Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Indian Brand Trends 2008-2009

Brand 26Eleven and the trends that shaped 2008

By Harish Bijoor

The 26 November, 2008 terror attack and incursions into Indian sovereign civil space by a bunch of Pakistani youngsters with AK 47’s in their hands and terror-indoctrination in their hearts is going to make your Cappuccino more expensive. 26Eleven is going to give a big boost to the security product and security service industry at large. That’s obvious. The advertising you are approached by will change. The theme, tone, tenor and decibel of Indian marketing will change as well. That’s not obvious. Just wait. Just watch.

Everything impacts everything. Every event of our every day life impacts every marketing action there is going to be. I will flag 26Eleven as the one date that is the defining moment that epitomizes the loss of innocence of the Indian marketing man at large. This loss of innocence means a lot. It means that the hospitality sector in India will view everyone who enters its portals as a potential terror threat. If you live in a hotel, you will feel very secure inside from now on. So secure that you will love being viewed as a potential terror threat even. And this is not a temporary phenomenon. The security hackle and mantle, once up, is a forever mantle of cover. The Indian hospitality industry in 5-star space has lost its innocence. Watch this cascade. Watch the dominos push every sector there is. Close or distant, does not matter.

In a sense, you do not have to dig too deep into the gut of the Chaos theory, or even go up the path of the Domino effect and the several theories that abound in this terrain to understand that. Just peek into the trends that shaped our Marketing lives in 2008, and peek further into the crystal ball for 2009, and you have it all. Life changed in 2008. The Marketing man morphed his every appeal to the needs, wants, desires, aspirations and fantasies of Consumer 2008.

Let me then wear my annual trend-spotters hat and paint the picture of the year just gone by. Let me dig and go a little deeper than skin-depth marketing to draw the blood and gore of marketing the way it was in 2008. The trends that shaped Indian marketing.

Public Utility spaces got branded::

Public spaces in India have been typically under-utilized in an organized manner for branding. Gone are the days when companies could actually go berserk painting rocks and walls with their brand messages, at times covering entire mountains with advertising message for a Cola or Condom alike. 2008 saw the emergence of systematic play in the utilization of public utility space. Road stretches got branded inputs. Roads such as the ones that ply between a Chennai-Pondicherry, Mumbai-Pune, Delhi-UP, and more.

Branding opportunities arise in every nook of this space. Glow-signs, translates of every kind, branded restaurants, branded mile-stones (would the cigarette brand want to take that 555 Km milestone just outside of Bangalore that has Hyderabad and its distance listed out there?) Add to it the potential of building brand and brand romance in the roads of yore, such as the Grand trunk Road? Or the great Silk route?

Expect more of this in the years to come. Will a Hazrat Gunj station hold the potential of becoming a “Levi’s Ganj”? And Egmore station, a “Station More”?

Low cost bows out:

Strange but true. The highly visible aviation industry in India led the way. My friend Capt. Gopinath and his friend RK Laxman’s Common Man had to give way to the swish, short and very, very tight red skirts of a Kingfisher and the dreams of the King of Good times. Low-cost in many ways went out with the merger of Air Deccan with Kingfisher and the launch of the Kingfisher Red Service. 2008 saw the death of low-cost and the emergence of the high-value airline instead.

The space Air Deccan vacated is being filled in by a Go-Air and a Spice-Jet. One doesn’t know for how long though. The trend is clear. Low-cost models in aviation space just don’t seem to work. If one looks into the bottom-lines of the airline experiments in this space, one nearly baulks at what might have been termed predatory-pricing tactics in another country altogether.

Singh is King:

Though Mr .Manmohan Singh may not really be the king behind the kingdom that is India, Singh surely was king in many, many ways in 2008. The branding of movies took a new turn. Hindi cinema adopted the tone, tenor, mood, lingo, food, dress and everything else from Punjab. Punjabi cinema and Punjabi lingo went mainstream. The two big hits of the year were certainly “Singh is King” and “Rab De Banaa di Jodi”. While box office collections of the first grossed INR 48 Crores in the first ten days, the ‘Rab de’ option actually notched up INR 60 Crore in the same period. Punjabi lingo became the lingo to use in a Chennai and Kovilpatti alike. Many a discotheque floor across the country used music from every one of these movies to get their floors scorching. In many ways, Hindi cinema did yeoman service to the task of knitting this country together. Race no bar, language no bar, culture no bar, food no bar. At least for now.

