Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Selling an Idea

A few weeks back, Adani Wilmar and its ad agency Ogilvy & Mather came up with an ad for Fortune cooking oil. I saw it on Day 1 of its digital release and practically showed it to everyone I know as a master piece of an ad. Honestly at 4.43 secs, it was less of an ad and more of a short film- and there will be very few occasions you will actually see this ad in full on-air. In case anyone missed it; this is the link.  

So, I guess we will all agree that this ad has a super emotional connect with Indian audiences- we can go out to any lengths at times to get home cooked food and food cooked by our mother possibly has a mix of divinity in it. It can be safe to say that we can skip a gourmet/ 5-star chef/ Michelin star rated restaurant for a morsel of home cooked food by our mother.

While the ad has caught the imaginations of people (especially from the ad world), can it boost the fortunes for Fortune Oil is yet to be ascertained. Never the less, the ad is most likely to win awards for the agency for sure.

Which brought me to a question that often intrigues me- How did this happen? The whole ad is just one statement; ‘Home cooked food is the best’. Saying it aloud didn’t even take me 4 secs and here we have an ad which has put across these 6 words in possibly the most interesting manner. How has an idea, with no mention of the brand name till the end slate, germinated from possible aim to boost sales? What would have been the discussions and thoughts while all this was possibly just- an idea. I actually talked about this to a few friends trying to understand how this might have got sold to the client (who might have invested an 8 digit budget in the production alone).

Being someone who has sat across on both sides of the table in a Client-Agency briefing; this is how I believe it went. The client offered the most clich├ęd of statements- “we need more sales and better recognition for our brand; make an ad.” The agency guys must have spent a few days exploring the world and came back saying: “Your brand is just a cooking oil and it needs a character. Everyone else is talking health, less of this and that. It is no longer fun to say we care for your heart… let us rather connect with the heart. We all eat food, let us take food as the platform and make some connection”. 

A few more weeks may have gone in choosing the right connect. Healthy food, tasty food, non-greasy food, hotel like food, home-like food… and the ‘Eureka’ moment- the food no amount of money can buy- Homemade food. So why are you not getting homemade food? Away from family and single, in a hostel, on a border post, travelling job… there can be so many reasons; but they are all mostly physical limitations. 
What is a scenario where you have you family around but still no homemade food? Are you on a diet? No- you are on an enforced diet, you are in a hospital.

So now we have the premise and a real life setting- a hospital where outside food is not allowed and a scenario where persistent relatives want to steal in food. This cycle is like a routine and we all might have seen it. So now how do you break the status quo? Let the person in-charge also succumbs to the homemade food and the iron hand melts into a mellow human heart. Homemade food wins hearts and Fortune gets a new place in consumer minds.

I don’t think anyone will not agree with the flow of thought as it is almost logical. The idea by itself is not entirely unique; which is another way of me saying that ‘Ideas are no single person’s domain.’ The lesson here is selling the idea across to the client. In my opinion, Ogilvy & Mather has done a fantastic job in this area- a simple idea laid down in an interesting manner. That is the difference between anyone who might have an idea viz-a-viz an ad agency selling an idea or a concept.

The closest anything or anyone can come to what an ad agency does is an artist painting a motif. Every creation is expected to be different and better than the earlier one. Both are termed to be only as good as their last work. The only differences are that for an agency, it has to appeal to his clients who commission their services and the spending is astronomical. There is a fixed budget, an end objective and time frame to complete the job. Creativity is confined within these limits.

Imagine the levels of rejection an agency might face. What would have happened if the client had refused to choose an emotional path and asked for a more rational sales linked ad? Or it had expressed concerns on how can someone talk of breaching hospital regulations; possibly face a backlash for it? Even after the concept is agreed, the execution, actors or the end result- anything can fail; and sadly the agency has its own reputation at stake if an ad fails to be noticed by the audience.

I believe this is the space where a big agency with a mix of its reputation and experience scores. Much like a consultant or expert in its domain, agencies can handhold clients through their fears. Showing rough sketches, stills, a complete virtual run before shoot; everything just to ensure that the client has complete faith on how the idea is shaping up. Unless the agency and the client both live and breathe the idea; it cannot transform into reality.

