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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Delhi Deconstructed


From time immemorial the detergent powder market in India meant Surf, Surf and virtually nobody else. This giant of a brand from Unilever then called Hindusthan Lever was a virtual monopoly in the branded detergent  powder segment to the extent it became generic. Old timers among us would remember that even me-toos and wanna-bes could not break away from the Surf mould let alone compete. Even the colour of the detergent was generic, a pale blue 'Surf" colour. A cushy HLL laughing all the way to the bank in a bubble of its own. All this till the late '80s. And then the inevitable happened. A small town entrepreneur named Karsan Bhai Patel launched his homegrown concoction of a detergent powder with an atrocious packaging named after his daughter. And yellow in colour! Nirma! Backed by a promise of 'doodh si safedi' and a catchy jingle and priced at 1/4th of the Surf, Nirma gobbled Surf's marketshare and went on to become a leader in many a market and big enough to threaten Surf's leadership position. Old timers among us would remember the irony when consumers asked for ' Nirmawala Surf dena!' Replace Surf with BJP and Nirma with AAP and you would possibly understand the voters verdict in the just concluded elections for the Delhi Assembly. Overconfidence almost bordering on arrogance against a fleet footed start up which refused to play by the existing market rules torpedoed the well entrenched leader. BJP's last minutes tactics of bringing in new faces, lewd and negative campaign almost mirrored HLL's tactics of reducing prices, launching a mega negative campaign (Whiteness or burnt hands) etc and which like BJP's campaign failed to find traction with the consumers. Well done Nirma, well done AAP!

Arrogant Market leaders, Beware!

Will Wheel apply the brakes?
It is rumored that there exists a secret book in the Unilever Headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands which is an encyclopedia of every marketing skirmish it has faced in every market in the world. The company dug deep into the same and is supposed to have pulled out a strategy to compete versus Nirma. A strategy already applied in markets similar to India facing a similar David vs Goliath war. HLL launched a new brand Wheel in the Nirma segment and priced it just a tad higher than the upstart to kill Nirma's biggest USP, price. Promoted as a 'better detergent at affordable price' to take Nirma head on, Wheel gradually turned the tables on the newbie. While Wheel indulged in the market warfare on the price platform and flanked Surf, the latter was given a complete makeover with new packaging and a 'superior' positioning to regain its primacy by creating the premium segment which was targeted at the upwardly mobile middle class which the then recently liberalized Indian economy threw up. And there in lies the lessons for BJP to bounce back post the pasting it has received in Delhi. Go back to its core promise, the secret book, which made the Indian electorates give it massive majority in the last general election. (Link here Dear Sri Narendra Modi!)

Will Surf 'Excel' again?


One of the greatest marketing fiascos ever indulged in by any company happened in '85 when Coca Cola, hold your breath, changed the recipe of its flagship aerated drink. So uproarious was the reaction and rejection from the consumers that it is said that this led to Pepsi taking leadership position in the North American market for the very first time in the history of the Cola Wars. To cut the story short, Coke quickly went back to its original recipe and post one of the costliest marketing campaigns ever went back to where it always was, leadership. Nothing works with consumers better than a responsive brand. A sincere apology to the electorates for the mistake of the '49 day government' fiasco has indeed worked wonders for brand AAP. Now AAP has the tougher task at hand. Apologising for the mistake was akin to bringing back the original Coke recipe. Delivering the 'always Coca Cola' promise is the task now. It doesn't take the consumer time to switch brands preferences again.

Recipe is back. Will it 'refresh' again?


I had written on the challenges the Congress faces earlier. To cut the story short Suffices if I just replug the same again here!


PS: Over to Bihar now. Will BJP stick to its 'Secret Book' or can the arithmetic of JDU+RJD+INC do a  Nirma? Watch this space!

Glossary :
doodh si safedi : Whiteness like milk
Nirmawala Surf dena : Give me Surf named Nirma

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Smog, Airports And Common Man!

I am not very sure of the year so suffices to say it was the Christmas Eve during early 2000s. Self was booked to fly down to Bangalore from Delhi. And as you have rightly guessed flying out of Delhi during its severe winter nights is a zilch idea. Given the fog/smog the schedules of all the airlines were thrown haywire then, just as they are even today. Delays ranging from hours to days being the norm. Given this scenario, Jet Airways made a cardinal error of sending me an SMS saying my flight however will take off as scheduled. Armed with the said message I made it to the Airport as planned.

One fine winter morning @ Delhi......Airport!

On reaching the Airline counter I was informed by the helpless Passenger Service Officer that she had no clue when my flight will depart as there were three DEL-BLR flights already scheduled before mine and were yet to take off. Out came the mobile and I showed the damning SMS. Any explanation about the same being an automated/scheduled message were swatted away like any Indian batsman would a fuller delivery outside the leg with no fine leg/square leg, to the boundary. Post a fairly authentic portrayal of the 'Angry Young Man', I was accommodated in the next departing flight out of turn.

We were all seated and ready to take off. However we were delayed due to the air traffic over Delhi and the Airline decided to serve us our dinner. Imagine a Christmas Eve dinner in an aircraft! But then who was I to complain when I was at least fortunate to embark on my journey homeward, many on ground then would have envied me about such small mercies. Dinner done, we awaited the take off. A hour or so later we were informed that the flight will apparently not take off at all due to worsening visibility and were subsequently deplaned. The assurance given that the flight will take off the next morning at 9 AM. So much for my stroke of good luck! To top it all was the gleeful and nasty faces shown by the passengers who were left behind in the airport gave us on our return back to terra firma!

After a peaceful night at Taj Mansingh, courtesy Jet Airways I was back in the aircraft with the rest of the passenger well on time. What followed was breakfast! And yet another delay. As the fog began to thicken again, the passengers badgered the cabin crew on the reasons for the delay. Finally the Captain announced that the delay despite an all clear was due to a politician who was to fly with us was yet to arrive. The proverbial last straw! Most agitated and angry passengers, self included got down from the aircraft down to the tarmac. An hour of so later the politician's cavalcade made it to the Aircraft. The already annoyed passengers, self included, started raising slogans against the 'khaas aadmi' treatment extended to the politician. The bottomline emerged that we would not allow the flight to take off if the politician boarded it! The politicians security officers tried to mollify us by apologizing only to be politely told that while we respect the NSG, the same did not extend to the politician, who by the way refused to step down from his bullet proof car! After about fifteen minutes of verbal jujitsu with the passengers, the NSG went back to the car to ask the politician to come out and personally apologize to us passengers. The politician immediately did what politicians generally do when people ask questions, he drove away! Post a shrill 'hip hip hooray' and hearty laughter we reentered the aircraft and it took off without the politician! Yes! Never underestimate the power of a common Jet Airways Passenger!

You want to know who this politician in question is? I won't disappoint you! Look below!  

Former Prime Minister of India.


PS: I made a cardinal error during my free stay at Taj Mansingh. I ordered a packet of cigarettes. Puff went 25% my monthly paycheck!

Glossary :

Khaas Aadmi : VIP