Thursday, December 15, 2011


“Why this murderous rage, girl?” has become the rage of the nation. It’s the ultimate song for the youth and almost everybody below 20 has made it their anthem. Come to think of it, the lyrics are ridiculously funny, the tune is very simple and yet this ‘soup song’ (meaning, a heartbreak song) just gets on you. It’s so easy to remember and so hummable that you cant stop singing after hearing it! But most importantly, it’s a song that every music company would want in their kitty today, it’s a viral campaign that every marketer dreams of making, it has such crazy levels of popularity that would be a dream for any celebrity and, it has reached an iconic status that every brand would die for. It is an excellent example of how to establish a name, an idea, in today’s crowded market place, filled with consumers who understand all marketing gimmicks; who hate being marketed to and who are a most aware and a sceptic lot.


Why has ‘Kolaveri’ become so popular? It’s the simplicity of the message and the magic of the internet that have made it so popular. Gone are the days when one had to wait for the mainstream media to pick up your story and make it popular by writing about it in their newspapers and magazines or showing it on TV. Today, thanks to the internet, you can go directly to the consumer and be heard. If your message is interesting, it will spread like, well, a viral ! This is exactly what happened to the ‘Kolaveri’ video when it was posted online a few weeks ago. Shot inside the recording studio, the rough version of the song made it to the internet through the backdoor, making it an instant hit and forcing Sony Music to release the song much earlier than planned. Its foot tapping beats made it irresistible to anyone who heard it, and today, it has got more than 22 million hits on YouTube. In fact, so much is the craze for this song that anything associated with it is becoming a hit too. Sonu Nigam’s son has sung a ‘milk version’ of the soup song and that, too, is set to become a rage on the internet. A good and interesting idea spreads like wildfire. You must know what the audience wants and give it to them, as John St., a Toronto based ad firm did. To market its services, it circulated a viral based on a satirical idea of how ‘catvertising’, that is videos with cats in them, would be the most watched videos on the internet by 2015! Tongue in cheek, the advertising agency explains how it has now opened the world’s first ‘cat video’ division to stay on top of competition, for everyone likes to see videos of cats, and cats are good for business. Considering the fact that everything in the world today is just a ‘mouse-click’ away, the ‘cat videos’ are bound to be a hit. Not surprising, then, that the ‘catvertising’ viral has got more than a million hits already. What is it that makes these videos become such a craze? From the ‘Kolaveri’ viral in India to the ‘catvertising’ one in Canada, what is it that makes them so popular? They have the ability to connect with the viewers instantly. They have a simple message told quickly and in an interesting manner. Most importantly they are fun!


The web can make you famous instantly, and it can make your brand the most talked about. After all, the most powerful tool of marketing is word-of-mouth. Nowadays, of course, it’s the word-of-mouse with the web gaining importance. It is a tool that is being used by marketers across the globe. You could be selling any product; if you have a great viral also in place, it will help your brand in becoming more popular and talked about.

The most popular viral advertising campaign of 2011 has been that of Volkswagen Passat featuring an adorable kid in a Darth Vader mask, trying to use his ‘Force’ to move and control things right from his dog to his toy and even his sandwich. Much to his disappointment, nothing seems to work till his Dad comes home in the Passat. He tries his ‘powers’ on the car and voilĂ , it starts! The kid is elated and totally overjoyed with the fact that the ‘force’ finally worked, not realising that his father had secretly turned the car on with his remote. What an endearing way of highlighting the new feature of the car that it could be started with a remote. It is so lovable and so watchable, which is why it has been viewed more than 62 million times on YouTube.

To get people interested in its new range of shoes, Nike made Kobe Bryant jump over a whole lot of crazy things like an Aston Martin, a pool of snakes, et al. The videos and the feats shown were nearly impossible to believe and generated a lot of comments online. Whatever the comments, Nike had managed to draw the people’s attention, which is the basic purpose of all marketing campaigns.

When it comes to drawing attention, there are two viral campaigns that literally changed the world of online marketing. The first one was the viral released for the movie ‘The Blair Witch’. The world was new to the internet and its new users thought that they had ‘chanced’ upon a video footage of some vanished teenagers showing supernatural events. The word spread like wildfire and soon mainstream media too was carrying this story and talking about it. It’s only later when people realised that this was actually a campaign for a movie. The viral had built so much excitement around the movie, making it one of the most profitable movies of all times. The second most remarkable viral campaign has been that of Barack Obama. One of the first to realise the importance of the internet and the social networking sites, he used it to campaign extensively and actually go on to become the President of USA.

