When stereotypes are welcome

S. Ramesh Kumar Bangalore | Updated on January 24, 2011 Published on January 07, 2011

Big Bazaar in Mumbai. - Photo: Paul Noronha


Lux brand of soaps. Photo : Bijoy Ghosh   -  BL

Pears brand of soaps. Photo : Bijoy Ghosh   -  BL

Santoor sandal and turmeric.

Stereotypes in commonplace parlance are more associated with run-of-the-mill images. In the context of consumer behaviour, it is associated with meanings and pictures that are carried by consumers in their psyche.

Bru — does it suggest filter coffee? (One of the recent visuals in a TV commercial shows a filter that is used to make coffee in the traditional way and the brand has had a strong association with filter coffee.)

Titan — does it suggest gifting?

Private label black-coloured bathroom cleaner — does it suggest that a dark colour is associated with killing odour?

LG and Samsung, late entrants in several consumer durables categories in India, have not projected their country of origin as part of the stereotype associations of their brands. These are examples of how the principle of stereotypes can be applied to brands.

How do brand stereotypes help?

Brand stereotypes can create strong propositions. They create differentiation that may be difficult to dislodge by late entrants to a product category if the brand is nurtured well. Let us even consider the local sweet shops and not just the megabrands.

Grand Sweets in Chennai and Haldiram's in Kolkata are strong brands backed by stereotypes that have been associated with the unique taste of these offerings.

Big Bazaar, besides its huge stock-keeping units and variety, is also associated with the stereotype of middle-class, budget-oriented and value-based offerings. In reality, there may be several retailers in a city or several offerings that may be of value to consumers but the development of stereotypes helps brands stay entrenched in the minds of consumers.

An entrepreneur offering house repair services needs to build up a stereotype that would get latched to his target segment. This is more important in an emerging market where several categories are characterised by the unorganised sector.

For instance, the footwear market and the household furniture market are characterised by several manufacturers, some of them delivering high value and several delivering below par offerings.

There are a few branded offerings, normally in the higher ranges, providing even small manufacturers a clear opportunity to develop unique stereotypes in their respective territories.

The fewer the branded offerings, more the scope for the development of stereotypes. Even branded offerings, after they taste success, need to build or nurture the stereotypes they may have got associated with or built over a period of time.

HMT had advertised itself as the “timekeeper to the nation” much before branded offerings or Titan entered the market. Mysore sandalwood, that was almost a legendary offering (with a cross-section of consumers using the offering for six decades), got associated with very positive qualities much before the entry of the Santoor brand that has a turmeric-and-sandal offering (and built up a stereotype of an authentic, traditional, sandalwood application for healthy skin).

Brand stereotypes take definite shape over a period of time to ensure that the brand stays differentiated.

Product improvement sustains appeal

But brands also need to bring in attribute /product improvements that enhance and sustain the appeal of the stereotypes over time (Lifebuoy, Lux and Pears are good examples). Unilever has interestingly used three stereotypes to address the “germ killing” proposition and the three stereotypes are associated with three well-known brands.

Lifebuoy, with its macho associations of yesteryear, was more a rural soap with the proposition of germ killing action. Its urban repositioning used the same stereotype with changes in the offering and packaging and by moving it closer to the family. The germ killing action was advertised for its Total variant with the ‘mother-son' association. Associations have been added but the basic stereotype is the same, that of “germ-killing action”.

Hamam in the latest TV commercial indicates rashes caused by external exposure (may be perceived by the consumers as germs), but has created a stereotype of “traditional family usage”.

The visual shows not just the mother but the grandparents speculating about the rashes.

Pears, the brand with the “young and innocent” stereotype of yesteryear, has a germ shield variant. The TV visual of the brand (in recent times) shows the “mother-daughter” association.

In all the three cases, the past associations/brand's proposition have been preserved but the stereotypes have been used for differentiated imagery. (Pears introduced a “germ kill” variant.)

There may be other aspects such as price and target segment that may be involved in the strategy of these brands which have complemented such strategies.

Stereotype concepts can contribute to brand associations — whether new or old — if used with qualitative research on consumer associations.

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Published on January 07, 2011
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