Month: March 2004

Experience adventure, first hand

Experience adventure, first hand

Notwithstanding the unbearable heat, students are usually happy at this time of the year. Exams are finally over and with it has come to end the grinding timetable that they follow for months. It’s time to rejoice, unwind and enjoy two months of stress-free life. It’s also time to do all those activities that the tight academic schedule does not permit. A number of summer camps are organised by various organisations and you can consider signing up with one of them. Not only do these camps allow you the opportunity to unwind, they also teach you things that you probably cannot learn during the academic year.

Every year during this time, the city-based Jidnyasa Trust, an NGO that works for welfare of students, organises adventure camps for students of class X awaiting their board results. This year too, 44 students from various schools in Thane have enrolled for the camp and will travel to the Himalayas in the first week of April. For twenty days, starting from 04 April through 24 April, while the rest of us swelter in the high temperatures, these camping students will have fun in the Himalayan snow at 10,500 feet above sea level.

The camps are conducted by the Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Government of Himachal Pradesh at Manali. The students will learn lots of interesting stuff like how to acclimatise their bodies to the altitudes, survival techniques on glaciers and high altitudes, environmental training, and even a few high-altitude trekking exercises. Rock climbing, rappelling, river crossing, jumaring and forest navigation is also included. In the 14-day basic skiing course, campers will learn the techniques of skiing by professionals from the Mountaineering Institute of Himachal Pradesh.

Surendra Dighe, founder of the Jidnyasa says, "Jidnyasa believes in the all-round development students. Therefore, we lay as much emphasis on extra-curricular activities as on academics. Our objective has been to help students discover the hidden potential in them. Such adventure courses cultivate self-confidence and a spirit of adventure among the campers." Dighe adds that once students enter college, they never get to enjoy summer vacations. This is because, as they grow older, they become more career-oriented and end up spending their vacation time giving entrance tests, acquiring professional competencies or following academic pursuits that might get them some competitive edge in the careers. This was the reason to restrict enrolment only to class X students.

Away from parents and teachers, these students learn to be self-reliant and disciplined. Away from urban life, they learn to appreciate nature and wilderness. Away from the monotony of academic life, they learn about the glorious uncertainties of life. But most importantly, they learn to be with themselves, discover themselves. They experience adventure first hand. They experience what Helen Keller once said: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature."

While student spend their summers adventurously, why should teachers be left behind? With "Teachers’ Eco-Adventure Tour," they need not. But you’ll have to wait till next week to read about it.

A Celebration of Unity in Diversity

A Celebration of Unity in Diversity

With most Hindu new years falling in the months of March/April, it is only appropriate that we celebrate it together. For the third consecutive year, the city residents, regardless of their cast and creed, will come together to celebrate the Indian New Year by participating in the Bharatiya Nava Varsha Swagat Yatra, an apolitical procession organised by Shri Kopaneshwar Mandir Trust and supported by city-based educational institutes, social and religious trusts, and NGO’s.

The celebrations will begin this evening at 7pm with Deepotsav. It will be a sight to behold and savour, as the city of Thane will light up with thousands of residents stepping out of their homes, candles and diyas in their hands, to mark the end of the old year and the beginning of a fresh, New Year. While last year, it was only the Masunda lake that was lit up in this fashion, this year as many as 11 major areas across the city, both East and West, will radiate the new year’s glow. Later in the evening at 8.30 pm, non-polluting fireworks will illuminate the skies too.

Tomorrow at 7 am, the main procession will begin from the Kopeneshwar Temple and travel through Talao Pali, Ram Maruti, Gokhale Road and Petrol Pump and back to the temple, covering a distance of three km. VIPs and dignitaries and hundreds of residents will join the procession as it travels from one place to another. This year there will also be four mini-processions in far-flung locations, also being organised under the aegis of the Kopeneshwar Trust. These areas are: Thane East, Brahmand, Vasant Vihar and Kalwa. This is being done to provide an opportunity to residents living in far-away locations as they too are in integral part of the city.

