17 May 2006

The brand idea

A couple of days ago, I presented a narrow perspective of marketing history in India (see ‘A narrow version’). The highlights of the post were rather startling: The brands I grew up with 25-30 years ago no longer exist today. And the most-talked-about brands today didn’t exist 25-30 years ago in India. Yet, when I researched this aspect of marketing history – and the brands individually – I came up with a big zero. There was no worthwhile data documenting marketing history in India. And the global brands? Well, that story unfolds here.

As you know, brands evolve over the years and represent an important aspect of our marketing history and our culture. A brand’s evolution is a reflection and representation of our cultural evolution – perhaps, not at a macroeconomic level, but definitely for specific consumer segments and subcultures. The impact brands have on consumers and cultures, or how they evolve to keep pace with behavioral and cultural changes, in an iterative process, are complex subjects. But, what makes these subjects refreshing is advertising.

Advertising connects brands with people. It communicates brand messages to its intended consumers and evolves with consumer responses to these messages as well as the brand’s performance in its ability to deliver on its promise. A record of brand advertising, therefore, should be a fairly accurate documentation of the brand in its evolution. However, when I researched this aspect of marketing history, not just with Indian brands but also with those which are internationally acclaimed, I came up with very little evidence of well-documented brand advertising.

As far as the brand’s ability to present its evolution from its corporate website went, its performance was appalling. Where was the brand idea leading with all this?

Some of the biggest brands didn’t even bother documenting their brand history or heritage or evolution. In most cases, companies documented the evolution of their brands as milestones in chronological lists. Many actually used the terms ‘milestones’ or ‘timeline’ – with little or no imagination in displaying their brand advertising. And, I’m talking about leading global brands like Cadbury’s, Nokia, Nike, Pepsi, MTV, FedEx and AT&T. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Cadbury Schweppes, FedEx and AT&T.

Only on rare occasions did I experience a refreshing change from this prosaic banter. And, was glad of it. So, without ado, let me present FCUK, Levi’s [you need to choose About LS&Co, History from the main menu and a new window will pop up], Absolut Vodka, Coca-Cola [also at Library of Congress here and here], and JELL-O.

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