Premium brands are a myth: part two

5 Sep

So for the few who did read my post yesterday (Yes, you are the privileged audience of one :p) about why I feel “Premium brands are a myth”, here is part two of the post.

For those who didn’t, you can read the post here.


How do you define ‘premium’ as a definitive?

For the longest time, I thought Burberry was the most “premium” perfume out there.

I was proven wrong when my girlfriend (scratch that, ex-girlfriend) suddenly turned into the ‘hardworking employee who has no time for love’ (or later proven, just me) after a bottle of burberry was my “you will start jumping with joy” valentine’s day gift for her.


Other than ‘never buy perfume for a girl’, the lesson is “premium” is a relative term.

Marketing 101 will teach you that you cannot build a brand on something relative or undefined (premium is a relative term).

A brand needs to be build on an undeniable truth. Something concrete. Fungible. Tangible.


If you still feel that being being expensive and exclusive is enough to build a brand then the last question that I have for you is:  Is ‘premium’ enough to build preference?


India has become the world’s favorite marketplace with all of the world’s premium brands setting up shop here (Yes, let’s forget the rupee’s affinity for slide games for a minute).

All of them have similar foreign anorexic girls (or guys, you just can’t tell) and similar un-pronounceable names (Stell-Ah Ar-Twahs, Kin-Eh-Res, Give-en-chee, Ho-gar-den)

Today, very few people say that “It’s either XYZ or nothing” when choosing clothes or apparel.

Most people have a brand portfolio of ‘acceptable brands’ for themselves (“Darling, get me anything from Palladium for my birthday and don’t pull your lawyer tricks on me. I am being specific – Palladium not Phoenix mills”).


“Premium” may be an entry point into this portfolio but it is not going to be enough to build preference.

Why should someone pick your ‘premium’ brand store and not the other ‘premium’ brand store right next to yours in the same ‘premium’ shopping complex?


So for the marketing managers reading this post:  if your “let’s launch a new brand” presentation begins with a modern masterpiece of colours, charts and numbers with a microscopic white-space marked as “pricing to launch premium brand” then you know it’s time to click on “create new presentation” :)


Premium brands are a myth: Part one

4 Sep

Welcome to the ‘Premium’ world:  premium clothes, premium restaurants, premium ice-creams,premium toilet faucets and premium underwear.

Today if it is not a premium brand then it’s not even worth considering for most consumers.

I have had a dozen meetings which go:

Client: “Boss, we want to launch a premium brand!”

Me: “Congratulations sir, how exactly will this brand command a premium?”

Angry client: “Aree!!! We will price it high na, it is a premium product. Don’t you understand premium? Branding-shanding nahin aata hai?”

Silence.Paan chewing.Silence.

Which leads me to my first question: What exactly is a ‘premium’ brand?

“Apple” I hear? “Calvin Klein”, say you? “Busaba” burps someone.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble but “premium brands” don’t exist.

Yes, that’s right. No, I am not on medication. There are no “premium brands” in this world.

Branding creates a price premium for products and services. A price premium does not create a brand (or sustain it).

We pay a premium for Apple (Groan: not another apple example but bear with me) products because it is a brand build on the foundation of merging innovative functionality with amazing design.

“Su bak bak kareche” is what the Gujju saree merchant must be muttering right now after reading this on his new iPhone 5 . Back to Fruit Ninja for him.

Him and almost every other person in the first class compartment of a mumbai local has the iPhone 5. Is it really because of design blah blah or just because it’s the most expensive phone out there?

An iPhone for some does say “I have arrived” but this is a spillover effect.

It is not what the brand set out to do or the foundation of the brand.

For any brand, there needs to be a set of loyalists who buy into a brand philosophy which is unique.These loyalists are joined by people with diverse reasons but the brand is focussed on these loyalists. If it loses them then the brand is dead.

This is exactly what Apple seems to have lost sight of and why Samsung launched this campaign.

This principle applies to everything from clothes to TV shows.

Yes. TV Shows.

JJ Abrams has built a fortune by focussing on a small set of loyalists and keeping them engaged. Shows like LOST and FRINGE had clues hidden in each episode that loyal fans found and contributed immensely towards the show’‘s popularity.

So is your premium brand really doing anything unique that makes it deserve the ‘premium’ tag (other than the ‘premium advertising’ and ‘premium store decor’ of course)?

If you found this post remotely interesting then you would be interested in reading tomorrow’s post which covers my second question: How do you define ‘premium’ as a definitive?

Stay tuned :)

Whats Dopamine got to do with Angry Birds?

18 Oct

The Angry Birds and Star Wars universes will collide and it seems to have generated quite a buzz online but what is the real reason behind the success of Angry Birds?

At the functional level, Angry Birds was extremely simple to play yet challenging. It had various free versions and is available across platforms.

