Thursday, October 25, 2007


It’s not enough to advertise. Companies like Unilever, Medimix and Reliance Comm. have focused more on changing consumer perceptions and succeeded.

A recent study was done on children aged between three and five. Each child was given two samples of food, one in McDonald’s packaging and one in plain wrapping. The children found the food in McDonald’s packaging up to six times more appetising than the one in plain packaging. Fact was that other than packaging, both samples were identical!

A survey was conducted and respondents were asked to recall a brand. Almost all could remember the brand and most of them claimed they saw the product being advertised on television. The company was confused, as they had never advertised on television! In another survey, the number of people who recalled seeing an ad in a prestigious publication exceeded its readership. Why do such things happen? The simple answer is – certain brands remain at the top of your mind and you think you saw them in places where they didn’t exist.

As marketers we have important lessons to learn from these outcomes. The consumer sees your products, judges it and analyses it completely differently from the way marketers look at the brand and their strategies.

During food poisoning, diarrhoea et al, the doctor might advice you to consume Limca in small sips to replace body salt… the reality is it is just another carbonated beverage. Sprite, 7 Up, Canada Dry will never be able to figure out why people preferred Limca over their product when all were identical.

Pepsi encountered the same confusion when in 70s it did a blind taste test. People were asked to choose which one they preferred, Coke or Pepsi (without showing the brand names). Most could not differentiate between Coke & Pepsi, and those who could, said that they thought Pepsi tasted better. Yet, when they were actually shown the brand names, 3 out of 4 preferred Coke.

We associate certain images, certain feelings with certain brands. So then is it true that how we choose a particular brand, curiously has nothing to do with conscious preference – rather the subconscious. Probably yes. Consumers have their own set of perceptions that successful marketers need to understand. Consider this: sachets costs more than regular sizes in terms of “per ml” cost. Yet across the spectrum, consumers have readily paid a premium for these sachets, without even realising it.

Many a times it’s the popularity of a particular brand that gives it the real edge. In a survey carried out by Young & Rubicon, it was found that brands such as Kodak, Maruti, Pepsi, Amul and Raymond were topmost in consumer mind in terms of “brand esteem.” The fact was most of their opinion were based on the popularity than the quality judgment of the brand.

Brand perception influences purchase decisions and advertising plays a very powerful role in building that perception. No wonder FMCG majors opt for high decibel advertising to reinforce the notion of perceived superiority – and it seems to work. According to ORG-MARG, branded goods comprise for 65% of sales even in villages.

Managing or mismanaging perceptions?

Fire extinguishers were considered to be an industrial product till “Real Value” launched its hand held portable fire extinguishers for the masses. Man’s primordial “fear of fire” was used brilliantly in the ads to make people go out and buy one.

Medimix in the 60s was perceived as a medicated soap to stop itchiness and the salesman was dubbed as the “itch-soap-man.” Today, it’s one of the top 10 toilet soap brands in the country. Through continuous promotions & indirect advertising in Tamil films, the brand changed its image from a itch-soap to a beauty soap. This is very similar to what Lifebuoy has managed to accomplish. Launched as a soap which kills germs, the soap today competes with the top beauty soaps of India! It revamped its advertising totally.

In a survey, the respondents were asked to associate Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan with any paint. About 80% associated him with Asian Paints. Reality was that he was endorsing Nerolac, whose biggest competitor was Asian Paints! In effect, people’s perceptions can cause your marketing and advertising strategy to backfire. Years ago when people were asked which brand of suiting Nawab Pataudi endorses, most said Raymond, when he actually endorsed Grasim! In fact, a lot of consumers cannot differentiate between Graviera, Gwalior and Grasim. Most perceive them as similar.

Just great advertisements are not enough to sell a brand. You need to find out how your brand looks from the customer’s point of view. Anil Ambani realised that people viewed his brand as not very emotive, approachable or youthful; and hardly anyone remembered its punch line “Growth is Life.” To get back into the grove and connect better with its consumers, last year, the company changed its colour coding to red & blue and the punch line to “Think Bigger.” Vijay Mallya may have taken over Air Deccan, but he has to tread with caution. People loved it for its Re.1 ticket, but the flight cancellations & delays gave Air Deccan some amount of negative publicity. Mallaya needs to structure this brand with care to gain maximum mileage.

Some things negate change

Foreign banks may cry hoarse explaining the benefits of banking with them, but somehow Indian consumers trust public sector banks more. SBI dominates the mind space of most. It’s a fact, only the very rich in India actually choose their bank – the rest generally walk into the nearest branch! The ‘sting’ in Dettol ensured that consumers picked it up as compared to Savlon for they felt it killed germs better. Safi and its bitter taste works miraculously to sustain the belief that it purifies blood. Some things just don’t change. However, sustained advertising sometimes helps, as it did for a whole lot of brands. People initially rejected Zero B water purifier. It was too small to be effective.

Kellogs (through its ads) changed the perceptions of it being expensive and not filling and nutritious enough as compared to traditional Indian breakfast dishes.

Bottled water is big business in Europe. However BBC concluded after a survey that people were actually buying the bottle – the image – not the water. According to experts, there was hardly any difference between tap and bottled water. Yet, most consumers felt that bottled water tastes clean! When Maggie was launched in India, housewives refused to accept that a nutritious meal could be prepared in just two minutes. Today Indians consume the maxium Maggie noodles in the world.

Success is more the art of managing consumer perceptions well. After all, many times, what they think is – far from reality!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Want to break through the growing clutter of TV ads? Don’t just make ads; make larger than life ad films and spend the big bucks!