A good viral can grant you popularity but if the product is not good, it cannot help much. To give a boost to its sagging sales, Fiat, too, launched a viral campaign featuring Jennifer Lopez. The star was big, the script was great and the views were huge. With more than 27 million views, this viral is one of the most popular virals of 2011; yet it did nothing for the sales of the car, for it was more about Ms. Lopez and less about Fiat. As a result, everyone conveniently forgot about the car as they ogled at Lopez. The sales did not turn out to be even half as exciting as the viral.

A great marketing campaign has to be backed with an equally great product to be able to fight competitors, or else all the extra attention that you get from the great marketing campaign could actually prove fatal for you and your brand. In today’s day and age, it is extremely easy to film a video and it costs nothing to upload it on YouTube. The tough part is making it work for you.

So while the internet is filled with opportunities, it is a medium that has to be handled cautiously too. While a great viral campaign can do wonders for your bottom lines, a wrong one could conversely generate immense negative publicity for your brand. It is, nevertheless, a place where it’s not the size of your budget but your creativity that can help you beat even the biggest of competitors. A man was looking for a job and wanted to get the attention of some of the best marketing companies. Instead of working on a great CV, he worked on an e-book and called it ‘Marketing Apple’. The free ebook got some of the top bloggers talking about him and soon, he was a popular name; making more money an hour than he could have dreamt of. When Universal Studios wanted to launch the new Harry Potter area in its theme park, it did not work on making an advertisement; instead, it worked on identifying the biggest Harry Potter fan sites on the internet. The owners of these sites (just seven of them) were told that they had been especially selected to break the news to the Harry Potter fans, for the fans should be the first to know and they should not see it in an advertisement. The strategy worked like magic and within days, the new addition to Universal Studios was a mega hit. The best part is that the company hardly spent any money in promoting it.

Great brands have always been built on simple ideas. Great brands under-promise and over-deliver; much like the Kolaveri song, which is so down to earth and yet, it’s pure entertainment.

So as you sit and plan out your viral marketing campaign, remember that it needn’t be very professional, it needn’t be long; but what it must be is simple, endearing, give a clear message, and soon you too could be singing ‘Kolaveri’ on your way to the bank, and not asking your boss, “Why this Kolaveri, Sir?”.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Apple is a unique company for it’s loved by many and envied too by an equal number of people, especially its competitors. First, every mobile phone company tried to copy the iPhone; and now, taking subtle shots at the iPhone is a gimmick being used by all. However, in November 2011, Apple’s most aggressive competitor Samsung went a step further as it blatantly compared its Galaxy S II model with the iPhone. The advertisements poked fun at the iPhone buyers who were shown as people ready to stand in a queue for days to get their hands on the latest iPhone, while a better phone (meaning the Galaxy) was already there with the smarter ones. The ad mocked the iPhone users for buying the iPhone4S when in fact there was no visible difference between iPhone4 and 4S. Moreover it did not have a great battery life and its screen was not as wide as that of the Galaxy. Whether the Galaxy is better than the iPhone is secondary, the debate is, “Is this kind of advertising going to work for Samsung?” It has managed to get everybody’s attention with its provocative ads; but would this help it sustain in the market place?

Talking of ‘provocative’ advertisements Unilever found itself in a tight spot when its internet campaign for Lynx deodorants was banned by Advertising Standards Authority (US) as it was considered degrading to women. To prevent further damage, on November 25, 2011, Unilever immediately posted a “Sorry from Lynx” video on YouTube, which featured the same model (this time, less provocatively dressed) returning all the props she had used in the ad and saying sorry to the viewers. Sometimes brands lose focus and do things, which appear to give quick results but can actually prove fatal for the brand in the long run. It was named one of America’s hottest brands in 2010. After spending close to $23 million in advertising (in 2009) on its ‘Easy- Tone’ shoes, Reebok was hot property as its shoes sold like hot cakes. Approximately 5 million pairs of ‘EasyTones’ were sold in 2010 alone. Every woman wanted these ‘magic’ shoes that could do wonders to her figure without much effort. It seemed too good to be true. Well, it probably was, for in September 2011, the Federal Trade Commission (US) announced that Reebok had deceptively advertised toning shoes and apparel; subsequently, Reebok was asked to withdraw its advertisements and pay $25 million as settlement charges. The marketer, though still standing by its claims, said that it agreed to pay to avoid a protracted legal battle. For a company that spent $23 million in 2009, then another $31 million in 2010 and add to that another $10 million in 2011 in marketing its ‘toning’ products, this was a big blow. It was after all a brand positioning strategy that was created and nurtured for 3 years. Now the company will not be able to use this strategy anymore.

