was truly world-class. He gave the same attention to the design of his advertisements or any communication. He also ensured that the packaging of his product was at par with the best in the world of their category of products.

“The images of our organization and our product must be immaculate,” he always said. Anybody who would see these collaterals, would build a grand image in their mind about the organization they represented.

But, all this perfection in communication and presentation did not result into the acceptance of his products in the marketplace.

All his brands looked good, but did not sell good.

The excellence in designs did not result into an enthusiastic response from the customers.

His business was bleeding. Finally, he sought advise to find out what was going wrong.

It turned out that all the visual and verbal communication that the brand was making raised the expectation from the product. The packaging was world-class, so it was expected to deliver all that the world-class products in its category did. The perfection of the web site was not reflected in the perfect quality of the product. The advertisement promised excellence, but the behavior and service of his employees was sloppy, far from excellent. Customers did not like the experience of working with them.

All this needed modification. The product has to match with the promise the packaging makes. The verbal excellence of the advertisement must reflect in the enthusiasm of the employees. The class of the web site must be experienced by the customers.

This discrepancy resembles the contradiction we see between the quote we see on a T-shirt and its mismatch with the one who wears it.

T-shirt quotes come in all types. Some cute, some weird, some funny, some arrogant. Most of the times, the quote does not match with the body (or brain  above) it covers. In rare cases, when it does, the quote speaks for the body and brain. And, vice versa. That is a superb combination.

All can easily find this conformity or the lack of it.

Anybody can buy a T-shirt with any grand slogan written on it. Anybody can get a world-class catalog, web site or packaging designed.

But, just as the emptiness of the head can’t be covered by a great quote on a T-shirt, the weakness in the brand can’t be concealed by a great design of packaging or communication.

A mismatched quote on a T-shirt can be ignored and smiled away, but similar mismatch between the product and its promise is generally not forgiven by the market.

Stink finds its way out. No matter how beautifully disguised.

No, we’re not missing Sirji… We’re happy Honey Bunny…

What an idea Sirji…. An idea can change your life.

That is what the campaign for Idea Cellular shouted for few years. Even though the concept of social awareness and the creativity of the campaign was excellent, the choice of Abhishek Bachchan as brand Idea’s ambassador was a blooper. Generally, the intention of brand associations and endorsements is to leverage a product/service brand based on the popularity of the celebrity or the associating brand. But, in case of Idea Cellular, it was the other way round…! For small B, who never really got any worthwhile success on his own, being the brand ambassador of Idea was the only bright spot on his lacklustre resume… So, it looked like Idea was endorsing a struggling actor, who had nothing much to his credit and who had a listless work-bio.

The recent spurt of new commercials from Idea (Hunny Bunny, Telephone Exchange and Aiyo Holi…) have won more visibility to the brand than the years of wisecracks mouthed by the Bollywood disaster, who never came out of his immature attempts to imitate his legendary father’s baritone. This failed attempts to imitate lends his voice an inauthenticity, because of the obvious lack of originality.

It has been proved much more convincingly, with ordinary people, that the message has more power than the messenger, and if the messenger is weak, it affects the credibility of the message. The departure of Bachchan from Idea campaign has lent a breeze of freshness to the stale, predictable, irritating communication.

I read in ET  (Brand Equity, dated 10 Apr 2013) that the persons in charge of brand positioning of Idea are still vouching for Abhishek Bachchan to come back. They say that it is the X-factor and will help to recharge the brand after a break. The question is which brand? Brand Idea or brand Abhishek Bachchan?

A brand loses if it associates itself with a loser. But, some sycophants in the media business, who act as gullible disciples of some Guru, really can’t see the obvious what anybody with ordinary commonsense can see. These people may be good at ideating, but they really miss out when it comes to understanding the process of communication and execution. The honchos are blind to the fact that succumbing to the over allegiance of some of your decision makers to the Bachchans  is costing heavily to the brand. A chacha fails to see that the bhatija has failed to come out of his father’s shadow, and it’s futile to waste money on failures.

Why should any self-respecting brand manager indulge into such wasteful exercise of associating a strong brand with a loser? There does not seem to be any rational or commercial reason behind this foolishness.

