Abhik Santara
Guest Article

Woh Ranveer wala ad dekha, kya mast hai...

If you are trying to be something to everyone, you are probably being nothing to anyone.

I heard someone saying this in the club the other day and I thought, for a moment, how gratifying it is for the agency and the brand to hear these chatters. It is a delight for the marketer to generate such unaided responses for a campaign she would have done with the agency partner.

But do you see the irony in that statement? The curious advertiser in me made me walk up to this young bunch of people and inquire about the brand that they're talking about. Unfortunately, they couldn't recall the brand name, but vaguely remember it being for some new payments app.

The brand which has invested in getting Ranveer (Singh, Bollywood actor), making the film and hiring the agency, has no recall in the consumer mind. Worse still, it ran the risk of getting attributed to any other app, which those youngsters will consider downloading at any point. And the ad may be remembered because of the clever use of the celeb, or the funny punchline, or the visual storytelling – but never for the brand.

Abhik Santara, CEO & director, ^atom network
Abhik Santara, CEO & director, ^atom network

A very typical problem in the world of branding

The problem of unbranded/misbranded communication has always been there. Start thinking of some great communication that you remember, chances are that the good ones will be remembered by their brand names (Dairy Milk, Idea, Liril, etc.), some, by their stark storytelling (girl acting gay in front of her parents to get permission for a Goa trip, baby sardarji going back to his past life) and some by their distinct execution (Mauka Mauka, Hoodibaba, etc.). The degree of ‘brandedness’ in each of these three sets is very different.

But unless you are in advertising or marketing, recalling the right brand name may become quite difficult. Multiply the problem with 200 times more exposure to ads X shrinking screen size X 1/10th of attention span – and you will have a task larger than you think.

With increased density of content produced every minute by every brand, the question of 'branding it right' has become more relevant. The problem is further compounded by the short attention span audiences have on digital platforms. During the good old TV era, brands had to think multiple times before investing in producing a content, airing it, and doing the pre and post-research.

The topmost person would have been involved in the decision-making process as a large expenditure was involved. With the growing demand for always-on content (agile execution) and relatively cheaper costs to drive media KPIs on digital, it is mostly the junior managers, on the client and agency side, who are mandated to manage the day-to-day branding executions.

Therefore, fixing the right orientation for branding in every piece of communication has gained more significance in present times. The classical approaches, as below, are not always wrong (not always right either), but they are definitely not the most exhaustive toolkit.

  • Make the logo bigger and bigger and bigger.

  • The classical (and most unimaginative solution) is to stamp the ad from the beginning to the end with a big brand logo on the top right corner. Or, as a smart ad executive will point out, “It should not clash with the channel logo, so shift it to the left.”

  • Colour code the ad, which is to make the characters, accessories to sport the brand colour. That's why we see brand ambassadors wearing purple jackets and yellow pants.

  • Show the brand ambassador in every asset to drive cut-through (because he represents our brand).

Chances are, none of the above will guarantee you a sure-shot chance of a strong brand recall. And if you are really unlucky, it will make way for misplaced attribution (remembering your ad for your competition).

Well, there has been no scientific formula in getting this right, but through some careful planning, you may be able to mitigate the risk of suboptimal branding.

Here are a few suggestions on how to get your branding right, if you are a new brand in an old category, or building a new category:

  • Be consistent: Do as much consumer research as possible before fixing the communication angle. Post which, stick to it like a stubborn teenager. Don't relent under pressure from your agency to do 'hatke' stuff, or get lured by your competition doing experiments with various formats/designs. Consistency could come from execution (ZooZoos, Flipkart), storyline (Idea), or just a simple brand face (Pepsi). It is wise to run a boring ad for a longer period than to run many interesting ads in quick succession. (It also saves production cost, which can be deployed in media for wider reach.)

  • Following an always-on policy may lead to mostly wrong execution: If you have limited media money, make lesser creative assets. Just because you are paying your agency a monthly retainer, don't make them churn out layouts/videos by kilos. Your brand will be all over the place and you will come across as different things to different people. Organic reach is a myth.

  • Be brave or be rich: Hire a brand ambassador, only if there is a very strong fit/reason. Expecting an overused celebrity to give you a disproportionate share of mind, requires very deep pockets to spend on media, or the appetite to approve cut-through communication. If you have neither, try other ways.

  • Influence, not upset: Using multiple social media influencers to drive incremental reach is another mistake. Influencers come with their own personalities and the rub-off on your brand manifested through these multiple personalities, will make it schizophrenic. So, stick to the ones who suit your brand personality the most. Don't fall prey to reach and engagement numbers.

  • Short-term performance versus long-term equity: Your assets to drive performance should help build your brand equity as well. Focus on branding them as passionately as the film on TV. Zomato, Swiggy, and Paytm are great examples to support this theory. Try the ^atom's strategic tool called 6/6 to know more about this.

  • Fix tonality: Agree and negotiate hard, if needed, with your agency to fix the tonality of the brand. Get the decision-makers from both sides in the room. Only after it is sealed, hand it over it to the line managers (on both sides). Brand building comes with experience and without taking the credit away from young people who understand the digital medium much better, guiding them with the right ingredients to create a long-lasting brand is very important.

  • Right product placement: If your product is not part of your story and you are relying just on the product window at the end, you may run the risk of suboptimal branding. Focus on any storyline you deem fit, but keep your product at the centre of that story. (Product at the centre doesn’t mean that it is shown from the beginning to the end). Remember, organic consumption shots/brand presence only make the creative guy happy. This rule gains even more importance if you are building a new category.

  • Focus on the entire duration: Similarly, when executives from various digital platforms keep propagating the thought of 'focusing on the first three seconds', take it with a pinch of salt. Fevicol, Surf, Coke, and many such iconic brands are not built on putting the brand usage/placement in the first three seconds. Whereas, Apple iPhone shows the product throughout its stories.

  • Vanity metrics versus real measures: Don't get too tempted by vanity metrics on digital. It may look fancy on a ppt and may impact first-time consumer acquisition, but are not the only benchmark in creating enduring brands. Blind testing, spont scores, and repeat sales are very critical metrics for building a brand that will last.

  • Take a moment: Use moment marketing and the buzzword to stay relevant, smartly and frugally. You will put media dollars to promote them and it is not wise to put good money after bad. Choose moments/days which are aligned with your brand point of view and fix them in advance. If you are a home paints brand, supporting international mental health day is probably not aligned with how you want people to remember you. I am not saying that using moment marketing for generating conversations is wrong, but set off the journey with some trepidation.

  • Who to sell: Fix your marketing TG (and your marketing TG may be very different from your ad TG). Dove sells 70 per cent to the rural lower middle class consumers in India, do you think Caucasian models drawing beauty sketches makes any sense to them? Or, Apple using delivery boys to launch its new phone will ever cut ice with a CEO. Surprisingly, they do. So, be very clear on who you want to sell to and who could convince them to buy.

And, last but not the least, resist temptations. There are so many events and new platforms mushrooming every day that it is easy to fall into the trap of being seen everywhere. Don't.

If you are trying to be something to everyone, you are probably being nothing to anyone.

(The author is CEO and director, ^atom network)

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