In true Indian spirit, non-Hindus like Jews, Catholics, Parsis and Muslims will also participate. The Sikh community have participated with their float from the very first procession and like previous years, they will make arrangements for dinking water for everyone – a noble undertaking, especially on hot days.
Several dozen floats with cultural, educational and social themes will be seen in the procession. Ideal School from Rabodi will participate with its float and so will St. John the Baptist High School, which will celebrate its hundredth in 2005, and will display miniature models of its buildings. Jidnyasa Trust will display their Science Laboratory called Exploratory.

Almost 300 housing societies in the city have agreed to display common Gudis on their premises, to reinforce the atmosphere of togetherness. Three large-than-life Rangolis will adorn the city. The one at Gavdevi Maidan will be 15000 sq feet in size and watching towers will be put up for people to see it. The other two places to be decorated with Rangoli are New English School and Kalwa, both measuring about 60 feet in diameter.

The Bharatiya Nava Varsha Swagat Yatra marks the celebration of Gudi Padwa (Marathi), Ugadi (Malayali), Cheti Chand (Sindhi) Poila Baishakh (Bengali), Baisakhi (Punjabi) and many more Hindu New Years, all together. With such strong thrust on social integration, Thane city is emerging as a strong cultural hub, not just of Maharashtra, but of the entire India. The sheer intensity with which the city celebrates cultural festivals is representative of the true Indian spirit of "Unity in Diversity."   We wish all residents of Thane a Very Happy, Prosperous and Peaceful New Year.

Sign in to win

Sign in to win

Though electronic signatures have been gaining prominence in today’s digital economy, a personal, handwritten signature retains its value and will continue to do so. Other than signatures on legal documents, bank cheques, agreements and so on, manual signatures have less obvious functions. For instance, what do you do when you want to test a pen? Chances are that you sign your name. A celebrity’s’ autograph for his fans can perhaps never replaced by the digital signature – if does, will it retain its charm? The signature of painters on their work of art is what determines whether the painting is authentic or not.

Graphologists study signatures to analyse a person’s character and disposition and this information is used reliably by the police and investigation agencies worldwide. This is because, for many hundreds of years society has recognised the fact that the handwritten signature of a human being is something mistakable, unique, personal and individual. Now this unique and personal moniker can also win you some recognition (and some money) in a unique competition.

Foto Circle has organised a unique signature competition. So if you think your signature is beautiful and reflects, with force, your individuality, then sign in for this one. The competition will be judged by prominent calligraphers Achyut Palav, Dattatray Padekar and Dr Sanjay Deshmukh. The first, second and third prize winners will win amounts of Rs, 1001, Rs 751 and Rs 501 respectively and two consolation prizes of Rs 251 will also be given away.

Announced last Sunday on the occasion of the opening of the new office of Foto Circle at the hands of Shiv Sena Leader Uddhav Thakeray, the signature competition is open to all Thaneites at a nominal fee of Rs. 10.  

Foto Circle, for those who are unaware, is a five-year old Thane-based not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of the art of photography. Started by 11 Thaneites, it has 150 members. Foto Circle organises photography workshops for amateurs and professionals. Workshops for professional deal in areas like commercial photography, outdoor shooting, clicking portfolio and wedding photography. From time to time, Foto Circle also organises workshops for children teaching them basics such as how to load a film roll, effects of lighting and importance of stability. As Digital Photography booms, Foto Circle’s focus is also shifting. Nayan Tambotkar, one of the founders, says, "Digital Photography is a different ballgame and must be understood well. Even many professionals do not understand what is meant by terms like mega pixel and how to select and use a digital camera."

For more information about the how to participate in the signature contest and about Foto Circle photography workshops, readers may contact Nayan Tambotkar on 9820586192.

Star Struck!

Star Struck!

