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The only game in town

Company: Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)

Segment: Cricket

Brand: Indian Premier League (IPL)

It may be infamous for its governance issues, but when it comes to marketing and selling, BCCI can teach the best of marketers a lesson or two. The launch of IPL was indeed the most audacious business and marketing initiative of 2008. To begin with, it was deftly designed and uniquely packaged. The fact that it was launched in a market that seemed saturated and where the Indian Cricket League failed to impress, makes IPL’s success more glorious.

“At the core of our success is a bold product," says Sundar Raman, IPL COO. To be sure, nothing about IPL was ordinary. Beginning with 59 days of non-stop cricket, the best cricketing talent from across the world, a novel concept of franchisee team owners (including businessmen such as Mukesh Ambani and Vijay Mallya) and an auction of players, media and broadcast rights that were sold for around $1 billion (about Rs4,900 crore), and last but not the least, cheerleaders—IPL had all the ingredients of a blockbuster. By the time the inaugural edition of IPL got over, it had become a $350 million enterprise and BCCI had raked in $160-170 million through franchisee fee, broadcast rights and sponsorships.

“They sold a dream that encouraged a bunch of people to put a tonne of cash on the line and proved beyond doubt that the new opium of the masses was not religion but IPL," says panellist Meenakshi Madhvani.

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Loud and clear

Company: Nokia India Pvt. Ltd

Segment: Mobile communications

Brand: Nokia

No consumer brand in India can boast of a price range that stretches some 30 times from top to bottom end. Nokia, the mobile phone giant, however, is an exception. Nokia phones can be bought for as low as Rs1,300 or as high as Rs40,000. “The company has achieved a great wide spectrum of brand positioning covering all socio-economic and cultural segments across India," says panellist Nabankur Gupta. These, however, have been the constant attributes of the brand. Why it appears in our list of Top 10 marketers is because of a special feat it achieved this year. If the iPhone was one of the most disappointing launches of 2008, Nokia has also to be partially blamed, or credited, for it.

To take the wind out of the iPhone’s sails, Nokia launched its new convergence model, the N96, in India a week before iPhone’s global launch. The product was pitched to the same consumer set that the iPhone was intending to target.

Then, it beat its rival through aggressive marketing and communication strategies that have become its hallmark. The results of the two launches have been well documented in the media. Suffice to say that Nokia continues to rule the top-end market with about 60% share, even as its share in the middle and the bottom end remains intact.

“We follow an excellent segmentation model with very clear product propositions but, more important than that is our thrust on values such as humility and eagerness to learn and improve ourselves," says Shiv Kumar, managing director, Nokia India.


The original script

Company: Viacom 18 Media Pvt. Ltd

Segment: Hindi general entertainment channel

Brand: Colors

It was the 11th player to enter a segment that was heavily penetrated and where the battle for brand loyalties had already been fought and won. The top player in the segment led by a huge margin and repeated efforts by rivals to unseat it from its leadership position had proven unsuccessful. Colors, the Hindi general entertainment channel launched by Viacom 18 Media Pvt. Ltd, the joint venture between the US media conglomerate Viacom Inc. and Indian media house Network 18 Media and Investments Ltd, however, changed this script.

Colors had an impressive 81 gross rating points (GRPs) in its debut week. The ranking that week was Star Plus (315 GRPs), Zee Television (216), Sony Entertainment Television (99), NDTV Imagine (94) and 9X (87). Twenty-two weeks later, however, the order is: Star Plus (272 GRPs), Colors (235), Zee TV (194), Sony (90), NDTV Imagine (64) and 9X (49). “We credit this success to our differentiated content (shows such as Balika Vadhu,Bigg Boss), disruptive scheduling (pitching reality shows in time slots in which rivals aired fiction), clutter-breaking marketing and strong distribution push," says CEO Rajesh Kamat.

The channel has already penetrated into 90% of the 65 million cable and satellite households in the Hindi-speaking market and has 165 advertisers on board, up from 10 on the first day.


Consumer goodies

Company: ITC Ltd

Segment: Diversified

Brands: Bingo, Sunfeast, Fiama Di Wills, Vivel, Superia

ITC Ltd is yet again an example of a company’s bold move to enter a market segment that was overcrowded, highly competitive and sensitive to both macro and microeconomic factors. “Creating new brands in a chock-full market of well-entrenched brands present across the spectrum is no mean task," says panellist Madhvani. ITC’s ambitious entry into consumer goods and the early signs of success support its oft-repeated assertion that it knows consumers well.

Photograph: Rajeev Dabral / Mint

“At the core of our business strategy are great products and we rely a lot on consumer insights to create great products," says COO, trade marketing and distribution, Hemant Malik. In 2008, ITC strengthened its personal care and foods portfolio by launching several products under Vivel, Vivel Di Wills, Superia and Hatke Jhatke brands. New variants were added to the Bingo portfolio as well. “They get full marks for their clutter-breaking advertising," says Shripad Nadkarni.

“A strong direct distribution network (it is present across at least two million outlets out of an estimated total of 4.5 million) is another strong pillar of our success," says ITC’s Malik.


