Froth, flavour and Feluda!

24 Sep,2020


By Avik Chattopadhyay


Over the last one week three specific developments in the world of brands have encouraged me to ponder over them, share my viewpoint and throw up some questions to all brand practitioners amongst you.


Each development is unique in its business space, timing and impact. Yet, each is a situation that many of us do face in the world of managing and nurturing brands.


#01 – Froth

After a pretty high decibel launch of Vodafone Idea’s new brand identity “Vi” campaign a fortnight back, the company announced an advertising and promotion blitz of Rs.800 crores till March 2021 to establish the new brand and more importantly, arrest an eroding user-base. Half the amount would be on advertising and sponsorships like on IPL. The rest on signage, outdoor visibility, and promotions.


For a brand that has to raise Rs.25,000 crores to pay off the AGR dues and more, why go into a rebranding at all? I find no logic working here. This is not a new brand, nor is India a new market and neither are there any new solution offers. Damn, it is not even a new owner. Merely changing one’s name to raise money to pay dues cannot be convincing enough even as a business school case study. It is merely new wrapping paper and ribbons, not even deserving a wine bottle. So why spend all this money? And it all going to be borne by the subscribers through a price increase being contemplated right now. By the way, Jio announced a post-paid package through IPL that is undercutting competition and giving them sleepless nights.


 For a brand practitioner, why would one ever recommend this window dressing? When one is challenged with protecting higher ARPU vis-à-vis a depleting subscriber base, is an expensive rebranding exercise the best option? Has the ‘brand’ ceased to be the promise of an experience delivered consistently over time? Has it been downgraded to mere theatrics, at the cost of almost disrespecting your existing user who is quite aware of the situation you are currently in?  


#02 – Flavour

Nikola was till last week a poster boy in the world of electric mobility. Nikola proposes to make electric light trucks for the US market. Not really new, as it was founded in 2015 by one Trevor Milton after his previous venture dHybrid lost a lawsuit and was gobbled up. From then till now, all that Nikola has done is present lot of prototypes at various fancy events and raised money on fancy projections.


Milton is a terrific social media manager, always remaining in the limelight through his quirky, maverick image, building millions of followers who salivate on every word he says. As the valuation of Nikola went through the roof [based only on announcements and no demonstration over 5 years, mind you] General Motors stepped in with a huge investment, not wanting to miss out on this amazing bubble being blown.


Early September, just two days after the GM investment, one of the investors [could be a competitor plant, for all you know] blew the ‘whistle’ claiming that Nikola actually had no technology to back up all the claims and had actually staged product performance. The stock price fell by 10%.


The Securities and Exchange Commission stepped in to investigate. And the Department of Justice joined in. Milton resigned. The stock fell another 35%. The poster just folded up on the September 21.


What really does it take to “build” a brand? What are the fundamentals that ensure sustainability and stakeholder return in the long term? Can social media management and event coordination build valuations? Is the science behind creating reality show celebrities and valuable organisations the same? Is valuation the true parameter of brand success or actual demonstration? Will the Indian “unicorns” of today stand steady and deliver on their promises tomorrow and the day after, or will they one day fold up like the Nikola poster?   


#03 – Feluda

As a piece of positive news in the Covid-19 gloom, the Drugs Controller General of India approved an accurate low-cost test to detect the virus using a paper strip in 30 minutes for commercial production. Jointly developed by CSIR and Tata Group, the test has been called “Feluda”! The two CSIR scientists Debojyoti Chakraborty and Souvik Maiti named it after the popular fictional detective created by Satyajit Ray.


Feluda is the nickname of Prodosh Chandra Mitter, who was first introduced to the Bengali in 1965. Like his “guru” Sherlock Holmes, he too has an equivalent of a Watson in the form of his younger cousin brother Topesh, lovingly called ‘Topshe’. Over the next two decades a total of 39 ‘adventures’ were written by Ray, some being made into movies for theatre and television, serials and also radio stories. Feluda evolved from being meant for children into becoming a Bengali icon for all ages, with some of the best actors playing roles in the movies and television serials. Doordarshan ran a serial on Feluda in Hindi, the character played by Rajit Kapoor.


Ray portrayed Feluda as the Bengali he wanted all Bengalis to be like. Sharp, witty, intuitive, rational, respectful, challenging, inquisitive, adventurous, helpful and always detecting the truth from the mess around us.


Like Feluda, there are another half a dozen detectives in Bengali literature that deserve to be globally amplified and followed. Similarly, there would be a handful each in every language in this country. Yet they remain largely regional. Why can a Feluda novel not be part of the mainstream school curriculum? It will definitely teach the younger generation to be what Ray envisaged them to be like.


India has been very poor with her non-corporate brands. She has millions of them, like little jewels in a treasure hunt that one needs to dig out and savour. As Indians, it is our duty to bring them out into the open to be experienced, by all within the country and also across the world. What will it take to do so, in a sustainable manner? Who should be the custodians of this unending repository? Do we not need a central body that takes this on as the core responsibility in making each valuable Indian non-corporate brand come alive? Definite food for seriously long thought…

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