My suggestion to the team in charge of brand Idea Cellular: please wake up. An idea to get rid of AB Jr has helped your brand while at the same time saving you some money.The only weak part of the Idea campaign was the brand ambassador. Let an idea change your own mind forever now.

Meanwhile, I congratulate the creative souls behind Honey Bunny and Telephone Exchange. You are bigger than the small, artificial, irritatingly unconvincing Sirji and his stupid wisecracks….

Circus of Bollywood branding or mutual back-scratching?

Brands exist in the minds of people.

They are not found only in logos, advertisements,  promotion materials, displays, goods etc. These are just the reminders serving as a recall to the brand. So, sometimes, even if there is no tangible or credible product, service or person, a brand can be created, by carefully planting stories around it, in the minds of the attentive audience. As I had learnt in my brand management classs, James Bond is one such brand. So is a Spiderman or a Superman. For a brand called James Bond, there need not be a real James Bond. But, still, it can influence a lot of people and their aspirations.

Bollywood, in collusion with media, is excellent at creating such imaginary brands from nobody and from thin air. If you observe carefully, no movie, regardless of who the hero or heroine is, succeeds if the storyline sucks. So, other than the story, everything and everyone else is just incidental. Still, media creates superstars out of the actors. Now, any superstar, with all efforts at wooing the audience doesn’t succeed, if the target audience is not happy with the product, the story, the film. That is why we see a lot box-office failures of almost all superstars periodically.

But, media treats them as Gods. Why?

Because media needs beautiful people to fill its colorful pages. Images of ordinary people on Page 3 and reports about their birthday parties doesn’t attract readers. Instead, even the reports of a star’s dog’s birthday party attracts attention, if it has stars’ and superstars’ images.

Another reason the media needs the stars is to hold and grace its various awards function. Every TV channel or newspaper has some awards as part of its marketing gimmicks. Who will anchor and dance at these functions, you and me? And if we dare to do, who would watch it?

Third use of Bollywood brands is for product endorsements. If a star is visible, then only s(he) can be summoned to sell Clothes, Phones, Shoes, Jewellery, Soft drinks, Maggie, Coffee, Tea, Water, Water-purifier, Shampoo, Soap and Hair-oil,   Suits and Suitcases etc. etc.  Advertisements and commercials are bread, butter, cheese of the media. So, you have to create stars to fill up your advertising space and to star in TV commercials.

Welcome to the mutual back-scratchers’s club.

Bollowood branding is nothing but serving the mutual needs of the actors, media and advertising world. It is the fine art of creating brand icons out of NObodies. The longevity of these brands is as temporary as the artificial film-sets created for shooting. Hence, we see a lot of Bollywood brands fading away as rapidly as they emerged on the horizons. The stars are nothing but the imagination of the creative media.

The whole circus of Bollywood brands is the best example of media creativity.

Just like James Bond. It exists only in the minds.

Why products fail?

It is not rocket science to understand why products fail. Good or bad products can be identified by the quality of their advertisement campaigns. These days, an advertisement of a chewing gum is appearing on TV. It promotes the chewing gum that can help you take fast decisions and make smart choices. This is a perfect example of a mediocre advertisement. There is nothing good about the TVC. The theme is outright downmarket and dirty. The cast is of that calibre only. The storyline is also very very distasteful. It cannot be worse. The advertisement is showing three teenager boys ogling at titillating film posters or some real girls partying or taking a swim in a pond. The whole idea is horrible distasteful. First of all, the boys are shown of very tender age. No parent would like to see the advertisements like this along with their teenagers.It is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

The production quality of the advertisement is also very poor. The voice over is so unclear that the name of the product cannot be heard. Same is with the visual of product logo. Even after seeing the advertisement for 10-15 times, you may not understand what is the NAME of the product….!

Looking at the advertisement, you may feel that mediocrity works in groups. The product, the marketing and the advertising team all have proved that mediocre people find each other and produce mediocrity with zeal.

And to top that, one music channel had that product as sponsor of today’s Valentine’s Day… One more mediocre adding itself to the gang….!

No wonder, mediocre products fail. And I must say, they must. Miserably…Even if they are made by great companies. Finally, great companies also have mediocre people occupying privileged positions on its desks. I wish the good sense prevails in the company.