Here are three factors that I think sums up the real reasons for the game’s success.

1. Consistency

A brand is an unchanging idea. A brand can extend the product range or enter new categories as long as it does not lose or change the idea that drives the brand.

What can and should change is the presentation of the brand. Franchises like James Bond have been successful at managing both parts of the brand.

That is exactly what Angry Birds  got right.

Angry birds has released over three versions of the original game and each version has about 30-50 levels but the brand experience has been consistent.

The characters remain consistent, the gameplay remains consistent and game outcomes are consistent.

Many complain that the game is too simplistic and lacks originality but Rovio has not changed their approach and has stuck to a consistent experience across launches.

2. A strong brand character

The ‘angry bird’ character was developed before the actual game and the game play was molded around it.

Kids or adults do not want to play a character of a stereotypical bird who chirps and flies around. Mothers do not want kids to play games with malevolent characters.

This game bridged that gap by introducing a character that was angry because something of his was taken away but at the same time was not malevolent. A lot of people could relate to this.

Most brands start out by trying to find a market need and then trying to fill it. Most successful brands first clearly define what they stand for and what is unique about them and then find like-minded customers who share the same beliefs.

3. Element of surprise

Our brains are more responsive to deviations from our expectations than to events that are as anticipated. Our brain’s reward system releases an above base-line amount of Dopamine, when we receive a reward (e.g. a product, service, experience, etc.) that was significantly better than expected (source:

Rovio capitalized on this phenomenon by introducing bonus levels, by unlocking birds with better and unexpected capabilities. The Star Wars adventure is the perfect example of them enthralling fans with the element of surprise.

Angry Birds Live

Was Angry Birds the only game to get all of this right?

Not at all!

Lego is one of the most successful cult toy products out there. Martin Lindstorm actually attributes his love for branding to Lego!

PacMan and Mario Bros are two other games, which have been around for many years and have also been successful in merchandise.

All of them are successful but Angry Birds has been successful in integrating the online and offline model to build a successful franchise.

Will Angry Birds Star Wars be a success?

Given the nature of the gaming segment, it seemed unlikely that the game would remain as popular as it was if they did not do something dramatically different.

This game might just be the shot that the franchise needed to reboot itself.

What do you think?

Raat Gayi Baat Gayi?

7 May

I just watched a 1.5 hour show on a hindi GEC without switching channels even during the break. I haven’t done that since Duck-Tales on Doordarshan.

Hats off to Star, Aamir, Svati Bhatkal and the entire team for creating Satyamev Jayate.

That being said, this post is not about what a great show Satyamev Jayate is. It is not about what a great strategy it is by Star Plus. It is not about Aamir Khan’s star power.

It is about what can be done other than advertising to ensure that the show continues generating great TRP’s and the social message does not just remain a message.

I am sure Star and Aamir Khan productions must have thought of most of these but these were my first thoughts after watching the show.

1. Real-time updates:
“Jab dil pe lagegi tabhi to baat banegi!”
Lekin, Yeh India hai jahan we tend to forget dil-dukhane wali baatein quite easily.
So can people be motivated to react, to discuss, to take action when the nerve is still raw?

-Can the live streaming links and live updates me made available on the website as the episode airs and not four hours later?
-Can a hashtag be created for twitter and can this be displayed on-air? Can questions be asked and can people be motivated to respond real time on social media streams? Can tweet-ups be organized by enterprising twitterati?

2.The power of the inquisitive mind
I am sure a lot of us were moved by the interviews and the sting operation. No doctor has been penalized for female feticide till date in India!
Do we not want to find out more about this?

-Can videos on the official channels be interactive (clickable links like youtube ads which take you to the source of the information or to the sting operation or the petition page)
-Can the sting operation video be made available online on the official website? Can the reports (from which the data was used) be made available in a simple manner for students, teachers and other educated people to read and share?
-Can additional content (in-depth unedited videos, a debate with the audience or a post show discussion) be made available online?

3. Celebrate the real heroes
Don’t we all want to know the interviewees better as people? Wasn’t there that one moment where you wanted to give them a hug or just congratulate them? How about making it happen?
Aren’t there lakhs of people with similar experiences who want to share their stories?

-Can the interviewees be given dedicated space on the official pages for the coming week? (A short video saluting them for their struggle, allow people to have direct conversations with them, let them share their experiences and feelings)?
-Can official blogs/channels be created where doctors, lawyers or relevant authorities be allowed to have real-time conversations with them?
-Can the aam junta have a dedicated space on the official website to share their stories? Can they be contacted by a support group to help them? Can this not be crowd-moderated?

4. The youth is going to shape the future
We keep hearing the the youth of India has the power to change. Can this youth be addressed specifically?

