Friday, July 30, 2010

When Brand Happened to be a Synonym for Product Category

When I was 9 years old, I used to come across a small cottage in my locality where I always found some people reading something during the morning hours and also in the evening hours. One day I, impatiently, asked my brother, “whose house is this? And why do some people always gather here?" He said, "This is not anyone's house. This is a library managed by the municipal corporation, where people come to read “Samaj." I understood what he said, though you must be curious to know what Samaj is. It is a very popular Oriya newspaper which gained so much popularity at a point of time that it became a synonym for Oriya newspaper. Means people in that library used to read 10 to 12 newspapers including Samaj.

When i was 10 years old, once my mother gave me 2 rupees and asked me to bring surf powder from a nearby general store. I went with the money, and asked the shopkeeper to give me surf powder. He took the two coins from me, but instead of surf, he packed some amount of Nirma washing powder and gave it to me. I was hesitant to ask for a clarification. So I came back to my mother, and gave her the packet. She found the Nirma powder when she opened the packet. I thought she would blast at me as I got the wrong brand. But on the contrary, she said, "now, you can go to play. I will start washing your clothes." But I had to tell her the truth. I said, "mother, actually the shopkeeper gave me Nirma powder instead of surf powder." she said, "you don't know?! Every washing powder is called surf powder."

Similarly, there were many other products which gained so much popularity that they became synonyms for their respective product categories. For example, Xerox stood for all photocopy machines, Hero Honda for bikes, Nirma for detergent cakes, Bajaj for scooters. But that was long time (nearly two decades) back. Now-a-days, we hardly find any brand surpassing all the rest of the brands of a product category in popularity in such a drastic way that it can stand for the whole category. Means, now every low cost car is not 'Nano' for us, every mobile phone is not 'Nokia', and every toothpaste is not 'Colgate'.

Maybe this is because of the extensive marketing measures taken by every single product, covering all the possible mediums - print, outdoor, TV, radio, internet, mobile phone. none of the brands leaves any stone unturned to make it to the top, trying to reach every single potential customer. Good for them, but bad for us (consumers). Now, we have to pay much more than the actual production cost for every product. And end of the day, it is our pockets which are lightened to meet the cost of the extensive promotional measures they take to introduce us with the benefits of the products.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A call for promoting ‘Books’ on TV

Electronic media (TV, Radio, Internet) has been immensely popular in the advertising world specifically in the last two decades. While internet has been tightening its grip more and more day after day, Radio with so many private channels has added numerous users to its list, which has been contributed by the increasing use of mobile phones with FM Radio facility. Noteworthy to say that TV has proved itself to be the most entertaining source of media, and so much so that, it has virtually become one of the bare minimum necessities of people.

Now-a-days we find just about everything being advertised on TV. Advertisers use this form of media to promote almost everything starting from toothpastes to air-conditioners. What contributes more to the choice of the advertisers is that people can access hundreds of channels on the audio-visual medium. And every channel has its own target audience. For example, channel 'Ashtha' caters to spiritual, religious people or the senior citizens, whereas Star Plus has found its base in the lives of housewives. Because of this, the advertisers don't have to take much stress on deciding where to go and how to reach the target audience. They definitely get one or the other channel or channels to promote their products in a total effective manner.
However, the question that has made me scratch my head is that why they don't promote books on TV. This so happened that once I saw Chetan Bhagat's book '2 States' on a stall. I recalled one of my friends who is a big fan of the author. I called up her and said, "Hey, you know Chetan Bhagat's fourth book is on the stalls." She said, "I have already read it. I got the book two months back." It was such an embarrassing moment for me. After eight months of that incident, I was standing on a railway station with another friend when she found a boy reading the same book. She said, "Wow, people are still reading this book."

I realized that books are not properly promoted and we do not get to know about them at the right time. Do we still believe in the 'word of mouth' way publicity for books? Though we know that word of mouth reaches thousands of miles, it takes so much of time in this jet age. If they say, books are the best friends, why this friend takes such a long time to reach to people. What about a book we might love to read or need to read, but none of our friends knew about that. Will we never come to know about it? Thanks to the book stall owners who allow us to browse through the books. But that's not enough, not at all enough!

