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Soft side in focus

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Organisations are taking care to send out the right message — that they are caring, social and inclusive entities..

Come rain or shine: Aircel has offered to rescue people stranded due to water logging caused by the monsoon. It has put up inflatable boats on its hoardings at strategic locations to ferry people across. Above, one such rescue boat strung to its hoarding in Hyderabad.
Come rain or shine: Aircel has offered to rescue people stranded due to water logging caused by the monsoon. It has put up inflatable boats on its hoardings at strategic locations to ferry people across. Above, one such rescue boat strung to its hoarding in Hyderabad.
Harish Bijoor

The ‘Incredible India' campaign is on a big splurge. What is your view on the campaign and its efficacy?

Ravneet Kohli, Delhi

Ravneet, I prefer a more ‘Credible India' to an ‘Incredible India'. Personally, I am a critic of the ‘Incredible India' campaign — simply because the campaign offers and portrays much more than what Indian tourism actually delivers. While the advertising line, tone, tenor and decibel is crisp and nice, the ground level delivery to those who hear this and come to India is quite different. I think we need to move from Incredible India to a more Credible India. An India that delivers what it promises.

My principle of branding is a simple one again. If you promise the sky, deliver the sky. If you promise the earth, deliver the earth. There cannot be a gap between what you advertise and what is actually delivered on the field.

The best examples of country marketing can be had from the region itself. Singapore and Malaysia are classic examples. They have managed to weather the turmoil of currency crises and collapse of every kind in their individual economies but have nevertheless emerged positive — with campaigns that deliver just what is promised. No under-promise. And, equally, no over-promise.

When a company wants to change its logo, what are the things to be kept in mind?

Jolly K. Kunhiraman, Mumbai

Jolly, many things, but let me pick the top three. First, be absolutely sure that you are looking at change. At times, tradition-ridden old logos work very well for brands. Don't change for the sake of changing. Don't change just because every other logo looks swanky and yours does not.

LIC, for instance, looks good with its old logo. In a category such as insurance, it is good to be locked into such tradition-bound logos that signify solidity, reliability and age. While every other insurance company is toying with modern fonts and formats and cute little dogs, it is the old logo that will hold you in good stead here.

Second, make the entire re-branding/logo-change exercise totally consumer centric. Test every hypothesis with the consumer it will involve and affect.

Third, rely on research. Do a thorough logic and history check on the existing brand identity before you take even a single step to change a colour or line or more. Semiotics is a great tool to compare your old logos with the new.

When getting into cause-related marketing, what must I look at?

Seema P. Arora, Delhi

Seema, this is really a scientific terrain of work. First, be sure that the cause is a cause. What I mean by this is, be empirical about it. Do a major listing of everything that is global and keep whittling the list down from global to glocal to local. Understand the brand DNA of your consumer. Make an assessment of numbers. Look for causes that could be the dearest and most important of them all. Grab the best fit and go with it. This space is getting dearer by the month. Causes are getting appropriated by brands. In a while, there will not be any causes left to go after. So be quick. No marketer will confess that CSR advertising is technical stuff.

In the last two years I have worked with 14 brands seeking to identify CSR USPs of significance. The marketer is, therefore, savvy for sure. The future of marketing in India is going to be ‘softmarketing', ‘softbranding' and ‘softselling' altogether. The accent is on the soft, the social and the inclusive. Second, once you have the cause identified, be as soft as your commercial inclinations will allow you to be. Do not give in to the urge to attach your brand tag line unnecessarily and in a forced manner to the campaign. Be as natural in this branding process as you must. Being crass here means killing the goose that will lay the golden eggs in the distant, if not, near future. If you keep these two points in mind, everything else will fall into place.

Fairness creams are selling big. The Indian is besotted with fair skin, why?

Alex Matthew, Hyderabad

Alex, obsession with fairness is a native Indian trend. A trend that is seen all across the country, except in the case of the tribal communities of Madhya Pradesh and the tribal communities that still reside in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Apart from these clusters, where dark skin is actually worshipped and considered a positive, India is a nation of ‘wannabe white skins'.

I trace its origin to the caste system in India. Our caste system is based on the Varnashrama dharma. In many ways, Varna does mean colour. Though the early caste system was segregated and arrived at on the basis of the nature of work one did in a community, that was a way of ensuring that different constituents of society did different kinds of work, as required. The corruption of this basic format occurred over time.

Dark skin somehow meant an inferior category — a type that worked in the harsh sun and did menial labour. Over a period of time, dark skin has typically been associated with those who work hard and more with their bodies than with their minds. Dark skin is, therefore, not liked. Sociological studies of the day indicate a clear veering of sentiment towards white skin. This obsession with fair skin stretches across nations. Even a nation of settlers from four different origins such as Singapore is besotted with white skin.

I divide cultures into Aryan and Dravidian. One witnesses this craving among Dravidian cultures south of the equator more than in Aryan cultures. Sad but happens. And skin-fairness creams rule.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 29, 2010)
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