Nirmal John & G Seetharaman
A lot can happen over a cup of coffee. And when brand marketers sit together sipping coffee, the result is stimulating conversation. Four brand mavericks — K V Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett; Girish Shah, head-branding, Reliance ADAG; Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults, and Dheeraj Sinha, chief strategy officer, Bates 141 - visited the DNA office for coffee and conversation. Our topic of discussion was one that’s been brewing in the Indian brandscape since the last one year. Rebranding. Logo changes. Repositioning. Excerpts:
Now really, think about it. The last time you heard a company say, “We’ve changed!” and present its newly designed logo, you might have thought “Oh, not one more company ….”
Your impression is understandable. In the recent past, several companies - Reliance ADAG, Ceat - and several public sector banks such as Bank of Baroda, Union Bank of India, Canara Bank have tried to shed their old-school image and come up with swankier brand imagery. But is that where the rebranding stops?
The consumer, as many advertising guys say, has a nasty habit of changing. Brands now want to keep up with him - his expectations, his aspirations at whatever cost. Marketers say rebranding is also about renovation in work cultures, processes, customer service and business approach. Is that really happening?
Brands have such a rare ability to make a silent yet lasting intrusion into our consciousness, and this magnetism causes companies to ensure that customers identify with brands rather than mere products.
It’s also why organisations want to give a new life to their brands in the name of ‘rebranding’ when the power to keep attracting the imagination of people starts slacking off.
What does rebranding involve? How do you ensure it works? And who needs rebranding?
Our panelists were critical on the cosmetic nature of certain rebranding exercises. K V Sridhar said rebranding entails much more. “There are two things you must do: You must change so that you can offer something to people and then you need to connect and communicate with them.”
Harish Bijoor, took it one step further to the need for rebranding to have two dimensions - internal rebranding and external rebranding. “There is an eastern ethos, which says, change the internal first and then the external. The western ethos is the other way round. The latter does not work in rebranding.” Citing the example of Bank of Baroda’s rebranding, he said if the employees of the bank have not changed the way they approach the customers, then rebranding is bound to fail.
Dheeraj Sinha was of the view that there is no need to overhaul a brand as long as the core proposition remains strong. “Things like Ayurveda still appeal, people only want it packaged better,” he said. At the same time, there is a distinction between rebranding and refreshing a brand.
So what is the need for tweaking brands?
Ultimately, rebranding is a function of the need to identify with the world and the changes in the way people lead their life. And this goes beyond products. Sinha said celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar are examples of brands that have undergone a metamorphosis as a result of the fact that the relevance for what they stood for, was lost.
Girish Shah stressed that brands cannot stand in isolation. “The Indian citizen has rebranded himself and he is now a citizen of the world. Value systems have changed.”
Rebranding activities should be personalised at the CEO level and cascade down to the rest, he added.
Sinha said clients often sense the symptoms and come to their advertising agencies looking for prescriptions. The critical thing that constitutes the mad rush to rebrand is the kind of change we have seen in the past 10 years. With changing times, it is imperative that brands change for the youth. “The generational change is not just about the youth.
Even the 60-year-olds want their banks to not look fuddy-duddy,” Sinha said. This would explain why PSU banks are queuing up at the rebranding counter.
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This means rebranding is not a good thing for everybody. In the last 6 years, Bijoor himself has come across 23 rebranding enquiries and discouraged seven of them from rebranding. “The best thing to do for some brands is to do nothing. At times everyone does not need a contemporary feel. People look for trust in the brand.”
Sridhar pointed out the example of Air India’s Maharaja. “Maharaja is a representation of the country as it was. There are people who are comfortable only with Air India.
People want to belong when they are on board a flight. They might want to chew paan while travelling first class on Air India. Sophistication, which say an airline like Jet Airways offers, actually puts them off.”
No wonder, then, the panel agreed that it is a matter of pride that Air India survived even in the thick of times, when legendary carriers like Pan Am, Sabina and TWA have all gone bust.
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The consolidation in the airline industry is an example in point. Say, when the no-frills carrier Deccan changed into the lavish, pompous reds of Kingfisher. “This is where business dictated branding. The connect Deccan would have with Kingfisher is distinct but not seamless. After the makeover, the Kingfisher flier has a problem. It is the same red and that guy is paying a lot less than what I am paying and still enjoying ‘Kingfisher service.”
Does that mean brands are seen differently after companies have merged?
Perhaps. Girish Shah gave an example: “Tata was seen differently after it acquired Corus. The same happened after Nano was announced. There are certain things that might come about because of these which no amount of ‘Tata Crucible’ can do.”
There has also been many a brand that have morphed into a forward-looking one, with its modern products supported by youth-led brand imagery. Sridhar cited the example of Bajaj. “Bajaj was rejected in the 90s because it was ‘my father’s’ brand. Changing your commercial would be shallow unless you have a product that addresses the market’s needs. Then Bajaj came out with Pulsar. This means the change has to happen from within.”
So which are the brands that are in urgent need of going under the knife?
Bijoor says the Government of India deserves to top the list (“at least the customer-facing parts”). “Even the Indian Police Service needs a facelift. Media brands like Doordarshan should try and use its legacy to establish a connect with newer audiences,” he said.