Kiran Khalap
Jun 06, 2011

Kiran Khalap's Blog: Bono’s song for brands & advertising

Kiran Khalap, co-founder, chlorophyll brand & communications consultancy, uses 'With Or Without You' as an interpretation of the relationship between advertising and brand creation

Kiran Khalap's Blog: Bono’s song for brands & advertising

In 1987, Bono wrote a song that became the #1 hit in the US, the first to do better in the US than in the UK. It won the Rolling Stone award, the MTV award, the Billboard Hot 100.

It could be variously interpreted as the song of torment for lovers separated by religion (Mormon versus Catholic), age (old man/young girl/vice versa ) or sheer shyness (the boy/girl in college you never said ‘I love you’ to).

See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you

Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you

With or without you
With or without you
I can't live
With or without you

At the cost of hurting the sentiments of U2 fanatics, it can also be interpreted as the torment of the separation between advertising and brand creation.

We can detect two species of relationships where brand creation cannot live without advertising.

Heavy advertising that is memorable and heavy advertising that is not.

Telecom brands have the largest share of advertising budgets in India, followed by beverages, so let’s cast a quick glance at BSNL and Vodafone as the two different species.

Species One: Heavy + invisible/forgettable: I don’t remember anything of BSNL except the flirtatious blue and red arrows: I am told they spend INR 300 to 500 crores; about 1 to 3% of revenue. (Feel free to send me the correct figures.)

Species Two: Heavy + memorable/unforgettable: Everybody remembers Vodafone advertising, from ZooZoos to the pug: I am told they spend about 3 to 5% of revenue on advertising.

(By the way, the world’s most valuable brand, Apple, spent approximately 1% of its revenues on advertising in 2010.)

We can detect one species of relationships where brand creation can live without advertising.

Species Three: No advertising: Body Shop, bought by L’Oreal in 2006 for INR 4800 crores million (its revenue was INR 3084 crores) was a brand built entirely without advertising. (For an interesting counterpoint on this iconic brand, check out

Zara, the world’s largest fashion retailer and described by one designer as "possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world", with a revenue of approx INR 46,000 crores in 2010, has been created entirely without advertising or even PR budgets!

Our own software brand icons, TCS (2010 revenue: INR 37,000 crore), Infosys, Wipro, have lived without too much advertising.

Then there are several puzzling species that have existed for decades.

Species Four: Heavy + global + invisible/forgettable.

For example, Gillette. For as long as I remember,  the advertising has blades flying through the air, a man auto-erotically stroking his chin, and as an afterthought, some woman smiling and strangling the man from behind.

(Yes, of course, I do use Gillette four-blade razors;-))

Species Five: Very heavy + national + invisible/forgettable

For example,  our biggest brand of rubber tyres,  Madras Rubber Factory aka MRF.

Its advertising keeps inventing newer angles to shoot tyres, but one does not remember anything beyond the Muscleman.

“With or without you.”

Are there any emerging patterns here?

If brands Zara and Body Shop and Infosys and TCS and Cafe Coffee Day can be built without advertising, what is the role advertising agencies should play?

If brands MRF and BSNL and Gillette can be built without “strategic insights” and “tactical insights” and therefore without a team of account planners who use “advanced ethnography” and “deep research” techniques and Rory Sutherland’s favourite nostrum, “behavioral economics”, then, what is the role of planning in advertising?

Yes, there are a million reasons why it’s happening: Word of Mouth is fuelled by Word of Mouse; consumers trust each other more than the brand; consumers co-create brands and so on.

But if you were in advertising, and if the client said, “ Hey, tell me, are you and I planning to create this new brand with or without advertising?” what would your answer be?


Campaign India

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