Saturday, February 22, 2014

Consumer reviews - transparency tools or platforms for stealth marketing?

Neha Ladha, IIM Shillong

The advent of social media and e-commerce saw the emergence of the new way in which a customer can interact with the companies, i.e. over the internet. The companies see this as an opportunity to get in touch with the customers, to have insights into the core needs and to develop and improve their products and the best way to do this has been consumer reviews. The benefits of consumer reviews are manifold. It helps companies to depict the trust they have in their product, and enhance customers’ buying and post-purchase experience. The negative reviews are also seen as a way to know better about a company’s offering and reinforce the belief in customers’ mind that you are there to listen to him. They’ve helped businesses figure out customers’ tastes and preferences and adjust themselves accordingly. Many argue that consumer reviews have been used as a means of guerrilla marketing which might be true in some cases like e-commerce sites, but this was not the reason why posting reviews was started and the companies who want to have sustained relations try to keep the process genuine. The best example would be Dell, which launched Direct2Dell to facilitate active dialogue with customers and for crowd-sourcing ideas and bringing service improvements, and saw increase in revenues and retention of loyal customers. If we look from the customer’s perspective also, the reviews are helpful in analysing products and services, weighing pros and cons and letting them know how they can use the product better. Who amongst us would have not looked at reviews before a purchase on Flipkart? It’s evident that consumer reviews have been beneficial for both the parties and with the increase in online marketing witnessed, are here to stay for long, provided businesses work to keep the process transparent.

Pradyut V Hande, SIMS Pune

What once began as a sincere endeavour at gleaning critical consumer feedback, escalating offering awareness, reinforcing purchase decisions and converting suspects and prospects into potential buyers; has now devolved into the unfortunate abyss of questionable marketing practices. Indubitably, consumer reviews have become a covert stealth marketing platform; relegating transparent thought and blatantly honest opinions to the “marketing back burner”. Over time, companies have sagaciously understood the significance of peer driven product/service reviews in an increasingly interconnected consumer community and hyper-competitive operational environment. However, there exists a fine line between grasping an emergent reality and leveraging the same to suit its ever evolving marketing mix whilst straddling ethical boundaries. Consequently, many companies have made the cardinal sin of promoting their offerings in the guise of ordinary customer reviews through paid bloggers, in-house online content managers and other surreptitious avenues. Thus, what companies may believe to be a confidence-building/inspiring measure can transform into the duplicitous act of actually “insulting” customers’ intuition and intelligence. A recent case in point is the massive backlash that Microsoft has received from irate fans and potential users for paying prominent bloggers to post favourable videos on YouTube, promoting its latest gaming product -Xbox One. Thus, in the quest to drive sales; companies can ill afford to adopt such unethical marketing practices as the fallout on being found out can have major negative ramifications. An honest positive endorsement by a satisfied and loyal consumer will translate into long term cumulative word-of-mouth sales; instead of an attempt at duping the very same. Co-creating perceptible value augmented by trust will only fuel greater customer delight and retention down the line. The key lies in achieving a healthy balance between ethical promotional activities and encouraging constructive consumer feedback on a micro-level.

Prankvertising: One Hit Wonder or Dawn of New Age Marketing?

Palak Grover, FMS Delhi

It has become extremely difficult for marketers to advertise effectively via traditional channels and grab attention not only because the generation has become more marketing-savvy and advertising-critical but also because they have “Seen It ALL”. In such a case, a prank played on them often succeeds in turning out to be a good strategy. And once this succeeds to get the attention, the word of mouth buzz starts and the brand and product gets viral in no time.

In the already cluttered marketing world, Prankvertising is perhaps the new age of marketing. It confronts the customers in unexpected ways and helps in getting top-of-mind recall in the minds of the viewers. Innovation in the pranks designed grabs people’s attention. Viewers find it easier to relate to the ads as they show unsuspecting customers like them and there is an inbuilt sense of reality which the viewers see in the ads. This increases the credibility in the minds of the viewers, helps in increasing the brand value of the product, makes the products top the minds of the consumers, differentiates it and helps in driving sales. As the advertising budgets get smaller and smaller, prankvertising turns out to be a very plausible option of getting maximum reach in minimum cost and stealing the attention of the already distracted online customers. This method is particularly very successful in launching a new product since it makes the product go viral with a minimum cost investment in their marketing budget. Prankvertising is Impactful, Innovative, Cost-effective and ensures maximum reach in less time. In case of established products, it helps in refreshing the image of the product with an element of fun and delight. Prankvertising is a great strategy for marketers and will dominate the future era of marketing.

