Another round of comparative ads is on, this time between media giants. Does this oft deployed tactic actually work in favour of brands?

Another classic, no holds barred battle is brewing in the advertising space, where hitting ‘below the belt’ becomes a question of tactical, rather than ethical relevance. The battle is being fought for supremacy over the Chennai market, and the opponents are India’s leading newspaper brands – The Hindu and the Times of India. In an attempt to garner attention and awareness for its 4-year old Chennai edition, Times of India delivered the initial blow. Going by the Times of India’s advertisement in question, the people of Chennai are subscribing to a newspaper that is so dull and boring that it makes you go to sleep, as depicted by the sleeping man amidst the slow moving police drill or atop the political cavalcade. The attack, it seems, hit The Hindu where it hurt, and the latter responded in kind. Its campaign, which runs across print and television mediums, attempts to highlight the lack of awareness of its rival newspaper’s readers by showing various clips where the rival newspaper’s readers are asked quite simple general knowledge questions – none evidently is able to answer. Though the ad does not openly point out the giant, the silent mouthing by the featured individuals of their choice of newspaper makes the elephant in the room quite visible.

The country has been witness to numerous comparative ads over time, and undoubtedly, these ads are often fun to watch for viewers. But does directly targeting competition help you or leave you ill disposed?

In December 2006, the New Yorker quoted a 40 year study that documented that 66% of companies which placed more emphasis on defeating competition and getting market share than primarily on increasing profits, went out of business. A much cited analysis (on data spanning 45 years) by Dr. J. Scott Armstrong (Wharton) and Dr. Fred Collopy (Case Western) concluded that “firms should focus on profits, and not competition.” Even the classic Blue Ocean strategy authors Drs. C. Kim and R. Mauborgne of INSEAD repeat the rhetorical, yet powerful statements: “Stop benchmarking the competition”; “Turn your attention away from competitors”.

But what about our Indian markets then? P. S. Mann, Creative Director, RKS BBDO, feels targeting your competitor doesn’t work. According to him, consumers are more intelligent than they are perceived to be and therefore they do not base their buying decisions based on what they see in advertisements. He believes that even if the competing brand gets a negative image, the publicity won is enormous. Mohit Ganju, CMO, IndusInd bank, feels that comparative ads do not benefit anyone since they leave the customer confused, and while these ads create a lot of buzz, the noise surrounding them stops customers from taking a final decision.
 
When talking of comparative ads, the cola brands cannot escape mention. Pepsi and Coca-Cola are up there among the leading brands that made this concept popular in the Indian advertising world. Thums Up vs. Pepsi (Akshay Kumar’s car accident ad and the followup spoofs, 2008) and Sprite vs. Mountain Dew (The Do jhaadhi ke peeche spoof of Sprite, 2007) are popular in marketing folklore. So intense has been their battle that it even reached judiciary, when Pepsi took Coca Cola to court over their spoof where cricketers portrayed in a Pepsi ad were called monkeys (‘Don’t be a bandar, drink the thunder’ went the punchline). One problem with comparative ads is that they prove to be a whirlpool-like trap; where once a brand starts to fight, it has to deliver blow after blow when the opponent responds, or else accept defeat. Therefore they often turn out to be highly expensive ventures and should be undertaken by brands with fairly deep pockets. Moreover, some battles are inconsequential, whereas others have winners and losers. The Candico Mint-O campaign that positioned itself as ‘All mint, No hole’ to counter Polo’s ‘Mint with the hole’ campaign, was a brilliant concept. But the company could not sustain the brand for long and Mint-O finally was sold off to ITC.

A case in point when it comes to such campaigns going overboard is the billboard war between Audi and BMW, which began with Audi displaying its vehicle with a confronting statement saying, “Your Move, BMW”. It was followed by BMW putting up a billboard next to Audi’s saying, “Checkmate” with its car below it. Audi, not accepting defeat, replied by putting yet another billboard next to the two previous ones, with the statement - “Your pawn is no match for our king”. Below it was the photograph of its concept car. Heights were reached when BMW, not finding any more billboards to buy, brought in its inflated air balloon to place above the existing billboards, with the statement, “Game over”, above the picture of it’s F1 sports car. That marked the end of this battle, but the war wages on to this date.

This may be short if one goes by the standards of some other landmark campaigns. One of the longest running series has been the Mac vs. PC ads, where Apple continuously and openly derided Microsoft’s successive operating systems and the brand Microsoft was represented by a guy who looked like a far bulkier looking version of Bill Gates. While Microsoft kept responding to the campaign with ads of its own, Apple ran 66 ads between 2006 and 2010, and a general consensus is that Apple gained much more in comparison.

