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Striking the right note

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Anthems are just one way in which India Inc is marrying corporate branding to music..

Making music:Bausch & Lomb employees
Making music:Bausch & Lomb employees

CHITRA NARAYANAN

Call the mobile number of any employee at Jindal Steel and Power (JSP) and you will hear Sukhwinder (of Jai Ho fame) belting out a rousing anthem, Aa Haath Mila. Penned by Gulzar, JSP's official ditty, launched this August on the birth anniversary of the group's founder O. P. Jindal, has been composed by Bollywood music director Vishal Shekhar.

JSP, the flagship firm of the Naveen Jindal group of companies, has just finished a major rebranding exercise and an anthem was an important part of the drill. “The song unites, motivates, inspires and brings in a sense of belonging in the people,” says a JSP spokesperson, describing how it has not only become the official caller tune, but is sung at company functions. The brief to the composer was to come up with a song full of “ josh”.

Three years ago, arch rival Tata Steel got Bollywood trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy to do the honours for its corporate anthem. The Tata Steel song, which took six months to create, was penned by Javed Akhtar. The anthem was created to mark the centenary of the steel giant. “But the anthem had a larger aim and vision. It seeks to celebrate the company's unique values that have endured for 100 years and are the bedrock of its corporate philosophy,” says a Tata Steel official.

It's not just the steel barons who have been introducing musical notes at their workplace. From IT majors to FMCG firms to education companies, Indian corporates are suddenly promoting employee sing-alongs in a big way – the purpose being to motivate and energise the workforce and fill them with a sense of pride. Usually, it is part of a rebranding effort as in JSP's case or in Career Launcher's case. Its Har Manzil, Har Lamha anthem stands for optimism, credibility and infinite potential for growth and goes with the new logo.

But even if there's no rebranding happening, corporates are tuning into anthems. ACC, Bausch & Lomb, Nivea, Diageo, Airtel, Pepsico India and Genpact are some of the companies that have recently created their own special songs. “We have been doing one anthem a month,” says Shouvik Roy, Director, Brand Planet Elephant, and co-founder, Anthems, a pioneer in audio branding strategies. Roy and his colleague Anupam Sen Gupta hold workshops, helping companies create their own anthems. “We created this concept of marrying the principles of corporate branding to music. The premise is that if corporates can have a vision, values, logo, tagline and colours they should also have an anthem,” says Roy.

The good old days when Big Blue rallied its workforce by introducing a culture of employee sing-alongs appear to be back – albeit in a different continent. In IBM folkore, there are over 80 ditties including Ever Onward IBM. Apparently Big Blue founder Thomas Watson Sr. collected songs that employees had written about IBM and published them in a book in 1927. He believed singing these songs would build character and instil company loyalty.

Today, however, in the West, there's a mixed feeling about anthems because an increasingly irreverent workforce twists the anthem lyrics and sings the parodied version, ruining the very purpose. But India Inc appears unfazed and is adopting anthems rather zestfully.

The creative process

Talking to a variety of Indian companies that recently invested in corporate anthems has two models emerging. Even as some companies invest big bucks and get star composers and singers to create their anthems, another set of companies are getting their own employees to create the anthem, and sometimes the tunes come out in just three hours!

Talk to the Tatas on why they roped in Javed Akhtar et al and the reply is: “We were looking for the country's finest talent to script the anthem for Tata Steel and these names were just a natural choice.”

For the Tatas, the whole process took about six months - from brief to recording. “The starting point was when former MD B. Muthuraman asked senior officials of the company to contribute important words that they felt reflected the ethos and values of the company. These words were then formulated into a brief,” says the Tata spokesperson.

On the other hand both Shouvik Roy and organisation development consultant Santhosh Babu prefer the co-creation workshop method. Says Roy, “We believe that an anthem has to be co-created. Creating an anthem in a silo lacked ownership and was a top-down approach.” For Roy and his colleague Anupam Sen Gupta, anthem creation is an HR structured programme of co-creation.

Ditto for Santhosh Babu, founder of OD Alternatives, who has used Roy and Sen Gupta's services occasionally. “My objective is not to really create an anthem. At times there may not even be professional instruments. The idea is to help a group to talk about their dreams and co-create. For instance, this year we worked with Bausch and Lomb. We gave them dandiya sticks to create a piece of music,” he says, describing how, even without much of an accompaniment, a lovely tune took shape.

But, if employees create music in this fashion, how long does the anthem stay relevant? Says Roy: “It stays relevant as long as the team desires. I think it does have a shorter shelf life than a logo. But, in some cases we have seen it surviving for two years and more. We encourage creation of a new anthem whenever one wants to excite the team again.”

Seeing the videos of the process of co-creation of the ACC, Nivea and other anthems which Babu shares, in which employees are on their feet, charged up, fists pumping in the air, singing along certainly appears to be pepping up their spirits.

Sometimes the anthems are abandoned for other reasons - Cadbury's which had an anthem Chale Chalo, based on the Lagaan song, post Kraft buyout, no longer seems to be humming this tune. On the other hand, the Aditya Birla group's anthem, the Sanskrit hymn Aditya Vandana which extols the greatness of the sun, has survived for 14 years.

Interestingly, Hindi anthems appear as popular as English. Says Roy: “Out of the two dozen anthems we have created for various corporates, I would say about half of them have been in Hindi. The rest mostly in English and some of them have also used regional influences, such as Assamese.”

Going by the increasing trend of anthems, India Inc is literally on a song.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 23, 2010)
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