Sun shines on another refresh for ABG

18 Aug,2016

 

By Anuka Roy

 

Change is the only constant. And, when the change is synonymous to continued growth and evolving oneself to suit the change, it is a very good indicator. The same logic holds true for brands. When it set up two decades ago, the Aditya Birla Group retained Preeti Vyas, Chairwoman and Chief Creative Officer at Vyas Giannetti Creative (VGC), to build its identity and logo. Earlier this week, the group and VGC unveiled the third logo developed. Vyas speaks about the need for the current refresh, her relationship with the group and much more. Excerpts from the interview:

 

Two decades, the third identity and a second refresh. Speaks a lot for your relationship with the Aditya Birla Group

I feel very privileged personally and professionally to be have been associated from the birth of the brand. When Kumar Mangalam Birla took over after his father passed away, he asked us to create a logo for him. We were very much part of the original branding journey, the strategy, research etc. and we stayed true to the journey in the sense that the group crossed so many milestones. We have stayed with them through the corporate communication, worked on so many opportunities and down the line, five years ago, we even had a refresh. One of the reasons why we had a refresh is that the group itself had become a superbrand. From not existing, it went on to become one of the more important brands in the country. In fact, it was seen as one of the architects of a new India. The group came on its own when the economy opened up and India had a very international outlook. Indians were becoming very significant consumers, the businesses actually added on to their portfolio of commodities… with consumer-facing businesses, telecom and fashion etc. When all of this happened, there were so many opportunities for the group to actually make sure that whatever it did, it was very committed to their vision and to the way it had structured the policies…  so it became a group of significance. And, the relationship which we had with them prior to the birth of the brand was also interesting because Kumar Mangalam Birla had reached out to me years ago when I was Creative Director of Trikaya Grey and he wanted some work to be done for something the Group was sponsoring. At that time his father was also alive, I had the privilege of meeting his father. So, the relationship actually goes back more than 25 years. Since then as the group expanded in terms of these different businesses, we have worked very closely with him and Pragnya Ram, Group Executive President, Corporate Communications and CSR who mentors the entire process. So, I was always the fronting sort of person of Vyas Giannetti Creative and they stayed true to us as we continued to deliver work for them.

 

Talk us through the three identities that you developed, and what they have meant for the Aditya Birla group at each stage that it was conducted.

When I was asked to do their logo first time, he said, I want to call it Aditya Birla Group and I want to herd all the companies under the umbrella of Aditya Birla Group. So, we said, fair enough, if Aditya is the name of the Group we should look at the meaning of Aditya, which is sun. Therefore, that is the origin of the logo inspired by the sun. If you look at the first logo, it had two semi-circles, one was an internal play and then there is an external play which as a group there are so many things happening within the group and externally we send out messages and then that in turn comes back.

Here, I would like to say Kumar was very interested in keeping the legacy, it is a new entity  but as such the name itself has a lot of legacy and he wanted a certain sense of richness and legacy which is why if you see the first logo, it also had a richness of colours. It was a solar colour but also had textures; it was in a sense carrying forward a classic brand in to the future. So, that was the approach to the logo itself.

Then as the group gained equity through whatever it did and became a Group of great worth, internally, there was a lot of call for new entities, new businesses… Aditya Birla itself. Aditya Birla as a name became very popular. Various companies like Grasim and Hindalco, existed before the Aditya Birla Group… they were all listed companies. Aditya Birla Group was an endorser brand which is why we had a strapline. It gained so much equity that in the second version of the logo, Aditya Birla Group was no longer a strapline. It became a very assertive and emphatic presence. The logo itself went through a colour refresh and a three-dimension was added to it. That was in a sense, a gradual change, it was not a jump. But it certainly was a small change for a brand but a giant change for a corporate entity.

When that happened, soon thereafter, as the group was getting older it was talking to a much younger audience – the millennials, people who are looking for something more global, something they could relate to in terms of their profile of exposure that they had and as a result the feedback that Kumar was getting, was that, perhaps the logo needed to go through a change. The core values remain the same, the core principle of the sun remains the same, but could we make it more dynamic, could we do so without divorcing a core graphic in terms of colours and so on, could we just give it much more energy, power and youthfulness? Then we embarked on a new journey and what we have now is definitely a departure from the old logo but it is not a complete and absolute 180-degree change either. We still have the sun; we have an added element of the ascension form. So, there is a sun and there are the rays, there is an ascension form which gives it much more power and energy. That is the journey.

What is interesting is that how many agencies around the world actually have this privilege- having seen three changes and being the corporate agency of one brand for two decades. It is of course a landmark moment for us as a company and it is quite heartening to see the change, the group actually rises so much in stature as well.

