Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The brand that binds India

Unity in diversity- a matter of pride which possibly every Indian loves to flaunt. So what builds this unity amongst so many people divided by regions, languages, traditions and customs as one- that’s a difficult one? But what if I ask; if all of them had to be bonded by an adhesive, what would you use? The answer to that question in almost 99% of the occasions will be just one- Fevicol. As long as good quality wood and wooden furniture is the choice if Indians, Fevicol will be a brand which will rule the ranks.

Fevicol as a brand owned by Pidilite Industries and started off in 1959. Though wood as a choice of material for furniture has been in India for centuries (thanks to the rain forests in India and Myanmar), the traditional adhesive of choice was ‘saresh’. This is a natural polymer of animal origin and was usually heated to form a jelly which solidifies on cooling. Considering the numbers of Indian livestock, it was cheap and available abundantly across the country.

Fevicol as a product had the advantage of a ready to use, air drying synthetic adhesive with no contents of animal origin; something which would appeal inherently to Indians. But there was a major challenge to enter a market which was driven on a very strong by traditional practices, carpenters as a community than a profession and a consumer driven by personal relations rather than quality and workmanship. A consumer was concerned with the wood used and the final look of the final product but the quality of metal accessories, adhesives and polish used was not even a consideration- a typical low involvement category product.

Fevicol has emerged as the best example in India of a product which has overcome this challenge of moving into the considerations set from the oblivion and standing its ground where consumers and carpenters both use it as a mark of quality and trustworthy workmanship.

The key feature that people look for in an adhesive is its strength. The most common personification of strength in India was an elephant. This along with an inspired approach from the 17th century Magdeburg hemispheres experiment become the foundation of the brand association. Two elephants trying to pull apart the hemispheres became the prime part of the logo for Fevicol.  A white adhesive in a HDPE jar with a blue top and the elephants on the side as a symbol of its strength became the identity of modern adhesive for Indians.

The difficult part of changing the traditional habits has been achieved over years of continuous efforts towards building affinity and preference of the white synthetic adhesive as well as the brand. This is actually a very tricky scenario; an ill-informed consumer will never pay a premium over a local product alternative and there will always be reluctance from the carpenters to work with a new product which works and performs different to what they have previously used.

This has been achieved by a steady stream of mainline advertising targeted towards the end consumer highlighting the long lasting strength of the adhesive. The initial ads have also used the elephant and the analogy to the Magdeburg experiment to showcase strength. This actually has built a super recall for the brand each time anyone says, ‘…zor lagake…’(push/pull with all your strength) On the parallel, Fevicol has run programmes for the carpenters to build the equity and faith amongst the users and help them endorse the brand as a mark of their own quality of work. Over the years, Fevicol has built both; end consumer demand and user preference for its products.

The position of Fevicol over the years has been so dominant, it has replaced any other form of glue in every possible place with sub-brands. Fevicol has two variants: Fevicol MR for domestic use and Fevicol SH for professional applications. There are also fast setting and a water resistant marine adhesive also available. It is therefore not surprising to see a tube of Fevicol present in a stationery shop to a hardware shop. It can be seen on the desk of a kid in an art class, office desk as often as in the hand of a carpenter in his workshop.

The success of Fevicol has been in a smart use of media channels and marketing efforts directed for a long a persistent fashion to build this success over the years. In fact the prefix ‘Fevi’ has become the ground for a host of other products launched by Pidilite over the years. There is a Fevistick as a domestic glue stick, Fevi-bond as a rubber adhesive and Fevikwick instant adhesive. Fevicryl is a brand for poster and fabric colours.  Hobby Ideas is a retail presence it has today not just for selling art and craft material but also have art workshops to attract the next generation to the brand.

Today, the brand is so well recognised, that a ‘majboot jod’ (strong bond) and Fevicol has become synonymous. It has also found its way into Bollywood songs. In the last 25 odd years, Fevicol ads have been a benchmark of creativity in the Indian ad industry. The brand association is so strong that the campaigns run as the full ad for a fortnight in high frequency and once the ad registers, it becomes a 10 sec snippet. So how strong is the ad recall… Prime Minister Modi described Indo-Japan relations as a bond stronger than Fevicol. (Ye Fevicol se bhi majboot jod hai…) In the words of the man who  Piyush Pandey of Ogilvy, the agency that has been creating communication for Fevicol for over 30 years, “This is bigger than a Cannes Grand Prix”.