Stars, who are known to shape destinies, cast an enormous influence. No, we’re not talking about astrology here. We’re referring to the powerful effect of celebrities on the destinies of brands. One approving nod from a famous face can translate into millions in brand sales. Perhaps that’s why the world over, companies have been using stars to endorse everything, from food to food chains, from soft and hard drinks to health drinks, from clothes and accessories to cars (and the tyres on which they run). Even political parties are awestruck by the charisma of stars. Such is the magnetism of celebrities in this country that during the recent general elections, major political parties fielded a record number of film stars and cricketers to contest from important constituencies around the country. So what about celebrities drives companies to spend in millions on obtaining their stamp of approval on their brands?

Celebrity Endorsements as a strategy
Signing up stars for endorsement is a time-tested strategy and has been effectively used by some of the top brands in the world including Nike and Pepsi. In India too, HLL has used Hindi film stars to endorse their beauty soap Lux since the fifties. Vimal, Thums Up, Gwalior and Dinesh are some of the other brands that used star-appeal in the early days of mass advertising. And who can forget Kapil ‘Palmolive’ Dev?

The ultimate objective of using a celebrity in an ad is the impact on the bottom line. Star endorsements have several benefits, key among them being building credibility, fostering trust and drawing attention… any or all of which can translate into higher brand sales. So how does one decide whether to put a celebrity in an ad? Ideally, this should be dictated by the communication idea. MG Parmeswaran, Executive Director of FCB Ulka says, "As advertising professionals, we recommend celebrity endorsements when the case is justified. There are many cases where you need to use the celebrity to break out of a category clutter. At times celebrity endorsement is used to build credibility to the brand offer."

Most experts concur that, when used judiciously, celebrity endorsements can be an effective strategy. According to Mohammed Khan, Chairman of Enterprise Nexus, "Using a celebrity by itself is not a bad idea provided it is done intelligently."   And there are many examples of good use of celebrity status. Amitabh Bachchan has been used remarkably well by Parker Pens and ICICI Home Loans. And Shah Rukh Khan’s endorsement of Hyundai Santro too seems to have worked well. Parmeswaran adds, "We used cricketers like Rahul Dravid for Castrol in an attempt to break out of the clutter, as well as have an image rub off of ‘dependability’ on to the brand."

Six uses of Celebrity Endorsements
Establishes Credibility:
Approval of a brand by star fosters a sense of trust for that brand, among the target audience – this is especially true in case of new products
Attracts Attention: Celebrities ensure attention of the target group by breaking the clutter of advertisements and making the ad and the brand more noticeable

Associative benefit: A celebrity’s preference for a brand gives out a persuasive message: because the celebrity is benefiting from the brand, the consumer will also benefit

Psychographic Connect: Stars are loved and adored by their fans and advertisers use stars to capitalise on these feelings to sway the fans towards their brand

Demographic Connect: Different stars appeals differently to various demographic segments (age, gender, class, geography etc.)

Mass Appeal: Some stars have a universal appeal and therefore prove to be a good bet to generate interest among the masses.

Idea First
Celebrity endorsements are very expensive therefore their use in an ad should be justified. The message strategy should warrant celebrity endorsements – there should be a strong need to consider use of a known face in an idea. Sadly, very often, the celebrity is hired first and an idea is then weaved around his or her presence. Khan stresses, "The important thing to remember is that putting a celebrity in an ad is not an idea in itself. Unfortunately, this is how most celebrities are being used in Indian advertising where they just become a prop. Ideally, there should be an idea that makes the celebrity relevant to the product and the consumer."

Celebrity’s presence in the ad should be contextual. When Sachin Tendulkar says declares, "Boost is the secret of my energy," it doesn’t seem out of context. Internationally, Nike’s association with Michael Jordan is legendary and also logical.

