The author looks at some of the most memorable stories from the Ramayana and sees how the learnings from there can be applied to a brand launch.
The airing of the Ramayana during the lockdown garnered a viewership well beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. While the reasons for that could be the subject matter of a dedicated article, my piece today is about the lessons this great epic has taught us. Not for life in general but from a branding point of view. What I have done today is looked at some of the most memorable stories from the Ramayana and seen how the learnings from there can be applied to a brand launch.
Two caveats before you read on... my stories are based on what I have read and not the TV show, so I am not sure if these tales were covered on air. And two... the chronology of the stories below is not true to the epic but they are sorted basis the application of the lessons in a brand launch.
Lesson #1 Right timing
Lesson #2 Aerial perspective
Lesson #3 Make it public
Lesson #4 Authenticity is key
Lesson #5 Yes it matters
Lesson #6 Assess the reality
Lesson #7 No holds barred
Lesson #8 Acknowledge your boundaries
We are all familiar with the story of Ravana’s brother Kumbhakarna. His boon, that turned to a curse meant that he slept for six months and stayed awake for the next six months. Now, waking him up meant extreme danger for him. Nonetheless, desperate during the war, Ravana ordered his brother to be awakened. Alas, wrong timing meant a sure death for Kumbhakarna.
Similarly, right timing is critical to the launch of a new brand. Are the audiences ready for the product.? Is this the right month or season for the launch? How intense is the competition at the time of launch? The answers to these questions may often be the basis for success or failure of the said brand.
I have read slightly differing takes of this tale, but the lesson remains unchanged. Rama’s monkeys were tired and frustrated as their search for Sita continued to be unsuccessful. This is when they came across Sampati, the brother of Jatayu, the vulture who had laid down his life in trying to defend Sita from Ravana. When Sampati heard of the plight of the monkeys he asked his son to fly over the sea with the monkeys on his back. It was only then that they spotted Lanka. And, Sampati’s son with his vision even spotted Sita in the Ashok Vatika.
The lesson is a simple one. Get a macro view of things before planning your strategy. And where you identify a need, get a closer look or deeper insight. Jumping into a launch before understanding all aspects of the market or category would mean entering unprepared. And I don’t think I need to tell you how catastrophic that could be.
An example that springs to mind is the Arch Deluxe Burger launched and promoted by McDonald’s as a burger with a sophisticated grown up taste. Now, families that walked into McD’s for some happy together time, sharing more than just stories at their table, couldn’t quite find a place for this 'adults only' burger. A bird’s eye view of why families enjoyed McD’s would have probably pointed out that this burger didn’t fit into the bonding rituals of its patrons.
While this story is about selfless sacrifice, the lesson I have drawn from it is a bit lateral. When we talk of the Ramayana, I think it is fair to say we are referring to Valmiki’s account. Now a lesser known truth is that Hanuman too had written his version of the Ramayana. No doubt it must have been a much closer perspective on things, given Hanuman’s role in the epic. However, when Valmiki read Hanuman’s version, written on the walls of a mountain, he worried about the fate of his own scripture. This is when Hanuman’s uprooted the entire mountain and drowned it in the ocean. Keeping his Ramayana a secret forever.
My lesson is about the need to make sure everyone knows about your launch. Much like Steuart Britt’s famous quote, 'doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark'.
The way technology is intertwined in our lives today, while deep pockets are useful, innovative approaches often can be more engaging and also bring your brand to the attention of your consumers. Take Sriracha for example, putting the brand in front of Asian and then a wider community of chefs got it some well deserved rave reviews. Enough for consumers to take notice and give it a shot. Or another success story would be Go Pro with its user generated content shot on the device across Instagram and YouTube. Not only did it highlight the capabilities of the brand but also created enough buzz and persuasion to purchase.
When Vibhishana, Ravana’s brother joined Rama’s side, Rama promised that all who surrendered to him would be forgiven and that he would make Vibhishana king after the war. Sugriva on hearing this, asked Rama how he would keep his word to Vibhishana if Ravana asked for forgiveness. Rama said Vibhishana would still be made king... if not of Lanka then of Ayodhya. He would gladly give up his throne to keep his promise.
Before launching a brand we must be clear about what we are promising and then stay true to that. Authenticity comes from being honest about who we are and doing what we say we do.
Amul to me is the epitome of authenticity. A co-operative formed of the farmers, by the farmers and for the farmers. Even today, that truth remains at the heart of everything that Amul does.
This story is about a tiny little squirrel who helped the mighty monkeys to build the bridge to Lanka. As all the monkeys laughed at the little squirrel, Rama intervened. He showed the monkeys how the little rocks placed by the squirrel were actually holding the larger boulders together. Legend has it that the stripes we see on the back of the squirrel today are in fact from Rama lovingly running his fingers on the squirrel’s back.
The lesson is that every little bit is important while communicating about your brand. Today the touchpoints an advertiser has are innumerable and it would be a mistake to belittle any.
An example that comes to mind is Zara and Kate Middleton. When the Duchess wore an outfit of theirs a day after her wedding, it gave Zara quite the International lift.
The story made its way to an interesting Hindi proverb. Shabri ke ber - is a tale about how this lady tried every fruit before offering it to Rama to ensure he only got sweet fruits to eat. Laxman tried to protest only to be quietened by Rama.
The lesson - when the stakes are really high, a test run is not a bad idea. Often, a correction post a launch in a test market could end up saving a brand in the long run. India’s media isolatable markets make this a relatively more efficient from an investment stand point as well.
The Coca Cola Company first did this in India with the launch of Coke Zero on Amazon and more recently the launch of Sprite Zero through a tie up with Grofers. Coke used insights from on-demand sale on Grofers for Sprite Zero to identify and track consumer preferences and post-purchase feedback.
When Hanuman asked Sita why she wore vermillion on her forehead. She told him it was for Rama’s long life. On hearing this, Hanuman smeared vermillion on his entire body. Impressed by his devotion Rama christened him Bajrang Bali, Bajrang meaning vermillion.
The lesson for me in this is that when you believe a certain action or initiative is going to play a role in the success of your brand launch, go all out in making that action happen. Just paying lip service to your ideas is the worst thing you can do for your brand.
Sure you need to get creative to get seen and heard, if budgets are a concern. However, if you have the ability to invest in your brand. Nothing speaks better than your own confidence in your newly launched brand. Super Bowl is increasingly being chosen as the medium for promoting new launches. Expensive as it may be, it delivers on both reach and intent. A case in point, PepsiCo introduced two new products: lemon-lime Mountain Dew Ice and spicy Doritos Blaze on the Super Bowl.
One of the most famous stories in the Ramayana is that of the Lakshman Rekha. This was the boundary drawn by Laxman that Sita as not supposed to cross. It was only when she stepped over it that Ravana was able to abduct her.
Often being untrue to the core values of your brand could mean the devastation of all your hard work. It is best to identify what your brand limits are right at the onset to ensure you are the one paving the journey for wherever and whatever your brand grows into.
There are a number of amusing examples that spring to mind here. Cheetos lip balm tops the list for me. Much as I love Cheetos, the thought of using it as a lip balm just doesn’t appeal. I suppose, I wasn't the only one, no wonder then, this product failed to make the desired mark.
That sums up the brand launch lessons that I have learnt from the Ramayana. The next time you are on the threshold of a new launch don’t forget to start with a Jai Shri Rama.
(The author is senior vice president, FCB Interface.)