The brand that touches people’s lives, every day

Vinay Kamath | Updated on March 10, 2018


The biggest testimony to Tata’s emergence as a brand-led company is the fact that UK-based brand consultancy Brand Finance, in its study last year, ranked the Tata group 45th among 500 most valuable brands around the world. And with a brand valuation of $16.3 billion!

One evening in the late 1980s, A.L. Mudaliar, then Chairman of Titan Industries, hosted a party for bureaucrats of the Tamil Nadu government and many of Chennai’s (then Madras) swish set. Full of bonhomie and good cheer, the cynosure was Xerxes Desai, then Titan’s Managing Director. It was to celebrate the launch of Titan watches by the Tata group in a joint venture with the TN government.

You could say it was a seminal moment in the history of the Tata group. Here was an industrial goods powerhouse, stepping out into a consumer facing business. What Titan did later to the market for watches is the stuff of legend: with smart marketing and advertising and great-looking stores it moved the market from hand-wound to quartz watches.

Titan made ownership of multiple watches cool and the Titan signature tune, a slice of Mozart, was eternally etched in Indian consumers’ minds.

For a group which produced trucks and buses, steel, soda ash and tea, Titan was a venture into the brave new world of consumer brands. Tata Tea followed soon, with brands such as Kanan Devan, Chakra Gold and Agni.

True, the Tata group did have brands such as Indian Hotels’ Taj brand and Voltas, but was not in a business that demanded wide distribution or touched people’s lives daily. Tomco languished and was eventually sold to HUL. India’s software boom was yet to happen and TCS was still in its infancy.


After Ratan Tata took over as Chairman of the group, the process of brand-building began in right earnest. A few distinct threads emerge:

— In the first phase, one saw new brands which didn’t exist in the group emerge. Brands such as Titan and Tata Tea were born. This trend has continued this past decade, with the group launching brands such as Tata Sky in DTH, Tata DoCoMo in telecom, Westside and Croma, in retailing. All new brands that interface with consumers, day in, day out.

— The second phase saw industrial marketing companies of the group such as Tata Motors get into the cars business with the Indica and, of course, later the Nano and a clutch of SUVs. Tata Steel also began branding its steel rods while Tata Chemicals launched its iodine-reinforced Tata Salt and has now ventured into branded pulses.

— Alongside, the group saw its existing consumer facing businesses, such as Indian Hotels, make aggressive acquisitions of hotels around the world, such as Campton Place and Ritz Carlton in the US, and Starwood’s W hotel in Sydney. It also entered into a management contract for The Pierre in the US.

The 2000s were a period of aggressive acquisitions of global brands for the Tata group. Starting with Tetley Tea in 2000 by Tata Tea, the group’s Tata Motors acquired the Jaguar Land Rover brands as well as Daewoo commercial vehicles. Tata Steel acquired Corus in the UK while Tata Tea, which metamorphosed into Tata Global Beverages, has been on a merry takeover spree, gobbling up tea and coffee brands in various markets around the world.

Says a Tata group veteran, “Building brands takes time. Ratan Tata had the courage of conviction and the will to stay the course.”

While the brand-building and acquisitions were going on, the Chairman had noted that the Tata brand itself was not getting enough leverage despite being a powerful brand which plays a role in the lives of many in the country.

New logo

In the late 1990s, a British consultancy, Wolff Olins, was asked to redesign the Tata group logo. The new logo is said signify a fountain of knowledge, or a tree of trust under which people can seek shelter.

Ratan Tata also decided to place a premium on the Tata brand. In a new arrangement, all companies of the group that use the Tata brand pay a royalty to Tata Sons, the holding company, to use one of India’s most trusted brands. The percentage of royalty or fee the companies pay depends on the brand leverage they have — a company which has Tata as part of its title, such as Tata Global Beverages, will need to fork out more than one which only uses the Tata brand to market.

Big advertiser

A brand manual was also drawn up for the group on how the Tata brand could be used. “All this brought some coherence to the Tata logo and brand,” says a Tata official.

A Tata veteran also points out that from a group which hardly did much advertising, in the past 20 years, the conglomerate has emerged as a billion-dollar global advertising group, especially since it has iconic brands such as JLR in its portfolio. With Tata Motors making global strides, Tata Global’s presence in many countries and Indian Hotels expanding aggressively abroad, the group needs to advertise in many overseas markets.

But the biggest testimony for Tata’s emergence as a brand-led company is the fact that UK-based brand consultancy Brand Finance, in its study last year, ranked the Tata group 45th among 500 most valuable brands around the world. And with a brand valuation of $16.3 billion!

Companies pay top-drawer fees for celebrities to endorse their brands as ambassadors. Like Virgin’s Richard Branson for his group, for the Tata group too, its biggest brand ambassador has been Ratan Tata himself. There’s no mystery about that.

Published on December 27, 2012

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