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.... Fourthly, even when such tricks yield short term sales, it happens at a high cost and at a huge brand loss. That's a lot to loose apart from the possible penalty the courts may decree -  all for the thrill of getting at your competitors with a wacky stuff. The brands that are hit with the nuisance can of course make more by seeking a ransom for sullying. The chances are good and sure if the brand loss is articulated right.

 

  26 July 2008

  The Attribute - Unwise

Would you, as an owner, like your brand to be called 'unwise'? Would you, as a stakeholder, like your brand to catch the attribute 'unwise'? Would you as a consumer consider buying a brand that's 'unwise'? These kind of questions to those who run dubious promotion programs always provoke instant defensive answers - - 'no, but on the contrary, that's smart marketing'. And a lot of hallow arguments would follow, in justification.

  

Pantaloon which asked the consumers to be smart rather unwisely, some time back, is out with the teasing game again. Last time, for their Big Bazaar, the billboards suggested; "Keep West-aSide", "Shoppers! Stop", "Change Your Lifestyle" and Make a Smart Choice".  Though the taunt was unmistakable, it escaped any reprimand due to tactful execution. Perhaps, enthused by mere murmurs on that, the big group has become ruthless this time in offering 30% plus a 10% extra discount on their stuff at the 'Central' at Gurgaon, against presentation of the loyalty cards of other shops specifically mentioning; Shoppers' Stop, Life Style and West Side.

Hard chance they can be lucky this time. The court has put the ad on hold and has asked them to walk-in, to face the blame. In blatant cases like this, companies invariably slip into a trap with no option but to fight with silly arguments against straight forward charges. Pantaloon is in the same pit and is preparing to argue at the court that the advertisement is not unethical, not unprofessional and not a violation of any thing. It has already rolled out a few, claiming "it was a pure marketing initiative" and explaining; "Customers own multiple loyalty cards but they still have the right to choose wherever they want to shop". Pantaloon would find it hard to slip out and would only make it harder with any more explanation.

 

Or can they? In a land where brands like Amul and Lux underwear survive, brand offenders can always find ways out. Yet, this case, against all impossibilities has the potential to put some fear in those who work-up the marketing theory the wrong way. Against the widely accepted tenet that a trademark cannot be used without sanction, this one is about audacious misuse of competitors' brands with the intent to make good with. That's the real catch. But, I believe, the case has real grains to seek damages the other way round than to argue saying "there isn't a cause for the fuss".

 

Is there any brand-sense in the kind of tricks? Do they return any great benefit? Do they yield at least average marketing advantage? Do the targeted competitors lose anything? Or, do they stand to indeed gain? Foremost, those who believe in mocking competitors should know that the approach, even with a great work, is called a nasty trick, not a tactic. Though these campaigns sound smart they are actually not seen as such. 'Cheap' is the word that sticks fast to the brands with such work. Secondly, such campaigns do catch a lot of attention and therefore create greater awareness. But the campaign creates as much awareness for the competitors' brands too - -  free. Worse, the awareness happens to be positive for the competitors and negative for the company, with the damage in proportion to the awkwardness of misuse. Thirdly, such campaigns invariably happen at the cost of one which could have positively impacted the brand and sales. Fourthly, even when such tricks yield short term sales, it happens at a high cost and at a huge brand loss. That's a lot to loose apart from the possible penalty the courts may decree -  all for the thrill of getting at your competitors with a wacky stuff. The brands that are hit with the nuisance can of course make more by seeking a ransom for sullying. The chances are good and sure if the brand loss is articulated right.

 

Strangely, the trigger for this piece is not the ad but a report on it in the Mint on the 12th, in which, it was mentioned that the ad in dispute "appeared on 28 June in The Times of India, published by Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, which competes with Hindustan Times published by HT Media Ltd, also the publisher of Mint". Wonder if that's any kind of take on competition? With the kind of 'Shoot Yourself' strategies marketing is indeed turning crazy.

 

Adve Srinivasa Bhat

Management Consultant

 
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