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August 20, 2009

IMAGE Branding !

CONSUMERS are exposed to several kinds of advertisements during a day — some of them may have a conscious impact and some sub-conscious. (A consumer may start liking the brand or develop a certain association with it because of the constant exposure over a period of time even without realising it.

During a TV serial which may be watched by thousands there are several kinds of advertisements. There are consumer products. There are durable category brands and there are services brands. Some of them use lifestyle appeals and some use celebrities. Given the clutter of marketing communication and the limited time which consumers have to comprehend these, it is critical to have the right kind of imagery associated with the brand.

Imagery is the kind of associations a brand could get linked with over a period of time. It has an impact on how consumers perceive the brand and how they will react to it in the long run. For example, Horlicks had a `drink for the sick' association a few decades ago. Will consumers have clear associations for Boost? What kind of association would a niche drink like drinking chocolate have in the minds of consumers? Brand imagery plays an important role in shaping the association in the consumer's psyche. Several years ago there were only a few brands in most categories so it was easier to develop an association with a brand. Once an association was developed it stayed with consumers for a long time. Today's context is different, with several brands attempting to create an image.

Old brands are in a complex situation — it will be difficult for them to suddenly develop trendy new imagery, and the images which they have developed are either not very relevant today or competitive brands are developing more relevant images. For several years, Robin Blue was associated with whiteness in fabric wash. The packaging and the bird on it symbolised whiteness and was a household brand. Bajaj Scooters had a `family vehicle' image. Now Honda, which leads in the scooter category, has developed a different image. Iodex, a brand which was identified with sprains, is overshadowed by other brands which have developed several associations which may be relevant to the times. It may be interesting to find out how many consumers currently think of pioneering brands in any category and the reasons they probably do not think about them when the need arises. (Several pioneering brands have a low market share or are no longer there in the market. Brand imagery or not being able to sustain it is one of the reasons for their being absent in consumers' `consideration set.
Why is brand imagery important?

It is important because it conveys the stance of the brand. Raymond's current TV advertisement shows the corporate type playing with pups. The evolution of this stereotype is conveyed by this positioning, which places an emphasis on the finer aspects of the lifestyle which executives would like to follow. It uses imagery which goes beyond the functional attributes (for which the brand has established a reputation).

Imagery is important because a brand has to adapt it to the changing environment. Vicco's facial cream for skin has all along been positioned amidst the occasion of a wedding. Fair & Lovely, a brand which was launched later, had taken a different kind of imagery and is adapting it to the changing scenario with the use of variants. HMT, which was positioned as a value-based Indian brand of watches, was overshadowed by Titan which developed distinctive and memorable imagery (besides providing sophisicated technology).

Imagery is important because a company which has several brands for several segments could use it to ensure strong associations be created with each of its brands. Creating the right kind of imagery prevents confusion from arising in the minds of consumers. Fast Track and Sonata brands are both from Titan but have a clear image with regard to their target segment associations.

Imagery is useful for a brand to create a contemporary image. VIP, the luggage brand, for several years relied on the `attribute' image but has taken a new approach to create a `mood' around the brand with its `Bye Bye' commercial. The commercial, apart from bringing emotion into the travel situation, also showcases the ease of handling which may be an attribute which consumers look for when they select their luggage brand.
Imagery is required to sustain a brand's association (managing imagery is a different aspect in itself and is not addressed in this article). Advertising for Vicks' popular offering of yesteryear, Formula 44, which has not been seen in recent years, has resumed. Imagery has to be sustained, especially when competitive offerings arise. Imagery may also be useful to create fresh associations with a brand (circumstances under which such strategies could be adopted is again a conceptual issue which requires in-depth understanding of the market and consumer behaviour). For almost three decades, Liril was associated with fresh, green and waterfalls but has attempted to create novelty through the `orange' variant, in packaging and visuals. The new bike brand, Centra from TVS, attempts to create imagery associated with fuel economy.

When several brands in the category were using functional attributes, Caliber introduced a brand personality to convey the self-esteem associated with the brand by the use of a story with appropriate imagery. Fortitude, courage and perseverance were the personality traits which could be associated with the brand.
Imagery could also involve logos to enhance awareness levels among consumers about a brand's proposition. Air India's Maharaja symbolising hospitality is an example.