Apple Computer introduced its anodized Aluminum range of Powerbooks, the 12-inch and the 17-inch models, with actor Verne Troyer (from movie "Austin Powers" as "Mini Me") and Houston Rockets centre player Yao Ming. If you think that Apple has simply engaged two celebrities to brand their laptops, you are wrong. They have engaged a very tall person (Yao Ming) and a very short person (Verne Troyer), to contrast the size of their small and large Powerbooks, by having Verne Troyer use the 17-inch PowerBook, while Yao Ming uses the miniscule 12-inch model.  [1]

When it doesn’t work
In the last decade or so, there’s been a spurt in the use of celebrity endorsements. And with it, there’s been an increase in the number of instances of brands failing to take off in spite of the biggest and brightest stars endorsing it and consequently leading to speculation about the soundness of celebrity endorsements as a communication strategy.

According to leading management thinker Dr Seamus Phan: "Many celebrity endorsements fail because they identify a celebrity they like in an emotive and un-researched manner, and then try to create advertising to force-fit the celebrity into the creative concept. Often, the finished advertising is at best contrived, and often, simply laughable. At the end, the brand suffers from a mismatched concept and celebrity, and millions of dollars are flushed away. If this company is publicly listed, imagine the disservice the company has done for its shareholders." [2]

There are several reasons why celebrity endorsements fail to produce the desired effect, and each of them has to more with the core communication strategy and less with the celebrity’s pull. "Celebrities cannot really be blamed if their endorsements fail to push up the brand sales," says Adrian Mendonza, Executive VP and Creative Director of Rediffusion DY&R. Indeed, for it is important to recognise that celebrities can create interest – whether that interest converts into sales depends on various factors such as brand-celebrity disconnect, improper positioning, clutter of celebrities, or even product life-cycle.

Five causes of letdown
It’s worth going over some of the reasons why celebrity endorsements may not work:

Improper positioning
Associating with a star, however big he or she may be, in itself does not guarantee sales. The most it can do is generate interest in the product or create a buzz around it. Take the case of Maruti Versa, which was launched amidst a lot of fanfare about three years ago. In spite of Maruti signing up superstar Amitabh Bachchan and his son Abhishek Bachchan as brand ambassadors for Versa, the brands sales remained sluggish. To be fair, the Big B magic did work and the ads created significant interest, drawing people into the showroom. But perhaps the positioning itself was faulty as people were expecting a larger than life car, just like the brand’s ambassador. Last year, we saw Versa being re-positioned as a family car, with the core proposition being, "the joy of travelling together." In the words of Ravi Bhati
a, General Manager of Marketing at Maruti, Versa has started doing well and has witnessed an upswing since the new positioning. Last year, the average sales were 80-100 vehicles a month. Now they are selling 450 vehicles a month. [3]

Brand-celebrity disconnect
If the celebrity used represents values that conflict with the brand’s positioning and the values it stands for, the advertising will create a conflict in the minds of the target audience who may reject the proposition. Take for instance Toyota, one of world’s leading auto companies. Toyota chose teeny-pop singer Britney Spears to for its brand Soluna Vios, which is a family sedan which is preferred by married men and women with children. According to Phan, a youth icon like Britney would’ve been better used by Toyota for a sleek sports vehicle and for Soluna Vios, Toyota should choose someone like a mature man, Harrison Ford for example. [4]

Clutter Flutter
In recent times, there’s been such a deluge of celebrity endorsements that it has led to the very clutter that it aimed to break. For instance, Amitabh Bachchan endorses or has endorsed Pepsi, ICICI, BPL, Parker pens, Nerolac, Dabur, Reid & Taylor, Maruti Versa, Cadbury and a few social messages too. Bollywood badshah Shah Rukh Khan with Omega, Tag Heur, Pepsi, Hyundai, Clinic All Clear and Airtel has to his credit more television commercials than feature films since 1992. This over-exposure can be bad for the brand. Khan adds, "We seem to have just 2 ½ celebrities in a country of 1 billion people which is a terrible tragedy. Consequently, each celebrity is called upon to push maybe a dozen brands or so. Which is great for the celebrity but I think it is pretty daft for the brand because the impact of the celebrity reduces as the number of brands he endorses increases." Parmeswaran agrees, "Unfortunately in India, we have too many brands chasing too few celebrities. And the recall value drops by a huge margin when you move from an A Class celebrity to a B Class."

