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The 3 most successful brands

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January 18, 2006 07:55 IST

Part I: Most & least successful India brand launches

Here's a closer look at India's most successful brand launches.

1. Swift work

Maruti's confidence in the Swift has been justified -- and then some. 

The story of Maruti Swift reads like a recipe for success -- a good product, aggressive branding strategy and doing things differently. So, no teaser campaigns, no going all-out with TV ads and no brand ambassador for you. And no white model -- the best-selling colour!

While most auto companies -- including Maruti Udyog Limited (MUL) -- prefer to keep a new car model under wraps until the launch day, the Swift had already undergone test drives by auto experts.

It had been showcased to the distributors, and had 9,000 bookings before the launch, even before the price was announced. "We were so sure of the design and the complete product that we feel the need to keep it under wraps," says a company official.

From the Maruti 800 to the Esteem, MUL has always successfully cashed-in on the value-for-money proposition. "We were a little conservative when it came to the design," says a senior company executive, "but we went all out with the design with the Swift."

"MUL identified an aspiration gap and plugged the gap with the Swift. No wonder it is doing so well," says Jagdeep Kapoor, brand guru and CMD, Samsika Marketing Consultants.

That's a thought echoed by the respondents of the Brand Derby. Eighty per cent considered the Swift a very successful launch, with 21 per cent considering it the year's most successful brand. "Aspirational value", "brilliant positioning" and "a killer combination of style and reliable brand" -- Derby respondents certainly found a lot to praise in the Swift.

But then, a lot of effort has gone into creating it. India's largest car company invested Rs 440 crore (Rs 4.40 billion) in developing the Swift, of which Rs 190 crore (Rs 1.90 billion) was contributed by its vendors.

Further, a team of 25 MUL engineers and designers were a part of the design team for the Swift and even spent six months in Europe, the world's biggest small-car market, studying trends and also working on what would still be stylish five years from now. At the same time, they didn't forget the Indian roads and climate. So, the Indian variant has features such as better suspensions and an anti-rust coat at the bottom of the body. Another first: the car was launched globally within a span of a few months.

Come December 2004 -- five months before the car was launched in India -- all new WagonRs and Maruti Omnis had sunshields and stickers that said: "My next car is a Swift."

For the first time, MUL also opted for an in-film placement with the Bollywood hit Bunti Aur Babli, which was slated to hit the box-office around the same time. "The movie could have been released a fortnight in advance, or a month late. We didn't let that bother us, however," says the MUL spokesman.

A 1,000-strong team of salespeople called "energisers" were trained and placed at the 328 Maruti car dealers to sell only the Swift. Overnight, models of the car appeared on high platforms at busy intersections in Delhi, and in malls.

In India, the car launch spread over just three to four days in 15 cities. "Not after the Maruti 800 has such activity and buzz happened over a car from the MUL stable," gushes an auto analyst.

The price tag was equally attractive. With the base model for Rs 3.87 lakh (Rs 387,000), the Swift was almost Rs 50,000 less than what other cars in the segment cost. "Affordable and stylish in today's age, what more do customers want?" asks Kapoor.

Adds auto analyst Tutu Dhawan, "More than the marketing initiatives, it was the car that made the difference. It was targeted not only at the first-car buyers but also at those who wanted another one, or a change from set of staid-looking wheels."

Too much of a good thing? You're probably right. "What can I say? Looks like our estimates about the car demand were conservative," smiles a senior MUL executive. When other cars in the A2+ segment -- Hyundai Getz, Fiat Palio, Corsa Sail -- were selling 2,000 units a month collectively, MUL set itself a monthly target of 4,000 cars.

However, within the first six months, the car had already sold over 40,000 cars -- more than 6,600 cars a month. Soon, there was a four-month waiting period while other cars in the segment were available off-the-shelf.

"There would have been huge discontent if customers had to wait so long," says the MUL official. Within five months, MUL upped its production capacity by 30 per cent: it can now manufacture 6,000 units a month.

The branding exercise is far from complete. The MUL corner at the just-concluded Auto Expo in New Delhi was more about the Swift than any other car. On display were seven more Swift models, from Swift Sport to the rally Swift, the Swift JWRC. "It's a car of the future," says the MUL spokesman proudly, "and there's more to come."

2. Indian Idol: Hitting the high note

Indian Idol opened up entirely new ways of marketing to television audiences.

Like his future, Ravinder Ravi's old mud house is now firmly cemented. The former house painter from Ludhiana now travels by air to perform "live" shows in Dubai and has bought his wife a Maruti car.