IPL did it:

The year saw Lalit Modi’s dream-scape of IPL take off. Skeptics were left behind stunned. So was the rival ICL. Every trick was pulled out of the Pandora’s Box of marketing magic.

5-day cricket played in whites is boring today. For the oldies. One-day cricket played in colors is better, but still not the best. As the attention span of the new generation of Indians shortens, IPL is the best there is to savor in cricket. A short game of 20- overs each.

IPL did one more thing. It removed national jingoism and replaced it with city-jingoism. A Kolkata Knight Riders now vies for attention that is local in a unique manner. Never mind where you live, just as long as you are a Kolkata-fan, you will root for the KKRs.

IPL did one more thing. The multi-country composition of teams has erased International boundaries in one quick stroke of a set of matches of one IPL season. Today, an Australian will root for the Chennai Super Kings just as a person of British origin will root for the Rajasthan Royals. Their players play in it.

The nation kept breathing cricket. The game remained the lowest common denominator that unites the rich, the poor, the partisan and the political. If there is one thing that can pan out as a conversation point across income groups, religious divides, political divides, social divides and divides of every kind, it sure is cricket. And IPL is king!

Security-services see a boom:

The events of 26Eleven got every Tom, Dick and Harish very, very awake. Every hotel of every star category reviewed its security arrangements. Every apartment owner’s association woke up to the threat possibility that looms large on soft-targets as well. IT companies invested in sniffer dogs. The dogs are happy. The demand is big in this space, I hear.

High-end hotels went back to every vendor who had offered superior technology. Sniffer room cards that find and report electronically of traces of petroleum or RDX alike were explored. The demand for electronic surveillance systems is up. Scanners are in short supply, I hear.

Employment booms in this category. Many a BPO cab driver in a Noida, Gurgaon and Bangalore is now getting trained to be a security guard. As BPOs lay off operators, they are forced to lay off out-sourced drivers as well. The driver now finds a new avenue.

Advertising morphed:

Advertising rose from an acute clutter of its own making in a remarkable manner. While most brands kept experimenting with theme, some brands went the way of the long-running story. The big idea that was campaignable with a story like format using the same set of anchor actors right through.

Advertising as we see it today can be divided into the tactical promotional pieces that talk of the latest price and the latest gifts that go with the brand. A superior form of this is the advertising that is theme centric. One product story brought to life with a 30 or 60-seconder that established the long term brand proposition. This year, advertisers went one step forward. Airtel experimented with the format of story-advertising. Madhavan and Vidya Balan did cameo roles of the couple on the move. This did Airtel a lot of good. Story replaced the boring single-theme led advertising of last year. Idea Cellular did similar good stuff with its “What an idea, sir-ji’ series. There is a new version every other month. Way to go.

Blank noise. Blank hoardings:

The year saw a lot of these all around. The Outdoor industry is a bell-weather industry. The first signs of recession typically translate themselves onto the visual displays on the hoardings of our cities and towns. The moment you see blank hoardings with messages that advertise numbers and names of the hoarding owners, be sure recession is here. The depth of such recession can be gauged by the width of such blank hoardings.

It works this way. The marketer who is on a cost-cutting spree as he watches his sales volumes and values touching lows such as never before, he chops the advertising budget. And the first one to face the axe is Outdoor. Next comes Point-of-purchase. Simultaneously with that is the cut on TV expenditure. Print falls next.

November saw loads of hoarding spaces looking blank. December has seen a deepening on that. Wonder how January will pan out.

With that point of wonder, let me close this piece. Remember, there are only two kinds of people in the world. The Marketing person, and the other is the Marketed-to person. Whichever you are, wish each one of you a Happy Marketing New year!

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

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