Jul 17, 2008

Mktg - On this & that

Twenty-five is one of those magic numbers. A number selected from many others to mean something special. So you have the silver jubilee or the silver anniversary and so on. The last week of June was full of nostalgia about the year 1983. It was, asmost of us know, the year Kapil Dev and his little fancied team brought home the World Cup. It also firmly established Kapil Dev as one of the all-time greats of Indian cricket.
I remember inviting Kapil to be the Chief Guest for an Abby awards function in Mumbai. Well-meaning advertising people kept reminding me that better speakers than him had been booed off the stage in Mumbai. It was with a little trepidation that I gave him the mike to address about 2,800 advertising fanatics in Mumbai.
I needn’t have worried at all. The advertising fanatics were all cricket fanatics as well, and Kapil was God. He spoke from his heart and the crowd responded magnificently. The advertising community was celebrating a great brand and Kapil was to become a great favourite.
It is a pity that in 1983 India was still shackled by its economic policies and could not do full justice in marketing terms, to the great World Cup victory. Yet, 25 years on, with cricket being the ruling deity for the mandarins of marketing, what with the heady success of the IPL, and with the nation’s great success story just slightly marred by galloping inflation rates and political uncertainty, the country looked back at its moment in the sun and savoured the sweet symphony of success. The fact that the magic moment of 1983 had never been replicated in India added to its greatness.
The proliferation of media, the continuing popularity of the stars of 1983, such as Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Kris Srikkanth, probably made the silver anniversary of that great day even more special. All in all a stirring reminder of how media can help preserve and re-kindle memories of another day.
To me, 1983 is special for another reason. It marked the beginning of an era in the automotive history of this country that has made the Nano and the Jaguar/Land Rover deal something we can now take pride in. The year marked the launch of the Maruti car. The automobile story in India will always be divided into two clear segments. The period before the Maruti and period after it.
For those born after 1980, all this might sound rather melodramatic and exaggerated. It is difficult to blame them. We now have a choice of several cars with several variants in several segments. Before 1983 we had the Ambassador, the Premier and the Standard Herald. All of two-and-a-half cars. Their geriatric models commanded a price premium and a waiting period of several months, sometimes years.
The introduction of the Maruti changed all that. India got more that a new set of wheels. It got itself an industry, a commitment to quality and the right to choose. This is what made the new TV commercial from Maruti Suzuki special for me. Not that it had a great idea or outstanding production values. The nostalgia it evoked and the change it marked made me like the theme “India drives home in a Maruti”.BSNL/MTNL: Ringing in change
I am not sure how many people see the difference between BSNL and MTNL when they see a TV commercial for either of them. In places like Mumbai and Delhi, one gets to see commercials for both these entities and the difference sometimes blurs.
You almost forget that they are distinct entities. Sometime I feel that this accidental state of affairs is fortuitous. If there comes a time when these entities are merged (as we keep reading about in the newspapers), an integration of image at least, will not be too difficult.
After years of being in denial, both corporations have realised that the customer now has a choice and is exercising it in ways other that their way.
The bureaucratic maze that ordinary citizens are subjected to by the government have now tied up these two corporations and by the time they are allowed to order equipment, the competition surges many miles ahead. With capacity constraints, and the Ministry in no mood to let them function in sync with today’s market realities, there is very little they can do. Yet, I am pleasantly surprised to note that BSNL has been active with the perky Priety Zinta endorsing its brand.
Maybe the current advertisement where Ms Zinta rejects an arranged marriage proposal because the “boy’s” side does not have a BSNL landline is a little contrived, but I would give them an ‘A’ for effort. The other TV commercial showing a young man rapping about the benefits of a BSNL broadband connection was something that could actually help make the younger generation change the mindset they probably have about BSNL and MTNL being dinosaurs.
Similarly, MTNL earned brownie points for the humour it infused into its advertising, and the product innovations it is now coming up with.
Its recent high-powered launch positioned its landline as a substitute to the cable operator and the dish antenna. A refreshing slew of initiatives from a public sector undertaking!
Now that it seems to have got a part of their advertising on track, one wishes they get their expansion plans going and really give the big boys a run for their money.
After all, one really should not forget that it was the introduction of MTNL and BSNL mobile services that made the private sector mobile service providers bring down their almost extortionist rates.
It proves the point that any monopolist would indulge in predatory pricing. Private sector companies could add the finesse of a loose cartel as well. It also tells us that markets have short memories.
No one switched from their service provider when they realised they had been taken to the cleaners on rates until the government companies stepped in. They were happy to forgive and forget as long as they got good service, and were exposed to fantastic brand-building.
Meanwhile MTNL plodded with its Dolphin services, unable to really take the big leap. Yet we owe it a small debt of gratitude for making mobile telephony cheaper for all of us. And as MTNL never forgets to remind you, “MTNL Hai, tho Sahi Hai !”
(Ramesh Narayan is a communications consultant.)

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