Something similar seems to be taking place in the current battle, with TOI coming out with a new advertisement, in response to (The) Hindu’s campaign that says, “Congratulating the competition for finally waking up to the Times of India”. Clearly, the brand recall is up for both brands in the fray – this very article being evidence enough of that. Yet, should not these giants give at least a considerate ear to international research that forecasts negative returns for companies focused on anti-competitive marketing? Well, before you say yes, the fact also is that Indian markets are quite unique and need not behave critically like their Western counterparts. The Indian consumer purchases products based on quite uniquely different parameters and that may well work for such anti-competition marketing campaigns. We’ll keep watching, and reporting (and by the way, did you hear about how our chief competitor A_ Age goofed up on its statistics big time?).

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2012

An Initiative of IIPMMalay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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Ferzad Palia, Senior Vice-President & General Manager – English Entertain-ment, Viacom18 talks about the group’s new venture comedy central

Expanding Viacom18’s English entertainment portfolio, the group is bringing popular foreign comedy channel Comedy Central to India, of course with a promise to spice it up with some local flavour. On this occasion Ferzad Palia shares some insides of Comedy Central with 4Ps B&M and explains how Viacom18 plans to maintain its leadership in the Indian entertainment industry.


A large part of Indian audience base still enjoy watching Hindi comedy shows. What prompted you to bring a full-fledged English comedy channel to this market?

We realised that there is a large chunk of urban audience who want to see more evolved comedy shows and were reaching out to various platforms to find it. With Comedy Central India we bring world’s biggest 24-hours comedy channel to India. We did an extensive research with an agency and found out that the urban audience who is under so much stress needs something that offers a genuine laugh and that is the philosophy of Comedy Central – Laugh it Off ! We want to offer them simple laugh, even if they do not know what the serial is all about, they are going to laugh. We tested the shows, the concepts and it turned out to be very positive for us. Our idea is to deliver clever and disruptive content to our viewers; titles that have been handpicked from across the globe, especially for India. We are showing mix of all genres ranging from sitcoms to sketch comedy, British comedy, stand-ups and gags, among others.

It is interesting to see these days that a lot of focus is given on promotional activities. How significant is this factor for a new channel like Comedy Central, or for other channels under Viacom 18?

We believe in creating brands and not just channels. If you talk about MTV or VH1, the channel and all its programmes today are brands that have a certain value attached to it. Yes, the first and foremost thing with Comedy Central is its channel, but we do not want to be bound in its limitations. Here, we would be doing a lot of merchandise activities, something to do with the characters and taking them everywhere, we would be exploring the whole gamut of comedy. There are a lot of LIVE events in the pipeline too. Through these we are providing a stage for Indian artists who want to groom their talent in English comedy. You can say we are leaving no stone unturned to establish Comedy Central as a ‘brand’.

What would you cite as the biggest USP of the channel? How are you going to differentiate your channel from others in the same block?
The fact that we bring some of the world’s best all time comedy shows to one channel is the biggest USP of Comedy Central. Shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, South Park, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, The Office, Seinfeld, The Wonder Years and That 70s Show are shows people yearn to see. We have also added Indian colours to the channel with shows like Kumar’s at 44. The biggest difference that sets us apart from Hindi programmes is the language and both formats have their own share of viewers. Our 80-85% of the target audience lives in the metros who fondly watches English comedy. So I would say we already have a distinguished audience for the channel. And since, it is a 24-hour comedy channel, one doesn’t have to wait for a particular time slot; whenever you put on Comedy Central you know you are up for a laughing session.
 
A lot of media houses are feeling the brunt of an erratic global market. How has it influenced Viacom18’s business?
Not much. All all our channels have performed well and businesses in 2011 have been above expectation. I can say that we have not faced a bad time like many other channels. All our brands are in the leadership position, be it in the General entertainment or English segment. And we expect to maintain the supremacy in the coming years too. All Viacom18 channels in India are doing extremely well and we’re confident that Comedy Central too will carve out its own space within no time.

Beside the conventional platforms for marketing, what different strategies are you planning for Comedy Central? What are your plans with regards to distribution?