Bad idea/product
Using a celebrity is not an excuse for not having a brand idea. You cannot sell an ordinary product just by making a celebrity endorse it. Parmeswaran says, "Unfortunately using a celebrity seems to be the easy way out of a parity product situation." In fact, if anything, the product will fail faster because the presence of the celebrity will create a buzz and more people will know about the "ordinariness" of the product.

The use of celebrities can be confusing. Some viewers quickly forget what product a celebrity is giving his or her stamp of approval. Others are so spellbound by the personality of the celebrity that they completely fail to notice the product/brand being advertised. The brand is overshadowed in the overwhelming presence of the star. In some cases, a celebrity can give rise to scepticism because it might be a bit too much for the masses to believe that the celebrities who are rich and can afford the best in the world are actually using a mass product, being advertised on television. On the contrary, people might speculate about such things as "how much did the brand pay to rope him/her in as the brand ambassador?"

A study done by Cogito Consulting of FCB-Ulka Group has tried to fathom the truths behind why some celebrity endorsements work and some don’t. They have developed two indices, Trait Fit Index and Compatibility Index. TFI is derived based on the top five Brand Personality Traits and the top five Celebrity Personality Traits. CI is derived based on the respondents’ perceived suitability between the celebrity and the brand. The study shows the CI is more important than TFI. The implications from the study were:
1.  an aura cannot overcome a complete conflict of the celebrity with the brand’s personality
2.  when it comes to finance, a young icon is not convincing enough
3.  in the case of youth brands, it is especially important to get the latest heartthrob
4.  use of celebrity helps break the clutter

So using a celebrity just helps you break through the clutter. And if there is low CI and low TFI, that is all that will be achieved.

Courtesy: M G Parmeswaran, Executive Director, FCB Ulka

Risks associated with Celebrity Endorsements
It is important to consider risks associated with celebrity endorsement. Fame is fickle and fleeting companion and can ditch the famous at the slightest provocation. Celebrities, being human, make mistakes. But their mistakes get as much attention as their celebrity status and this can adversely affect the brands that they are endorsing. There are number of examples, both Indian and International, where scandals and scams involving celebrity endorsers have caused embarrassment to the brands they endorse. Companies have to make quick decisions when one of their endorsers comes under fire or their own image could be tarnished. Guilty by association in a consumer’s eyes describes it best.

Magic Johnson lost his endorsement deals when he announced in 1991 that he’s HIV-positive. It wasn’t until July 2003 that he landed his first endorsement deal since the announcement. [5]

It’s a tricky situation for marketers. If a brand continues with the celebrity, it may adversely affect the image of the brand and consequently, brand sales. If the brand chooses to distance itself with the tainted celebrity, the huge costs spent on roping in the celebrity and making of the ads may go down the drain and even then the association of the brand with the celebrity might by then be so ingrained that the damage is already done. "It’s a two-way street. One way it shows the strength of the brand promotion. But it is also fraught with risk if your brand ambassador fails to perform in the related field," says Reliance India Mobile (RIM) marketing head Kaushik Roy. RIM uses Cricket star Virendra Sehwag as its brand ambassador. Roy added, "We want to try and avoid the celebrity endorsements as much as possible. Over-dependence on them will create problems in future so we should stand on our own legs." [6]

Hedging the risk
The first thing to ensure, when zeroing in on a celebrity, is to try and choose someone whose record is impeccable. Having said that, it’s best not to depend on one celebrity, for that can backfire. Instead, it’s better to use many celebrities who represent the same values. Pepsi does this quite well. Capitalising on the popularity of cricket and films in Indian, Pepsi uses several cricketers and film stars in their ads. So when Azzaruddin and Jadeja got embroiled in the match-mixing controversy, Pepsi’s severed its association only with these stars, but its relationship with cricket continued.