Never say die

Company: Tata group

Segment: Diversified

Brand: Tata

2008 was a year of setbacks for the $62.5 billion (about Rs3 trillion) Tata group. It’s an irony that it was expected to be a year of fulfilment. The group was in news globally because of its acquisition of UK-based steel maker Corus Group Plc. in 2007 and its chase of iconic British brands Jaguar and Land Rover.

Photograph: Ramesh Pathania / Mint

The company acquired the two brands in 2008 and the deal was celebrated as India’s emerging might on the global scene. Back home, the Nano project was in constant limelight. The group hoped to launch the Rs1 lakh car towards the end of the year.

And then the tide turned. Markets crashed and the consequent decline in the value of assets made Tata Motors’ $2.3 billion investment in the Ford Motors’ brands seem quite expensive. The Nano project also got caught up in messy politics. Then came the 26 November Mumbai attacks in which the group’s five-star property Taj Mahal hotel got severely damaged and many employees lost their lives.

None of these events, however, could dent the group’s image. The Tata brand (valued at $11.8 billion by UK-based Brand Finance Plc.), in fact, emerged stronger after these challenges. The group’s biggest strength was the promptness with which it responded to the crises, say experts. “Beginning with their overseas acquisition to Nano, they have done an outstanding job of marketing," says panellist Sridhar Samu. “We pride ourselves in the fact that our businesses continue to grow despite all the challenges," says Tata Sons’ executive director R. Gopalakrishnan.


Big and beautiful

Company: Maruti Suzuki India Ltd

Segment: Automobiles

Brands: Maruti 800, Alto, Omni, Gypsy, ZenEstilo, WagonR, Versa, A-star, Swift, SX4, DZire, Grand Vitara

Maintaining leadership in a closely contested market for around a quarter of a century is by no means a mean achievement. Car sales in India have grown from about 30,000 units 25 years ago, when Maruti first entered the market, to 1.5 million in 2008. During this period, many domestic as well as global automobile companies have entered India and today, the car market has some 20 players.

But Maruti continues to lead with around 55% market share. What, however, classifies the company as one of the Top 10 marketers of 2008 is not its leadership status but the success of its strategy to transform its identity from a small-car company to a full-range operator with 12 brands, and around 100 variants across different price points and categories.

“We have been consciously working towards positioning Maruti as a premium products company through the launch of new brands or smarter versions of existing brands and our advertising and brand communication," says Shashank Srivastava, chief general manager, marketing. In 2008, the company launched a new sedan, DZire, and a compact, A-star, to further build its portfolio.

As for the existing portfolio, the company added a sports variant to the Zen portfolio (this was in response to the consumer feedback that the new Zen looked too feminine) and introduced an LPG variant of the Maruti 800. “It’s an inimitable example of a simple yet strong real Indian brand," says panellist Nabankur Gupta.


Following the pug marks

Company: Vodafone Essar Ltd

Segment: Mobile communications

Brand: Vodafone

Marketing is not only about advertising. However, this company gets the honour of being among the Top 10 marketers of 2008 mainly because of its consistently superlative and innovative advertising.

The company has seen three brand overhauls in the span of over a decade. First, it changed its name from Maxtouch to Orange, then to Hutch and then, finally, it became Vodafone late last year, when the UK-based Vodafone Group Plc. picked up a majority stake in Hutchison Essar Ltd.

These changes, however, have not disrupted its business or impacted its customer relationship. Such frequent changes in the very identity of the brand “ought to confuse even the staunchest of loyalist", says panellist Kiran Khalap.

Experts say it’s the consistency in brand communication and a continuous advertising campaign using a small dog that helped the company keep its consumer connect and brand persona intact during these changes. “It’s their simple and unfussy advertising along with a steady barrage of services aimed at different consumer segments that makes them a marketing funambulist," says Khalap.

2008 was the first year of the company in its new avatar as Vodafone. “We didn’t notice any discontinuity in terms of our brand salience or consumer appreciation in our new avatar," says Harit Nagpal, marketing director, Vodafone Essar Ltd. Nagpal says this year, the company added about two million customers every month, up from a million a month in 2007. “Today, we have around 60 million customers."

Indeed, it’s the “happy to help" pug that has done the magic for Vodafone.


Leveraging growth

Company: Hindustan Unilever Ltd

Segment: Consumer products

Brands: Lifebuoy, Lux, Liril, Pears, Rexona, Surf, Rin, Wheel, Ayush, Sunsilk, Dove, Brooke Bond, Bru, Lipton Yellow Label, Close-Up, Pepsodent, Lakme, Pond’s

For the country’s largest consumer products company, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), it was one of the most challenging and yet spectacular year.

When the rise in inflation was threatening to hurt consumer demand and a 30-35% increase in commodity prices was beginning to dent the bottom line, the company used a mix of pricing, new product launches, repositioning and repackaging existing brands and strong advertising to make sure business remained on track.