The true asset of a brand is the equity it builds along the way and later can encash on its assets to develop the market. Taking the category to the next level is also what is left for a leader to champion. Their close association with carpenters made Fevicol realise that India had no furniture catalogues. In 1989, they came out with the first Fevicol Furniture Books; a book of furniture concepts which to date has run 50 editions and sold over 11 million copies. With the rise of the digital world, Fevicol now has a site called ‘Design Ideas’, which is a digital exchange site for architects, designers and contractors to showcase their ideas and also a channel for prospective customers to reach.

Brand studies normally focus on flashy and glamorous products which are eye catching. Fevicol is an example of a brand from a low involvement products basket which has gone to attain an iconic stature of owning a category by its name through its marketing practices, advertising and foresight as a market leader. Not to mention, binding India like never before.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Where shopping becomes a drug

Last week, 23rd September to be precise, the accounts guy in my office walked up to me asking if I was registered on Flipkart. Considering I have been shopping a rather long time with Flipkart, I answered the affirmative. But this was not a usual shopping registration; this was improving odds for the Xiaomi Redmi 1S sale on Flipkart on that day. What we were playing for- being amongst the top 40,000 of 2,40,000 registrations who would have clicked the buy button at the right moment to buy a phone. Call it fanatic; he was delaying lunch beyond 1400 hrs just to try his luck before food that day.

This is not an isolated moment. It has become a need of the hour for online retailers. While offers and discounts are great to attract a shopper for the day; his experience will decide if he may or may not come back. Today there are sites and apps like Junglee which troll the e-retail sites and get back with the best offers and prices for the day across all possible sites. The result I see is complete loss of brand loyalty for purchase of goods. Loyalty now is confined to which site has the best rates for that day. In many cases, while you may track a particular product for a few day on one particular site- the actual purchase may happen on another one- thanks to a special day offer on it.

This is presenting a very unique challenge to e-retailers; you have buyers who are heavy switchers between all possible sites selling similar products. If a particular buyer had come to you by virtue of a special offer, it is not always economically feasible to get him back each time purely on discounts. How do you maintain a steady flow of audience to keep coming back for more after that first purchase and buy at full prices?

The category leaders are actually coming up with a wide variety of programmes to get their customer base towards loyalty and build larger number of repeat purchases. The first was product bundling which was in fact a no brainer. Get a cart worth a certain amount to avail free delivery. Flipkart then launched the Flipkart First, where paying Rs. 500 as a membership ensured faster delivery and distinguished customer service. Typically, this amount is what a customer will pay for minimum ten standard deliveries and is a nice way to ensure repeat audience. The other way most of the websites are racking up audience is higher discounts and bundled offers on weekends- a time when I suppose online traffic take a dip.

Another way employed by Flipkart is something I believe was a test- Rs 1 Sale, where a limited stock of a select set of 6 items was up for sale on 22nd September. This was valid only for a short window of 2 hours running from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on a Monday; which may be the time for the lowest number of hits for shopping on a weekday. Another It might only be time before Amazon and Snapdeal will have to follow something similar to boost repeat purchases. More and more I observe, I am getting to a conclusion that the idea here is to get people to become an online shopaholic.

We had a term while in college known as retail therapy- the best way to break a monotonous day was go window shopping or for groceries as it would transform the mental state away from work or study. E-retailers and now pushing people into an online retail therapy which is easily accessible and highly addictive. I would say this is potentially a drug: where once bitten, you may just find it hard to withdraw from. Yes it is convenient- but also has the possibilities for people to go overboard and ruin the balance of spends versus savings very soon. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Alia Bhatt- a one you just cannot ignore

'There's no such thing as bad publicity' –a statement often associated with Phineas T. Barnum, a 19th century American showman and circus owner. Apparently, Barnum was a self-publicist and never missed an opportunity to present his opinion to the public- no matter in what context. Apart from being a man of showbiz in the 1800’s, his approach was bang on the money; self- promotions and publicity are a crucial part of being a public figure. Unless people talk about you, know you and have the craving to know more in person; you are possibly just another person. In his own words- Without promotion something terrible happens... Nothing!!!

