Beyond Proposition To Attitude – Guest Column

This week the column is dedicated to brands that became icons, brought about paradigm shifts in advertising and spawned whole new genres of commercials. From early on, brands that have stood out in the crowd have been iconoclastic, in a manner of speaking. What makes these brands different and what goes into building them are some of the questions that are addressed. My piece on brand attitude, will I am sure raise argument and debate as it did when I gave it to a couple of friends from the industry to read. We could not agree on the term ‘attitude’. Please write in with your views, particularly if they are radically different.

Usha Bhandarkar writes about brands that have become vehicles for our fantasies and aspirations to ride on and ways of providing that 360 degree brand experience to the consumer.

Kamini Banga


As brands and markets go through different stages in their life cycles,  advertising keeps pace and goes through transformation in concept and in terms of executional elements. With increasing product parity and brand proliferation, advertising relies on things other than product performance as discriminators. For example, imagery- the caring mother in Surf and Bournvita; hyperbole – as in the mother-in-law campaign for Ariel or ‘door ho jaa meri nazron se’ for Wheel bar; and symbols/metaphors – film stars and celebrities from popular culture as symbols of aspirational lifestyle. And, finally, advertising becomes part of popular culture as happened in MTV advertising or ‘yehi hai right choice baby,’ for Pepsi. But what finally gives the brand that edge is none of the above but something that may be called an attitude.

Regardless of the stage that advertising is in, what makes brands stand out and what separates good advertising from brilliant advertising is the attitude it imparts to the brand. Such brands become icons. Let me first illustrate this by some examples as they will help explain what I mean by attitude.

With ‘Yehi hai right choice baby’ and  ‘there is nothing official about it’ Pepsi became a brand with an attitude. With the advantage of being a challenger brand it could afford to cock a snook at the leader, Coca Cola and became the brand of preference among GEN X. Lalithaji gave Surf an attitude when she started “Bhai sahib…..”. While conventional wisdom drove the market towards cheaper detergent powders, Nirma in particular, she retaliated by pooh poohing the whole category of cheaper detergent powders, claiming “Surf ki khariddari mein hi samajhdari hai”. She was a woman who was smart enough to separate the grain from the chaff and would not hesitate from calling a spade a spade. Her slightly know-it-all attitude may not have endeared her to housewives but they were more than willing to stop and listen to her thus arresting Nirma in its tracks.
For years, chocolates had been advertised as the bond between loved ones with the parents or adults gifting it to children on special occasions. The cricket ad with the girl running with great abandon on to the cricket field breaking cordons and rules made Cadbuty Dairy Milk an icon with an attitude.

When soap advertising was fighting shy of showing women bathing, Liril broke open the bathroom door with the legendary girl in the waterfall.
The Times of India has loads of attitude with its counterfeit note  commercial and the story of the file in a government office rendered in the style of cricket commentary.  Both these make a statement on the rampant corruption in the country. Compare this with “Sachh dikhaate hain hum…..”, NDTV campaign or The Indian Express, “Journalism with courage”, and I hope you will begin to see what I am trying to say.
The whole MTV campaign, with the Udham Singh character and then with the old man, had the ability to bring the ridiculous to the fore and to poke fun at one’s ownself.

Recently, I heard this in an ad agency, “Yaar, the client is asking for Center Shock type of advertising.” What an attitude in the barber commercial! Center Shock then spawned a whole genre. Think Chlor Mint; this type essentially follows a format that has a small town feel with characters that can be best described as provincial and stereotypical in the social fabric- the madaari’ doing the fire eating act, the paanwala,  Aamir Khan in his many avataars in the Coca Cola campaign and of course the barber in the Center Shock ad. This trend was first started by MTV in their Udham Singh campaign that made hic towns and country bumpkins entertaining and funny. Although the famous Fevicol campaign falls in this group, most ads seem to be primarily for brands in the impulse category.

It is always easier to describe something by what it is not than what it is. The same goes for attitude. It is perhaps evident from these examples that brands with an attitude need not be from a particular product category, such as lifestyle, or that it is not a recent phenomenon. When a campaign has the courage to buck the trend, maybe, it is on its way to acquiring an attitude. However, just being different is not enough as in the Maruti ad where for the first time in an automobile ad, a child and a Dinky car give the message of fuel efficiency or the Tata Indica ad using children to give the message of ‘more room per car’. The use of retro syle in Kit Kat or Close Up is perhaps not enough to give them an attitude. They certainly make for more interesting and entertaining ads but you need far stronger characters and stronger statements or far more iconoclasmic treatments to impart an attitude to the brand.

In my view the Hutch child and dog campaign is pretty close to having an attitude when you compare it with Air Tel using film stars and Reliance using connectivity as empowerment.

Brands are like stars, or even better. Posh Spice is known to have said, “Right from the beginning, I said I wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic.” Stars come and go but brands last and last and are constantly being rejuvenated. What gives stars their iconic status is their attitude, think Cool Shah Rukh, enigmatic Big B, wayward Salman, devil-may-care Kareena or honest to goodness Preity. Their attitude makes them what they are –Stars. So why not brands.

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