My final take- an idea needs wings to fly, this is true for any idea, concept or possible even a new approach that you wish to sell. Conviction on part of the thinker is not enough. It has to be substantiated with a mix of proven track record along with a constant reassurance. It is only then that both parties will have complete confidence on each other to deliver the good so perfectly. Maintaining this balance is the only way to sell ideas- an idea which otherwise is just a thought in our minds. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Break the rules to be the Master in e-retail

One of my professors during my MBA has made this statement like his own- ‘Learn the rules; master the rules; break the rules…’ – not to mention his context was related to photography and the same line echoed in two other colleges where he taught. Strangely, this was very much applicable to any business entity or anyone who was looking to make a breakthrough in their field.

I don’t think I need to reiterate my fascination with online retailing and the sheer pace at which this is transforming the business dynamics. I wrote a blog last month about how distinguishing between two online retail sites is turning into various shades of grey. Almost anything and everything is now going on to an online selling model and while success and longevity of their success are the key areas I question, I will agree that it is making an impact for sure against traditional retail.

In the last one month, I have purchased customised T-Shirts, green groceries, electronics and even furniture from online sites. I have pushed by spending envelop to almost 10K ticket size at one time and I must say, I am getting increasingly satisfied with my experiences. The reason- increasingly, online sites now are going all out towards customer delight.

I was lured into buying groceries on simply to buy 250 gms of cherries for Rs. 25 bucks. To make sure I didn’t pay for the delivery; I added in veggies and other processed foods to get the ticket size cross Rs 400. All the stuff was delivered to my door step the next day at a prescribed time band which most suited my folks at home, something even the regular local baniya never adhered to. Sorted vegetables and fruits of good quality and well packaged along with prices lower than MRP for packed foods was definitely a surprise. So what was the winner here- Quality and Convenience.

I am not ashamed to say that even if I’m not a member of their loyalty circle; I admire Flipkart. In a matter of 4 hours on a particular day, I placed an order for a sound bar, two cell phones and a memory card. The sound bar and memory are delivered in 14 hours of the order booking and the cell phones within 36- all on standard delivery. Not to mention that I was in no haste for any of them, but the Speed of Delivery is a complete delight.

In comparison, Snapdeal was more on the assigned delivery time and Fabfurnish was delayed but within their timelines which talks of working days (the site has no mention if a week is 5 or 6 days).

What has been fascinating though is the kind of differentiators coming up the market every day for these sites so as to build that ‘Wow’ factor and score more customers. Like for instance; Groupon is a ‘Deal-of-the-day’ site but has always come up with areas of making its presence felt in the uncanny manner. Last year, at the peak of the onion crisis, Groupon gave away a kilo of onions at Rs.9; this year they are offering a Rs. 100 cash back for booking railways tickets on Spice Safar.

Amazon is not left behind; as they have introduced eGift Cards as a means to eliminate the need for thinking your brains over for giving someone a gift. Innovative; well Amazon always give vouchers in case of a make good; but now they are roping in customers through their existing customers.

Lastly, I got an emailer in my box today from a site called which is an online portal to sell trophies, mementoes and medals through an online site. This many not be a mass consumer product category; but has huge potential as for business units and corporate houses. I have personally worked on projects where I was expected to get some kind of trophies for people to be felicitated. The problem was that even in Mumbai there are a few reputed suppliers doing the job and as a result, it is more of a sellers’ market. Payment terms and deliveries were never up to the mark for meeting expectations and overall it was a convincing game people had to play to negotiate. This site has the potential to overcome these hassles as payment over a card of bank transfer is possible. One area I feel will not be addressed samples- as there are at times multiple levels of approvals and physical appeal required to get the design across.

What will work, what will not- it is still unclear to me. But at present one thing is for sure; everyone is looking to build that edge on the competition as the battle for survival intensifies. This is one game where ‘this is not the way things function’, is a taboo. The Master here is one who will challenge the rules and break them to surge ahead to forge new rules.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hindustan Unilever Ltd: A segmented universe to an asteroid belt

I don’t think anyone in India who is anyway related to marketing does not dream to be working for this organization- Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL). It is hardly a wonder that it was voted the No. 1 employer of choice by B-School students across India in for the fourth year running in 2013. Not to mention, it is always an interesting bit to keep track of to get some indication of the market dynamics.

