Monthly Archives: August 2009

Advertising: An obscenely misunderstood concept

“I know I waste half the money I spend on advertising,” department store pioneer John Wanamaker said. “The problem is, I don’t know which half.”

James Ready

James Ready

Advertisements are a paid form of showcasing your brand whereas Publicity is a non paid form of visibility or awareness. Advertisements is supposed to presell a brand. However smart advertisers stir publicity. Take a cheap beer James Ready for example. What was their tagline while they were advertising on billboards? “Help keep James Ready a buck. SHARE OUR BILLBOARD.” And soon there were people posting their messages and sponsoring the billboard. One such message read “Hey Rick, I haven’t forgotten. LINDA.” It won a category in cannes and created tremendous amounts of publicity.

The importance of advertising is overrated in our times and rightly so! There are so many brands trying to outwit each other and one needs to be ahead on the awareness factor. Whats the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of chocolate? Probably, Cadburys. Hence I am more inclined to buy that without probably searching for other brands. Hence you need to be positioned in the mind of your customer. Always!

But is advertising absolutely mandatory for a brands success? Not exactly. Take the case of Godrej no 1 soap. It has now climbed to the third position in a Rs 7500 crore soap market behind heavyweights, Lifebuoy and Lux. And how much does it spend on advertising? Just about 1% of sales, whereas the trend is close to 13-15% in FMCG. Similarly, The body shop was a result of publicity, Walmart has one the most minimal percentage of its revenues spent on its advertisements, Starbucks again follows the same idea, In its first ten years, it spent just 10 million dollars on advertisement. Its sales are more than 2.6 billion dollars.

Brand managers forget that advertising never creates a brand. I have seen a lot of instances when the first thing people want to do when a new product is launched is create awareness, no issues till here, but how? They want to advertise and reach to millions. Not a bright strategy.

It is always publicity that creates a brand and nothing is stronger than word of mouth publicity. Advertising may be needed to maintain but never to create, especially if you are dealing with shoestring budgets and advertising is treated as expenditure rather than an investment.

Successful brands are those that you talk about among yourself and to others. Ask an example of a global brand and coca cola comes the pat reply in any management school. Say fast food and there are plethora of hands raised wanting to give an example of how McDonalds does everything right.

Axe call me

Axe call me

If advertising could help then Miller would have been one of the leading brands in beer. It spent close to 50 million dollars to launch its miller regular and no publicity. RESULT: No increase in sales and 50 million dollars down the drain. Now compare the 50 million spent versus 10 million by Starbucks!

There are lot of issues with advertising today that will be taker on in another post that reduces the efficacy. Clutter in televisions, convenience of alternate mediums, dearth of creativity etc are some factors contributing to its ineffectiveness. Marketers have to realise that on-the screen efforts need to be supported by off-screen backup too just like what Axe did it brilliantly with its ‘call me’ campaign.


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Marketing fear

Fear is the basic stimulus that occurs in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of pain.

We learn fear. Yes. Once some external event triggers a panic button, fear sets in. It is a continuum and may set in any time. We want them to be under a shroud and are very sensitive to the topic. Fear of death might be the most common fear. Ask any insurance company.

We all want to keep our fears private and would want to know more people sharing the fear. Marketers have always exploited fear and try capturing peoples attention. They have tried telling you that you are vulnerable and it can be overcome only if you get protection. How do you get that? Through their product. They comfort you by the feeling that there are many others who share the same fear. And it is nothing but common to have that fear. Insurance companies have thrived on the theme.

Fear is a state where both visual and hearing senses are aroused. Everything else seems insignificant. And if marketers can take us back to that moment where we could think of nothing else but that fear and connect it successfully with their brand then Bingo! Whenever the fear arises in future you connect it with the brand. Marketers make us buy by selling fear. Loreal is essential or else you become old. You need a laptop or else you will be behind the world. You need good clothes or else you will be unpresentable. You need a condom or else there can be pregnancies. You need axe or else you will be loathed. You need a Volvo because Volvo is SAFE. And the list goes on.

People question the ethics of such appeals i.e. fear appeals. But as far as ethics and marketing is concerned there have been enough debates on it.

Incorporation of fear into a communication message quickly snaps the attention of the fearing towards it.

Maslow once said “practically everything looks less important than safety”.Did not Volvo cash in on that statement. What is Volvo? Safety comes the pat response.

If brands can communicate how fear can be overcome and happiness/satisfaction achieved then it has done a wonderful job. However what they should not try is to use it as a tactic to get some attention. For ex: an insurance ad just after tsunami would not be taken well.