-Can we create a platform for people to take charge? Let people post their ideas online on the official facebook page and based on the number of likes, can these be showcased on the official web channels? Can student bodies take charge of these initiatives and spread the message at the grass-root level?
-Can people do more than just talk to Aamir Khan using Airtel and videos? Can we create a platform for citizen reporters? Can people post 5-10 minute chats with someone who has been through the same ordeal? Can youngsters interview their maids and share this simple experience online?

5. Entertainment with a cause – crowd-sourced
Hungama is going to sell digital downloads of the songs telecast in each episode. But can we do more to market them?

-Can the chords and lyrics be made available in real time on the social media channels?
-Can users be asked to record their own renditions of the songs and share them online?
-Can specific crowd-sourced new compositions be showcased on the facebook page? The most liked ones can be offered as free digital downloads?
-Mother’s day is coming up in a week. Even if it wasn’t then don’t you think every daughter wants to just say thank you to their mother after watching the show? Can we allow people to share customized messages using templates created by Star on the facebook channel? Can Junglee (the online retail partner) create special themes to make the association more meaningful?

What more do you think can be done to ensure that the show really brings about a lasting change?

iPod, Therefore I Am

11 May

Bruce Springsteen once crooned “We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school.”

I would tend to agree with him. But it goes beyond school.

Music plays an integral part in defining who we are and who we become.

I think I owe a bit of my identity to Pink Floyd who I got introduced to at a pretty young age.

It does give me goose bumps to think how I would have turned out if it was Justin Bieber I had encountered instead of Pink Floyd 🙂

But on a serious note, if music has the power to define lives then am sure there is something that brands can learn from music.

Here are 3 things that the brand consultant in me learnt from some long haired hippies

1. Find the unchanging idea that defines you

It’s the music that defines the musician or is it the other way round ?

Does it really matter ?

A musician acquires a fan following only when he starts living his music.

Case in point being The Raghu Dixit Project who recently topped the iTunes world charts.

Ethnic and rooted at the core, but at the same time, global in its outlook is what defines the band , their music, their lives and their approach to music.

Pretty elementary but it is the first truth.

Brands need to clearly define themselves and then start living the truth.

Raghu is living the truth when he walks on stage wearing bright lungies with ghunghroos wrapped around his ankle , when most of his songs are in his native language Kannada but will have elements of jazz , blues and folk rock accompanying him.

2. Identify the market in a segment

Scala & Kolacny Brothers is a Belgian girls’ choir and has already released 5 albums.

Their version of creep was featured in The Social Network trailer.

Their secret for success ?

The ability to identify not just a segment in the market but a market in that segment.

Brands need to look beyond just a gap in the existing market. How can this gap be targetted such that it grows or pays a premium for the product is crucial.

Choir music is nice but a small community would pay for it but rock anthems being sung by a choir with a haunting voice is what millions would pay for.

3. Go all the way

Rise Against are defined as the “band with a conscience”.

Their music reflects this as it is about Hurricane Katrina, oil spills and saving the environment but it goes beyond that. This philosophy in life has made them give up alcohol,drugs,meat and take up campaigning for the environment.

A brand that decides to become “Social” but hires an agency to control all the negative comments about the brand from blogs is not really going all the way !

If the company takes a decision then everyone from the CEO to the Peon in the company should know the reasons for the decision and follow through with it.

Remember  Neil Young’s immortal words – “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”.

Time to Astroturf

17 Feb

Is MTV really stupid or really smart ?

Yesterday on facebook, someone posted the MTV Roadies audition video for ‘Suraj’ and his comment was “We need more such people”.

Another friend later posted a blog link where Suraj’s ‘real’ pictures were put up and his comment was “This dude is so fake”

The new facebook setting ( coupled with the few comments from my friends made me believe that this was a huge event and it did make me watch Roadies after 3 years of staying away from it.

I’m sure that a lot of you must have watched it as well and may be keen on watching the show just to see how this character’s role plays out in the show.

What are the chances that this event was orchestrated by MTV to start a “grass-root” level debate amongst the viewers (or non-viewers as well) to divide them into “for” and “against” groups?

Get a few people to start supporting and posting about the contest and then also get a few people to oppose it online (would be really smart if this was the case)

The perennial “good versus evil” debate does always bring in the moolah for Bollywood and Hollywood.

This is ‘astroturfing’  in it’s truest form.

What is astroturfing?

Wikipedia defines it as “a form of advocacy designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement. The goal of such campaigns is to disguise the efforts of a political and/or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some politician, political group, product, service or event.

It is an amazing tool which only a few marketers in India have discovered and politicians have already been exploiting it to its fullest.

Brand experience, Interactive advertising, crowd-sourcing are all buzzwords which aim at getting the consumer to become an “advocate” for the brand or cause.Astroturfing does exactly that and is just a little sly to not let you know that it’s happening to you.

