Marketing

Fill it, shut it, forget the advertising

RAMANUJAM SRIDHAR | Updated on March 23, 2011

Cricket without the noise, on HD TV - Vivek Bendre

Karisma - The high end motor bike from Hero Honda automobiles. (file photo): Vino John.   -  The Hindu

Hero Honda Splendor - an enduring success   -  Business Line

In the mid-Eighties I used to be the account executive on the Ind-Suzuki brand, as it used to be called those days, and would watch the work of our competitor Hero Honda with fascination and ill-concealed admiration. Hero Honda launched a four-stroke bike (to the disapproval of my erudite friends in TVS), clearly positioning the new product on fuel economy.

The ad campaign, which I can still recall, had the tag line “Fill it, shut it, forget it”. To put it mildly the consumer forgot all the other brands (well, almost) as the new campaign and the new brand took the market by storm and even two decades later, continues to rule the roost.

The Hero Honda Splendor has been an enduring brand success, built on a product which works brilliantly in Indian conditions and on the Indian psyche (fed and nurtured as it is on fuel economy) and is an excellent example of clear, single-minded communication that has been consistent over the years.

Hero Honda, the company, did many things right and as a former executive of TVS Suzuki confessed privately to me, “the best thing I did was invest in Hero Honda”. Competitors know the value of the company they are competing with, right?

Just as any team that played Australia in the early 2000s would tell you what it meant to beat them and the collective ambition of the entire cricketing world was to beat them, and when they did it rarely it was a cause for wild celebrations.

Let's return reluctantly to our brand story. Suddenly (though it has been brewing for some time now) the two companies have split and Honda will soon launch two entry-level bikes even as the Japanese giant is building a new factory in Andhra Pradesh and looks to beef up its distribution presence.

The latest to bite the dust

Two-wheeler partnerships are not new in the country. TVS had a partnership with Suzuki, Bajaj had another with Kawasaki, Honda had a partnership with Kinetic and when the two split Kinetic lost its way and was bought over by Mahindra whilst Rajdoot too suffered after the Yamaha split.

It is not rocket science to deduce that foreign partners need Indian companies to get acclimatised to the conditions here and more importantly, the people and the customs. Indian companies too already have their distribution in place through the length and breadth of this country and any marketer will tell you that distribution is key to any brand's marketing success.

The learning from all of this is pretty clear. The partner who is better prepared for the split actually survives the split and in cases like Bajaj, even thrives.

TVS is another case in point. Even during its partnership with Suzuki which was exhibiting signs of stress, TVS continued to design its own vehicles. The Victor, which was a big success of the company, was actually designed by TVS and this caused the Japanese partner some heartburn, and if rumour is to be believed, was the final straw on the camel's back. TVS had actually planned its exit from the partnership fairly intelligently and has now emerged as a serious player in the two-wheeler market, particularly with its Scooty which has created a completely new category.

Will Hero continue to rule?

Hero is already gearing up for life without its Japanese partner and is in the process of creating a new identity with an international design firm of repute. While design has its value the new brand and entity will have to understand its point of differentiation from the others, most of all to its former partner and current adversary.

There is no doubt that Hero, thanks to its leadership in cycles, knows India and has phenomenal reach, which is extremely critical, though one must admit that there are other factors at play.

One of the major reasons for success of a product in the two-wheeler category will have to be its design and that, to my mind, is a major cause of worry. Does the Indian counterpart have the design capability to take on the world and its former partner and woo the now spoilt Indian consumer? I have my doubts and in the final analysis that will probably determine its success.

Hero is a strong company with excellent financials, anchored in India and I feel that it too will pull through, but it is certainly going to be a testing, challenging few years. I as an admirer of the company will be waiting and watching to see how they make us forget the competition.

Viewer's delight, sponsor's nightmare

I must talk about the World Cup (habits don't die) which is getting into the business end and India has managed to make every match interesting. How did they do that? They did that by playing way below their potential, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, turning certain victory into a pulsating tie and lo and behold Indians have to watch West Indies vs England and South Africa vs Bangladesh as our progress depends on theirs. What a coup for TRPs!!! And yet, amidst all the Indian madness there is a bigger madness and that is the advertising.

Even if I owe most of everything I have in my life to advertising, I am getting increasingly miffed with advertising for the World Cup which cuts into my viewing pleasure and makes me feel like throwing something heavy at the TV screen and blasting it to smithereens, but can't as it is my hard-earned money which paid for the TV in the first place.

How many magic moments have been deprived thanks to the greed of the channels? Why can I not see the first ball and the sixth ball over after over? Why should I see a half commercial when Shaun Tait ties his shoe laces? How many times do I have to suffer the same boring commercial? Why, oh why?

Mummy, no commercials!!

Suddenly God seems to have heard the plaintive wails of cricket-mad people and decided to give us our HDTV. I can watch the entire duration of a 100-over match without a single commercial. With my newfound toy, I can see the fast bowler sweating from every pore, the extent of the frown on Ricky Ponting's face and Shahid Afridi actually having his arms around Shoaib at the end of an over instead of Yuvaraj Singh talking about the benefits of some completely useless product that I am sure I will never use.

In fact, two interesting incidents must be shared with you. The first was when J. P. Duminy on 99 instead of tapping the ball for a single, goes for a six with the idea of boosting the team's score as it was the last over and gets caught. In our normal broadcast, the delighted channel will happily put in commercial after commercial in the gap. But what did I get to see?

The image of the entire South African team standing up to a man to applaud their unselfish team mate! Cricket is richer thanks to images like this which we have been robbed of. The next is the image of Ricky Ponting losing his cool after taking the catch, despite Steve Smith coming in his way. The angry captain hurled the ball he had just caught in rage. I saw the raw emotion of a guy who wished to win at any cost, not some insipid commercial.

Is there a problem?

The current base of HD TV users is probably low. Estimates vary and it is probably closer to 60,000 users. What is that number when you look at the millions who are watching the regular broadcast, clogged with commercial after commercial? And yet are these high net worth individuals the advertiser's dream? Will this currently small number grow?

I can bet my bottom dollar (not that I have one) that it will grow. And why do I say that? Simply because I bought it because I was strongly recommended this and I have already called a few others. Word of mouth, as the marketing consultant will tell you, always works.

Of course, the advertisers, though secretly worried, are telling themselves that this has not taken off in other parts of the world. They are probably right. It may be a fad, for all we know. Some of them are crying foul that this is not cricket, but I am not complaining.

Yet, I think it is time for channels to think this one through. Are they killing the golden goose? Are they irritating their customers? They most certainly are. They just must observe the reactions of viewers when the same ad keeps repeating itself, when live action is missed.

For the time to take corrective action is now. Otherwise, what is a mere trickle will soon become a flood and there will be more and more people like me who are only watching the cricket. Who knows, we may soon forget advertising as the channels are full of it!

Published on March 23, 2011

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