This is the same man who reached Delhi for the Indian Idol auditions on money borrowed from his neighbours. He may not have won the grand prize, but India's first "real reality show" certainly changed his life.

It also changed forever how audiences and marketers viewed television. Now, those on the other side of the screen could be as much a part of the action as those under the spotlight. And as brand teams realised that audiences would actually pay to watch their favourite programmes, you could almost hear them singing all the way to the bank.

Marketing professionals interviewed for the Business Standardannual Brand Derby certainly found a lot to admire in the Indian Idol business model.

Seventy-four per cent of those polled considered the programme a "very successful" launch, while 17 per cent gave it the top rank among successful launches of the past year. Just 5 per cent considered it a flop. "Huge publicity and advertising", "unique, Indianised concept" and "good marketing" are just some of the accolades heaped on the programme.

Even Sony Entertainment Television (SET) couldn't have predicted Indian Idol would get so big. That it would grow into a show that transformed the fortunes of not just the participants but, as Tarun Katial, SET business head, eloquently puts it, "millions of middle-class Indians who held their dreams close to their hearts, waiting to change them into reality."

To be fair, Indian Idol was not the pioneer of reality talent shows. Rival channels such as Zee and Channel V had similar shows running long before Indian Idol was probably even conceptualised.

So, what was the strategy that made this show such a success? "Indian Idol," says Katial, "was made from the stories of real people, some of whom were typical rags-to-riches tales."

The concept was borrowed from Freemantle Media -- which produced American Idol -- and captured on camera all the drama, emotion and controversy that's inevitable in such shows -- but makes for excellent ratings.

More importantly, the programme was quick to latch on to the other craze sweeping middle-class India: SMS. Audience involved was not just allowed, but encouraged -- the number of votes a participant got decided whether he stayed or went.

As music director Anu Malik, who was a judge on the show, points out, "Indian Idol succeeded because it gave the nation a chance to choose its own singing sensation."

The strategy worked and TAM ratings showed the programme overtaking daytime sob sagas such as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki. With 55 million votes pouring in from across India, Indian Idol's debut was truly impressive.

What also worked, according to Nina Jaipuria, vice president, marketing, SET, was the 360-degree approach to the programme's advertising, which began six months before even the first round of auditions. "There was a layered marketing strategy to build all the hype and frenzy," she says.

That included road shows where special, "out-of-queue" passes were handed out to a few, randomly selected participants and a Web site that contained information about audition dates and locations and how to apply, apart from trivia and fun facts.

"We never put a stop to our campaigns and continued to encourage people to vote," recalls Jaipuria. Apart from print and television campaigns, Indian Idol even had innovative promotions like morchas on railway platforms.

SET doesn't reveal how much the channel spent on promoting the programme: "It was one of the most heavily marketed shows ever seen on Indian television, with a reasonable amount of money thrown in for good measure" is all Katial says. Industry estimates, though, place the figure at Rs 15-20 crore (Rs 150-200 million); and the celebrity judges are said to have been paid fees of Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) each.

Of course, the money was pouring in. A 10-second ad spot cost Rs 1.25 lakh (Rs 125,000), but SET had already tied up six main sponsors for the show: Airtel, Nokia, Rejoice, Godrej Ambipur, Marico Silk & Shine and Pepsi. Reverse advertising, too, helped. Jaipuria points to an ad for Rejoice shampoo where the Indian Idol logo appeared prominently.

SET was able to cash in on the Indian Idol craze long after the show ended in March 2005. Follow up stories of the top 11 finalists ensured that interest in the programme -- and, therefore, advertising -- remained alive.

And now, there's the sequel: Indian Idol II. What further proof of the brand's success do you need?

3. Kingfisher Airlines: High flyer

A larger-than-life brand image and promises of good times have helped Kingfisher Airlines soar.

On May 8, 2005, "the king of good times" had more than one reason to celebrate. Not only was it Vijay Mallya's son Siddhartha's 18th birthday, it was also the launch of his Kingfisher Airlines (KFA).

So Mumbai's Air-India hangar had 2,000 guests -- industrialists, top politicians, glitterati and the media -- sipping champagne and checking out the impressive new Airbus A320 aircraft, flanked by Kingfisher's red-liveried hostesses. The festivities continued late into the night at a five-star hotel.

For Mallya, though, the party has just begun. In seven months, KFA has earned Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion), flown over 500,000 passengers, grown to a fleet of nine Airbus A320 and expanded from four flights a day to 56. Equally important, Kingfisher Airlines bagged the third place in this year's Brand Derby: 64 per cent of those interviewed ranked it the third-most successful brand launch, while 11 per cent felt it deserved top slot.