 

A brand refresh exercise doesn’t come cheap and while the Aditya Birla group is known for its emphasis on excellence, surely it’s cost-conscious like any traditional Indian empire. How much does a design refresh and a change of logo mean to an industrial group?

It is not just a commodities industry group. First of all, when we did this branding, it was largely a B2B business. But at that point in time, the only other company which went in for a professional branding exercise was the Tatas. The Tatas and Aditya Birla Group actually did their branding at the same time. When you go through a branding process, it creates great amount of equity not just for consumer-facing businesses but for all stakeholders, starting from your internal stakeholders, potential employees –  you will only grow on the strength of good people that you hire, it also means that you may want to align and associate with good people. When you are growing you are constantly creating associations, alliances and acquisitions, you always want to be in the consideration set. So, you need to make those branding investments.

It is a myth to say that just because you are a B2B business. you do not need branding. Everybody needs branding. Having said that, the group itself went from being practically and entirely a B2B business to largely – if you see their profile now – a much bigger FMCG business than all of the FMCG businesses put together. They are the largest fashion retail brand in the country, one of the largest (and growing) telecom networks, in terms of cement, again huge… it is the number one player in the country. Just look at the amount of the consumer-facing interfaces – financial services, insurance, mutual funds- all of these things are actually consumer-facing. So, the group itself has transitioned itself in to the consumer-facing businesses. It has a mixed portfolio. It needs to be understood that all businesses require branding and as they evolve, it is often matched with the strategic requirement. It never is an aesthetic requirement. There is a strategic need to create a brand, it always enhances and helps in growing the equity of a company, which means it helps in the business plans of a company. A branding strategy properly executed actually is a business ally which is why people who embrace design are in fact smart business people like an Apple brand where design became intrinsic to the product itself.

 

It is said if ‘it isn’t broke, why fix it’. Was it really necessary for the refresh to happen at each stage?

When you find that the feedback you are getting from stakeholders is that you are looking at a company which has a slightly younger profile, more dynamic and global, so, therefore, although the group itself is transitioning, the logo perhaps has to keep pace with that. So, we made it to get a much more dynamic, energetic and a youthful sort-of feel to complement where the group itself is moving to and where its aspirations were. The change that we made would probably last for another decade. By which time things will be clearer about what might be a refresh, will there be an alteration or change – a radical one or a minimal one, all of these things will happen can be reviewed possibly a decade from today.

All brands definitely need a review every five to seven years. There was a time when we said every 10 years but now everything has become for a shorter span.

 

But isn’t it better to stick to the same logo given that it shows a certain sense of continuity?

We have a lot of things which continue – there is a sun element, the warm solar colours are very much part of that. So, we have that. We have obviously from level one and level two, we have moved away because beyond a point, the old logo did not travel any further. Just as a graphic exercise, it would not go any further. We just needed to move to the next level of change.

 

The Aditya Birla Group has now got a diverse range of activities – from the core businesses it was in to telecom, retail and fashion. Hence the identity needs to appeal to a diverse set of people, including millennials who may not have much loyalty to age-old brands and corporates. How does the new identity that you have created help connect the Group connect to these diverse stratas?

For example, a lot of people did not know that Idea Cellular belonged to Aditya Birla Group. Once you have a corporate brand, individually there are companies and the relationship with the company branding is called the brand architecture. That has been designed, for example, if you take a cement product which is out there, you will find that this logo has transitioned in to that. If you walk in to an Idea retail place, Aditya Birla Group logo will also be there as an endorser. Go to a Pantaloons store, it will be there as well. When consumers walk in, they see the brand from whom they want to transact at the same time they know it is being endorsed by a larger entity. So, it gives a lot of confidence to the individual brand. The individual companies and brands are building their own equity. Aditya Birla Group as a brand is an umbrella which actually endorses all the activities and becomes a symbiotic relationship. For example, the equity gain from cement translates to a fashion brand and vice versa. Also, it translates in to corporate brand equity at a higher level. If you have seen all the advertising we have done for the group, it never really talks about products they make, because the group companies will talk about them. It takes the stature of a statesman. In terms of communication, it always talks about how this is an Indian multinational and how it is across various geographies. It does not tell you that we are in telecom or we are in this or that. It does, but in a manner which is a much larger landscape. That is why through all kinds of research that the group has done, it is seen as one of the most trusted brands of India. So, all of the right recall parameters and all the right boxes have been ticked for them… The group has done a lot of great things and of course the branding has been there to partner the group where the brand name is concerned.

 

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