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BW Businessworld

"India Is The Most Vibrant Consumer Market Today"

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As the co-founder of chlorophyll brand consultancy, Anand Halve has seen advertising and brand management come of age in the last few decades. As successful author, in his new book Darwin's Brands: Adapting For Success (Sage Publications), he applies Charles Darwin's theories of natural selection to understand the survival and extinction of brands. In an interview with Businessworld, Halve talks about the evolution of successful brands and the constant need to adapt, the impact of social media on brand building strategies as well as the internalisation of Indian brands.

Your book clearly illustrates brands that evolved, and hence the 'Darwin' in the title. How did you select these brands?
I applied three criteria:
Provenance: The brands should have demonstrated the ability to evolve over a reasonably long time. I looked at brands that had done so over approx. 25 years. The reference comes from yesteryears when successful films which played for a silver jubilee were declared hits.
Indian ecosystem: I chose brands that had done this in India — even though some brands are not of Indian origin (for instance, Nestle's Maggi)
Competitive environments: I looked at categories that had been exposed to changes; in competition, consumer thinking, product evolution, etc. There was no point looking at say, petroleum companies, whose fortunes have been determined by government policies.

However, the actual brands chosen reflect my personal biases and interests. For example, in media, one could have chosen India Today just as well as Femina, but I found the changing Indian woman more interesting.

In Darwin's theory of evolution, a large number of species perished. Are there similar brands to the ones you chose that perished due to their inability to evolve?
Of course, the premise — and the title — would be redundant if it were not so. Here's a list of examples of brands that could not adapt, belonging to the sectors from which I chose my Darwin's brands: Polson Butter, Eve's Weekly, Rajdoot motorcycles, Campa Cola, Standard Motors (Standard Herald cars.

A number of the examples you have chosen are Indian (Amul, Asian Paints, Femina, Saffola etc.) brands and very few are MNC brands. Is there any particular reason for this?
All the brands whose stories I have narrated are 'Indian stories' in the sense that they are stories of evolution of brands in the Indian 'ecosystem'. I have covered some international brands such as Cadbury Dairy Milk and Maggi. However, even in these cases the context is Indian. I believe India is the most vibrant consumer market today, and it is the stories from this market that need to be told to the world.

The brands you cite as examples had a heavy dependence on print and TV advertising in their early days. What happens to brand evolution now as social media gets larger and media consumption patterns change radically?
Evolutionary challenges never cease. Brands will still have to adapt to changes…only, they may have to learn to cope with some new 'environmental factors', such as created by the changes in media consumption. Let me use an analogy. Perhaps in some early days, a person in the mountains only needed to worry about the cold. However, with climate change, maybe he will now also have to learn to cope with landslides and flash floods. Well he will just have to adapt to this too!

Do brands adapt due to something in their DNA, or are they external conditions that make them do so?
External  conditions impose the need to adapt. For example, climatic change might make an environment colder. But it is the internal conditions— more body hair, more fat storage capacity and the intelligence to invent fire, that will save some of those exposed to the climate change.

In your opinion, with a range of Indian brands — Marico, Dabur, Tata — now going international, how will they evolve further and in what ways will this affect their established image within India?
It is still too early to talk about these forays. Indian companies are still taking their first tentative steps. Sometimes, it is still done through acquisitions (where the brand is still not Indian). But this gives me an idea for a book I could write 25 years from today.

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