Thursday, February 23, 2012


There is a new guy in the world of ‘brand ambassadors’ in advertising. He is a quirky little character named Mel, who suffers from an identity crisis, for he does not know whether he is milk or granola. To put it in short, Kraft has launched a new product ‘MilkBites’, which is actually granola bites baked in milk. It’s supposed to be for people who don’t have time for breakfast. But this MilkBite needs to be stored in a refrigerator, so it’s a ‘pre-made, refrigerated cereal’. It’s a complicated product, which required a different positioning; for here is a cereal, which has to be picked up from a refrigerator in a departmental store! So Kraft decided to use this strange positioning to its advantage and came up with the character Mel, who battles with low self-esteem and deals with identity issues (something we too battle with often!). The character Mel is turning out to be an interesting fellow as you get to know him better through various advertisements; where he tells the story of his confused life, and in the process, also tells us how he is to be consumed.

MilkBites is going to be Kraft’s biggest launch this year and it’s using an underdog to win market share. No great stars, no super achievers. We have a little confused fellow as the brand mascot of Kraft. He is a misfit who has a sad story to tell.

Why would Kraft choose such a character? Think about it. On a TV channel full of happy mascots, here is a sad character, a misfit. As a result, Mel is instantly noticed. More importantly, he is instantly sympathized with, for we all love the underdogs. This is human psychology and it remains the same, whichever part of the world you go to. Everybody sides with the underdogs. Kraft probably is placing its bet on a winning strategy. Look around you and you will find that quite surprisingly, the underdog always wins!


Go back to your childhood and think of all the stories you loved and chances are that most of them were around a character who no one expected to win, but he/she fought against all odds and pulled off the most unlikely of victories. Cinderella became a princess. Rapunzel was united with her parents and even found her Prince Charming after all the hardships. These are very old tales. Yet, till date, they do not fail to inspire, not just us but even Hollywood and Bollywood. Cinema is cinema because of the underdog. Be it James Braddock from the movie The Cinderella Man, an impoverished ex-prize fighter who went on to win against all odds and ultimately even take on the heavyweight champion of the world; or be it Vijay Dinanath Chauhan of Agneepath, who, in spite of all difficulties, managed to avenge the killing of his father – our hearts always reach out for the weak. Julia Robertsmade us fall in love with her as the underdog in the movie Pretty Woman, where life gave her a second chance to make things better. Be it Seabiscuit, Karate Kid, 3 Idiots, Taare Zameen Par, Guru or Koi Mil Gaya; we love to watch the small guy win. This is a story line that always works. This is a strategy that never ever fails.

Take sports, as an example. Today, there is only one player in the USA who is making waves and is being talked about today. He was a star basketball player at Harvard, but after graduation (in 2010), no one showed interest in him. He spent most of the season at the end of the bench and his career seemed to be in the doldrums. But Jeremy Shu-How Lin never let go of his dreams and stuck on.

Then something magical happened this month (February). His team New York Knicks was losing and the coach decided to bring Lin in the game against Jersey Nets. This was the ‘golden ticket’ he was waiting for and he dazzled everybody by scoring 25 points and leading his team to victory. He repeated the same magic in the next match, and the next. The man from nowhere has built a frenzy around himself. He has created a new phenomena called ‘Linsanity’. He is a hero who appeared from nowhere. His story is inspiring kids to believe in their dreams, in who they are and to keep going; even when the going is tough. It’s similar to the storyof the movie ‘Rocky’, where Sylvester Stallone made it, in spite of all the odds against him.


When a loser wins, it catches our attention like no other. This is one strategy that is bound to attract the attention of the consumer who would look at you in a more endearing way than otherwise and all intelligent brands have used this ‘underdog positioning’ strategy to pull your heartstrings and eventually your purse strings! Be it Apple, Amazon or Virgin, we all know about their humble beginnings, for they have always been very vocal about it and never ever lost an opportunity to remind us where they came from. Come to think of it, our most loved brands actually started in a garage. Harold Matson and his friend started making picture frames in a garage in 1945; and to be cost effective, used the scrapes to make dollhouses. They soon found that their dollhouses were selling better than their picture frames and soon started focusing on toys. Their company Mattel Inc. is today the highest grossing toy company in the world! Bill and Dave founded HP in a garage. That garage is today known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley and HP is today a huge company. William and his friend Arthur started making a small engine to power a bicycle from a small shed in 1901. Today, their company is the most iconic motorcycle brand of the world. William Harley and Arthur Davidson founded Harley Davidson. Microsoft may be big, but there is something different about Apple. Maybe that’s because it also started in a garage just like Amazon, Google and Disney. When you know they started from nothing, you like them much more, you believe in them much more and you forgive them much more easily for their mistakes.