You need a few people to start supporting your brand, get them to get their friends to support your brand and then when anyone opposes their viewpoint, it becomes the supporter’s prerogative to defend his opinion.

When you become personally involved in any debate or a cause, it is no longer just about supporting the cause. It becomes more about defending your ego or viewpoint and you will go to any extend to do that. Astroturfing counts on you doing that and the brand benefits in turn.

My all time favorite movie, “The Dark Knight” used Astroturfing briliantly.

They divided fans into ‘Harvey Dent’ supporters and the ‘Joker’ supporters. Comic-Con was used to launch a alternate reality game and then a few of these fans were then used to spread the message.
Only a few fans received a phone from the Joker and were asked to visit local stores and gather for rallies. This was filmed and edited smartly and then the internet did the rest. Everyone who visited the internet was led to believe that there were thousands of fans who were now involved in this game.

Watch the following video and you will be led to believe that this movie had a massive fan following (it did have it but then this video was alone enough to give you that impression even if you had just dropped on earth from Mars and had no idea about Nolan or Batman)

The most common usage of Astroturfing (and it’s simplest form) is the “user review” type promo we see for movies.

If you see the below promo and then read a few “tweaked to be kind” reviews on blogs and facebook, you will be inclined to think that this was a great movie, there are so many people who liked it but in fact it’s just a hand-full of people who liked it and a million others were snoring in the theatre.

How can we use this better in India ?

Imagine a local band runs into the canteen in in 10 colleges in India, sings a song and leaves. There are a handful of students who are given a free copy of his CD and a few phone-cam recordings which are made available online by these students. These colleges are selected to ensure that they have a large number of active bloggers. Isn’t that enough to convince a lot of other teens that this is the new Justin Bieber?

We live in a world where our world-view is influenced  by a small set of people. We have now started relying on facebook and twitter for news. It’s time brands realized the value of this change and started doing some astroturfing.

What do you think ? Can you think of any other examples of Astroturfing in India ?

Change the game

9 Feb

The world cup is here which gives our team a shot at glory and gives brands a shot at boosting their egos.

Well “traditional’ advertising does not seem to do much more than massage a brand’s ego.Let’s look at some numbers, during IPL season three,
There was 43 hours of advertising in the entire event.

There were 143 brands that were advertised during the season.

There were 44 brands advertised on-screen during the games.

How many can you remember ? Let me guess, the famous ZooZoo’s for one. Anything else ? Zilch?

Wait a minute, brands spent crores of rupees and out of the 43 brands, we just remember 1 (which also had the biggest marketing budget of the lot) ?

The other top advertisers were Samsung Electronics, Tata Teleservices, Hyundai Motors and Bharti Airtel but it seems tough to remember what they had to say so after spending crores of rupees you get zero recall.

A major issue with the  “Have cricketer, will advertise” technique is brand alignment. Most of our campaigns do not have a specific strategy or strategic fit with the brand. Another missing link is a clear ROI mechanism in place to measure so called “success” of a campaign.

Castrol is running the ‘ap match dekhiye. Duniya aapko dekhegi’ campaign, now how is that telling me anything about the brand or what the brand stands for ?

Pepsi is out with the “change the game” campaign and there seems to be a loose-fit with the brand’s offerings but then is a TVC enough to get this point across ?

Compare this to the  “Game Changer” campaign from Nike and check out the perfect brand allignment and innovative use of the web. This is what makes a strong brand (

Brands world-over have been adopting innovative strategies to make an impact to tackle the above issues. Brand experience now is the key to ensure that a brand can communicate to the consumer what it stands for.

Pepsi did something innovative in 2009 when it decided to pass on the SuperBowl and instead invested the advertising budget into “Pepsi Refresh Project” ( which seemed in sync with “changing the game/challenging the rules” image of the brand but this approach seemed to get people involved with the brand. It went beyond a simple TVC. I wonder why it isn’t doing something similiar in India ?

Virgin attempted to execute a campaign which got people involved with the brand with the Indian Panga League. Their product offering was inter-state calls and the inter-state matches offered the perfect platform to promote this offering. The campaign used the tone of voice which was in sync with Virgin’s image and based on the numbers, the campaign was a success indeed but I don’t think the brand could support their promises or match the competitor offerings which may have generated in a limited ROI in terms of sales but it was a good attempt nonetheless.

You can also check out a case study on the campaign done by WATConsult ,

Nike had the recent “Write the future” campaign which used live action to update billboards live. They actually did write the future in real time and got people involved using social media to get them to feel and experience the core of the campaign.

There is a lot of potential out there for us to use to “change the game”.The only question is which brand is gonna wake up and smell the coffee first !

What do you think ?