Opinion: The opportunity cost of chasing global recognition

Don't dilute my Old Monk because you want it to expand, says the author

Aug 05, 2015 09:13:00 AM | Article | Gokul Krishnamoorthy

I read a fascinating piece by Anand Halve of Chlorophyll on LinkedIn, on why India doesn’t produce iconic brands. An even more gripping ‘sequel’ followed, based on responses from readers of the first. They pointed to the Amuls of the world, and of course, the Old Monks. At the core of Halve’s argument was the absence of a truly shared sense of culture.
One of the contentions I heard consistently during a brief six-month stint in the Middle East, sounded quite similar to what we continue to hear in India. It focused on the issue of diversity, and therefore the challenges in creating that common human denominator that can engage universally. It’s quite possible to create universal emotions in ads, as you will read in a feature on festive advertising in this issue of Campaign. But for a brand to stand for something that’s unique, and consistently at that across every consumer across markets, is a challenge.
Now, the Middle East is really a collection of very diverse markets – though it doesn’t come across that way to EMEA marketing honchos sitting in London, contend some. Ditto with India. If we could only leverage our diversity positively, and not lose what we have inherited, we’d be culturally richer than anyone else. In that loose observation somewhere is an opportunity cost factor of our approaches to embracing global opportunities today.
As local brands become regional, and regional brands become national, and of course, as national brands become international, they need to stand for something unique and consistent and differentiated. But in chasing that consistency, is somewhere the core differentiation of what makes that brand unique, diluted? And eventually, lost?
It’s not about brands that draw on heritage having to communicate differently in different markets. I’m questioning myself, if a brand should go forth in its present or an adapted form at all, if that’s not what a new market needs. Why not send a new brand out there, until a common brand becomes as appealing and acceptable, and that new acceptable brand proposition, are found?
We live in a market where a tea manufacturer makes the same brand of tea differently in different markets, because the water and usage are different. The logical reason being, that there are efficiencies of scale that the brand would like to leverage. If that is the nature of ‘brand strategy’ today, what chance does it have of focusing on standing for one thing globally? The opportunities in the Indian market are just too huge to think iconic brands when you could have the next bestseller. Let’s not take away the value of branding; but should we stop to measure it in context?
Like Old Monk, you will find a King James from London, in Dubai. The brand is also around in Europe. Its pricing is actually comparable to Old Monk, and on ‘special’ days, it may work out cheaper. To me, Old Monk has a different appeal and is vastly superior, certainly to King James. It’s because the brand and I share an upbringing. I would take offence if you insist the Brit brand is better, which some Londoners do.
Don’t dilute my Old Monk because you want it to expand. Humara Bajaj would not remain humara if its sole aim is global sales.
Your thoughts. Over Amul, or Old Monk.
- Gokul Krishnamoorthy, managing editor, Campaign India gokul@haymarket.co.in / @goks140 
(This article first appeared in the 24 July issue of Campaign India)