In a world of cutthroat competition, this is one strategy that brands should use to connect better with their consumers and win their respect. We all look up to and appreciate someone who, despite all odds, puts up a fight. It’s much like William Wallace from the movie ‘Braveheart’, who as a child watched his father being killed and later saw his wife being murdered. This simple farmer decided to fight against injustice and lead his people to victory. Though he too was captured and beheaded; but his last words were ‘Freedom’, which motivated his people even after his death and helped them overthrow the king. These stories are what make life go on. These are stories that get woven into the very fabric of life andmotivate generations. If your brand has such a story to tell and has not told it yet, it’s time you reworked on your branding strategies and shouted out loud about how you became a hero from a zero.

When a small company takes on the giant, there is a different thrill in that. There is a unique charm associated with ‘challenger brands’. Come to think of it, even our mythological heroes were the underdogs. The Pandavas were the underdogs in the epic Mahabharata, and the story of their victory over the Kauravas is so mesmerizing that it has transcended all barriers of borders and language and has been adapted and recreated in so many lands and in so many languages.

The story of the underdog has a universal appeal, which very few stories have. It’s the little guy, the one with faults, who we like more than the ‘perfect man’. No wonder then, that for many, it’s Batman who is the real superhero and not Spiderman or Superman. This is so because Batman is human and he has his weaknesses that he has mastered. He is a hero not because he was born with special superpowers, but because he worked hard to develophis physical and mental capacities. He is the best detective and the greatest scientist who does not ‘fight off’ his opponents, but uses his intelligence to outwit them. He is someone we can aspire to be. He is someone who dares to fail; dares to dream. He is similar to our corporate heroes like Richard Branson, Narayana Murthy & Steve Jobs who started at ground zero, and through sheer hard work and courage, made it big.

Similarly, we all love the brands that are ready to fight the biggies, believe in something and have a vision. We like brands that have the courage to put up a fight; like the Pandavas, who fought the war against the mighty Kauravas, because it was the right thing to do. We get inspired by stories of underdogs. So if you want to stand out and get noticed; if you want to be loved and idolised; let the world know your ‘underdog story’, for that is the best marketing strategy. The Mahabharata did it, so can you!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Sunday, February 5, was a big day for advertisers in America. The Super Bowl, the most watched show on TV, was aired that day. For the third year in a row, Super Bowl has set the record as the most watched television show in US history. Not just the game, the Super Bowl has become a showcase of some of the most remarkable advertisements, and people wait to see the commercials aired during this time as much as the game. After all, some of the most iconic ads have made their debut here. This year also witnessed some of the best ads and taught us a thing or two about what good ads are made of.

An estimated 111.3 million people watched the Super Bowl this year. The only other program that beat this record was Madonna’s show during halftime of the game. It was viewed by 114 million people . There seems to be something about ‘halftime’, for the most acclaimed commercial during the Super Bowl was Chrysler’s ‘It’s Halftime in America’. Aired during the game’s halftime, the commercial started by equating the game’s halftime with America’s halftime. Just as during halftimes, teams are discussing strategies to win the game; America also needs to find a way out of this mess that the country is in right now. The one city that is showing the way is Detroit. It lost everything with nearly all car companies going bust, but it did not give up and today, it is slowly but surely making a comeback. The Americans should do the same. After all, as the advertisement says, “This country cannot be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do, the world is going to hear the roar of our engines”. The commercial was so inspiring that in many places, people gave it a standing ovation.
The message was right, the time it was aired (during halftime) was right and the star of the commercial Clint Eastwood was just right too. He had starred in the much acclaimed film ‘Gran Torino’, which was set in Detroit City, making him the right choice for the commercial. Overall, it worked out to be the perfect package, which is why, out of the numerous ads aired during the game on Sunday, this one stood out. No blondes, no blokes, no stunning locales; just a plain simple message that touched people was what was responsible for its success. That is the power of a commercial. It makes a place for itself in your mind whether you want it or not. It’s much like ‘Jerry’, the cute little naughty mouse in the Tom & Jerry show, which we loved watching as children. If advertisements are ‘Jerrys’ then we are the ‘Toms’. Tom, like us, believes that Jerry cannot overpower him, just the way we as viewers believe that advertisements cannot influence us. But just as Jerry always wins, good ads always manage to make a place inside our subconscious mind and influence our buying behavior. How many times have you caught yourself singing the tunes ‘Har ek friend zaroori hota hai’ or ‘Hum mein hain Hero’? Good ads have the power to remain in our minds and our thoughts, and even change them.


