Friday, January 29, 2010


‘When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.’ Though some marketers were not swayed by the logic then, they have now realised that the fastest way to set things right is with a powerful dose of a great advertisement

An interesting billboard went up in Manhattan in New York a few days back. The advertisement showed Oracle President Charles Phillips posing with a lady named YaVaughnie Wilkins with a quote below the picture that read, “You are my soul mate forever.” The only problem was, Charles was the only person who knew not that he would be featuring in this ad; for it was Ms. Wilkins – with whom he had had an eight-year long affair – who had decided to make things public after he dumped her! She even put a website address on the billboard: where, if you wanted, you could check out the couple’s snaps, letters and cards sent to each other! Be it an interesting advertisement, adultery or advertisement of adultery, if done well, they never ever fail to capture the attention of the world. Last year, a lot of companies lost faith in the power of a good advertisement; and due to very bad times, a lot were forced to cut down their advertising budgets. But the fact remains, even though advertising is the tip of the whole marketing iceberg, it’s a very important tip nevertheless. And everywhere, companies are once again putting back their faith in this medium of marketing. For like Ms. Wilkins, they realise – the fastest way to set things right is with a powerful dose of a great advertisement.

Recession or no recession, all gurus preach that marketing budgets should not be cut. They could be channelised from one stream to the other. Sure, tough times demand decrease in advertisement frequency and increase in use of other marketing efforts like direct marketing, which give more immediate sales impact.

However, nothing builds brands stronger and faster than ‘correctly themed’ advertisements; and this year, a lot of companies are doing just that. Not surprising then, that most researches this year are suggesting an increase in the advertising expenditure by 15-20% in India.

One of the first to join the bandwagon is Remember its Hari Sadu advertisement. He is back and Naukri says it’s OK to call your irritating bosses names, for jobs are back and you can now switch once again. So fear not and express yourself! The underlying message being bidding goodbye to recession. The ‘bad boss’ brings ‘good news’ this time.

‘Hope’ is the new mantra for attracting consumers this year. Federal Express has launched a new ad campaign this year for India, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and UK, showing the world the power of hope. Its new tagline for ads this year is ‘FedEx delivers to a changing world’. It shows how the economy is witnessing an upturn and FedEx, as always, is one they can depend on to stay in business and survive.

The world is a different place today. A whole lot has changed. New rules have been written, old ones rewritten, and to survive you need to change. After 125 years, Oscar Mayer (a division of Kraft Foods) has decided to come out with a new ad campaign, even if it meant pushing aside its most famous and till date highly popular ad jingles. It knows that what worked till last year probably won’t this year. The campaign this year has a new tagline, ‘It doesn’t get better than this’. The ads show cheerful scenes from suburban life… very warm, very comforting, suggesting that good times are just around the corner. This time around, the world needs a heavy dose of ‘hope’ and advertisers are working overtime to infuse some through their ‘happy, homely ads’.

‘Homely’, because when times are rough, you look back to your home and family for support. You need to be reassured that all are together. Each one counts. Not just at home, but in business too, and the one who understood it best was Microsoft. Business is personal is the theme of its new ads. The print ads looked like ‘fake memos’ complete with words crossed, insertions made with a pen, et al; and as you read through, you realise that it was an announcement of the launch of Microsoft’s new software, which “understood how people really worked.” Read the memo, “…now more than ever, it’s everybody’s business… to come together and form a great company even in a tough economy”. Microsoft seems to have got it absolutely right this year. Its earlier ads never really managed to strike a chord with the audience. And Apple always had had the last laugh – as it scored higher with its comparative ads – making fun of Microsoft’s fuddy-duddy image.

Chrysler too is hoping on ‘hope’ as it begins the New Year. It wanted its consumers to realise that it had emerged from bankruptcy and was a stronger, healthier company. As families came together for the New Year, Chrysler did not lose the opportunity to remind them that this was the very company and the very car that had been bringing home their loved ones and hoped to do so for many years to come. A dash of good cheer and nostalgia is what the new campaign, ‘Coming home’, is filled with. It hopes to once again get the cash registers jingling.

