Mumbai: Atelevision commercial for the new KF-510 mobile phone from South Korean electronics brand LG Corp. is anything but South Korean.
The advertisement is a 2D animation one set against a Spanish number, and exudes a Parisian feel with images of street cafes, fashion boulevards and popping flash bulbs.
It, however, communicates everything the company was hoping it would: high fashion, style and urbane sophistication.
Urbane chic: The TV ad for the new LG KF-510 cellphone is set against a Spanish number and exudes a Parisian feel with images of street cafes and fashion boulevards to give a feel of high fashion and style.
“It’s got this whole French connection thing going on,” says Anil Arora, business group head of mobiles at LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd. “Not only does it bring an element of fashion, but also helps cut across the clutter.” Cutting through the clutter is an important consideration in a category where most companies have big advertising budgets.
And much like LG Electronics, a number of advertisers are pulling out country branding to establish pedigree and stand out in crowded space.
To be sure, most brands highlight their nation of origin in country branding.
German auto maker Volkswagen AG uses the tag line “Das Auto”, meaning “the car” in German, to highlight the brand promise of German engineering. Foster’s lager uses the tag line “Australian for beer”. Retail coffee chain Barista uses Italian phrases and their “origins of coffee” story on most of its packaging. “Right down to the sachets of sugar, ketchup and mustard carry the Italian name equivalent for the content,” says Prashant Kanyalkar, creative director at brand consultancy Alok Nanda and Companies Communications Pvt. Ltd that worked with Barista.
And Cobra Beer uses Indian imagery on its packaging and communication to stand out in the crowded British beer market.
Country branding works well at the retail level too. Recently GAS, the Italian apparel brand, plastered stickers that said “Saldi” on their store windows to advertise an annual sale in Mumbai. “Saldi” is “sale” in Italian. And French lingerie brand Etam, announced its “Soldes” in Mumbai.
The trend, says K.V. Sridhar, national creative director of Mumbai-based ad agency Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, may have started with state-owned brands. National carriers such as Air India, Singapore Airline and British Airways, for example, express values and imagery typically associated with their country or culture.
But over time, other advertisers have learnt to leverage brand values and promise associated with countries to their advantage. German engineering, Japanese technology, Swiss precision, Italian design and inexpensive Chinese goods are all country-specific brand promises.
Country branding could also be used as a strategic creative device. Auto maker Skoda Auto AS struggled with its Czechoslovakian heritage despite being taken over by Volkswagen in 1991. It then launched a campaign with the tag line “It’s a Skoda. Which for some is still a problem,” which helped break the prejudice.
“Home country branding, even if it has negative connotations, can be worked to an advantage,” says Sridhar, adding that it is a telegraphic way of establishing the brand and its credibility.
Lifestyle magazine GQ borrowed a television spot from its French counterpart to announce its launch in India. “The problem with our target audience is that it’s very media savvy, so in that sense we needed something that would break the clutter,” says Oona Dhabhar, marketing director, Conde Nast India Pvt. Ltd. “It is a laugh-at-ourselves sort of campaign…which says there is no perfect man, but a perfect magazine. Maybe…it did a brilliant job of talking to our target audience.”
While the imagery remains the same, the commercial was given an Indian twist by the music production arm of Blue Frog Media Pvt. Ltd, which created a soundtrack with Bengali lyrics. “It sounds like some different foreign language…you really can’t tell, the first time round,” says Dhabhar.
In some cases, home country branding or associations may not work for the brand.
“Often, it reflects the bias of the advertiser and marketers,” says Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive of Future Brands, a brand development and marketing company, who says consumer understanding is often blurred.
Citing the example of Maggi, the instant noodles brand from Nestle SA, he says the brand never used the Japanese or Chinese origins of noodles to promote the brand. ITC Ltd, on the other hand, chose to highlight the Italian pasta connection for its Sunfeast brand of pasta, and featured a family conversing in a heavy Italian accent.
“It is a questionable belief that people are just dying to try the brand because of its Italian association,” Desai says.
A Brandchannel.com report quotes Jürgen Häusler, chief executive officer, central and eastern Europe, for brand consultancy Interbrand Corp., as saying that nations don’t create brands, but brands createnations.
The Brandchannel report says: “Häusler explains that when consumers around the globe think of fine ‘Italian’ menswear, they aren’t thinking of Italy, the actual country, at all; they are, in fact, collectively thinking of Italian brands such as Armani, Brioni and Ermenegildo Zegna. The same principle applies to cars (renowned German car engineering is the genius of Audi, Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche).”
“Though particular nations may benefit from the halo effect of these brands, which is certainly warranted, credit should be attributed to the brands for the quality of their products and their admirable unwillingness to compromise the brand values that consistently ensure quality,” the report says.