KFA's success carries a simple, yet vital lesson: do your homework. When the decision to enter the aviation industry was taken in early 2004, Mallya and his team knew the going would be rough.

The 25-million seats Indian aviation industry was growing at 20 per cent, but it was on the backs of the new, low-cost players. Entrenched players like Indian Airlines and Jet Airways, too, were slashing ticket prices to cater to the new breed of have-ticket-will-travel passengers.

The challenge for the new airline was to stand out in the crowd, for all the right reasons. So, Kingfisher approached market research agency IMRB to assess a possible niche. IMRB interviewed 2,500 frequent air travellers, aged 21-45 years from SEC A1, A2 and B in the top 15 metros, where air travel markets are strong.

"The study revealed people wanted a young, trendy, fun and yet premium product," says Girish Shah, head, marketing, KFA. What also surfaced, in the course of the study, was the tremendous brand equity of Kingfisher beer.

The way ahead was clear: extend the Kingfisher brand into aviation, and focus on the young business traveller. "The challenge was to make the mother brand slightly more serious and relevant to air travellers," says Anu Raj, vice president, Equus Red Cell, the ad agency of Kingfisher Airlines.

Backed with an ad budget of Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million), KFA began its ad campaign a few weeks before the launch, booking every possible touchpoint relevant to the business traveller.

Newspaper ads, radio spots, and a presence in upmarket stores like Westside and Shoppers' Stop, premium clubs like the Cricket Club of India. . . even with-it restaurants like Tendulkar's. Competitions and quizzes with free KFA tickets as prizes ensured customer interest.

In mid-August, KFA launched its second campaign -- "Freedom from boring air travel" -- to coincide with Independence Day. In keeping with the patriotic theme, KFA's trademark red carpets were laid out in the south Mumbai upmarket Inox multiplex, to welcome moviegoers to Mangal Pandey: The Rising.

Customer interest was definitely hooked, not least because of Mallya himself. Media analysts credit a large part of KFA's success to its flamboyant promoter and his directly addressing the press and customers.

"Kingfisher's is a PR-driven communication instead of a regular, advertising-driven communication," says Pranesh Misra, president and COO, Lowe Lintas. "It's inspired from Virgin, where Richard Branson, too, focuses more on PR and value-adds."

The value-adds have been critical for KFA, too. Attractive cabin crew in designer uniforms, gourmet meals and personal screens for each seat add to the premium experience.

On board, passengers watch a safety video featuring model-actress Yana Gupta and can then choose from five video channels and 10 radio channels. They are called "guests" and given gifts at the end of the flight -- sachets of flavoured tea and umbrellas during the monsoon.

All of which ensured good times for the passenger. But Indians don't like their good times to be accompanied by huge price tags, so KFA clubbed its other selling points with a biggie -- moderate price points.

Initially, KFA flights on the crowded Mumbai-Bangalore route were offered for just Rs 1,999 in a direct bid to lure passengers. Once the fish bit, it was reeled in with special, same-day return offers. That was a hit with business travellers, who usually return within the day.

To cast its net wider, KFA then offered special fares for Central government and defence personnel and their families. "Kingfisher has conveniently sandwiched itself between the upper end of Air Deccan customers and the lower end of Jet Airways, thus roping in both the segments," contends Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Now it was time to land the catch. KFA managed to bag access to the Indian Airlines' terminals at major airports, allowing it to glide past the inevitable delays at the private airlines' terminals and ensure timeliness. IA staff was also roped in for the ground handling and kitchen duty handed over to Sky Gourmet.

"Outsourcing functions allows Kingfisher to cut cost and increase efficiency," says Kapil Kaul, CEO, Indian subcontinent and Middle East, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA). Plus, like low-cost airlines, Kingfisher effectively uses online ticketing, saving up on travel agents' commissions.

All of which adds up to an effective brand. But KFA still has a long way to fly. "Kingfisher doesn't offer business class. So it can't beat Jet in that segment," points out Bijoor. That shortcoming will be made good in March, but KFA's got rough weather ahead.

The Jet-Sahara merger could well capture half the market, while the rumoured Indian Airlines-Air-India partnership will generate even greater economies of scale for the state carrier. If the Kingfisher brand rides out those storms, it will really be a brand worth reckoning.

Prerna Raturi, Abhilasha Ojha and Rituparna Chatterjee in New Delhi / Mumbai