The spirit of survival is what the coming year will be about, and if it requires a new look, then nobody is asking why. Probably, recession needs to be thanked and not blamed, for it’s recession that forces one to think creatively, to think positively. One company that’s surely been thinking very differently is Idea Cellular. With every cellular company banking on celebrities, this one decided to introduce a new ‘idea’ too. Abhishek Bachchan not just charmed you with his wit, but also showed innovative ways of saving paper. It has truly created a huge improvement in brand recall Sir Ji!

Visualise this on your TV screens… teen girls dancing at a bus stop using an MP3 player – then comes a tag line, ‘Made in China with software from Silicon Valley.’ You got it right! Not just companies, countries too are working hard toward changing their images this time, for it makes good business sense. With ‘Made-in-China’ products taking a major image beating this year, be it toothpaste, toys or pet food, the China Advertising Association decided it was time for a makeover. ‘Made in China, made with the world’, is the theme of the new adcampaign to help overcome all negative prejudices of the western world.

If you thought this was all, think again, for there is somebody else who is out with a new advertising campaign to showcase the world its new image. Taliban is softening their stance in Afghanistan and are making full-on attempts to change their image. Believe it or not, but their new policy of cutting off ears, nose or tongues is finding its way in a new ad campaign. Do not try to access it on YouTube for this commercial is banned from being viewed in our country, but this is one smart organization that has learnt its marketing lessons well and understood the power of a good ad campaign.

This next one that I am going to talk about is still reeling under the hit it got last year – from a golf club I bet! Post Tiger Woods, Accenture is still struggling to get its act together. It’s also out with a new ad campaign. It would be spending between $40-50 million bucks on this one, which shows different animals doing things they normally wouldn’t do. An elephant surfing, a frog leapfrogging other frogs, et al, with the punch line ‘Who says you can’t be big and nimble?’ God knows how the ads would fare. But one thing is sure: this

one would have all animals except the tiger! Of course, the fastest way for Tiger Woods to rebuild his image would be to stay away from commercials this year. But for others, it’s time to put in a spring in your walk, a cherry smile and try to win back customers and lost market share with advertisements that sell ‘Hope’ and ‘Happiness.’

This time, creativity will count the most. Remember, you can’t out-spend the competitor every time, and more so not in today’s times with very tight budgets. However, you sure can outthink them.

Choose a theme that gels with the feelings of today’s consumer and you can bet that this time things will get better, and it’s sure going to be a Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


A good product or even a good advertising strategy alone cannot successfully sell a brand. In today’s cutthroat competition, strategic public relations holds the answer!

Amystery cream was pitted against some well known branded antiaging creams for seven days in a “blind product-trial” campaign in China. One hundred and fifty beauty bloggers in Shanghai participated in this “blind-trial”. The results showed an overwhelming 9 out of 10 women (bloggers) said they would recommend this mystery cream to a friend and a same number said it was better than the well-known, prestige brands that they had used in the past. The surprise result created a tremendous buzz online. After seven days the name of the mystery cream was revealed – Unilever’s Pond’s Age Miracle.

When David Beckham travelled to Australia to play for LA Galaxy FC the world leading style icon was seen using the V8 Lux, the new mobile phone that Motorola was planning to launch in Australia. The world saw Beckham using the phone, what they did not see was the weeks of hard work the agency Ogilvy put into developing media partnership with some of Australia’s top radio, print & TV media to help promote the idea that Beckham too uses the V8 Lux. In a country where its people use their mobile phone as a style statement, for the brand to be perceived as stylish you needed a stylish launch. For a phone that had ensured it was designed most stylishly with its gold plated accents, smooth snakeskin-like textures and subtle details, all it needed was a stylish roll-out (who better than Beckham) and an intelligent public relations (PR) agency to help influence people’s perception!