Today, most people who wish to be in the public domain hire public image managers in a quest to ensure their public face is maintained. Considering there are lot more options in media which can spread a word at the speed of sound, there are moments where someone can goof up big time. In the last one year, there have been two instances after which the involved individuals might have got them to think, ‘why the hell did I go there in the first place?’ Interestingly, both invoked a similar kind of reaction on social media. The real distinction has been how the matters have been handled post the debacle and what it has done to these two individuals.

The first one was of course- Rahul Gandhi and possibly his career interview with Arnab Goswami. Sure a lot of politicians make blunders when they talk; but this was epic in the sense that his handling of the media post the interview was atrocious and laughable. Needless to say, while the Modi wave was on the rise, a lot of jokes on Rahul Gandhi started floating around. A parallel example was that of Alia Bhatt when on the celebrity talk show ‘Koffee with Karan’, her lack of knowledge about India’s President (like many others) was exposed in a grand manner. What followed was her crowning as the Indian version of the blonde with a strong line-up of jokes.

The similarities in both cases: both were actually trying to establish themselves in the public eye and their image in the meantime was gone for a toss. While Rahul had all kinds of childish jokes dedicated to himself, Alia jokes were going across the board. Jokes which at one point were like an exclusive monopoly of the surds were being recycled for Alia. In fact I believe at some point, her PR agency came in a planted some more jokes just to keep the excitement and name flashing on social media.

Indians have been harsh with anyone who had an issue with their public image. In the past, the moment anyone got involved in controversies, people and brands choose to distance themselves from the person involved to manage the rub-off. This makes the post debacle response of the involved both interesting and crucial. This was possibly the stark difference in these two cases.

Rahul and the Congress went into denial. They did almost nothing to change the public perception with any other public appearances aimed to control the damage. If empowerment, women’s representation and youth were his points laid down to the world, nothing was done to being meaning to the words by some on ground actions to the people who most mattered in his campaign. While they attempted to downplay the matter or wait for it to die out- Rahul lost his presence in the national politics. He can be an equivalent to Sarah Palin in some ways.

Conversely, the Bhatt camp did nothing to hide the fact that general knowledge was not the strong point of Alia. Interestingly; in the month following the incident, she played a student in India’s most respected educational institutions, a Stockholm syndrome driven lover and a very typical North Indian. While social media was taking her persona for a toss- she actually allied with a popular youth based internet channel to let people know that she is working on herself to overcome her flaws. As a matter of fact, I recently found that her youth connect is so powerful that she is the face for a range of products from Garnier, Hero Pleasure and Philips in recent times. In all the above ads, she projects a smarter and opinion leading act.

If you ask me, I am yet to watch any of her films and the idea of her being a far refreshing act in terms of glamour compared to her half sibling Pooja Bhatt came in only after I saw what a disaster Pooja was (30 mins of Phir teri kahani yaad aayee was all it required). I also know that she is someone who possibly never been to a college to take up studies seriously and might be the low ranker amidst her contemporaries as far as educational qualifications might go. But one thing is for sure- every single person who has ever read a newspaper or is exposed to some form of social media today knows who she is. Would she get all the films and endorsements she has in her bag even then? May be. But one thing is for sure- the kind of recall she has today is second to none.

A line of conclusion- like her or hate her for all she does, she is someone who we cannot stop hearing about. She is plastered all across youth channels with her ads and endorsements and for all I have read; her acting has also been appreciated. She is many ways is now an established brand; something we just cannot ignore. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Retailing farm-fresh produce in India- from the memoirs of a retail entrepreneur

I happen to realise that in the last one year, I had been writing a lot about the retail sector in India. The crumbling malls, the fight back of the local mom ‘n pop retailers against the organised chains and the rise of the e-retailing models in India. Much of my writings were analysis of what I was reading about or witnessing as a consumer. But as luck would have it, I had the pleasure of meeting a retail entrepreneur last week over business consulting, which gave me a lot more in-depth understanding of the challenges and gaps in the Indian retail sector.