If you can make someone laugh, it is the quickest way to bring down barriers and make a friend. A lot of advertisers use this trick. It is very effective, but it is also very risky; for if humor goes wrong, it can seriously offend people. This particular commercial managed to offend its competitor. Aired during the Super Bowl on Sunday, GM advertised for its Chevrolet Silverado. The commercial showed how the world would end in 2012 (according to the Mayan calendar) and only those who drove the Chevrolet Silverado had chances of survival, not the ones who drove a Ford. The advertisement showed how a man and his dog managed to survive the catastrophe because they were safe inside their Chevrolet. As he drives around, he meets his friends who also survived because they were inside their Chevrolets. However, one friend is missing, so he asks, “Where is Dave?” His friend answers, “Dave could not make it; he drove a Ford.” As expected, Ford did not take it lightly and its legal cell filed a complaint demanding that GM apologize and withdraw its ad from everywhere. GM, in return, said that the ads were over the top and in a fun filled manner, they tried to bring out the fact that their pick-up truck was dependable even in the most dangerous of circumstances. They believed in their claim and were ready to wait till the world ended to prove their point… and then apologize if needed. But till then, all people who were worried about the Mayan calendar prophecy coming true had better buy the Chevrolet Silverado!! Not only did Chevrolet get noticed and talked about, but Ford was left rubbing its hands for it had not aired any commercial during the Super Bowl and therefore could not make its presence felt.

The Super Bowl actually turned into a cheeky war zone where brands took a dig at their competitors. After all, not everyday do you get more than 100 million people to watch you. So Samsung continued to take a dig at Apple. Its positioning strategy is to be remembered as the ‘anti-Apple phone’. Apple, on the other hand, is known for its most iconic Super Bowl ads (remember the 1984 ad), but was conspicuous by its absence and Samsung had a field day advertising its phone as the ‘next big thing’. The oldest rivals Coke and Pepsi had a face-off too. While Pepsi played it safe with an interesting commercial featuring Elton John, Coke decided to poke Pepsi; albeit in a very pleasant, interesting and indirect manner.

As the Super Bowl started, so did Coke’s Polar Bowl. Two polar bears rooting for opposing teams, drinking Coca-Cola and watching TV in their igloos were seen in the Coke commercial featured during the game. However, viewers could visit cokepolarbowl. com, which was hosted within Facebook, to see the bears watch the game. Now why would you do that? Because the bears were reacting to the action in the game and also to tweets and comments from viewers.

The cute polar bears made an interesting view and soon more and more people logged on, to see how they were reacting to the game and the commercials and their tweets. Their reactions had the social media world buzzing. The bears crossed their fingers during tense moments of the game and they stood with their paws to their hearts during the Clint Eastwood commercial. They dozed off during the Doritos ad (it’s a part of PepsiCo!), and they walked out of the room during Pepsi’s ad. They even read out interesting tweets from fans. Getting the polar bears to respond in real time was a difficult task and the team at Coca-Cola rehearsed for three months, using footage of old games to prepare themselves. It all paid off, for viewers enjoyed it so much that not many left the page after logging in, increasing traffic way beyond the expectations of Coke. Many even put their laptops next to the TV to enjoy the game and the reactions of the bears simultaneously!

Polar bears had been a part of Coke’s commercials in the 1920’s, and Coke decided to bring them back. This was the best way to bring back the old mascots and also take the old rivalry (with Pepsi) a notch higher!

The right dose of humour wins all battles, especially those of market share. And Coke has once again proved with this strategy why it’s the ‘Real Thing’.


The cute ad of McDonald’s, where a little boy refuses to be a boyfriend of the little girl because girlfriends are too demanding, but changes his mind instantly once he comes to know that all she ‘demanded’ was a McAloo Tikki burger, makes you smile. The innocence touches you. So does the Cadbury ad where the wife asks the husband, “When was the last time you said ‘I love you’?” and then blushes as she realises that everyday that he gave her a Cadbury bar, it was his way of saying, ‘I love You’. Sweet gifts for sweet words.

Indians love emotions and feelings and ads that make them smile or laugh are always a big success. The Tanishq diamond jewellery ad starring Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan made many men smile.

Be it advertisements or movies or even your Tom & Jerry show on TV, the reason they are so popular even after so many years is because they make you smile & laugh and no one gets hurt. A good advertisement makes you smile without poking fun at others. So if you want to make a good ad, it’s time to watch some TV shows, and get inspired.