Amongst the biggest spenders on advertising in India, HUL is also amongst the companies which has a long history of presence in India since 1933. If god said, ‘Let there be light’, Unilever broke the dawn of brands in India with Sunlight. I guess the choice of category to enter India was spot on considering use of soap for washing clothes was basic to any household in India. It was merely an act of deviating people from the task of making soap at home with something now available at a shop in ready form.

This might have been the easiest of tasks as far as we talk of migrating customers to switch from traditional Indian ways to branded packaged products. Personal care products used aspirational value through association with film stars (or some of it was taken from the colonial rulers of the time). Competition was always around with Indians companies like Tata Oil Mills (TOMCO) and Godrej soaps also making a mark on the market, while global giants like P&G came into India in the 1950’s to capture its share.

Today, HUL has a dominant presence in the Indian market across four key verticals of Personal Care, Home care, Foods and Water purification products. Significantly, most of its dominant brands are home grown. It is some fringes in personal care like Lakme, Hamam (both acquired from Tata) and Foods (Kissan and Modern bakery) are acquisitions. A definite mention required- PureIT water purifier is the only product which bears the mother brand - Hindustan Unilever Limited mentioned across its face right up front.

A recent look at the brands under the personal care range put up a few questions in my mind though.
Look at the range of soaps HUL has today- Axe, Breeze, Dove, Hamam, Lifebuoy, Liril 2000, Lux, Pears, Rexona, Aviance Marine Soap. Of which I’m sure, other than Axe, Dove and Aviance, all have at least two or more variants, taking my available options to a conservative 20 (Lux has in excess of 5 for sure). While this might sound impressive, I see this as a segmentation challenge and a daunting marketing task. I agree, some segments are well defined here- Axe is for men, Dove and Aviance for skin care, Lifebuoy is hygiene, Liril 2000 and Rexona both talk of freshness, Pears is glycerine based and Lux is a beauty soap. I would have guessed Breeze and Hamam hold the bottom of the pyramid market for beauty and hygiene.

But when I went into a price comparison from an e-shopping portal, I was totally confused. For a 75 gms bar, Dove was at Rs. 46, Pears was Rs. 36 and Lux variant was Rs. 27. Liril 2000 was priced at Rs.29.In the 100gms bars, Hamam was Rs.26 while another Lux variant and Rexona were Rs 24. Lifebuoy was for 125 gms Rs. 24 which was actually the cheapest in the weight to price comparison. I could not get any indication for Aviance. Bottom line; was there a price segmentation or the entire affair was running only by means of product variants? Besides, the category is not isolated of competition with Vivel and Fiama Di Wills from ITC, Cinthol and Godrej No. 1 from Godrej and other players like Santoor, Himalaya and Nivea also flooding the market.

A look at the shampoo segments was equally appalling. HUL has Clear, Clinic Plus, Sunsilk, Dove, TRESemme and all their variants against a battalion from P&G, Nivea, Garnier, L’Oreal, Pantene and Himalaya all vying for the same purse.  

For the moment, I’m a confused customer when I have to buy bathing soap. I really cannot differentiate the products if Lux, Rexona, Breeze and Fiama Di Wills are placed before me. As a buyer, a difference of under Rs.5 doesn’t even register. On a given day, if my choice of soap is not available at a retailer, I don’t think brand loyalty will cause me not to defect to another brand. Customers today will be spoilt for choices of variety in terms of product features, packaging and all at a price they are willing to pay as per their need of the hour.

A question I pose- is there brand loyalty alive in products where product variation and price differences have shrunk to almost negligible?

I guess segmentation in recent times has virtually come down to retaining a customer by offering a yes to every need posed. You want fragrance, glycerine, hygiene, moisturizing, herbal; name it and I have a soap which can satisfy your need. If more than one- that is also possible. Add to it price promotions and bundled offers, and a customer will take no time to switch to a new brand. Every need today will have a bombardment of choices thrown at it. I guess HUL or any other company these days, is willing to offer a chance for a customer to look at any other shelf for anything they need.

