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Madhukar Sabnavis: One day, one event, big impact

For brands, owning and promoting a special day could be a way to stand apart

Madhukar Sabnavis 

One big media decision in the nineties was “scheduling”. Should it be “continuous”, being present every month? Or “flighting”, being present for a month, going out the next, returning the third and so on? Or should it be “bursts”, spending money for six weeks and then being silent for the next six months, while hoping that the residual impact of the big burst will carry the brand through the period of no activity?

The final decision was often determined by budgets. Small brands with limited spends tended to opt for “bursts”, and this was not always out of choice; large brands opted to be closer to “continuous” — going for “flighting” as a cop-out. Reach, opportunity to see, and impact were the three factors that determined the effect of a campaign. Impact was achieved through the size and colour of press ads or the duration of the television commercial. Impact was a way to add to the stature of the brand — large sizes and colour gave the brand gravitas. Scheduling was rarely seen as a means of creating impact. If smaller brands did “bursts”, it was rationalised by telling oneself that one would be at least noticed when present.

The world has changed since then, particularly the media world. Today we have over 600 channels and more than 5,000 print titles, as well as many radio stations and multiplex and cinema options. Media fragmentation means the fragmentation of brand messages. Add to this attention deficiency, where consumers of media are paying less attention to what is being beamed – due to multitasking and over-busy minds – and one wonders whether the message being beamed is actually being taken in by the consumer. Television rating points for programmes have dropped from 50-60 per cent in the 1990s to single digits in the new millennium.

The need for impact in communication is never more than ever. With the commoditisation of categories and messages, brands and marketers need to find new ways of standing out. Heritage brands may still manage with continuous strategies — reminding consumers of their presence and leveraging past perceptions to drive current purchases. However, if brands need to shake up consumers in crowded markets, bursts of high-energy media presence and engaging messaging are the way forward.

This is where creating a day and owning it come in. Marketing folklore has it that Coke invented Santa Claus (with red-and-white colour and a friendly face) and made it synonymous with Christmas to spread the brand message of optimism and good cheer on a day that promotes such feelings. In India, Cadbury Celebrations has the opportunity to own Diwali in a unique way, by promoting the concept of “making someone else happy” in the season of cheer. It can, thus, bring back the true values and emotions associated with gifting during the season.

Again, marketing folklore has it that Hallmark practically created Valentine’s Day. The day essentially captures what greeting cards are all about: the expression of emotions to people we love. It represents more than an occasion to spend money and buy cards; it is the emotions and feelings that Hallmark, the brand, is all about. Again, Filmfare is about movies and stars. Its awards night has become such a strong property that the brand needs little else but that one day to make a strong impact about its presence and what it stands for.

Days could have more functional value. MRF “Rain Day”, created by the tyre brand in the early 1990s, is an excellent example. The brand seems to have de-prioritised a great idea, it seems, but through the 1990s it became emblematic of the first day of rain in Mumbai — a day eagerly awaited. It connected wonderfully to the brand and its category. Automobile owners were warned to check their tyres and ensure they were ready for slippery roads. Car check-up camps quietly urged owners to change tyres through a linked activation.

Investing only in a build-up to a special day could be a strong enough property to keep brands going through the year. There is potential in what a newspaper brand – Hindustan Times – did recently in January: a “No TV Day”. Just using the day to encourage people to read rather than watch could be a good anchor point for a print brand in an era when the written-and-read word is going out of fashion. A bicycle brand could consider a “cyclathon” day – much like the marathons that are becoming a craze in metropolitan cities today – and reinforce the healthy, environment-friendly idea of the bicycle vis-a-vis automobiles. In each case, the special day could become the culmination point of a few weeks of activity — and it can then grow in significance over time. Landmark days don’t happen overnight; by continuous investment over time, days can become landmarks. Just think about the Mumbai and Delhi Marathons — where they are today, and where they were six or seven years ago.

I often wonder why days like Diwali, Independence Day or Gandhi Jayanti are observed and celebrated. There are religious and nationalist dimensions to them, which helps to bind people. However, such days also represent the values that society and culture cherish and wish to espouse. All activities on these days are aimed at reminding people of, and thus reinforcing, these values. August 15 is about celebrating the value of freedom; October 2 is about telling us the importance of non-violence and truth in everything we do. Diwali is about duty and the triumph of good over evil. Over time, the symbolism of many of these may have been lost, and the days have become just occasions to stay home and engage in superficial, celebratory activities.

Brands have something to learn from this. If they can create a day that represents the values they espouse and invest in it consciously over time, the day – and the build-up to it – could be the new form of “burst scheduling” for a new millennium. In an otherwise cacophonous and attention-deficit world, where message and media are merging, this could be a way of standing out. One day, one event, big impact.

Something worth thinking about.

Views expressed are personal.  

First Published: Fri, March 02 2012. 00:26 IST