A communication aimed at bridging the uncertainty and doubt caused by fear will certainly be welcomed by the masses. Here is where the product comes in, infact brand would be more apt. A brand should tell “ see, here is your problem, and there are so many people trying to solve it but this is the reason why I am different and can help you better”. Detergents, cosmetics, deodorants, insurance etc have thrived on this communication.

We buy brands itself rather than products because we fear psychological and social risks. Even brands that do not have fear as their central factor in their communications somewhere trigger the fear cells of the consequences of not having the brand.

God itself is marketed on fear. “Should you not fear me?” declares the Lord. “Should you not tremble in my presence?”

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Abercrombie and Fitch: What are ethics?


All American

Abercrombie and fitch, founded in 1892. It was primarily an outdoor apparel company that had the like of  JFK using it.

Suffered financial setbacks in the late 1960 s and was taken over by Michael Jeffries in 1992. What a change it brought. From a respected brand that had famous people self endorsing it, it decided to go a path that less companies would tread into. Michael jeffries along with Sam shahid found models or great looking individuals who would represent the store as their salespeople.  ANF became paranoid under Michael Jeffries to get the look. It was to such an extent that there was a statement doing rounds that time that claimed that  “Abercrombie executives must be the 450 best-looking people in Columbus. Anyone of them could take a spot in front of the store as a greeter in a pinch. That wasn’t an accident. Jeffries wants executives who closely resemble his target market.” And indeed it was.

Did i see a black in there?

Did i see a black in there?

The TM was clear. The college going 12-22 year old aspirational american student and of course WHITE! They launched one of the most offensive racial and ethnic campaigns. They had white people splashed all over their campaigns and in giant life size posters all around the store. The image they wanted to portray was simple. An all american image. An image they sold. They did not sell products but they sold an image. They launched offensive t shirts with the title ” Two wongs together can make t white” referring to the chinese immigrants. They pulled that after a couple of days. Got publicity in exchange. The more parents protested against it, the more kids wanted to own it.

“Who needs a brain when you have these?” said another campaign targeted at women.

So does(bad) publicity really help a brand. In the short term Yes but definitely not in a long term. Publicity builds a brand and advertising maintains it. Whoever said product is important in the end was totally wrong. It is not. ANFs products did not make it a trend or a fad(whichever way you look at). Infact they had inferior quality material but sold for four to five times the average price. Publicity did build ANF but people have just got fed up of the position that it has maintained. There will always be market for ANF, no matter how racist it appears. Simply because ANFs Target market will always be there. However it will suffer erosion, if it does not change its communication fast. People are fed up of the once ground breaking nude and curvy models in their ads. The brand image is tiring. If you own a couple of Abercrombie t shirts you do not want more.  How do you increase the purchase ? by reigniting the brand with the positioning it has taken for years. Yes it might not be ethical but thats the way to take the brand. Positioning it as a brand for all would kill it of its notoriety and the pride or ego the original users had. It has brilliantly gone to other segments like mid range and 22- 35 age range through other unrelated brand names like hollister and ruehl no 925 and abercrombie kids. The demise of Abercrombie and fitch would be the death of a dictator whose accomplices would soon fall. One reason why hollister is doing well, apart from being a mid range brand, is that people look it as the next level to reach the aspirational ANF tag. If that is not present then i would rather prefer going for some other brand.

abercrombie_top_logo1A reason i wrote about this brand was because it puzzled me. The fact that it has taken up an unethical (debatable) positioning and its made such a trap that anyone who tries giving a new image to the brand would kill it. Hence a dilemma of sustaining a brand, be it at the cost of ethics. Read more here.


Filed under Advertising, Marketing

Brand swamp : not a good thing. apologies.

Last blog, I had written what I felt was good and what a brand needs to do. However in this blog I concede that it was really stupid. It is exactly what a brand doesn’t need to do. The inferences and remarks I had regarding the brand strategies is exactly what a myopic brand manager has. Someone who forsakes the brands image in the long term for a short term blip in profits. Once you start associating with almost anything that you can put your name to, it results in dilution of your brand image. Look at chevrolet.The brand loses the word that it owns in the minds of the customer. It results in good companies but weak brands. And brand strength is what is going to sustain you when you are in a crisis. All these extensions weaken your brand and make it easier for a competitor to attack you. One might argue that Adidas is doing good as far as market share or profits are concerned. But in a market where there are majority of the players are doing the same mistake, the brand that commits lesser mistakes wins. Being around a customer all the time might even lead to “ brand grantedness”, where you take the brand to be granted and the brand becomes generic and the perceived quality falls over a period of time.

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