So what’s the big deal?
Star endorsement deals are big in every way. They are big on expenses and can have big implications on the brand’s fortunes. Celebrities have enormous potential to shape the destinies of the brands they endorse, albeit sometimes negatively. Therefore, marketers who use celebrities must do so prudently, thinking through the concept of such endorsements carefully before adapting it into the message strategy. Experts concur that you must consider a celebrity endorsement if, and only if, the message strategy warrants it, not because the celebrity’s pull value. And last but not the least, one should seriously consider the risks of associating with a well-known personality, and hedge against a future scandal by not relying on just one celebrity and instead linking the brand’s association with a broad theme represented by several celebrities. If you can’t afford many celebrities, then get your thinking caps on, and come up with a better, safer idea.

[1, 2, 4] Does celebrity branding always work? By Dr. Seamus Phan,
[5] Companies Ditch Celebrity Endorsements,
[6] The brand ambassador gamble, April 08, Online Edition, The Tribune

Women on top

Women on top

Come women’s day and across the world we see special programmes being organised based on issues that are important to women. Our city was no different. A number of programmes were held across Thane on the eve of women’s day and this writer found himself attending one such programme – it was a group discussion organised by the Rotary Club of Thane at Sahyog Mandir Hall with an all-women power panel on the dais. More than 120 people attended the programme, and for once, women outnumbered the men. Yet, gender notwithstanding, almost everyone in the audience was actively involved in the discussion that ensued.

The programme was facilitated by two young women from Thane, Samira Gujar and Sujata Phadke. Samira is a TV artist known for who has worked in the Marathi sopa Abhal Maya and comperes a live polling show called Bola Bola, Tring Tring aired on Sahyadri Channel. Sujata is a freelance journalist for Maharshtra Times and reports exclusively on Thane.

The panellists were prominent women from different spheres that are pertinent to society in general, especially to women: Preeti Patkar of Prerna, a Mumbai-based NGO that works for the welfare of commercial sex workers (CSWs) and also runs night care centres for the children of the CSWs; Sampada Wagale a journalist who writes for Loksatta; Kranti Sathe, a councillor and an advocate specialising in divorce cases, and also former member of Film Censor Board; Madhavi Hegde Karandikar, an expert of child adoption and trustee and Honorary Secretary of Bal Asha Trust, an adoption agency in Mumbai that works for the welfare and development of women and children.

Issues discussed ranged from macro issues such as women in politics to micro ones such as child adoption by single, unmarried women. The views expressed by the panellists were enlightening and the examples cited drew much applause from the audience. Sathe said that, contrary to the belief propagated by media, marriage as an institution is not under threat in India. Even though divorce cases in India have gone up, usually the reasons for divorce are rather convincing and couples resort to it only as the last option. She emphasised an urgent need for legal literacy, citing the example of thousands of girls who attend college but are unaware of their constitutional rights. She urged para-legal institutes and NGOs to organise legal literacy camps for women across the nation. Sathe also spoke about the role of women in a male dominated field of politics and said that it was important for women to actively participate in politics.  

Patkar’s discussion focussed on society’s reluctance in facilitating the rehabilitation of CSWs. Using examples, she explained how the victims in this trade are often caught in the legal web and are pronounced guilty. She revealed that human trafficking was the third largest money-spinning racket in the world after illegal arms and drugs and if statistics are right then it may soon displace drug-trafficking to become the second. "We must do something soon before it is too late and the problem surfaces right at our own doorstep," warned Sathe.

Karandikar talked about the complicated issue of child adoption and its implications. Meera Korde, who was sitting in the audience, asked her about an issue that, as principal of a School, she often faces: "When is the right time for foster parents to reveal to the child the hard fact that they are adopted?" Karandikar said that they should reveal as soon as possible and in a manner that does not affect the self-concept of the child. Foster parents must see to it that the adopted child learns to respect himself.  