I happened to meet Ameya Vartak, the CEO of Aamrai ( for more details), which is into a focused retail of authentic Ratnagiri Alphonso mangoes for the last 5 years.  Since mangoes are a season fruit and possibly keeps him on his toes for 4 months each year, he had floated small retail model for green groceries in Mumbai named Green Box. Some things about the trade he has learnt the hard way, some while he was a project manager with Fabmall (later renamed as But what was amazing was the amount of knowledge about source- to- sale logistics and trader chain that exists in India. In the few years selling mangoes, he had not only learnt the way to deal with modern food retailers like Star Bazaar or but also worked his way to sell through traditional retail channel and even export overseas. 

Unlike food grains or fruits, vegetables need to be harvested almost across the year unless they can be processed in some way to impart a longer shelf life. Typically, onions and potatoes are the one’s which are irradiated to increase their life in storage facilities. But these irradiation facilities are few and limited only to these specific produce. Green leafy vegetables or other produce like carrots, tomatoes, capsicum (bell peppers) all have to be planted in a manner where their time to market has to be planned through stage-wise plantation. But a smart farmer with some acumen into ‘Contract Farming’ actually can earn a hefty sum of income each year if he plans and executes his farming practices.

An example he quoted about a discussion with a prospective contract farmer was noteworthy. A capsicum farmer with a 4 acre (16200 sqm) farm about 100kms from Mumbai ran a cycle of roughly 20-25 yields every year. Even while including rejects on any account; the farmer was comfortable in offering up to 30 tons of assured produce each year. At a modest per ton rate of Rs. 30,000 (Rs. 30 per Kg), the farmer was looking at making roughly Rs. 12,00,00,000 a year with an input cost of roughly Rs 1,00,00,000. On an average, a kilo of capsicum in any retail market in Mumbai is around Rs. 80. Apart from Rs. 15 per Kg for transport and labour, the rest is pure margin which is pocketed by the traders who connect the farms to the consumers. What’s more; agricultural income in India is non-taxable.  

My curiosity went on to ask him if this was actually the case, why the model of Contract Farming not catching up and why aren’t consumers and farmers getting the benefit of a fair pricing system. The response I got was not shocking, but something that illustrated the power wielded by the trader lobby.

Traditional Indian retailers for vegetables are too small to engage into contract farming and have to depend on wholesale traders who break the bulk. This is a known evil which most traditional retailers live with knowing that supply and pricing at variable as per the will of the traders. Traders run their own cartels and fix their rates as per their wish. A trader who buys mangoes in Ratnagiri picks them by weight, irrespective of their size or quality. By the time they reach major markets like the APMC in Vashi, they break their buying into boxes holding mangoes by multiples of a dozen and sorted by size. This is where they make their biggest margins. Retailers then just follow the market precedence and sell the same beyond with a small mark up. In the overall, consumers are paying a lot for which the farmer actually received a little.

If traditional retail is flawed, organised retail chains are still to develop supply chain efficiency their sourcing end. More so, a typically Indian mentality of ‘why should I care’ comes in too strong; which is something traditional retail chains manage the best. More product is more earnings- they squeeze out every last bit of every batch of produce.
In an organised retail, every member in the chain has a fixed income which is not affected by the efficiency or reduction in waste that it generates. Consequently, no one is actually bothered about quality of the vegetables until they are up on the supermarket shelves. In some cases, losses in transport, storage and sorting can be up to 25%, which in the long run are offset with the operating margins. To cover this, prices are always higher than what would be if these losses were curtailed. As a result, the buying team is always in search for the better deal on price as supply chain losses have to be compensated.

A unique perspective which also came in was that merchandisers (the people from the buying or sourcing teams in modern retail) are never in any danger as long as certain key elements are well stocked and the margins on them are solid. It is like the onion index which they are judged on. As long as they can be managed, it’s a win. So when high value perishables like mangoes go bad, merchandisers are at a risk of being noticed for losses and there by avoid them on their lists.

There is a lot more I learnt that one evening. All in all I could gather was agriculture if well done was profitable. Also, if a retailer got his act together and found a good source-to-consumer model, there is a lot that is still to be achieved in India. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A for Apple

It is possibly the very first letter to object association one might learn as a toddler. Once a part of your life, it rarely happens to leave you. It keeps coming back as a part of a fruit plate or a pie on your table, an appletini or just a glass of juice, Adam’s apple and also the apple that got Newton to propose the concept of gravity and possibly change the way the world then was. I guess the world today has another apple to add to the list.

