Brand promotion or brand demotion

Written by Suhel Seth | Updated: Dec 16 2004, 05:30am hrs
If you stay in a metro and are even reasonably popular, then chances are that you will have been targeted for the many promotions that brands are today indulging in: from organising price discounts to demonstrations with freebies thrown in. Or from that ubiquitous game of golf to sponsoring polo or a marathon. But perhaps the question seldom answered is whether the promotion actually helps build the brand or not. The big debate, therefore, is not about whether event marketing has come of age: it is whether the Indian marketer has understood the efficacy of brand marketing using events and their like as an effective tool of either creating salience or preference or both

I am amazed at the lack of imagination amongst marketers especially of liquor brands: almost every company today has a blast and they even advertise it on television. Each has a DJ contest or a star parade in which they believe they are launching their brand of spirits in an effective manner but what comes of these events is quite another matter. Look at the recent rush with events such as polo. I have witnessed the polo season, which has just ended in Delhi, throw up weekly sponsors for the game.

Does no one in brand marketing realise the long-term potential and advantages of sticking to the knitting In recent years, very few Indian companies have been able to tie themselves down to events that today carry an identikit inextricably linked to their brands. ABM Amro has become a great patron of art and it shows in all they do. After all, their origins are from the land of Van Gogh!

In the past, ITC was linked to sport, but sport across the board. In recent times, we have seen the House of Tatas develop a strong linkage with the Tata Open always held in Chennai (the location continues to baffle me though) and is today an event that the world of tennis players and tennis fans looks forward to.

But on the flip side are several disasters. I recently came across a promotion for Catch Clear water in the form of a Sunday walk. Walking seems to be the sport every one wants to own or even variants of it. The tragedy, however, is that people who should own this piece are running away from it: Nike and Reebok have an event strategy that few would understand, but I guess thats marketing for you.

Whats worse is that my favourite bank is now wedded to the Bombay Marathon. I cannot for my life imagine the linkages between running at a slow pace and great banking. If it is about elitism, then the Mara-thon is a mass event. If it is about supporting sport, then why do they restrict it to three or four hours on a Sunday in January in Mumbai I have not understood what business a bank has with sponsoring a Marathon and if it did, then why is there absolutely no leveraging of this in its annual marketing or communications Events become mindless activities if not given the cover of some semblance of pure marketing linkages.

I am not even commenting on the insanity of some events such as those which end up with a fashion show for low-priced items, such as throwaway watches or their ilk. Recently, TAG Heuer had a polo match at which Sushmita Sen and Shah Rukh Khan arrived and paraded on elephants and horses, respectively. I dont know if they managed to sell more watches, but then this is the paucity of intelligent imagination that brands in India face and we as consumers experience. Easy options and not brand strategies are the abiding principles for many brands today.

The designing of a promotion is a critical activity and can lead to either great benefit or great destruction. In the case of automobile companies, we have now hit the nadir of brand promotions. There are anniversary promotions; there are karva chauth promotions; there are festive price-offs and there are special dealer offers. This does nothing for the brand. The consumer is smart enough to know when you are offering a price-off and when you are offering value built around price. The crassness with which we in India announce price-offs is bizarre. And the consumer realises this. Which is why every car dealer is today plagued by enquiries that revolve around whether he can get a free sound system or even a footmat!

What is worse is that events are seen as a distinct brand function and often handled by a purebred event manager: divorced from strategic imperatives and even perhaps removed from the brand custodian of that brand, and this is my worry. Brand promotions are not a below-the-line activity which need to be handled by someone either less expensive or less intelligent since they too impact the brand imagey. They must be part of a holistic brand view and must look at the consumer not from a sales perspective but a marketing perspective.

The trick in brand promotion is not in creating an impactful promotion which will get you media attention till the next event. It is about integrating brand thought and achieving brand preference. It is only then that it becomes an effective promotion rather than just a successful one!

The writer is CEO,Equus Redcell