Paradox of choice is the issue: Nitin Paranjpe

05 Apr,2013

By A Correspondent


It is time to listen, as the Goafest 2013 Conclave’s theme says. Hindustan Unilever MD and CEO Nitin Paranjpe did exactly that in preparation for his keynote speech. He asked his team to go out and ask TV viewers what they felt about advertisements, and to his dismay, he said, he discovered that practically everyone said they found ads an unwelcome intrusion.


Thinking about what is troubling the industry today, Mr Paranjpe said, he had come to realize that the issues facing it are such that merely expecting agencies to fix them is not possible. We have to look at the larger advertising and marketing function, he said. He pointed out that the basic function advertising serves, that is, the human need to stand out, has not changed – the techniques and the medium have changed. The Why remains the same, the How has been transformed, he said.


The consumer today is faced with the paradox of choice, Mr Paranjpe said. Consumers have never had it so good. There are lots of choices, yet there is little to choose between them. Differentiation is tougher, and the pressure makes for desperate attempts to stand out, leading to meaningless differences.


In the days of Doordarshan, he said, there was no choice of channels and communication vehicles were limited to either the Hindi feature film or Chitrahaar, both sure ways of reaching one’s audience. Content was so bad that people waited for ads, he remarked. From that single channel to over 700 channels today, audience fragmentation has meant that it is difficult to reach people. Hence the bombardment of people with messages. Despite this, however, they remember nothing.


People are not interested in seeing our ads, Mr Paranjpe said, and advertisers are getting away with it because consumers do not really have much choice. But once the choice comes, he said, people will not watch ads. The cost of digital video recorders is getting lower, and with a DVR in every home, it is unacceptable that we do nothing about it, he said.


The impact of social media

Mr Paranjpe said social is transforming word-of-mouth, enabling it to become dramatically more powerful. The proverbial six degrees of separation between individuals has now shrunk to four degrees.


He said the digital revolution calls into question the precept that advertisers are the creators of content. Now, the ability of every individual to create and share content is catastrophic for marketers. In some cases the assumption that the marketer has control over social content is a mistaken one, as social media users take ownership of the content, make up their own minds about it, and it can even backfire on the marketer. He cited the case of the Vodafone #mademesmile hashtag campaign, which resulted in embarrassment when questions of tax evasion were shared using the company’s own hashtag.


Brands cannot control content any more, and in such a scenario how do we brand, how do we market? Mr Paranjpe said marketers need to profoundly rethink branding. “Yesterday was creating a myth around branding. Myths which are not founded on truth cannot survive. Today and tomorrow, branding is about finding the truth and sharing it,” he said.


Winning back the trust of the people is key, he said. “If people trust you, they will buy, recommend, share. Why don’t we do that?”


Touching on consistency, Mr Paranjpe said creativity is remarkably powerful but if it is not consistent, there is no coherence and the brand loses equity. “We underestimate the role, the power of consistency,” he said, adding that there is no disconnect between creativity and the ability to create value. “We only assume that discipline kills creativity.”


Giving purpose and meaning to advertising

The context around us today, Mr Paranjpe said, is that trust and confidence in business is at its lowest. Business cannot survive if we don’t address this. Events such as Occupy Wall Street will bring down brands, companies, governments if we don’t act responsibly.


Consumers today are more aware and concerned about big issues, but feel helpless to do anything about them. There are challenges and opportunities for brands here, Mr Paranjpe said, as a brand is basically a product to buy and an idea to buy into. Smaller brands are doing this, and big brands have to follow suit. It is possible to run a commercial enterprise while doing good, he said, and consumers who feel for the cause will gravitate to the brand which empowers them to do something about it.


The situation today is that people are cynical about brands, and about advertising and marketing. Brands have an opportunity to change this, he concluded.


Photograph: Shailesh Mule/Fotocorp


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