Anand Halve

'Combinatorial' categories

There is a marketing conundrum as old as the expansion of product categories itself: the battle between the high-volume lure of low-priced products, and the attraction of the prestige of low-volume high-priced products. These East and West twain of the marketing did not meet for a long time. So there was a Mercedes and there was a Volkswagen. Or Parker pens and low priced quasi-brands.

But lust for volumes beckon prestigious brands to lower price points. And the search for corporate ego satisfaction propels low priced brands to develop higher-priced "premium" variants. Consider the number of products in which we have seen the emergence of ‘Combinatorial' categories that offer - like a mythical ‘trustworthy lawyer' - the ultimate delivery of what we desire.

Now, this search for the impossibly perfect partner is pardonable in the search for a spouse in an arranged marriage. However, we all know that such a combination is more of pipe dream than a real possibility. But the temptation is too much, and the search for the ‘impossible combination' goes on. Occasionally it can lead to falling between two stools of what consumers want, and yet, sometimes can create new markets.

Where it doesn't: faux class

Some years ago the term "Masstige" started making its appearance in media and in interviews given by marketing professionals. Offering the best of unaffordably priced ‘premium, luxury' offerings and cheap and cheerful low-priced options. But markets are not created by lexicographers. And the term itself is an oxymoron: by definition, a prestigious / premium product must be unaffordable by most people for it to have any cachet - it CANNOT be a ‘mass' product! Several brands in the luxury space have dropped price (often at the insistence of their ROI-obsessed investors) and discovered that it doesn't work. To ‘massify' a product is to rob it of its prestige.

Where it works: smart casuals

In matters of attire, for a long time, there were two somewhat extreme opposites, without there existing any form of continuum. The striped club tie and the charcoal grey suits represented the formal option. And weekend wear - jeans and t-shirt - represented the opposite end - the casual option. However, as society became more informal and yet had to deal with ‘formal' occasions, the idea of "smart casual" dressing created a genuine via media. This option was in a sense both created and leveraged by Allen Solly (I think it was in the early 1990s) through the idea of Friday Dressing.

Where it works: fusion food

Another area where we have seen this work beautifully is food. Marketers - and most of all the local food stalls and restaurants - have discovered that the way to a consumer's heart is through a menu that combines the unimaginable! Pizzas with paneer or kheema toppings on the one hand and chocolate-flavoured mawa-barfis on the other, show that at least on the tongue, the East and West shall meet in a delightful melange. (Note however that WHO is performing this alchemy matters as well; the local mithai-wala added chocolate barfi to his range and succeeded, but Nestle failed when they tried to introduce Indian mithais)

Where it works - and doesn't;t at the same time.

The category of ‘Self-help books' is in a class by itself as an oxymoron. Books with titles such as: How to develop self-confidence;

Think and grow rich; and of course the all-time classic: How to win friends and influence people. I have just one thought: if I could do it myself, why would I need a book for it! But there seem to enough takers for the idea.

Summing up

In a world where people "want it all" one can expect to see many more such experiments in ‘bhel puri' products. However, as the story goes, Isadora Duncan, celebrated dancer, once said to George Bernard Shaw: "You are the greatest brain in the world and I have the most beautiful body, so we ought to produce the most perfect child" His reply was: "Yes, but what if the child inherits my beauty and your brains?" C'est la vie!

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