Yin And Yang

Fortunately for me, Advertising & Brand Building as a subject during my Management Education was taught by a practicing professional rather than an academician. Else, it would have been possible that my view of ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ would probably be the same as many others in this business.

I learnt that the western world views brands very differently from the eastern world. At least till the 80s or even the 90s, the western world indulged in ‘Product Brands’. For them each product was a brand unto itself. So you would find that any related product would only be line extensions. A classic example is Gillette.

Gillette is a product brand. It is so entrenched in ‘shaving’ as a category, that it would be impossible for any human being to consider Gillette as let’s say, a shampoo. The brand just doesn’t seem to fit the bill when it moves out of Men’s Shaving Care area.

Even large business houses which are considered ‘Gods’ of Brand Building like Coke in my argument would be a single product Brand. Other products are all with a different brand name. Consider this, Mazaa, Thums Up, Sprite, Fanta, Limca, Minute Maid, Kinley, Georgia.

But as we move towards the right side of the world map, we find that brands extend beyond a category and get into every possible space of business (products or services) and have been BLOODY successful. A homegrown example is Tata.

The Tata Group is a conglomerate of about 150 companies held by Tata & Sons. The businesses vary from Steel to Software to Salt. Multiple companies operate with the same brand name and the brand gets extended within and outside the line of products that they operate in. Another recent example is Reliance. You would find that all their operations are under the same name (barring Vimal maybe).

Is culture the answer?

The Eastern philosophy of branding endeavors to ‘milk’ the brand’s value to the fullest. It stems from our culture (I presume). The eastern world is more occult and has never run behind materialistic pleasures (until the last couple of decades, maybe). We have limited needs and have never been the gluttonous consumers that the west has always been. To us, we need to get the full value of every paise spent. Thrifty that we are, we end up milking the brand to its last drop of blood.

The West is the consumer. The use & throw world. And brands are treated pretty much the same way. Gillette would spend separately for Mach II, Mach III and shaving gel because each of them is a separate brand. Each has a separate P&L account and hence spends on them would be mutually exclusive. So what if Mach II would be retired or phased out once we put 3 blades in that small space!

The west has to use and throw the brand. The value of the brand would be lost once it gets phased out for whatever reason. However controversial it may sound, I think it is very difficult for any American company to straddle a brand across product categories successfully.

I am sure there are people who think otherwise. Any views?

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2 Responses to “Yin And Yang”

  1. A lot of successful brands at their core have developed a deep sense of trust with their customers,an important factor for any successful brand.

    Culture definitely has a role to play and that’s precisely why we have successful corporate/family brands such as Tata, Birla, Godrej, etc who successfully use the corporate brand to enter diverse segments and are successful because our culture places a lot of value on trust and reputation.

    We are socially more integrated, connected and dependent than than say the ‘west’ where individuality and independence is given importance. An example is our joint family systems. Even if today they are not as common in an urban setting, we still seek opinions, worry about what perceptions our relatives, peers or neighbours will have and even seek consensus, when we take decisions about important aspects or purchases. While some may say this has diluted especially in an urban setting it is still present at a sub conscious level in middle class urban India.

    I still recall on a research trip to rural south India , when i interviewed a customer on why he prefers tata steel, pat came the reply …because its made by ‘tata’ and I don’t have to worry about the strength or quality of their steel or the durability of their cars!

  2. Also forgot to add….word of mouth is a powerful tool for brand building in India today as much as it was in the last few decades.

    Just another thought, youth oriented brands could buck this trend. For example ‘fastrack’. Not many of the TG may even be aware of its TATA parentage. They may at best associate it with Titan.

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