Major initiatives were launched in the personal care business that contributes around 26% to HUL’s sales. Sunsilk, targeted at middle- and lower-end consumers, was repositioned as an aspirational brand through a mix of use of celebrities as well as the launch of six variants. Pond’s was relaunched as a premium brand with the introduction of top-end products such as anti-ageing creams. The company also launched top-end hair care products from its premium Dove portfolio. “These initiatives helped strengthen our presence amongst affluent consumers, a segment that has accelerated in the recent past," says Gopal Vittal, executive director, home and personal care, HUL.

Similar initiatives were taken to revive the laundry portfolio which comprises brands such as Surf, Rin and Wheel. There were concerted efforts to push the food business as well and to strengthen the distribution of water purifier brand Pureit.

While the company did pass on price increases given rising input costs, it “has always kept sight of consumer value and currency price points, two key levers of growth", says Vittal. The result: In the nine months ended September, the company’s net sales and net profit went up 20% to Rs12,038 crore and Rs1,486 crore, respectively.


Banking on trust

Company: ICICI Bank Ltd

Segment: Banking

Brand: ICICI

The country’s largest private sector bank, ICICI Bank Ltd, faced many challenges in 2008. While factors such as the global financial meltdown, credit crunch, rise in interest rates and the consequent decline in business and consumer sentiments, were common to all banking and financial services institutions, ICICI Bank had to grapple with issues that were more serious.

Photograph: Amit Bhargava / Bloomberg

The bank drew a lot of flak for the high-handedness of its agents while recovering loans from some of its customers. Then, there were rumours of the bank going bust followed by a sudden rush among customers to withdraw their savings from the bank. Any bank, big or small, can ill afford such negative publicity.

ICICI Bank, which manages around 25 million customers through 1,425 branches, however, deftly handled the situation through a series of actions which included public as well as individual communication with customers, advertising, various customer relationship management programmes along with tweaking some of its offerings that didn’t go down well in the market. “We discontinued offering small personal loans because we realized that the market was not ready for it," says Madhabi Puri Buch, executive director, ICICI Bank.

“The open letters written to the general public showed an admirable way of managing the crisis," says panellist Sridhar Samu. The bank also ran campaigns using Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan and an ad highlighting its 50 years’ heritage to win back confidence. “We, at ICICI Bank, believe in the future and our customers are at the core of everything we do, be it our products, pricing, positioning or promotions," says Buch.


Sparkling success

Company: Coca-Cola India Ltd

Segment: Beverages

Brand: Coca-Cola, Thums Up, Sprite, Limca, Maaza, Fanta, Georgia, Kinley, Minute Maid Pulpy Orange

We have read reports about rising health awareness among consumers and their growing apathy towards colas, but Coca-Cola India claims its sales have grown for nine straight quarters through September.

Six of these quarters, it says, registered double-digit growth. The results are indeed reassuring for a company that was struggling to stay afloat three years ago.The business and confidence-building process had, in fact, started when president and CEO Atul Singh took over the India operations in 2005. But in 2008, the company took definitive steps to completely change its overall brand positioning through distinct marketing communication and advertising campaigns. To begin with, it launched a composite corporate campaign that projected Coca-Cola as a complete beverages solutions company against its popular image of being just a soft drinks maker. Individual brands were also aggressively advertised. Its category exclusive association with the Indian Premier League, the biggest sports and entertainment event of the year, brought in handsome rewards too.

Another highlight was packaging innovations done across categories. Pocket Maaza, the 1.25 litres Fridge Pack of Coca-Cola and the easy-to-hold Kinley bottle are some cases in point. The company also added around half-a-dozen variants to its existing portfolio, not all of which took off. “We truly believe in refreshing our consumers in their mind, body and spirit. As part of the same endeavour, all our marketing programmes, be it brand campaigns for all our sparkling and still range of beverages, leveraging sport properties like the IPL, football champs or the roll-out of packaging, innovations are designed to connect and engage with consumers," says Singh.


Here is how we selected the Top 10

Mint invited four leading media, branding and marketing experts, and two academicians to recommend names of 10 companies, or entities, which according to them had done a good job of marketing in 2008.

The candidates were to be judged for their clutter-breaking and innovative initiatives on product, positioning, pricing and promotions. Consistency in their brand proposition and delivery were two other important parameters we took into account. We compiled all recommendations and then chose the Top 10.

The panel

Kiran Khalap

As co-founder of India’s first brand consultancy firm, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd, Khalap advises companies on brand strategy. Known as one of the best Indian copy writers, the former CEO and chief creative officer of Bates India is also an award-winning fiction writer.


Arvind Sahay

A professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, Sahay


Nabankar Gupta

Gupta has done memorable work for companies such as the Videocon group


Shripad Nadkarni

As head of Coca-Cola India Ltd’s marketing team between 2000

Nadkarni now runs MarketGate Consulting Pvt. Ltd a Mumbai-based strategic business and marketing firm.


Meenakshi Madhvani

Founder of media audit firm Spatial Access Media Solutions Pvt. Ltd, Madhvani is well known in the Indian advertising, media and marketing


Sridhar Samu

An expert on brand management, Samu teaches strategic marketing at the

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