Nicole Kidman, is running gazelle like, being pursued by paparazzi in a cityscape lined with billboards bearing her image. She ducks into a taxi to escape and orders the driver to drive. Little does she realize a sultry Brazilian is seated beside her. Kidman escapes with him. He does not know who she is. She claims to be a dancer. After four days of a fairy tale like life, she realizes she can’t escape from reality and needs to go back. And so she does, leaving the Brazilian wistful, remembering only “her kiss, her smile, her perfume.” The film finishes with a one minute rolling of credits.

This film cost £18 million to produce. Its not a feature film… but a 180 seconds advert for Chanel’s No.5 perfume. The very same perfume which was made famous by Marilyn Monroe when she claimed that all she wore to bed was Chanel No.5. Today, however, with Britney’s perfume being the fastest selling one, Chanel No.5 is considered to be a scent you buy in the airport for your grandma for her birthday. Chanel needed a face lift and Nicole Kidman loved the concept, for the ad showcased her as the “most famous woman in the world.”

Is this the future of ad films? Many say yes. According to a survey done by TiVo about the TV commercials that get fast-forwarded the least, the ones with special effects featured a lot on this list , especially the ads of movies with special effects. No wonder then, ad films are getting slicker, more technically superior – and they are costing a lot.

If you need to keep the fingers of the viewers off the remote, you need to do a whole lot of interesting stuff. You can’t just make a good ad film. You need to make one which gets talked about and which people enjoy watching.

Way back in the early 90’s, Lehar Pepsi was launched in India. The ad featured Remo Fernandes and Juhi Chawla. It was a hit and became a much talked about ad, for this was the first of the Indian ads which touched the Rs.1 crore mark! Today, Rs.1 crore has become commonplace. Be it Happydent, Thums Up, Mahindra Scorpio, Fevicol, Pepsi Gold and a whole lot more advertisements that were shown last year – all cost about Rs.1 crore. If you want to be noticed you need to spend Rs.1 crore minimum.

Ad Films or Feature Films?

Today, the line of difference between ad films and feature films is thinning. More and more actors are replacing models in the ad films. More and more film directors are becoming ad film makers. Of course, the budgets are sky-rocketing – some times getting even bigger than the budgets of the feature films. In fact, with so much moolah involved in ad films, more & more feature film companies have started making ad films to earn quick bucks. Yash Raj Films, now has a Yash Raj Ad cell, which wrapped up 20 commercials for Dabur Chyawanprash & Hajmola with Amitabh Bachchan.

There is so much of advertising & so much of clutter. The easiest way to break through it is by using a celebrity & feature film makers have the easiest access to them. No wonder Videocon went to Santosh Sivan when they featured Shahrukh Khan in their ads. This is not a new trend; back in the 60’s, B. R. Chopra did the Lux soap ads, for it required film actresses.

One of the most expensive TV ads was of Apple Macintosh. It, too, was created by Ridley Scott who directed movies like Gladiator, Hannibal, Blade Runner, Alien et al. After all, a feature film’s fate is decided every Friday, while ad films – if good – have a much larger life.

Cost Consideration

You need people to notice your ad – you need to spend. When it comes to creating an impact, no one is doing cost calculations today. Brands are ready to go all out just so that you give them a second glance. ICICI didn’t hesitate to pay Big B Rs.10 crore, so that he could endorse their product. Coke and Pepsi for years have been using celebrities to keep their products on top. Other brands are learning this trick too.

To stay on top, you need very aggressive advertising. Ask Maruti, which lost some of its gloss and a virtual monopoly in the small car segment as other players entered the market.

Take the white goods market of refrigerators, washing machines, et al. With so many players in the market, if they don’t market & advertise aggressively, there would be a huge inventory pile up. No wonder companies like Samsung, LG, Phillips – all popular brand names – still advertise so heavily. Cost is no concern here. They would do almost anything to stand out.

Celebrities and Brand Wars

Yes, celebrities today are fighting it out for the brands. If Dena Bank roped in Juhi Chawla, then Bank of Rajasthan got the dream girl Hema Malini. Dabur, such a popular, old and trusted brand name of India, required Amitabh to help Chyawanprash fight aggressive players like Himalaya, Zandu etc.

Back in 2002, Pepsi agreed to pay the then pop princess Britney Spears $8 millions for two ads. Popular faces are helping to make brands become popular too – even if it costs the moon.

War with TiVo

Some years back, Nokia and Pepsi tied up with a leading television producer to make a unique show with no commercials. Instead, they said, the advertising message would be incorporated into the show. It shows how advertisers are getting anxious about the rise of personal video recorders like TiVo, which make it easy for viewers to skip commercials. As TV set manufacturers and cable companies are increasingly building such recorders directly into their equipment, advertisers are forced to find way to place their ads in such a way that they don’t get forwarded. As in the above example, Pepsi & Nokia are ready to shell out $1 million an hour to showcase their products/brand names on the TV show.

The Super Bowl’s allure has increased – thanks to TiVo. This is because Super Bowl is live and least affected by TiVo. It would be one of the few shows, which millions of Americans would watch without zipping through commercials. A 30 second spot could cost anywhere around $2.6 million! Nevertheless, companies are ready to pay. They would get a chance to show their best and most finely made ads – for people would actually be watching the ads for once. Those who would record the Super Bowl using TiVo would do so to forward the game & watch the ads in leisure.

Technology has made it a whole new world for advertisers. You need to create ads that are entertaining enough to get people to stop fast-forwarding. As Steve Pacheco of FedEx put it very correctly, “The ads now need to be designed knowing that they might be watched more closely, more than once and on different platforms. The ad now needs to stand up to being seen live, played back on a DVR, viewed over the web or even downloaded on an iPod.”

You need to make sure you give nothing but the best. Your ad needs to work harder and smarter now. It should not only deliver the message in a few seconds, but should be visually alluring too. Advertising is not just about creativity, it’s also about big bucks!

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