Yesterday was the launch of Apple iPhone 6 and for some reason it was an event which was the talk of the town. Business and news channels were following it, alerts were being circulated on news apps and almost every newsprint had it as a front page news the next morning. So Apple launches a much awaited iPhone 6 with two variants and announced Apple watch to hit the markets in 2015. To me, it seems like Apple and Samsung are gonna fight a technology supremacy war while the Xiaomi and Micromax take over the world.

Ask me, I’m not excited as the first reviews I read do not promise anything earth shattering. Experts are actually critical of post-Jobs Apple entering the large screen market; something Jobs was vocally against. Also since I’m not so much an Apple or iPhone freak (my only Apple asset to date is an iPod). If I compare the specs, Samsung seems much more in control. But for the world Apple definitely seems to strike a chord with its apparent brand equity. As an Indian stand-up Apoorv Gupta had in his act; ‘…for some the excitement of an iPhone launch is no less than the birth of a younger sibling in the family…’

Apple since its inception has been associated with innovation and more often than not, it has stuck to its roots. Apple and Microsoft started a few years apart as assemblers of computer hardware. All thought out the 80’s, Apple was holding out on its own as the IBM-Microsoft combine rolled on. But once the home PC market was established in the early 90’s, Microsoft with Windows virtually took over the whole world by storm and entered almost every household. Apple on the other hand was a niche for high end graphics and processing. The association of Steve Jobs with George Lucas and Pixar is well documented.  The Mac’s were usually considered a richly engineered and expensive computing experience.

The complete excitement around the brand I believe started off with the iPod. Apple surged ahead in the market with a product which had a far refined under interface compared to the rest- which were more of USB devices with playback capabilities. The fact that you could create a playlist, a touch pad to change tracks or control volume made the iPod desirable even though no FM radio, the high cost and the fact that you needed iTunes to transfer music or make playlists. I believe this instilled the confidence that Apple rides on as they went ahead with the iPod Touch, iPad, and iPhones.  If the product is ground breaking- people will buy.

I’m really not sure if Apple iPhone 6 and the Apple watch will be a resounding success; I really don’t see superiority in terms of technical specs as yet. I also know of people who have had massive software related problems with their iPhone 5 models. Apple has had its fair share of product failures- the PDA called Newton is one I recall having seen. But there is one thing that no one has so far complaint; it is the quality of the product and its design features. This is not just limited to the phones from Apple but is true universally for all the products apple has in the market.

If Apple as a brand needs to be defined, it would quite simply be a benchmark. Pick an area of your choice and in every category that Apple is present, it is considered a gold standard. And this is not limited just to products: it expands across every possible contact point with its customers. Apple products in a retail space have a presence unlike any other. Its dealer outlets bear an overwhelming use of white which actually makes its products appear in all the grandeur. The jewel case packaging, white accessories, carry cases- just about everything distinguishes itself from the rest and is more often than not copied to a fair extent.

An area where I get a lot of requests is how Apple communicates. Again, this also has the use of white to a high extent with a play between black & white being dominant. The font that Apple uses is also a well-rounded and without serifs type face, which definitely has a fun but not frivolous appeal. It is not funny the number of times clients show us an Apple ad or a product brochure and say, “I want something like this… simple, clean and yet creative”.

To sum it all, we may or may not actually purchase an Apple product, but they have in many ways set new standards. It likes to maintain its place of exclusivity by comparatively higher pricing- but definitely make an impact on desirability. It is a statement through its design and specification. The fact will always remain- Apple will always be ‘The Apple’ of the eye.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In-Film Blasphemy

Possibly a strong word for what I intend to write about; but its impact at times when used inappropriately destroys the sanctity of an art form and also is an abuse to a viewer. Sure there is enough logic for film makers and marketing fraternity to bind and place products in a movie- the problem is I’m seeing instances of in-film placements being done on a level which is so ridiculous that it actually spoils the movie experience.

