He came, he spoke and he conquered. When Vijay Mallya, Chairman of the UB Group, strode in to deliver a keynote address on ‘CEO as the Brand’, he literally brought an ongoing session to a standstill. The immense interest that this 'King of good times' generates was evident from the fact that the venue was packed to capacity with no standing room left. Mallya took the gathering on a journey of the Kingfisher brand, from its inception to him becoming its brand ambassador to carrying on the Kingfisher legacy.
Taking a dig at the media, he said that the press had always played into his hands, reporting any news about the UB Group, inadvertently keeping the brand in public memory. And as if on cue, when Mallya strode out after delivering his speech he was followed and nearly mobbed by all the mediapersons present there. Not just the press, even people from the audience wanted more of the UB chief and hall all but emptied after Mallya's departure.
Here's what the UB Group Chairman had to say:
The brand Kingfisher and myself are heavily intertwined. In 1979, after my return from the US, I saw in UB archives the Kingfisher and relaunched the brand. During the process of relaunching, I learnt many lessons. I also did a research by going to colleges asking students on what the Kingfisher brand meant to them and what was their perception of Kingfisher beer, and learnt that it was an aspirational brand. This is when we embedded the key attributes in the brand itself and designed the marketing strategy, for which I asked a sum of Rs 10 lakh from my father but was given only Rs 2 lakh for the entire communication and marketing.
In those days when only Doordarshan existed and alcohol wasn’t allowed to be advertised on television – I learnt an important lesson that distribution was important and so was communication. We had no mass media option and were thinking of every single way to get the brand in the minds of the people and that is when I decided to be the brand myself. We tried to add value to the definition of upwardly mobile, tried to understand what aspirations meant to young people. This is where I learnt another lesson, which is to do things many people want to do, no matter if they can afford it or not. So I chose fashion, sports, and music for the brand.
Everyone wants more, to spend more basically wants betterment and that is what we latched on to. I decided to become the brand ambassador myself and since I was the youngest Chairman of a sizeable conglomerate, I immediately caught media attention and the media branded me as playboy, frivolous, spendthrift and that is exactly what I wanted and I thank the media for this. This helped us achieve penetration, and recognition. This is where I learnt the meaning of a brand ambassador. I started to throw big parties. Today, I have the luxury to advertise Kingfisher brand through Kingfisher Airlines and in less than 30 years we have created a superbrand. Today, Kingfisher has a 30 per cent market share and has a penetration in 55 countries worldwide and has achieved global scale.
Carrying on the Legacy
I have no pretence that I have become a brand, in fact, if you can put a face to the brand, touch and feel the brand, then it is going to be much better off than a completely faceless brand. I received heavy criticism when I roped in the West Indies cricket team in the advertisements and was questioned why not the Indian cricket team. But for me, it is important for the ambassador to personify the Kingfisher brand. Apart from cricket, I put Kingfisher on Formula One, which was another aspirational move. With this, I made Kingfisher global in its entire perspective. The whole idea was to achieve international presence.
A big name draws a bigger audience and thus, big brand ambassadors draw more attention. Today though Mr Bachchan is endorsing about 60 brands and doing it well, it is difficult for me to say if there is any brand which is close to his heart. Another personality, which embodies the brand itself, is Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantics. He truly lives his brand.
It is even difficult to separate Bill Gates from Microsoft, Narayana Murthy from Infosys, the Ambanis from Reliance and Ratan Tata from Tata Indica.
It is very important to recognise that perhaps the CEO is the most effective hoarding of the brand. This is especially true for the entertainment business. Having said that, brand and companies far outlive individuals, and then it is up to the successor to carry the brand legacy forward.