Sanjeev Kotnala: Is the Consumer developing an Immunity to your Brand Messages

21 Oct,2015

By Sanjeev Kotnala


I hate it, when I am suffering from fever and my doctor refuses to prescribe painkillers or antibiotics. But his logic is simple. My body may develop immunity against prescribed chemicals and then I will need a higher dose. One day even the higher doses will stop working. A new prescription will be needed to treat the same problem. So an overdose and repeated prescription of same medicines is a sure trap. I will land  in a cycle for search of the next potent solution.


You also must have heard this story before. The story of a shepherd who would playfully shout ‘Sher Aya, Sher Aya’ (the tiger has come). Villagers would rush to help him, but find no tiger. Then one day finally the dreaded tiger came. The shepherd shouted. But the villagers did not come to his rescue. They were sure it was another false alarm. The villagers were immune to his cries.


The consumer is no different. S/he readily develops immunity to your repeated high dose of communication. Many times the brand remains blissfully unaware of it. It raises the dose and waits for it to be disappointed. All it needed was a new chemical to interface with the consumer. Find new messages, treatment or media to get him/ her to react.


Unfortunately, the number of truly caring brands is low. And the consumers have seen through the screen of brand’s disguise while eyeing their wallets.


It is a happy disruption when the brand custodians find a new trigger and insights. Soon the lazy category adapts the new mantra. It becomes the industry norm. As the consumer category DNA mutates, the new medicine impacts hurriedly moves on the curve of diminishing returns. None of the stakeholders is a winner in this case.


The immunity developed is always potent.  It affects not just the default category but cuts across other similar categories. The brand custodians find another chemical and happily provide symbolic relief. They forget to focus on the root cause. They treat the same problem forgetting to read the consumer’s real evolved need.


Immunity is the consumer’s AHA moment. It is when s/he says, I understand, I will no longer be affected by brands false pretentions. The earlier experiences are memories and I treasure them. You were useful to me in earlier life and avatar but I am a fast learner. Unfortunately you don’t think so. S/he no longer believes in the brand attitude. Nothing seems to move him/her. In this era of plenty consumers are not even looking at the brand for solutions.


The brand custodians do what they are taught to do. Fire another research. They collectively fail using the same old techniques. They tend to use the same methods to reach them. They fail faster when the consumer stops trusting the messenger.


For consumers, no news is good news. Even when their hearts are telling him to believe, their minds telling them to check for the catch. The believability and credibility is under scrutiny.  This is a polite way to say that there is a loss of Credibility.


Let us take the case of multiple education awards and rankings. Each more unscientific in its approach and objective. Students don’t trust them anymore. They have their own sources. They tap into social media and connect with alumni. They connect with the current students to decide. The awards and rankings are more useless than ever before. I am willing to bet that the award organiser do not refer to their own results while deciding the institute for their child’s education. It does not mean that there is no scope for a really honest all encompassing ranking.


This is festive time and talk of discount and sales is in the air. The consumer is no longer happy with the 15-20% sale. ‘Buy 1 get 1 free’ is dead. In some categories ‘Buy 1, Get 7’ is not exciting enough. The consumer has been over exposed to the pornographic sales tactics. Earlier it was a way to liquidate stocks. Now it is a way of life. Consumers have their own MVP (Maximum Value Price). They think the brand has been cheating them for long. The perceived relative price of every item is dropping faster than irrelevant value adds being provided by the brands. Premium brands in the race have lost their license to charge premium. There is a new defined immunity against MRP. Consumer treats the discounted price as the MRP and equates it against MVP. He is no longer easily seduced.


The IVR system with ‘you are important’ was a breather. Now in its mutant version of ‘You are important to us, please wait’, it is helping accelerate immunity against the promise of service. The brands may find it better to deploy the ‘call back’ systems.


Bulk e-mail marketing even if personalised is losing its impact. There is too much of it. The consumer is tired of deleting and unsubscribing. The brands, which take blanket permission under the comfort of long-winded acceptance and then flood the inbox, will lose out. The consumer does not only mark their mail as spam but subconsciously would be making the brands as irrelevant.


The whitening and wrinkle-remedy creams are magical remedies that don’t work.  The consumer distrust is high. Consumer is more confident of their dreams and comfortable with their identities. Here it is no longer a case of over or under delivery. The promise though based on a relevant insight is over exaggerated.


On the other hand, the deodorants ride a truly laughable execution underlining their highly improbable promise. Deodorants are fine. The consumer treats the category like AIB. Infact they are waiting for the new play that the category must soon discover.


Whereas, ‘under-promise over-delivery’ (the biblical truth) in product experience or service helps developing POSITIVE IMMUNITY. It is like getting vaccinated. ‘Fevicol’ is a great example of it. The consumer is positively immunized. S/he blocks the possible impact of any message by any other brand in the category. In his/her mind, no brand can bind as powerful as Fevicol. Fevicol in a consumer’s mind is an expert. An expert who understands his/her world. Pathar Ki Lakir.  Written on rock.


Positive immunity helps brands in case of crisis and reputation management. Nestle is a recent case. The amount of smiles and messages that greet the news of its revival is not funny. It has potential to brand December 15 (or the day of re-launch) as a date of Product Purity or brand resurgence.


Positively immunised consumer looks the other way and pardons your minor mistakes. In best-case scenario, they are willing to stand up for you and defend the brand.


Check if your Brand has Positive Immunity.

May be it is time you included this in your agenda. In addition to repeated consumer insight study, also study consumer immunity. Check the things the consumer is immune to as a brand and the category. Evaluate how far your messages are overloaded and over exposed.


Keep checking to time the introduction of the next chemical is needed. Do not think that every season or a pre-defined quarter is the time to introduce the new chemical in your interface with the consumer.


Devote your energies to think ways in which you can make your brand gain positive immunity.


Sanjeev Kotnala is Founder at Intradia World. A Brand, Marketing &  Management UnConsult Advisor. He conducts specialised workshops in the area of IDEATION (Harvest and Liberate) and INNOVATION (InNoWait). He focuses energy in enhancing client’s team’s potential and capabilities and decreasing their dependence  on external resources. Email  or tweet at s_kotnala visit


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