World Brand Congress 2010: What innovation in the marketplace means today

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | November 24, 2010
Advertisers and agency heads came together to discuss the term 'innovation' and what it means to brands.

On day two of the World Brand Congress in Mumbai, advertisers and agency heads came together to discuss the term 'innovation'. The panel consisted of Anisha Motwani, director and chief marketing officer, Max New York Life Insurance; R Balakrishnan aka Balki, chairman and NCD, Lowe Lintas India; KV Sridhar, NCD, Leo Burnett India; and MG Parameswaran, executive director and CEO, Draftfcb+Ulka. Rahul Kansal, chief marketing officer, Bennett Coleman & Co chaired the session.

Kansal started off the discussion by saying that the pace of change has been altered today. "Some years ago, fashion used to come and go after some time; today, it comes and goes in days. You have to learn and unlearn each day," he said. Also, the need for advertising to have so much engagement power has placed a new onus on creativity.

Parameswaran spoke about how brands can be built by amplifying innovation -- "by taking a whisper and making it loud". He went on to share four examples of brands that his agency has worked on over the years. The first of these was Tata Indigo CS, which was positioned at the world's first compact sedan. At a mileage of 23 kmpl, it was the most fuel-efficient sedan. Therefore, the agency took this data, amplified it and built communication around this. The result was a 40 per cent increase in sales within three months.

Similarly, Digene, whose closest competitor is Gelusil, has been innovating with variants and new packaging over the years. The brand came up with a new proposition -- a product that cures acidity, but doesn't need to be dissolved in water, as is the case with Eno. The agency took this factor and made a noise about it. Again, sales doubled within three months of the launch.

The next instance he shared was that of Honda Pleasure, the scooter for girls. The agency decided to give the brand an exclusivity factor for women and say that it was not meant for boys. What followed was the Priyanka Chopra ad that said, "Why should boys have all the fun?" The agency went on to win an Effie for the campaign, and sales have exceeded targets by 90,000 so far.

The final example he shared was of Tata Docomo. When the agency handled the launch, Tata Docomo was the sixth, seventh or even the eighth telecom player in different markets. The challenge, therefore, was to stand out. Tata Docomo thought of the 'Pay per Pulse' feature, but since others had tried it and it hadn't worked in the past, they were sceptical.

Parameswaran shared that they realised that the consumer didn't understand 'Pay per Pulse'. Thus, the terms, 'Pay per Second' and 'Per Second Billing', were coined. Since then, incidentally, other players have followed suit. The campaign was, "When life can change in seconds, why pay in minutes?" The challenge here was also to not seem cheap but young, smart and cool, which the campaign managed to achieve. Within three months, Tata Docomo became number one in terms of net additions.

Parameswaran concluded his presentation saying that while marketers looked for product differentiation; an agency's function is to take that differentiation or innovation and amplify it.

Motwani followed with her thoughts on how brands need to be reinvigorated. She drew a metaphor between humans and brands saying, "Brands need spas too. While people come and go, buildings rise and fall, what remain are brands. Brands mirror the lifecycle of humans. They age, and over the years, they need revitalization too."

Changing contexts mean that content needs to keep pace. While people are changing, a brand's first reaction is usually a knee-jerk one, where a short-term tactical approach is followed. What brands need is longer-term vision, and not how to garner share in the first couple of years before the staleness sets in.

"What strategies can a brand employ? How do brands resurrect themselves?" She questioned. Her suggestion was that brands should reinvent themselves to become "contemporary classics" like the Beatles. The band has stayed true to its offering, yet moved with the times.

Another way for a brand to "go to a spa", she suggested, is to have multiple avatars to take on short- term attention spans. "Design for shorter lifecycles, keeping the chassis the same -- the way Google reinvents its logo," she pointed out.

Brands could also adopt the "bowling alley strategy", where they can pick up different market segments one at a time and focus on these.

She also urged brands to set aside 10-15 per cent of their total budgets to experiment and take risks, because if it works, it will do wonders for the brand. "Change needs to be more revolutionary than evolutionary, as people are changing at a revolutionary pace," Motwani concluded.

Next, Leo Burnett's Sridhar decided to step back from brands per se and took a look at 'innovation'. "What is innovation? Innovation is trying to provide a solution to a problem," he said, going on to share examples of how people across the globe have come up with different innovative solutions to problems.

One example he cited was of the Aqueduct bicycle, which was created for people who need to travel long distances to get water. With the Aqueduct bicycle, they can store water in a tank of sorts on the cycle, and as they cycle back home, the water is purified using an in-built mechanism.

A second example was of the Q Drum, a low-cost, doughnut-shaped, rollable water container, which people can fill and roll along as they walk back home, instead of having to carry heavy vessels on their heads.

He also shared examples of ordinary people creating great solutions for their problems -- a young girl from Kerala created a mini washing machine that worked on the cycling principle, to help her father save on electricity bills; while a dwarfed man reworked his scooter to travel with ease.

"In the first example," Sridhar pointed out, "the Aqueduct was created by people sitting in a lab, but the innovation is too expensive for people to buy; while the second was created by someone who had lived with the people in developing countries and then created a solution, similar to what ad agencies do when they try and understand the target audience."

But the third example, he said, is what is happening today around the world. People are taking control; they aren't waiting anymore. Thus, brands need to make people part of their brand stories, take them and move with them.

"Seventy per cent of innovation in gaming happens by consumers," shared Sridhar. "People have a say -- we don't own brands; people own brands. Innovation must find purpose, listen to people and then let them co-create or co-author your brand story."

Balki came on next and commended Sridhar's efforts to create an original Indian typeface, the Gandhi font. However, he added that he didn't totally agree with Sridhar about innovation being a solution to a problem. "Innovation is not something we need. It creates desire -- you want it; but you don't need it." He cited the example of Apple's products. "These are innovations, but we don't need them. We love them; hence we want them."

He went on to say that not everything about branding and brand building worked on the basis of research. "I don't understand myself and my family and friends sometimes, so how in the world will I fathom what other individuals think and feel about different things? I believe it is very instinctual."

He shared that he uses research to see what part of his life it mirrors, not to know what a consumer wants or doesn't want. "A person brings in his or her personality into solving problems. It consists of a lot of little individual stamps. And if you remove subjectivity from advertising, it would be damn boring," he exclaimed.

A case in point is the latest Idea Cellular 'language barrier' ad, which shows four individuals making use of the Idea network to learn different languages and get by in cities where they don't speak the regional language. "This idea was not born out of a consumer need," pointed out Balki, adding, "Though it might have a disguise of a solution, it actually arose from a fantasy that if someone doesn't know a language, maybe he can just pick up the phone and ask his friend how to say the words. Then, he won't have to learn the language!"

He also opined that borderless media and creating a borderless brand is hugely exaggerated.

"If I want to talk to Indians solely, why should I worry about the communication being borderless? It's not like it is being beamed to the entire planet," he said, sharing that he likes that some communication is understood only by us (Indians) and not by others, and vice versa. Here, he shared examples of the recent Tanishq jewellery ad and the Camlin Permanent Marker 'Rudali' ad.

Balki also felt that with all the information being given out on marketing and strategies, consumers are starting to understand the "science of fantasy", and that is scary.

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