Imagery is very useful when a brand attempts a new and radically different strategy. Timex entered India with its low-end offerings and in the last two years, it has introduced a number of high-end watches creating the appropriate imagery in its advertisements. Without such a change, consumer perception about the brand cannot be altered. Eno's (digestive powdered drink which probably created the category in India several decades ago, Iodex pain balm and Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate, Ezee liquid detergent from Godrej and the Brylcreem brand of hair cream are probably some of the brands from the past which could have made better use of imagery to create a contemporary perception about themselves.

Decades-old brands such as Lifebuoy and Lux have managed themselves with several kinds of imagery during this period of time with variants. Imagery is useful when a brand introduces a variant after it has established itself on a specific benefit. Dettol soap, after establishing itself on the protection-from-bacteria proposition, introduced a variant with moisturiser and employed a different kind of imagery.

Kinds of imagery

There are various kinds of imagery brands could use. Attribute imagery consists of amplifying the specific characterstic which is being used by the brand. After a long interval, Promise toothpaste has started using its clove oil attribute in its TV spots.

Imagery could be created through visuals or copy in the advertisement. PUF was highlighted by Godrej in refrigerators to create `attribute-based' imagery and enhance the brand's perception. The current positioning of several brands in durable categories attempt attribute type of imagery supported by visuals. The `Sixth Sense' pitch of Whirlpool refrigerator and the Atom (denoting compact size) air-conditioner from Hitachi are examples.

This imagery helps a brand if it could constantly stay ahead of competition through its attributes which are well received by consumers. Sony with its strong thrust on technological innovation is an example. Its Trinitron and Wega TVs were advertised with this kind of approach.

An attribute conveying a strong benefit could also be used by a pioneering brand if the benefit is relevant to the consumer. Herbal ingredients as an attribute were blended with the stereotype of an elderly lady by the Himalaya brand (formerly Ayurvedic Concepts) which specialises in herbal over-the-counter products. Certain kinds of attributes such as oxygen in a toothpaste or colourless cola may not convey clarity from the point of view of consumers.

Colgate was perhaps the earliest of toothpastes to advertise the benefits of using the brand. Low-involvement categories such as lubricants can also use benefits. BPCL's Speed brand showed the reliability of using the brand through an emotional reunion of alumni. Ericsson's mobile phone advertisement illustrated the compact size of the brand. Samsung conveyed its `extra space viewing' or one of its TV models using a theme. LG's Golden Eye too used a `story' to convey its benefits.

For certain categories of products, benefits could be conveyed directly so that consumers can quickly understand the benefit. Fast-moving goods which do not have a glamour aspect (like a dishwashing bar) could make use of this approach. Vim followed this approach to reinforce its durability. Sunfill, the soft drink concentrate from Coca-Cola, conveys the benefit of economy to appeal to the segment which may not frequently be consuming soft drinks.

Moov, which was not the pioneer with regard to pain balm, created an appealing benefit-based imagery leading to the brand's acceptance. Moov also effectively used imagery to compete with Iodex on the `staining' aspect of the offering. Britannia's success in the biscuit category could be attributed significantly to the use of imagery with a focus on health. Kanan Devan's tea brand captures the freshness benefit in its packaging.

Symbolic imagery which revolves around fantasy, status, self-image and group fun is popular in certain categories such as soft drinks, cigarettes, apparel, liquor brands, cars and television.

Onida was probably the first TV brand to use the status appeal. It created the Onida devil which symbolised the jealousy of the `neighbour.' The visual was effectively backed with the copy `Owner's pride: Neighbor's envy.' It should be noted that in a durable category the brand should offer technological features concerning the quality of the offering or the aesthetics to sustain such a symbolic imagery. It could be observed that this imagery did little for the brand when it came out with other electronic products.

Even well-known brands such as Mercedes and Rolex strengthen their symbolic imagery with attribute-based positioning at periodic intervals so that consumers would be able to perceive the brands as superior offerings. Coca-Cola and Pepsi are well known for their imagery associated with symbolism in the Indian context with the backdrop of celebrities.

As mentioned in the earlier part of the article, this approach is used by apparel brands for men and women (Be: and Allen Solly being the brands for the latter). Almost all cigarette brands at the higher end of the market were using this approach and may continue to do so with the new categories they are into in the form of brand extension (Wills Lifestyle apparel brand). Bacardi used this approach to create awareness about the sub-category. Hero Honda's Passion Plus and Kinetic's Zing had `cool' features to back up symbolic imagery.

Imagery and its management is a crucial aspect as brands are perceived through associations and not reality.