Many years back I was fortunate to spend a year at a leading FMCG company on a Brand Project. Coming from an IT world selling PC’s & Servers it was a rare insight into the world of Brands . I carried back two key messages on Marketing from the GM Marketing (who is now the CEO of that company)
1. Perception is Reality & 2. Familiarity breeds favourability .
This essay will touch mainly upon the first topic – as I strongly disagree with the fact that Perception is Reality.
Let’s assume you have a Restaurant that positions itself as a haven for great food , and spends a lot of marketing dollars in communicating that message. If you land up at the Restaurant and find that the food and service is bad – will you ever visit that place again ? Can marketing based on perception and familiarity deliver results or do you need a solid working product to succeed. Companies like PCL & Shiva Computers created great awareness with full page Ads and tried to sell very mediocre products – sadly these companies do not exist today.
Linked to this topic is also the topic of making tall promises that may be factually incorrect. What does a consumer do then – given the state of our legal system. Is it morally and ethically right for large MNC’s and Corporates to base their products on such communications. Lets look at some examples from leading companies.
Santoor Soap is one of the largest selling brands in the Country. Its positioned as a soap that has the goodness of Sandal & Turmeric. It sells very well in S India where Sandal is considered a +ve factor to create glowing skin. I would love to ask a few questions to the makers of Santoor (Wipro) – How many grams of Chandan (Sandal) are there in every bar of Santoor ? I thought cutting of Sandal Wood trees are banned – how does somebody run a production line making millions of soap bars every year if there is no regular supply of Sandal ? Wipro being a Green Company would definitely not want to promote cutting of trees. Is there Sandal in the soap or is it just a dot of Sandal essence and color that makes the claim ? I don’t know the answer – but I don’t see anything in the pack that says how much Sandal is actually used / soap ? I have friends in Wipro so maybe I should pose this question when I meet them next.
Complan is a drink made by another large multinational. The drink claims to make children taller. All the ads build on that perception and many fall for it. I never drank Complan and am 6 feet 3 inches – my good friend who drank 3 glasses a day all through his childhood is 5 feet 6 inches. Height is determined mainly by genes – and maybe playing badminton and cycling – yes nutrition also helps , but how can a health drink promise to make you taller and get away with it when the results are not delivered ?
Colgate – A brand used by almost every household. It promises that if you use Coalgate every day you want get cavities. The ads make you feel that if you brush twice a day with Colgate you never need to go to a dentist. Thats the perception that is built. I have used colgate all my life – teeth , gums , cavities I have problems everywhere. Colgate cant fix it – if I had used a saline mouthwash every night and brushed my teeth with a neem stick maybe I would have saved myself the agony of frequent trips to a dentist – but colgate just made me feel fresh in the mouth for a few hours. It did not even remotely deliver the promise it made . In the era of Coalgate this is another case that the CAG may take up for audit.
Lets look at one more example – Britannia is a great brand – they make great biscuits. The Britannia Good Day with RICH CASHEW is a bestseller. A 150 Gram Pack costs about Rs 23. If you remove the retailer profit , cost of distribution , Margin for manufacturer etc the cost of production will probably be half of it say Rs 12/- . One Kg of Cashews costs Rs 600 – so if we assume that 10% of the weight biscuit is cashew ( rest being flour , sugar , milk etc) – that would be 15 Grams of Cashews – how much does 15 Grams of Cashew cost – Rs 9/- . You cant make the rest of the biscuit at Rs 3 – so clearly you don’t even have 10% of the biscuit comprising of Cashews – its probably more like 1 % – that would cost about 1 Rs worth of Cashews in every pack of 150 Grams. How many Cashews do you get for Rs 1/ ? Maybe 1/2 a cashew . My math may be wrong and instead of 1% the weight of Cashew may be higher – the pack does not mention how much Cashews are there , but at best we are still talking 1 , 2 or 3 Cashews / pack of 150 Grams of biscuit . Can a brand make a claim that the biscuit is packed with the energy of RICH CASHEWS by having a sprinkling of the ingredient in every pack ? Yes in this case the perception works – but its now a matter of ethics and the FDA or an equivalent in India needs to step in and stop this.
Lets take one last look – a wonderful product called Honey.One of the rare food items that never gets spoilt. Its the gift of nature. Great for health – best cough syrup , build immunity , great substitute for Sugar. But I wonder are there enough bees & Honey Combs for so much Honey to be produced in India. Forests are nearly gone , you hardly see birds and butterflies & bees – so where is all this honey coming from . Is it natural or an interesting formulae made in a lab. I found this report on food safety where they tested Honey in some US stores – and found that most of them did not have any trace of pollen. Most of the honey in the US stores were from China & India .
This report gives one a feeling that most of the honey being sold in stores in US may actually not qualify to being natural honey. Given this – it may be worthwhile to dig a little more deeper into Indian Honey brands and see how Pure & genuine they are.
In Conclusion – yes many FMCG companies seem to be getting away with the Perception = Reality messaging , but its time consumers & regulators were more aware and demand that they get what is advertised & communicated by the brands.