Monday, November 23, 2015

Perspective - Marketing : Where change is the only constant || Ankit Pathak, Udit Bhatia & Sravan Janaswamy || IIFT || August 2015 edition

“Brands have assumed the role of a mother, a friend and even a guardian angel”

The changing consumer tastes
A catchy song, some fancy cartoon characters and a story line that shows them trying foolish steps and ending up hurting themselves. No, this wasn’t a promo for an upcoming Disney movie. It was an ad campaign launched by Metro trains in Melbourne, Australia, promoting rail safety. The campaign, launched with the theme, ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ was an instant hit and was soon trending all over on the social media. A decade or two ago, who could have thought that those boring text laden railway safety posters get so interactive? Perhaps, that’s the beauty of marketing, it gives you more than expected. The marketers have realized that their job is not to promote the products but to promote the utility that their product serves. When Nike launched its campaign, ’Just Do It’, somewhere in the late 1980s, it had similar objectives in mind. Before that it exclusively catered to the sports professionals. But in the 80s, trend to stay fit emerged among the masses and Nike struck at the right time to gain an edge over its primary competitor ‘Reebok’. The ‘Just Do It’ campaign was targeted towards the health conscious people for whom fitness mattered and were willing to toil for it. It encapsulated the feeling that they had, when they were half way down the exercise routine and were about to give up. But then, somewhere from deep within, a voice emerged and coerced them to go on. That voice was ‘Just Do It’. And it still inspires people. Here Nike didn’t directly promote its brand or product but the very utility that it served. As a result, its sales shot up from $800 million in 1988 to over $9.2 billion by 1998. However, the trends have changed over the years. Now brands don’t just sell articles that you buy when you need them but they have assumed the role of a mother (Johnson and Johnson’s), a friend (Bagpiper) and even a guardian angel (Max New York). Companies have realized that demand or trend may change but a relationship lasts forever, that’s why the campaigns are now addressed in such a way that the customer believes that the brands care about him. When P&G designed its ‘Thank You,Mom’ campaign for the 2010 Winter Games, it didn’t had any particular product in mind. The campaign was aimed to present the brand as the sponsor of moms who toiled and sacrificed to prepare their babies to shine at the world stage. As Mr. Pritchard, P&G Global Brand Building Officer, told in an interview, “We found a lot of times that when people know a brand is from P&G they feel better about the brand”, he further added, “And when they know P&G has all these brands, they feel better about P&G.” That’s how he succinctly sums up the shift that marketing has taken now. 

Doing it with a rapture
Marketing is about capturing the imagination of the populace. As the imagination can move forward in leaps and bounds, so marketing has to keep pace. But the challenge has shifted to a different level in the twenty first century, with the emergence of digital technology and social media, the demarcation between the regions has dissolved and this intermingling has posed forward a complex situation for the marketers who now have to cater to a more informed and an ever more global audience. As Marshall McLuhan puts it, “Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities.” One of the most remarkable marketing campaign of 2014, i.e. the election campaign of BJP stands a testimony to his statement. Even after all these evolutions, the fundamental principles of marketing remain the same. The difference lies in understanding the subtleties and implementing them in innovative and creative ways. The most successful of campaigns aren’t the ones which involved some rocket science, but they are the ones which captured something so simple that people had kept ignoring it. The ‘Tap Water’ campaign by UNICEF was one such initiative. Launched on the World Water Day 2007, the campaign has raised more than $2.5 million till date to support UNICEF’s initiative to provide drinking water to poor children. The campaign involved asking people to donate $1 along with their restaurant bill to help UNICEF provide potable water to a child for forty days. The idea behind the campaign, was very simple as explained by Mr. David Droga, the agency founder and creative head of Droga5, the agency behind the campaign. The idea struck his mind when once, upon a casual visit to a restaurant, he was served a glass of drinking water by the waiter, as soon as he took his seat. He put on his thinking cap and wondered that despite so much branding of the water by the companies, one of the largest consumed water, i.e. tap water, remained unbranded. He soon brainstormed to find an idea to brand the tap water and came out with the ‘Tap Water Campaign’ of UNICEF, where people were asked to pay $1 for that complementary glass of water. 

Towards a digitized ecosystem 
Digital marketing has emerged as one of the greatest disruptors ever, in the field of marketing. The advantage offered is that the marketers can more interactively engage with their audience and the scope for targeted marketing enhances manifold. Digital marketing offers huge depth and breadth in terms of achievable synergy. Here, the brands don’t have to invest huge amount of money to get noticed. If the content is good, the consumers themselves act as promoter and in the virtual world; it doesn’t take long for something to go viral. The marketing is usually content driven here and is almost impossible for a brand to force something down the throat of a customer until and unless he likes it. But a thing that necessarily needs to be there in a successful digital campaign is creativity and innovation. The ‘ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’ took the concept to a new level. It elicited donation for the ALS patients through an interesting challenge, which was circulated through the online world. The participants had to pour a bucket of ice over them within 24 hours of receiving the challenge, and if, however, they failed to do so, they required to make a donation to the ‘ALS Association’. The campaign saw the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, Akshay Kumar, etc. participating and the others like Barack Obama, David Cameron, etc. who politely declined and chose to make a donation instead.

Collage: self-composed
But along with the perks, the digital world also has its disadvantages. The dissatisfied customers can badmouth the company to a much larger extent than they were previously able to do. Amul was at the receiving end in one such incident when Ms. Neha Tomar posted a pic on her Facebook account on 10th October, 2014, showing a packet of ‘Amul Gold’ milk along with another image attached with it, which depicted a hardened elastic material which she claimed to be the same milk, gone rancid. The matter was soon in public domain with a litany of comments thrashing Amul, which later came out with a clarification accusing Neha to have forged the post and images. Although Amul showed promptness in the above case to divert a fiasco but this incident highlights the potential of the digital media to tarnish the image of a brand by any common dissatisfied customer. A flurry of outrages happened when Flipkart failed to satisfy the customers during its mega sales on ‘Big Billion Day’. Brands have to maintain a constant vigil on social media to monitor the news, posts and tweets trending about them. But sometimes this promptness can also be a cause of concern for the brands and may result in embarrassment. Flipkart burnt it hands multiple times when it tried to address the consumer grievances on twitter. One of the famous trolls occurred when a consumer complaint that he was facing problems with the payment gateway while trying to buy an iPhone. When Flipkart asked him to share the details, he replied that there is no Kidney on Delivery option that the people keep talking about. As 19th century US author Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, “This time like all times is a good one, if we but know what to do with it.” The marketing has seized to be an isolated department in brands and now it has shifted more towards the overall functioning of the brand. It involves coherence and a single mistake or non-alignment to the central image can turn into a fiasco. But at the same time, it presents an epochal opportunity for the markets to foray into the segments; they have never gone into before. Marketing has gone through many changes but the challenges and opportunities faced in the present time have been unprecedented. Any reluctance on the part of marketers to adapt to the changes can be suicidal, like the Kodak and Nokia case. The twenty first century has made the marketers realize the intransigency of presence like never before. The brand can be the leader in a segment on one day and can be finished the other due to lack of imagination. So, marketing has to integrate itself with the brand in such a way that neither the employees nor the customers can distinguish between the two. This is going to be the key in the coming times. Because only in such a case, it will be able to form a long-term relation with the customer and gain the loyalty, which is much needed to survive in the long term.

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