We are doing massive through-the-line marketing across TV, print, outdoor, radio and digital. Our plan will involve strategic partnerships with lifestyle touch points, the target audience frequents like coffee chains, theatres, clubs, gyms, salons, shopping destinations and other hangouts. A lot of focus will be given on Below-the-Line activities. You will get to see us at unusual places, where channels do not opt to reach out to their target groups. For example, one can see Comedy Central at a chemist store or on a doctor’s prescription pad. We are saying look at the funny side of life. There are so many upsetting and annoying things happening around, so we suggest switch on Comedy Central and laugh it off. Social media is another space we are widely exploring. A large number of our target audience is active social networking site users, so it is important for us to have presence on Facebook and Twitter.

The distribution side is very well taken care of. We are available in approximately 20 million households in seven metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmedabad through digital cable, analog and DTH. And this is an adequate number for a kind of channel Comedy Central is.

If we talk about television TRPs and the whole mechanism of it, what according to you are the weaknesses in TAM research?
Well, to answer this candidly, already there has been a lot of discussion where we talked about the relevancy of TAM ratings and its methodology. TAM’s criteria has often been questioned by television fraternity pertaining to where these sets are placed and how such a small number out of millions of households watching television can give us a fair picture of the number one GEC or news channel. But then I would say there is no point in taking digs at the mechanism of TAM because TAM’s weekly result is the only medium for us to know the trend. So, it does show an overall trend going on television across various genres and it definitely helps in gauging audiences’ mood and sentiment. Since, it is the only system available for us to know a broad trend and details of viewers’ likes and dislikes, talking about TAM’s mechanism often becomes redundant and we largely believe that the TAM’s result are credible.

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Since expanding its footprint globally, the Italian coffee retailer has been making big investments in India and is opening a new line of coffee stores.

From Barista to Lavazza India, your operations in India have gone through quite a few changes. How do you see the brand evolving in the days ahead?

The way we have envisaged our business model is different from the traditional café management. We have introduced shops which are franchise-owned or managed directly by us. Lavazza entered India in 2007 when it acquired Barista (based in Bangalore), and Fresh & HonestCafée Ltd (based in Chennai). Over the past four years Lavazza has been in the process of consolidating its business. Also, we aim to further enhance our share in the dynamic Indian coffee market. Today, the Lavazza logo is present on all the three brands (Barista Lavazza, Fresh & Honest, Lavazza Espression) owned by the company.

Lavazza Espression is a completely new chain you’ve started. What’s the idea behind its launch, considering you already own Barista Lavazza, which you could have extended?

If you look at our Italian model, we never felt the need for a proper coffee chain. In Italy, Lavazza is mainly served in bars. But outside of Italy, the tradition of coffee drinking is totally different. So we felt the need to showcase our products and offer international consumers a standard experience of Lavazza in terms of environment, menu and products. Lavazza Espression is targeted towards those who like to experiment with new tastes, and share an affinity for the European way of life. Starting in 2007, we now have over 30 Lavazza Espression stores internationally, in cities like Barcelona, Turin, Dublin, London, Shanghai, Beijing, New Delhi, Chicago et al. We have opened our first Lavazza Espression shop in New Delhi, and plan to cover all the key metros in the next 12-18 months. Espression’s USP lies in innovation in the product’s offer and its original creative environment, marked by exclusive and very modern design.

What is your overall investment in the Indian market?
Since 2007 when we started in India, we have invested close to Rs. 600 crore in acquisition of Fresh & Honest and Barista. A large part of that money will also be invested in a new factory we are setting up in 7-8 months time on the Andhra Pradesh-Tamil Nadu border in Sri City, for producing roasted coffee.

Starbucks will soon launch its operations in India? Is that the reason for your new international chain?
We have an advantage over Starbucks in terms of making our first move in India in 2007. So we are no longer a newcomer to this market. Espression would have come here anyway, regardless of Starbucks coming here or not. Competition will only help the coffee culture grow in India. The market potential is huge and still very much open. Just to give you a perspective, in India the per-capita consumption of coffee is just 60 grams, while it is 5 kg in Italy, and the ratio between coffee and tea consumption is 1:7. So there’s huge growth potential.

Where do you place yourself in terms of increased competition in this space?
Right now CCD is the biggest player, and anyone who comes to India will have to face them. But we are not fighting any battle right now. We are positioned in a different space, we are not interested in numbers like opening 3,000 coffee stores around the country. For us coffee shops are a way to reach consumers. We are not dependant on it for business. Like CCD, Starbucks are the masters of coffee shops worldwide, they stand for the coffee shop business. For us it’s different, our focus is more on the retail side of the coffee business.

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