September 14, 2010

Advertising 'Strangulating' Council of India

Seven food and beverage majors have come together in a first of its kind agreement, pledging to self-monitor their products adhering to labeled standards. As per European nutritional standards, sugar content of more than 12.5 grams per 100 grams is considered to be detrimental for consumption. But when ASCI pulled up Kellog’s Chocos recently, it was found to contain 32.5 grams of sugar per 100 gram of the product. Indeed, they took their ‘poshan se bhara’ positioning too seriously or so it seems! Heinz’s Complan had to substantiate its claims of kids growing twice as much taller after consuming Complan, after GSK’s Horlicks logged in a ‘complaint’ with ASCI that Heinz was promoting fallacious claims.
ASCI, it seems is not just content with the nutrition factor of food products but also wants to pull up companies which are adopting ‘clutter breaking’ advertising. Recently Parle had to grudgingly pull out its LMN advert as ASCI associated racism and stereotyping with the brilliant ad that showed two African natives searching for water in the midst of a desert. Remember Amul Macho, the famous Kolkota based hosiery brand which was the leading advertiser amongst inner-wear brands in 2005. The famous cloth washing ad which showed a sari clad woman making suggestive expressions while washing her husband’s clothes became an overnight hit. It made tongues wag, some supported, some opposed but the talking helped the brand’s publicity. It created instant brand recall for the innerwear brand in a market which lacks complete brand loyalty. However, the ad had to be pulled off as it was in ‘bad taste’ as per ASCI standards but it had done its job (you still remember it, don’t you?). They did come up with another intelligent advert using orangutans which was again a little suggestive but thank god, no one cried ‘animal porn’ or ‘zoophilia’. There has been a spurt of deodorant brands trying to take on the market leader, Axe by adopting the sensual positioning in a sex deprived market. Set wet and Zatak were the first to take on the challenge and recently players like Wild Stone and Temptation are trying to use the same strategy against Axe (Lol, Axe has been doing that since decades before they were born in markets all across the world!) Some of the newer ads of such nascent brands are thrice as more suggestive as the Amul advert. One even shows steam blowing from a girl’s body parts as the guy walks past and another shows a girl’s piece of clothing falling off. Huh, it’s perfectly all right with me but why the blatant discrimination? This goes to show that competition plays a major role when it comes to igniting flames in successful brand campaigns. This cannot be the case with Axe as it is a multinational player, compared to the newer and smaller and predictably ‘more sensuous’ deodorants in the market. Wonder how long before Unilever submits a ‘complaint’!
Anyways, the seven major companies have also pledged to avoid promoting their products to children below the age of twelve years, a thing that could prove to be a kick in the jaw of channels like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. But this surely has laid down the grounds for ethical advertising in an industry where ethics have usually gone for a toss. The recent news that has reached me also involved a similar incident where 10,000 mandals in Mumbai have agreed upon a pact to avoid tobacco sponsors for this year’s Ganesh Chathurthi. This is startling, going by the fact that sixty percent of the festival sponsors are from the tobacco industry; going by the way they have managed to find ‘innovative’ ways past the banned mass media. A similar incident is being observed in liquor shops which are removing posters of liquor brands from the exterior of their stores.
What works for such industries is their creative conceptualization and effective positioning. With little difference in products and the complete absence of mass advertising, Word of Mouth efforts and surrogate advertising measures, combined with a healthy demand has ensured industry growth. The efforts of Kingfisher, India’s most prolific liquor brand have to be noted in this case. The iconic Vijay Mallya has ensured that the complete lack of advertising doesn’t hamper his growth. Foraying into the airline industry, food guides, the packaged water industry and even a television channel, Kingfisher is one brand which has reinforced its classic tune into the minds of the consumer. ‘Ooola la la ae oooo…’ goes the whistle and we nicely tap our feet to it. Surrogate advertising has made the liquor brand piggyback on its extensions and the main brand, though sidelined has raked in most of the attention. The most brilliant concept was to start a luxury lifestyle channel ‘NDTV Good Times’, in collaboration with NDTV. Please note the channel name does not have any mention of ‘Kingfisher’ but Kingfisher’s iconic blue and red bird occupies twenty four hours on the screen! Please note this is in an era when television advertising costs a bomb and liquor advertising has been completely banned. Of course, the marketing efforts are limited to one particular channel and a niche segment but Kingfisher has always been a premium brand catering to specific lifestyle needs and the channel stays in line with that positioning. So, Kingfisher is actually marketing its liquor without showcasing any visuals. Similar is the case albeit on a small scale with companies like Bacardi (Bacardi Music CDs), McDowells (Soda and music CDs) and of course Godfrey Philips and Red and White (Bravery awards).
With time, ASCI might just find a way for this too if Kingfisher collapses (which I don’t see happening in the short run) A better solution is to impose a ‘sin tax’  and raise prices of such products to discourage consumption but again that might just increase the grey market demand. It never was a question of ethics when it came to advertising, we all know how ethical the industry is! Just wonder are advertisers smarter than the council that monitors them or is it the other way round? Advertising has changed with times. Otherwise will this old PIA to Twin towers print ad, be accepted now? I leave that to you...
With hugs and kisses to the Consumer, 
The Young Marketer.


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