Wagale spoke about the issues and effects of VRS. Being a victim of VRS herself, she talked about how she used it as an opportunity in disguise to re-discover herself her buried talents. She also said that unemployed women should beat loneliness and bring meaning to their lives by helping the society in whatever manner possible. NGOs require volunteers and such women should participate in serving the society in their own small way.

After the programme, most people felt that every issue discussed was so important that each warranted a serious deliberation at the highest of levels of the society.

Generic positioning platforms will not work any more

Generic positioning platforms will not work any more

MK: Can you chart the evolution of liquor industry during the last 10 years?

Alok Gupta:
The alcoholic beverage segment represents a vastly different scenario today in comparison to a decade ago. Since last 10 years, the Indian liquor industry has evolved at every stage. To start with, the industry has changed from being "seller’s" market to a "buyer’s" market. Consumer groups, which earlier were targeted as one large demographic island, have got fragmented into distinct psychographics’ groups. Brand and media proliferation, information boom and easy access to wide variety of brands have all had a significant impact on the buying behaviours of consumers, who are now clearly seeking "value" over "price". In many ways this reflects branding of a commodities market which was dominated by heritage brands.
Sociologically, the country has undergone a sea change. Lifestyles have changed drastically. Today, drinking in moderation is not looked upon as a social taboo. Youngsters today are often seen sharing a drink with their parents which was unheard of a decade ago except among a very few upper class families. Social drinking among women is also on the rise.

Unlike a decade ago, the consumer today also has a number of options in terms of brands and segments – A fast emerging change is in terms of flavour substitution depending on consumption occasion. Earlier an average consumer would stick to a preferred flavour say a whisky or rum but now the flavour basket has many more like whites, wine, RTD etc. Marketers need to understand the trigger for such switches and evolve the marketing initiative.

Market is fiercely competitive and marketers are fighting for value share, value paradigms are being redefined, new fronts of customer engagements are being created. In the market, where the imperatives are neither PCC nor penetration driven, the fight is for market shares and larger share of the organic growth.

MK: What forces drive the liquor industry in India?

Alok Gupta:
Some of the key drivers of the liquor Industry are Duty structures, Excise rules and regulations, product-pricing, marketing initiatives to promote the brand and to communicate with the customers, distribution and several regulatory issues like licenses to manufacture, labeling etc. On issues of excise and duties, these are fast coming to WTO levels. The industry does not have many entry barriers and with the opening up of the economy there are multiple ways of market entry; it could be Bottled in India (BII) or Bottled in origin (BIO) or Bulk import and locally bottled.   While this will enable world class quality brands entering India, there is a fear that the stagnating markets overseas may trigger dumping of cheap liquor into the Indian market, which will not be a healthy trend for both the Indian consumer as well as the domestic liquor players.  

MK: How many segments, branded or unbranded, exist in the liquor industry and in what proportion are they growing? How are the brands of UB groups performing vis-à-vis the competitor’s brands?

Alok Gupta:
The IMFL industry in India is estimated at nearly 84 million cases and is growing at 8 per cent per annum. Consumption is largely skewed towards whisky, which accounts for over 60 per cent of the market. Brandy accounts for 21 per cent, rum for 14 per cent and Whites (Gin, Vodka, others) for 5 per cent.

The UB Group Spirits Division (UBSPD), which comprises McDowell and Co Ltd and Herbert sons Ltd, is likely to cross 35 million cases in 2003-04. Growing faster than the industry average of 6 per cent, the Division further consolidated its leadership and grew its market share to 37 per cent. UBSPD ranks as the fifth largest beverage-alcohol group in the world. Last year, we registered a record growth of 14.5 per cent. We hope to grow in volumes this year too.

UBSPD is the dominant player in the spirits market in India with the other players at a distance. We dominate the market not just in market shares but also in our manufacturing capacities, product ranges and distribution strengths.

