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Evolved marketing for an evolved consumer

A demanding consumer will ensure that advertising no longer remains discreet and polite. Overt comparisons with rival brands may well become the norm.

Harish Bijoor | Print Edition: April 4, 2010

Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL) has done the unthinkable. It resorted to an overt comparison of its brand Rin with the leading brand of its market competitor—P&G's Tide—on national network televisions for days together till the Calcutta High Court stepped in.

What HUL did with its "ambush-marketing" act was unprecedented. Ever since this controversy hit the headlines, there has been a raging debate on marketing ethics. HUL has been pilloried by many marketing and non-marketing people for the "unethical" practice of being "direct" in its comparison. I, though, beg to differ and want to raise a fundamental question: What's wrong with being direct?

The Indian consumer is very evolved today. Indian marketing is also evolving with the times. At the vanguard of this evolutionary process have been the two FMCG giants who are now pitched against one another in this battle of the brands. In fact, globally, including India, these two companies have heralded almost every marketing innovation we have seen in recent decades. In many ways, these two companies are, and have been, the opinion leaders in advertising. Companies that have pushed the envelope and led the way.

Even in a conservative marketing society like India, they have been trend-setters. I, therefore, see this "in your face" brand of advertising as yet another new phenomenon that will become acceptable in the Indian market gradually. HUL has only begun it. And begun the debate as well.

 HUL'S COMBATIVE ADVERTISING

  • In the Rin vs Tide Natural ad, the claim is of superior whiteness delivery of Rin based on independent laboratory test.
  • Tide has a substantial lead over Rin in market share, which perhaps explains why HUL has resorted to guerilla marketing.
HUL, in many ways, has shown that it has kept pace with the changing mindset of the Indian consumers. By making an overt comparison, HUL actually does what the consumer does. Compare overtly. Does your detergent give me whiteness that is really white? Does it do it all at a cost that is affordable?

And tomorrow: Is your detergent eco-friendly and green? If the consumer does compare brands in terms of their USP and delivery-capabilities, why cannot advertising take the lead and do the same? Openly without being slanted—which means that the facts have to be right, of course!

Brands have over time used every strategy in the book to promote themselves. In the beginning, it was all about a superior product that washed well. Then, the focus shifted to a product-based USP. For instance, the green, yellow or the blue detergent with micro-granules as well. And then it turned psychographic. The detergent gets your job done faster and frees up your time for family. Surf took the route of ecocorrectness with its "Do bucket paani bachana hai" campaign slotted on the route of water saving. And having tired of it all, it has now become a slugfest with a basic product superiority comparison game! Ouch!

BRAND WARS

  • PepsiCo vs Coca-Cola (2008)
    The ad tag line of Sprite, "Yeh hai Hindustan meri jaan" a Coke brand, was a take-off on Pepsi's "Yeh hai Yangistan meri jaan."
  • Jet vs Kingfisher (2007)
    After Jet acquired Sahara Airlines, its billboard said: "We have changed." Kingfisher's response "We made them change."
  • Cadbury vs Nestle (2009)
    Nestle mocked Cadbury's "Pehli tarikh" ad with the tag line "Kabhi bhi kha sakte hai."
  • Airtel Digital vs Big TV (2008)
    Airtel Digital TV campaign had the punchline "See you at home". Reliance ADAG's Big TV spoofed the ad.
I foresee much change in the rules of the advertising game. Wait for advertising which goes one step beyond in this "consumer integrity" game. Expect to see a Rin ad in the future where HUL harps on the superiority of its brand. And at the end of the commercial, expect a 10-second "integrity" statement emphasising that Tide is as good as Rin, and, therefore, dear consumer, do make an informed choice after testing product attributes.

In this entire market-evolution process, old definitions of what is right and what is wrong are bound to be questioned. The days of polite and discreet advertising may well be over. The consumer will love this integrity in advertising. The bottom line: If the consumers demand more straightforward advertising, so be it. Give it to them!

— The author is a brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

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