Yes, the market place is tough and times are even tougher nowadays, but this growing competitiveness should not force marketers (and definitely not the big ones) to succumb to pressure and take recourse to unethical means. Poking fun, using sexual innuendos or making promises that are just not true are not things that the consumer of today likes.

The consumer is very finicky and your unethical means may put him off.


As products get similar, as market shares get reduced, companies are doing what it takes to win in the market place. Even before the consumer responds, it’s your competitor who responds to your marketing strategy immediately. The response could be a counter advertisement or even a complaint. Gone are the days when companies were content to fight on TV through commercials or in the grocery-aisles; today, increasingly, the battle is fought in the courtrooms. Not surprising that the number of complaints to get the competitor’s advertisements withdrawn have increased manifold. In fact, according to an article in the New York Times, never have there been so many complaints been lodged by brands against their competing brands as have been done in the past few years. The number of legal battles has increased dramatically too, especially after the recession. The goal is not to get money, but to snatch away market share. Everybody is keeping an eagle watch on everybody else. Brands are going to any extent to pull the competitor down. Pantene Conditioner challenged Dove on its claim that it ‘repaired’ hair better than Pantene. To prove its claim, Dove did a study which measured the ‘combing force’ required for treated hair, it also provided statistics on number of hair breakages in a 200- strokes-per-tresses test. Finally, it got an expert to defend its decision of using ‘wet combing’ instead of ‘dry combing’.

You need to go to ridiculous heights to stay in business. Most importantly, you need to be alert or else you could get sued and lose out to your competitors. A few months back, Molson Coors was quick to complain that its competitor Heineken’s ads, which showed a man at a party impressing the guests with his stylish moves, was an irresponsible ad because it gave the impression that alcohol could enhance personal qualities and talents. Heinekin managed to prove that this was not so as nowhere was the man actually shown drinking the beer. It saved a good ad from being taken off air by irrational complaints from competitors. The point is, right or wrong, you will have competitors gunning after you, trying their best to pull you down; so just making a good advertisement is not enough. You must have your defenses, your justifications planned even before you release the advertisement, or else you might not be able to save your best campaign and you may lose the market share!


It’s true that brands are doing everything possible to pull their competitors down. Is it worth the trouble? In 2008, Campbell Soup claimed that its soups were made with ‘tender love and care’ while those of General Mills were made with MSG (a banned chemical). As expected, General Mills too immediately retaliated. Then both companies went and complained to the advertising review division. The outcome of the complaint and counter complaint is not important. What’s interesting to note is that the sales of the soups of both companies have kept declining ever since. The consumer refused to trust either of them.

When healthy comparisons turn to mud slinging, both parties lose. A brand is a promise and all brand makers should remember this fact and honor it. As consumers, we love our brands and listen to their claims and trust those claims. An intelligent marketer will never ever mess with the trust his consumers put on him. He will not use dirty tricks to outsmart his competitors, as in the long run, it’s the stronger brand that survives and wins. These petty tricks do manage to get attention, but they tend to put the consumer off too. The flip side is that today, the market is a very rough place and you need to be on your toes all the time. One wrong move could be disastrous.

There are better ways of increasing market share. Some of the good old things never get old-fashioned. Dove realized this as this year has seen its sales soar globally. No cheap gimmicks, it just concentrated on giving better products and its advertisements managed to strike an emotional chord with the consumers. Similarly, Chevrolet Cruze this year has become GM’s hottest selling car brand. When it comes to cars today, the consumer is looking for fuel efficiency and that is exactly what the brand promised in its advertisements: “40 miles per litre...”

It was not lawsuits and unethical ads that ensured that the Korean car manufacturer Kia became the most successful car of the year, but rather its focus on the consumer. Its target were young buyers so it focused on things this group liked; for example, an upmarket sound system, a robust engine, good mileage and some hamsters too! It used three cute hamsters in its advertisements to showcase the merits of its car ‘Soul’ – and voila, the car and the company today feature in America’s list of hottest brands! No poking fun at the competitor; but just a serious focus on brand building, and this mobile phone company has beaten the Goliaths hollow. It sold more smartphones in the third quarter than Apple or Samsung! HTC set out on its own just two years back (it used to be a nameless manufacturer that made phones for other brands) and today, this brand tops the US smartphone market.

There is no shortcut to success and nothing succeeds like simple hard work. The laws of business have probably not changed much as all these brands have shown. If you want to win, play with sincerity; for a brand is a promise and those who keep promises are loved the most. As with people so with brands, don’t let the other person lose trust in you. It’s the only way to become a true hero !