MK: What are the marketing challenges that a liquor company faces (with specific reference to India – constraints on mass advertising, social responsibility and consumer preferences)? How is UB group dealing with these challenges?

Alok Gupta:
A highly regulated environment and poor shopping infrastructure in the Alco-bev industry is unfortunately diametrically opposite to the direction India is heading. Consumer today is demanding more and more information on products and services and in absence of a communication platform the industry faces a major handicap. The industry body CIABC has proposed a Self Regulation Code, which has been drafted after a careful study of similar platforms across the globe, and being followed both in the western and the eastern economies. We are hopeful that one day such a code will become a reality.

We are a firm believer in investing in social-awareness programmes and have in past run campaigns on "Responsible Drinking." As a policy, we do not sponsor or organise events at college level. In addition, we take all necessary precautions to ensure that we do not hurt anybody’s social or religious sentiments.

MK: What, according to you are the key performance metrics against which a firm must excel in order to be the leader in your industry? How does a firm set benchmark against each of these performance metrics?

Alok Gupta: The Indian consumers have come of age today. The entry of international players has increased the consumer expectations. As the leader, UBSPD remains aligned with the evolving consumer expectations and the market realities.  

1. Marketers today need to look at the industry with new lenses and break away from the traditional price-value equation and start creating value for which the consumer will happily pay the right price; this will considerably enhance profitability also.

2. Focus on brand building, create unique and relevant proposition to command a larger market share. This will reduce dependence on the highly regulated trade and bring down the cost of sales.

3. Balance the short-term with the long-term; while one must focus on today, it is imperative for the marketer to plan for tomorrow, especially in view of the opening of the market, as duty trade barriers will slowly disappear.

4. Adopt and customise global benchmarks, both for products and the overall product experience. To sum it up, the company that aligns it’s thinking to global levels but connects with the consumer at a local level will thrive.

MK: What are the value propositions that a firm in this industry can draw on, to create a distinctive positioning in the minds of the target customer groups? How does possession of a number of power brands, help in building market share and obtain price premium?

Alok Gupta:
Business model and strategy are not independent of the social and economic milieu we operate in. Value proposition would obviously depend on the target consumer group. One thing is however sure: generic positioning platforms will not work any more; proposition will have to be based on consumer insight and marketers that commit themselves to this process are more likely to succeed.

Though McDowell’s Signature is positioned on the platform of "Success" the communication strategy is based on the consumer insight that in today’s context, success goes beyond material wealth and its apparent symbols and trappings. Success today is all about new rules – it is about new ideas – and this forms the backbone of the "The new sign of Success" campaign in which real life individuals, who stand for such success, ha
ve been showcased as "Signature success icons". The campaign inspires and produces an emotional connect and more importantly, is relevant to the target consumer leading to brand adoption and loyalty and, to some extent, even word-of-mouth.

Given the market realities, UBSPD has consciously followed a strategy of being present at different price points across different flavours. Our focus on building brands has given us an enviable portfolio of as many as eight "millionaire" brands, the fourth biggest basket of brands in the world. We have identified a set of Power brands to provide a range of solutions to meet the mood, occasion, expectation and retain the consumer. Another significant advantage is trapping higher value as the consumer moves up the economic ladder. UBSPD is the leader and trendsetter in India, and we have no intention of reducing ourselves to a niche player.

MK: Finally, what are the core value propositions of the UB Group and how are they different from competitors?  

Alok Gupta:
Our core value is to continuously adapt to the changing consumer and therefore to stay relevant, in a unique way, in the fast changing socio economic and cultural context. We believe in offering a wide range of products to be able to meet the demands of all types of consumer groups. Innovation has always been our thrust area and as market leaders we are focused on challenging the paradigm. This allows us to stay in the lead all the time. As of now, we are close to being the fourth largest liquor marketer in the world. Quality delivery has always been recognised as the most important imperative. Efficient and friendly servicing of the market ensures that we have the nest support of the retail and the on-premise network.