Pond’s Age Miracle cream’s launch in China through the “blind-trial” using beauty bloggers was also another case of how intelligent public relations can launch a new brand. For a country like China, which is home to over 340 million net users who are online for an average of 16 hours per week, this strategy of using the digital medium to promote a new brand worked wonders for Ponds. The cyber-charm, charmed the Chinese definitely.


Times are tough, and more so last year when everyone was worried about jobs, pay cuts and salaries. A survey done in America by Schneider Associates, IRI and Sentient Decision Science revealed an interesting result. Almost 93% of respondents – the highest level in eight years of the survey – could not name one new product launch from a list of 50 launches in 2009. Why these results were more shocking was because the number of people watching TV, surfing the web or doing both simultaneously had increased tremendously, yet brand recall had fallen. The brand that topped the list of most recalled launches was KFC’s grilled chicken, which proved to be Yum! Brand’s biggest launch ever. Surprisingly, it’s not advertising which was responsible for making it big and memorable but a small “PR gimmick”. Oprah was roped in to distribute free coupons to viewers of her show. Yes, agreed it was a great product (healthy + great taste) and a massive campaign using traditional and modern, digital media was planned meticulously, but it was Oprah who acted as a catalyst, which is what made the launch most memorable. KFC outlets were flooded with people wanting to taste the product and they could hardly keep up with the demand. Oprah made the product noticeable and the launch highly successful. From April to December some 65 million Americans had tried the product, raising KFC’s market share of “grilled chicken” category to 25%.

Deloitte was looked upon as just an accounting firm. When it wanted to change the perception of the consumers, it turned to Hill & Knowlton to develop a unique campaign. Hill & Knowlton launched several surveys that highlighted various trends in healthcare. These surveys were published in the front pages of leading newspapers like The New York Times. In addition, people from Deloitte’s team were offered as sources who could comment on trends like Obama’s election, healthcare reforms etc. in main stream media like CNN, Fox Business etc. In no time, people started associating Deloitte with healthcare. To crown all its efforts, ‘Modern Healthcare’ ranked Deloitte as the number one healthcare consultancy in 2008. A little strategic PR, a $500,000 budget – and Deloitte was transformed at least in the eyes the people. Plain advertising could never have helped USAID increase the use of condoms in India (the sure-shot method to stop the spread of AIDS). Condoms are a taboo subject here – people get uncomfortable. All this had to be changed. “Condom bindass bol,” the TV ad campaign was backed by high voltage PR where contests were held; stories about the campaign were aired. The PR was so effective that it increased the sale of condoms. IPRA 2007 Golden World Awards for excellence in public relations was won by Corporate Voice ½ Weber Shandwick the only Indian entry to get a prize.

It was Hill & Knowlton that campaigned across 27 countries to persuade International Olympic Committee members to choose London for the 2012 games. As the markets mature, consumers become more and more critical. Some old tricks just won’t work anymore. Marketers need to rethink their strategies. It’s time to think beyond TV ads, beyond the 30-second TV spots. With people talking to each other before talking with brands, it’s important to find a way to influence their opinions & perceptions and PR seems to be the perfect choice.


