Lambretta, Ambassador, Campa-Cola and Luna are all staging comebacks — a risky plan considering the unfriendly economy and the fact that many consumers have long since moved on. What are their chances?
The advantage that comeback brands enjoy is familiarity and dormant affection, but goodwill alone does not bring success. Achieving the right balance between riding the past and strengthening the future is vital in any comeback. “It’s important to see your brand through the eyes of the current consumer and redefine what role it can play for the consumer today,” notes Sumeer Mathur, chief strategy officer, Dentsu Creative India. “Nostalgia helps you on Day 1, but after that it’s Day 0 so it can’t be your only trick.”
Brands considering a comeback face a host of issues, not least among which are finding relevance when the market has moved on, convincing retailers to stock their product and getting the overall business model right.
Consider the experience of Nokia. A market favourite since its launch in the country 1994, the Finland-based firm missed the smartphone bus and lost out to sprightly domestic handset brands led by Micromax, Spice, Karbonn and Lava. In 2014 it stopped selling in India after global software major Microsoft acquired its devices and services business. After much hemming and hawing it came back to India with loaded feature phones that were made by Foxconn and sold by HMD at killer prices. It became profitable in India in just over a year of its relaunch.
What is interesting is its strategy to zig when the rest decided to zag. While the market is overrun by smartphones, Nokia is focused on basic handsets and is today the number one feature phone brand in India in value. Like Mathur says, “While dormant affection or nostalgia is powerful, don’t be scared to alter the product to appeal to current consumers. One has to have the ability to kill some sacred cows that no longer work for the brand.”
Now look at Nokia’s compatriot Motorola. After a heady first stint in the country, in late 2012 Motorola stopped selling its phones in India due to a global restructuring following its acquisition by Google. In 2014, Motorola, by then a Lenovo-owned company, returned to the Indian shores. But then it gave out signals that many found confusing and by 2018, the brand that had at one point threatened to topple market leader Samsung was out of the Top 10 smartphone list.
Motorola’s portfolio is capable of challenging the best and it is steadily gaining ground, but it’s not in the A list today. The company believes it is just a matter of time before things fall in place. “Our strategy was to go back to our roots, and invest in differentiated products, specifically designed for the Indian market across multiple price segments,” says Shivam Ranjan, head of marketing, Motorola India. “We also evaluated our existing business models and reworked them with agility to drive profitable growth. This was complemented by our investment in the brand that helped drive aspiration.”
Experts say it is the category that often determines the success or failure of a comeback plan. It may be harder to reclaim leadership in a category like technology which sees constant upgrades as compared to food where a brand can enjoy patronage like no other.
Adds Chirag Raheja, head of copy, Infectious Advertising, “It is is trickier to relaunch a brand in a category that invites bigger investment — such as automobile. Here, people think long and hard before they take a call, and it almost always makes sense to choose the market leader or the number two, owing to their formidable presence.”
Finally, Netra Ramachandran, strategy director, DDB Mudra South, urges comeback brands to appreciate the “aspiration” factor associated with a brand, independent of its price. For instance, in 2013, Nissan, as part of its global growth strategy and portfolio realignment, relaunch-ed Datsun to lure the value-seeking customer. The price point was accessible but the customer felt the product compromised on the basic premise of safety. So, in April this year, Nissan pulled the plug on the Datsun brand in India.