A philosophical/practical aspect of rains in Mumbai

There was no sign of rains.. I got down from the bus.. and had to walk 100 meters to reach the office.. talking to a friend about when the rains will start. He said, "you can never know.. rains in Mumbai is totally unpredictable.“ Surprisingly, at the very pause of his dialogue I felt rain drops falling on my head. Rains arrived, and within two seconds of arrival, it compelled me to run to a safer place - under a roof.
The whole day I was in office. In the evening I left for home. On the way, while I was in the bus, I saw couples walking under a single feminine (extremely colorful) umbrella.. conversing.. smiling.. wearing three-fourths, slippers. On the way, I saw many such scenes. It always feels good to see such positive side of life. Thanks to the rains which brought it out. Small children from the slums near Powai were sailing paper boats in the water-flows. They were so happy.. girls were in small frocks and boys wore tiny half pants only.. no foot wears.. some were kicking the water while singing some song which I couldn't hear due to the traffic noise.

It was raining heavily when I reached the station. Without a wind-cheater, without an umbrella, I had to walk to the platform which was again 100 meters away from where the bus stopped. I got drenched fully in just 5 seconds after getting down from the bus. Shivering and protecting my eyes from the rain drops, I moved forward. On the way, what I saw was that people with umbrellas, wind-cheaters are shouting, "give me one Vada Pao", "give me one Samosa Pao" at a snacks stall. Wow, they are so happy. I telephoned one of my friends in Orissa, and asked, "Is it raining there?" She said, "No, it's so hot over here." And counter-questioned, "Why, is it raining there?" I said, "Yes, it is. And I have got drenched fully." "O wow, you are so lucky. But don't be outside for long. You may catch cold.", she said. "Ok", I said, and disconnected the phone.

After climbing 20 stairs and getting down 20 stairs, what I found on the platform was really shocking. There were so many people waiting for the train. I heard someone saying, "Trains are running one hour late." And then, three trains came and went in a gap of 15 minutes each, but I couldn't dare getting inside. However, some people managed to get inside even with the Vada Paos in their hands. I wonder if that is what called "struggling" in Mumbai - getting into overcrowded trains while eating Vada Paos, and still shouting, "Ganpati Bappa! – Moriya!"

Finally a train came which was considerably less crowded than the ones just left; however, on a normal day, I wouldn't have chosen this one as well. So I got into the train only to be in it for next two hours for the journey that usually took me 40 minutes daily. Getting a seat was impossible. On top of that, the train stopped after every five minutes. After a few minutes, people were done with their Vada Paos, other snacks; talking to friends over the phone was also over. So everyone was busy in looking at each others' faces. People who were standing started dozing and people who were sitting were browsing through their age-old phones, maybe to discover something new even now. It was damn hot inside. Wind-cheaters were on, getting some space to remove them was impossible. Everyone was sweating.

Though it took me two hours more that day, I was happy that I could at least reach home. The only thing I did after reaching home was that I had my dinner and went to bed. The next day, when I got up, it was raining heavily again. I called up the same friend in Orissa and asked her, "Is it raining there now?" She gave the same answer, "No yaar, it's so hot over here.", asked the same question, "Why, is it raining there now?" "Yes, it is. You are so lucky", I said. She was confused as usual. I disconnected the phone without giving any clarifications as usual.

The Next 'Bandh' of the Series

First the auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers called a strike in Mumbai. Their demand was to increase the minimum fair as there was a fuel price hike. I don't know exactly how much more an auto-rickshaw driver spends on fuel now per trip, but I definitely know that I am paying 90 rupees for the fare I used to pay 65 earlier. However, considering the cost of living, the hike in the fare price might be justifiable. But there are many other questions waiting for answers.

Few days after the auto-rickshaw strike, the opposition got an issue and called a "Bandh" all around the country. The issue raised by them was the price hike – surprisingly not pertaining to any particular product but everything in general. People blocked roads, stopped trains, broke buses, closed shops, which resulted in a national loss of (what the newspapers claimed) 13 thousand crore rupees. The opposition calling a strike on the issue of price hike proved that the government is doing a fair job and not giving the opposition any issue to raise (even if there is any, that is not critical enough to be addressed). Maybe because of frustration and fear of losing ground, the strike-callers raised the most common issue with an intention to grab maximum attention.

Taking the chain of 'Bandh's into consideration, it can be said that there are lot more strikes waiting to be called. For example - public employees may go on strike demanding an increase in their travel allowance, being compelled by the fuel price hike. Anyway, private companies are on a total safer side in this case. They have been taking cost cutting measures in the name of 'recession' since last two years. So calling a strike by the employees, who are not sure of their jobs and are grateful to the companies for not kicking them out even during the time of recession, is far from reality.