On August 2, 1990, when Iraqi troops led by dictator Saddam Hussain invaded the oil producing nation of Kuwait, Bush did not appreciate it – after all, “oil” was at stake. To push Iraqi’s invading army out of Kuwait would cost billions of dollars, and unprecedented US military mobilisation – and most importantly, the consent of American people. How would he justify what American soldiers were doing in the oil fiefdom of Kuwait, fighting against Saddam Hussain who was until recently an ally of the US. The answers to the public were supplied by none other than Hill & Knowlton, who masterminded the Kuwait campaign. A dummy group, ‘Citizens for a free Kuwait’, was set up by the Kuwaiti government; and as expected, this group employed Hill & Knowlton to give it consultancy. The Kuwait government gave funds to this group to the tune of $11.9 million – interestingly, $10.8 million of it went to Hill & Knowlton as consultancy fees :-). Amongst the various videos crafted under the expert guidance of Hill & Knowlton that were distributed to various TV stations & networks, one was an emotionally moving testimony of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, Nayirah, who described how, when she was working as a volunteer in a hospital in Kuwait, she saw Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators and leaving them on the cold floor to die. It was the perfect PR peg – newsworthy, evoked a strong emotional response, stuck to the memory. It worked so well that everyone forget to verify one fact – Nayirah was a member of the Kuwaiti Royal family. After seeing the video, the world was furious and everyone hated the Iraqis and began to support the US military in helping Kuwait fight the Iraqi soldiers.

A great PR campaign had successfully managed to sell a war.


Public opinion is very important. Just as it requires tremendous skill to garner their support, it requires tremendous skill to handle public opinion when things go wrong. And if one doesn’t move fast, it could spell disaster.

When passengers of Jet Blue were trapped inside the aircraft for 11 hours due to a delay, each of the 1,000 passengers was extremely irritated. They were not allowed to de-plane and found it very difficult. A quick apology by Jet Blue and the matter would have been forgotten; but it turned out to be a PR disaster when Jet Blue argued that they did so keeping passengers safety in mind. People were furious and it sparked a government debate about passenger’s rights. Jet Blue was forced to announce a “Passenger’s Bill of Rights” which promised to de-plane passengers after five hours delay in future.

Talking of PR disasters, a bigger one could not be made when CEOs of GM, Chrysler and Ford headed to Washington to beg for a $25 billion bailout in – guess what – an expensive private jet!!! After being ridiculed, they chose hybrid cars for the next hearing.

When the Czech government accused the tobacco giant Philip Morris – stating financial costs of smoking outweighed its benefits (if any) – Philip Morris did a survey which proved that the number of people who died due to smoking actually helped the government save $24-30 billion in health care, pension and housing costs. The public was livid and what the company thought was a positive PR move, turned into a big PR disaster.

These big corporations might actually turn to Aamir Khan to learn a lesson or two in PR. For each of his films after Lagaan, the man has a flawless marketing and PR plan worked out in his mind. So much so that when it came to marketing of the blockbuster 3 Idiots, both the director & producer felt Aamir could do it best. The man knows how to influence masses – he made people change their hairstyles and bulk up after Ghajini, become more empathetic towards children with learning disorders after Taare Zameen Par, and even rethink the Indian education system – and its flaws – after 3 Idiots. He did it for he knew what to do, to how to make this happen. He knew how giving hair cuts outside movie theatres before Ghajini’s release would work, or drawing sessions with children before Taare Zameen Par released would interest people, or how even participating in the Narmada Bachaoo Andolan campaign would excite people (before Fanaa’s release obviously!).

He always has a new trick up his sleeve before his film releases. His disguise as a 60 year old man was a trick to promote 3 Idiots. Totally in sync with the story where his two friends go finding him. Everybody was finding Aamir, while the actor found his way to the bank. His last four releases had collective box office revenue of over Rs.590 crores (Rang De Basanti, Fanaa, Tare Zameen Par, Ghajini). 3 Idiots has broken all historic box office records (Rs.315 crore in 18 days).

One point the man has definitely proved – a good product or even a good advertising strategy alone cannot successfully sell a brand. It’s cut-throat competition and every single detail matters. As Raju Hirani confesses, he and Vidhu Vinod Chopra would have done the mundane job of putting ads and promos, but Aamir showed them the importance of a good PR Campaign.

So be it corporations or individuals, while you watch 3 Idiots, remember the one man who at 44 convincingly played a 25-year-old, aroused your curiosity and got you talking about the movie long before its release. Study his past moves and wait for his future acts, for when it comes to crafting a flawless PR strategy, no one does it better than Aamir Khan!
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