The universe for a customer was once possibly as well segmented as the solar system. Every brand possibly had its own unique place which the others did not share. I guess it is the mass consumerism in India that has promoted all this competition which has made it more of an asteroid belt.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How do brands die

I have often mentioned that being born in the 80’s and living through the years after has offer me and my generation an un-paralleled advantage- We have seen the world change in bits and pieces, day-by-day. Technology from my childhood is obsolete in most cases today; the one still around only have classical value. What the changes have also resulted in has been the fall of dominant empires and rise of new ones which replaced them. Some like Sony who changed with times still hold their stature. I don’t think people rate the technology of a Bravia, Vaio or Xperia lower to the Walkman at some point in the 80s. Sadly, the ones which got lost in their own glory to forget the art of adaptation went on to immortalize Darwin.

One of the most appealing and fascinating gadget my father had was an SLR camera from Minolta as well as a point-n-shoot Nikon. But what had to be treated with immense respect irrespective of the make was the camera film. So it didn’t matter if Sakura was now Konica, Fuji was cheap or Kodak was expensive- if by chance the film from any one got exposed accidentally opening the reel cover, down the drain went the memories. The films also demanded respect as you could click only 36 shots per reel (yes, there were some shady ways to do more on the same reel), so taking a picture was like a responsibility.

I took some time to read up on Kodak for making a case study and realised that Eastman Kodak was the oldest and the biggest player in the camera film plate arena for close to 100 years when I might have held a camera. It was a legend that had over 90% market share at one point thanks to its smart selling strategy of cheap camera units and milking the film and photo paper cows. Along with Gillette and its shaving blades, this was another great example of making the big profits on the consumables- something still followed by a lot in the market.

After the patent for the film plate was taken, a folding Kodak pocket camera in 1890, which was pegged at a very affordable price of $25. The main stay was the $10 to process and print the pictures which in combination with the camera paved the road to greatness. I’m not sure when BTL marketing was officially recognised, but in 1897, Kodak sponsored an amateur photographer contest and saw 25,000 participants. In 1904, Kodak held a Grand Kodak Exhibition featuring 41 photographs to attract an audience for the art. This connect is so natural that I cannot imagine if this marketing proposition might change for such events today.

The ads were so powerful to take the photography to people other than professionals - “You press the button- we do the rest”. Not to mention, signage’s along the roads reading, ‘Picture ahead’ with the well-recognised Kodak name under the sign is fabulous use of ambient media. The term "Kodak moment" might be used for eternity for every memorable picture. This was the strong brand connect that Kodak has in the memory of every individual. Sadly, I feel it won’t be wrong to say that no one uses Kodak in taking pictures any more.

The demise of the brand to the levels of bankruptcy in 2012 has been a classic case of treating it as a product offering and forgetting that the brand was a living being with a personality. Much like a human being, it has to adapt to changes and transform its role in the life of people to maintain its relevance. Yes, handling competition was important- so was transition into technology that could change the business dynamics. Kodak had developed a digital camera in 1975, the first of its kind. But the product was dropped for fear it would threaten Kodak's photographic film business, which was already facing threat from Fuji by means of its competitive pricing.

Marketing Myopia, as my marketing professor preached was like being so much in love with your products that you become completely ignorant of what damage this obsession leads to your own self.  The outlook from the management always remained that profit for Kodak was in making money on the consumables side as the optics was just a one-time buy. Digital imaging transformed this myth and when Camera phones came out, Kodak went into the business of vendor driven memory chip business.

Kodak had a fabulous connect with people and their memories. They had done everything right from the very beginning to reach a stature no one else can possibly manage. All they needed to do was possibly maintain that connect irrespective of selling films to feed their camera. If the phone got a decent camera, the logical move was to bring out a super camera that could also be a phone. Photograph= Kodak; that was the least or most they has to ensure. Sadly, they missed the bus and ran out of business.

What all this only signifies is that brands are like living beings interacting with their users. People wish to be associated with a brand for a part of its persona that builds these bonds. If the threads of this bond are not recognised and the relation turns into a transaction; you might just be the next Kodak.