On the day India played the Cricket World Cup semi-final the work turned a little casual with the TV at the back relaying the match. Among the sponsors, the string of brands – that were all announced in great haste, brand ‘Lux’ got registered in me – triggered by the unease caused by the TV Ad on it, repeatedly shown through a ‘family’ program couple of weeks ago. I expected the Ad to torment me again through the match and my sense of unease increased since rest of the family had also settled neat and fine to watch the match. Thank god, I uttered to myself after seeing a different Ad for the brand. But a little while later the company proved a truth about brands by broadcasting the sinful Ad in spite of being conscious of the guilt, unmistakably revealed by the restraint in repeating it just a couple of times with the other ‘decent’ Ad lending frequency. Consistency in character is what all brands strive to project and in trying to do that they reveal their true character consistently, of course ignorantly.
This new TV Ad for ‘Lux’ makes it exceptionally good for teaching a few important principles of branding. All it takes to enlighten knowledge seeking marketing executives and students of marketing is to play the Ad just once and seek the answers to a set of simple fundamental branding questions. They are;
• Does greater brand awareness tantamount to greater brand equity?
• Is the method used to elicit consumer attention neutral to the brand?
• Is sales always proportionate to brand equity?
Keep your answers for a while. The ‘Lux’ I am talking about is not the ‘Soap’ that is endorsed by chosen blooming actresses from Bollywood. The ad was for ‘Lux Cozi’ the innerwear brand which started off many years ago amassing awareness quickly by appropriating the name of a famous brand. Review your answers again. Wouldn’t you differ now?
Brand awareness as an element of brand equity is very critical but is double edged. Greater the awareness greater is the impact – positive or negative. The most relevant question that tells of the brand equity of a brand is not who and how many know about it but the one that asks as to what do they know about it. Advertisements therefore are expected to achieve twin purposes; to enlarge awareness and to disseminate brand knowledge. Companies of all stature and size bungle-up crafting that fine in their Ads which to their surprise results in low to negative ROI. And often Ads that suppress sales are those that carry the flawed message flawlessly and thus toss back a puzzle to the company. Ads for Tata Nano belong to this category. Great Ads, failing sales! Liril, the popular soap that was declining was pushed into the dumps some years ago by some awesome TV Ads visuals of which effectively obscured the product out of viewer’s mind. The Lux Cozi Ad has no message and the brand with its smutty attention seeking trick only tells loudly that “we are not serious about our business”.
The Lux Cozi Ad loses all the potential right by the method used for seeking attention which by itself makes a message loud and clear to the consumers and the Ad being quite effective in seeking attention would only return massive ‘dislike’ which is bound to show in its finances though not necessarily in sales in the short term. Branding blunders beget sharp consumer response to an impact on sales only when all components of the market i.e. product, competition and demand are fairly mature. The inner wear market yet being largely developing the kind of Ads won’t still kill sales, not at least to the extent that companies realize their mistakes. But the kind of approach to push sales can be easily proved to be surely not cost effective and that it would cost the company the advantage of driving sales by the brand equity even in the medium term. In the dense of communication works, seeking attention of consumers is indeed an expensive and challenging task. Exploitative sex visuals surely do help, more with more vulgarity. The truth however is that; such efforts invariably create negative brand attributes. Insensitive, immature, unintelligent and cheap are the words that stick to such brands.
In a growing market a brand that has managed to accomplish critical sales volumes with progressive trends should ideally try to understand underlying reasons that are causing sales for it, to be able to move convincingly into league next. In a demand driven market most brands that gain certain grip in the market seem to be spending on advertisements because they have the sales or the money to spend, without of course knowing what pumps-in their sales and that the advertisements merely have a complementary impact. Lux Cozi Ad only proves that.
Crass smartness is rampant in advertising. India is among the top three countries in grabbing attention through exploitative sex visuals. Even some MNCs and large and respected brands try to indulge in that irresponsibly, hoping to make good of it in the quarter – caring nothing for the erosion of brand value which only leads them to brainstorming sessions all over again in search of an altogether new branding strategy with harder task on hand. The carelessness on the part of the company in making vast sets of populace bear its inferior thinking also tells of the deficient understanding of the concept of corporate social responsibility by both the companies and the govt. The critical question is; what is the ‘social good’ accruing from brands like Lux Cozi doing the paltry charity if it would continue to cause large scale social nuisance overriding govt reprimand? In fact companies should know that outright irresponsible behavior hurts profits and even the chances of their existence. Lux Cozi Ads, most of which are similar, are grossly inept that it can be easily proved in less than four quarters that their ads have been in fact suppressing sales and at a huge multifaceted cost.
Unlike emerging online media, commercial Ads are unquestionably implicit on TV, as in newspapers. The valid question the Lux Cozi Ad raises is; can companies assume the right to trouble and embarrass people by the kind of awfully foolish TV Ad? Isn’t that unexpected and objectionably overbearing? Isn’t that an offence demanding punishment? I believe, the implicit offence in that if argued competently at the court with some might and the support of a ‘more evolved’ govt the company will not find enough money in its tangible assets to settle the damages. And imitation brands like Lux and Amul (innerwear) which provoke govt reprimands time and again with objectionable Ads can hardly accumulate intangible values beyond the enterprise value which is dependent on the saturation level of the market and not their brands.
As said, in a fast growing market a company is always misguided by its own ego on the roots of its success. An unbiased ‘approach cost’ analysis on branding would only shock the entrepreneurs, of such brands, should they care to assess the sales and profits lost so far owing to the misfit approach. A booming market for a non-durable product is most fit for competing by the branding perspectives and companies that gain a foothold in such a market, additionally characterized by mature products and mature competition, ought to be serious about their business to be able to sustain a feasible existence in the long term, let alone of being a competitive player. In fact, existence of immature brands with good enough sales in a promising market indicates good feasibility for professional and responsible entrants just by that fact.
Kheencho, Kheencho – surely has the potential to become a popular slang – to call senseless (de) branding efforts.
The author is a management consultant.