In-Film placement (or branding) is something I had no clue of when I was asked about it during my application stage for a media school. In fact, what I wrote was utter crap and am actually confused how I managed to get through. But the grooming has now reached a level where I can know why Superman crashed into a giant Coca- Cola signage and why Bond drove into a van with Perrier water bottles. It also justifies why BMW, Aston Martin, Sony and other brands have so much invested in a Bond franchise. I would have still known a Mini Cooper from The Italian Job (Michael Caine or Mark Wahlberg), but I got introduced to Remington Vaults from it. My point is it is subtle and doesn’t seem like it is not a part of the storyline.

The scene in India has been a bit different though. Loads of films through the 60’s to 80’s have mentions of Mobil Oil, Chevrolets, Coca-Cola, Polson butter; but I guess I identify them since I have an open eye for it. Possibly Rajdoot motorcycles is the best example of intentional use of products in films. Bobby (1973) lent the motorcycle used the same as its name. In Hero (1983), Rajdoot has a complete product placement through 5 bikes- along with a song shot on the bikes and musical show with Escorts brand logo placed on the backdrop. Interestingly, the producer- director of Hero, Subhash Ghai had a song sequence with a fleet of Maruti 800’s in Meri Jung (1985) and Coca-Cola in Taal (1999). But none of these were overt displays of a product or brand, so much so that Bambai se gayee Poona and its association with East West Airlines is virtually unknown.

In recent times, in-film placement has become a significant part of a film marketing aspect. While working with Percept, my agency was coordinating with Godrej Security Sytems on Tasveer 8 x10. I got to learn a bit more of what is in-film and out of film associations. Honestly, I have no issues with out of film as it has no impact on my movie viewing pleasure. But I have a problem with brands that are force fit into the script.

So while the marketing fraternity was up in arms when Krissh offered his friend Bonvita or SRK travelling on Chennai Express told me what the latest Nokia handset could do (and the price as well), I was actually not impressed. BigB asked cops to chase Bunty aur Bubbli in an Orange Maruti Swift and Mariti Ertiga was the subject of Mere Dad ki Maruti… yawn! But surprises were when Munni badnam or Fevicol se did not have a large hoarding of Zandu or Fevicol in the background. Disappointments were though when Chulbul Pandey in Dabangg 2 used an Astral pipe to fight the bad guys and assured his father of financial security for the family by subscribing to LIC Insurance policies.  Comparatively when Ultratech Cement donned the Indian jersey in Chak De India, it was not a sore sight as it was actually the sponsor for hockey. The recent list on this front is actually endless.

The latest uproar is about Mary Kom- and rightly so as the brand placements are so very ‘in your face’ that it becomes a turn off. So like any Indian, she is cooking in her kitchen; why the specil focus on Tata Salt. Why is PC caught saying, ‘Hum ne desh ka namak khaya hai’, relieving muscle pain with a particular brand or switching to sugar substitutes when confirms pregnancy?? I have no objection against Monnet Steel for the branding on the jersey; but rest all is staged so bad that it is actually repulsive.

This is not limited to Hindi alone: a Marathi remake of Seven brides for seven brothers (coz Satte pe satta is a remake of this one) had a Tata Ace (Chota Haathi), Red Label Maharashtra mix (for the hardworking Marathi) and a masala brand being hammered all throughout. Recently, Poshter Boyz had a scene especially written for Birla Wall Putty highlighting its benefits, quality and other features compared to the rest as a blatant 2 minute ad.

What is the reason marketing and film fraternity causing such blasphemy and abusing a national source of entertainment? It is actually a sad state of affairs as in-film marketing agencies see theatre audience as a captive and a cheaper option to television ads. Brand owners, I guess, are demanding prime presence in shots and mentions of the brand in the script in some way. Sadly, film makers also see this as a good source of revenue to support the production costs and turn overs and are giving a fair amount of leeway to the advertisers in such cases. The overall impact- as a viewer, the brand communication is intruding into my entertainment space and actually getting a bit of a repulsive response for spoiling the texture of the movie.

I am actually interested in some hard core numbers to quantify the impact of such communication. Honestly, I have a feeling this is being run purely on mutual benefit theory rather than anything. Brands are lured assuring audience and cheaper media; film makers are actually abusing their creation through blatant and ‘in your face’ ads in movies by bending down to financial temptations. Overall, I don’t see a benefit- all I see is blasphemy.