Tanisha Pradhan, IIM Kozhikode

Sadism doesn’t always sell.

An innocent woman waiting at the airport sees her image being telecast on the national television as an “unpredictable and dangerous criminal”. Shocked and visibly shaken, she stares at the television in disbelief and meekly utters to her nearby passengers “I didn’t do anything” – evidently traumatized. Who wouldn’t be - being put through such a cruel joke merely for the sake of Nivea trying to sell its new stress-busting deodorant?

Are such outrageous stunts really worth the risk? What if the victim had a heart problem and wouldn’t have been able to take the joke in the way it was meant? Such marketing stunts definitely catch the eye of the audience, garnering millions of views on YouTube but if the trend continues without any needed rectifications in the intensity of the pranks, it might just be a disaster waiting to happen.

With the advertisers running out of good ideas to use the traditional channels of promoting new products, such eye-popping ads might not even be the best way for the consumers to learn about their product. Indeed so, one traumatized man who was at the receiving end of a prank staged by LG showing the end of civilization on an LG television stormed out of the staged scene using the choicest of swear words – not caring the least about the excellent real life like picture quality of the TV.

While we are used to advertisers reminding us that dark skin is not beautiful and wrinkles make us look and feel unattractive, the fact that they are now scaring us half to death seems to be like adding injury to insult. While sadism seems to be selling right now, but it does seem that at some point – in the long term - prankvertising will backfire on the advertisers.

Celebrity Branding by Micromax Sensible Strategy or Over the Top Advertising?

Akshay Modi, IIFT Delhi

Micromax has enjoyed great successes of late – now the second-largest selling smartphone maker in India. So far, it has ridden the wave of being a “cheap” alternative to the Samsungs, Nokias and Apples of the world, thereby capturing twenty-two percent of the market. However in October, it pulled off a stunner - by roping in Hugh Jackman, the face of many Hollywood blockbusters, as its latest brand ambassador.

With the company looking to shift gears and increase its presence internationally, a lot of it does seem to fall in place. From Micromax’s perspective, its target audience can be categorized into those who know who the Wolverine star is, and those who don’t. It has a significant presence in the latter category. Now with Jackman, they are now looking to build expand in the former too. Thus, it looks to be changing its positioning from a “cheap” phone-maker to a “value-for-money” company.

More importantly, the company harbours ambitions of making it big internationally, and is looking to expand into Russian, European and US markets. This necessitated the need for an international face with whom the audience could connect with, given that the brand shall be introduced to them for the first time. Also, with the “Made in India” tag not exactly a competitive advantage in the consumer electronics space, Jackman’s association would help it gather credibility.

In this regard, Micromax would do well to focus on its products along with its communication. Even Jackman would not be able a trashy product which does not conform to international standards, without multitasking features as highlighted in its TVC. But pulling off one of the most ambitious endorsement deals in India should give it confidence going forward.
The move is indeed an audacious one. Given its upsides, it makes sense to be bullish on Micromax.

Mukul Chandra, IMT Ghaziabad

The “Hugh Jackman Micromax “ advertisement by Lowe Lintas depicts how a child allays his fear and finds his hero ‘the juggler’ and when he grows young he inspires him to juggle his many lives – friends, work , passion and how Micromax Canvas Turbo assists him.

The success of a brand promotion depends upon how the product and the brand fit and resonate with each other. Hugh Jackman is an international figure with his versatile flair as an actor, dancer and singer with his superior performances in X-men trilogy, Van helsing, Swordfish and multiple such flicks. The sexiest man alive in the world is adored for his brawny body and his Australian accent. The fearless desi brand Micromax has well established itself in the small towns and rural India , Srilanka and Bangladesh with its low-cost innovative offerings which started with a month long battery backup mobile phone Xli in 2007 and association with brands such as Akshay Kumar and M.S. Dhoni.

But Micromax has been tagged as a cheap phone or as an affordable alternate to Samsung or Apple, a tag it wants to shed now to penetrate into urban market. With 22 % market share in the Indian smart phone segment (IDC report) Micromax has plans to dive into international markets starting from Russia and Romania and it is here that Wolverine will act as its global face. The thumb rule of celebrity endorsements says that celebrity should be well known . The advertisement may not work out fully for the Indian market as Hollywood stars still don’t have a strong appeal in India. The brand may appeal to opinion-makers as the advertisement has been successful in creating the buzz. It can’t give a long-term leeway unless micromax smart Phones are backed with high performance superior technologies and a huge product line-up.