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BW Businessworld

Analysis: Bold But Dangerous

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A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.
— Marshall McLuhan

Adrian sat back. He was pleased as punch." And perhaps he has reason to be. But let us go over it again, shall we? In this case, Adrian makes several relevant points but his core concern remains the same. Shock has its value in advertising but it cannot become so overpowering that it dwarfs the brand.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. As the case cannot detail the state of the brand or the entire brand execution plan, I have presumed that things are desperate for Adrian to discuss and debate the issue at such length.

Youth-ification (and its better-named cousins) was, is and will be the mantra of many a brand, who realise that the TA has changed faster than the brand and now finds the brand ‘fuddy duddy'. The challenge here is magnified by the fact that the category itself is losing relevance to the young, at least on the core benefit of keeping time. Dushyant Verma, the bright, articulate and young brand manager has excellent clarity of thought in understanding this and finding a relevant platform for the brand to claim as its own (I was reminded of the samay of "Main samay bol raha hoon" fame from the television serial Mahabharat). But the execution of ideas does not inspire the same confidence.

Given the huge deluge of messages (a study says the number of messages we get have grown by a factor of 10 over the past century — these include all messages including interpersonal interactions), many more brands today resort to shock as a means to stand out in the clutter. But it is risky as Adrian well realises.
A few things Frequa needs to consider while deciding on this positioning and campaign:
First, Frequa watches are but a small part of a larger portfolio of precision sports accessories and sportswear, and shockwaves of Frequa watches advertising will be felt by all the others. So if this is not a positioning that suits Frequa, the master brand, then there is a very clear case of creating a sub-brand that can be more risque.

Second, there is a clear need to identify the source of business. The various approaches like "Frequa Brave Minds awards for 20-35-year-olds, Game Changer awards for 35-55, and so on" may mean that instead of finding some meaning across various age groups, the brand may be left with a confused personality that finds meaning with no one in particular. To use a cliché, Dushyant, Barrun and Adrian need to choose whom not to target more urgently than whom to target, with the sharply divisive positioning they seem to be veering towards. Dushyant does realise this. A young adult, still in the process of figuring out the world, is far more at ease in a place where the grown-ups are showing signs of discomfort. And that is exactly why the brand cannot attempt to appeal to every age group. Choose, but choose wisely.

Third, the product also has to change. Smart and differentiated advertising will be the best way to kill a fuddy duddy product. One can imagine that Dushyant would have thought this through, and has some smart product aces up his sleeve. Having chosen the source of business — the young adult, as that seems to come  through — Frequa must create a line of products that would appeal to this TA. The white, black and the steel-grey dials will not do the trick anymore.

Now, the execution. Dushyant's attention to detail in his fantastic articulation of what the brand's positioning needs to be, is missing when it comes to execution. So while the positioning is coming out of insight and reason, the execution is coming from a point of view that is perhaps not connected. I find it hard to accept the Infosys CSR example that justifies advertising's tangential track. CSR is always about enlightened self-interest. An oil company is best placed to talk about environment protection since they are the ones causing it the most harm. A liquor company is the best placed to talk about drunk driving — it softens the brand's image and makes it a responsible citizen, rather than the one responsible for the misdeed! The Priest in the Pub ad will shake me by the shoulder and then leave me cold (Am I being too old-fashioned?).

I must admit that some of the other execution ideas that Dushyant spoke about do have the potential to have a similar impact without being offensive. And it is a dangerous assumption that the young will not find it offensive. Finally I must warn Dushyant that I may not want to buy a brand that is also worn by a priest of the pubbing-and-slurring-over-a-sexy-girl variety. But then maybe I am not the TA anymore.

The author is president of customer strategy and CEO of Future Media and T24 at Future Group. He is an avid student of advertising, marketing and consumer behaviour

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-05-2012)