Notes and observations from #ZeeMelt: Part 1

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I am in a dilemma sometimes about where to post by blogs – on this platform (where the reach is limited) or on LinkedIn where the reach is potentially larger. I shared this article earlier this week on LinkedIn.

Zee Melt – a two-day conference on marketing & advertising was held in Mumbai last week. I am not a regular conference goer but from what I see and hear on social media, I get a feeling that most of them don’t really have stimulating content. Organising an event in any domain – marketing, tech, healthcare, banking is a tough task. The quality of content shared, the nature of panel discussions, the efficiency with which the event is conducted – are all dependent on several factors. For instance, a panel discussion may become boring & pointless if the topic is not carefully chosen or well moderated. Having an industry veteran as a speaker in such events is also no guarantee of a great presentation – not all famous personalities have fresh perspectives to share or are great presenters. 

In this context, Zee Melt delivered on all counts – some very good presentations with refreshing content, smoothly organised event, a lot of food for thought and some tips to be implemented back at work. Herewith some notes and observations on the event:

Unconventional Amul

The event was kicked off by a presentation from Mr R S Sodhi, Managing Director of GCMMF showcasing how they defy conventional market wisdom or trends. Among the several sharp insights delivered with humour (“we are a B2B and C2C company – buffalo to consumer and cow to consumer”) were these: 

Values first: what drives Amul is not profits but creating a win-win situation for milk producers (value for many) and end consumers (value for money). Amul spends less than 1% of turnover in advertising when typically FMCG brands spend 7-8% as a thumb-rule. 

Don’t cut corners: more than equity, Amul enjoys ‘blind faith’ among consumers. A key contributor is the product approach of using only top quality ingredients and not short changing the consumers. While competitors make ‘cheese’ with vegetable fat (instead of milk) Amul doesn’t compromise on product quality. Since it is a co-operative, the central motive is not just the bottom line but providing all the stakeholders a win-win situation: a good price to the farmers and a quality product at an affordable price to consumers.

Consistency is key – from positioning to partnerships: it was stressed that once a positioning is agreed upon it is not changed just for the sake of it. Amul has worked with two advertising agencies FCB Ulka and da Cunha for all their advertising. They are not in the habit of switching their agencies ever so often as is the industry norm. The ad agencies too have displayed stability and continuity in terms of teams and ideas. 

An interesting nugget is that the agency responsible for the Amul topicals has been given a free hand to ideate and execute the creatives without the need of any client approval. This practice was set up by the ex-Chairman Mr. Verghese Kurien and has been continued ever since. In other words, the client (including the MD) gets to see the creatives along with the consumer. In terms of communication elements too, Amul has continued with the brand mascot since 1966, the ‘Taste of India’ platform since 1994 and ‘Amul doodh peeta hai India’ since 2000. In an era where brand managers itch to change everything often it is commendable to have an attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. This attitude is also applicable when it comes to people – Amul hires directly from educational institutions and nurtures such talent for years. It then leads to homegrown talent which understands the brand ethos and has a sense of ownership. 

Be perceived as a ‘brand of my region’: the food business comprises several regional players who cater to local tastes & preferences. In order to thrive, Amul has to be seen a my kind of brand across a diverse nation like India. While this issue may not be relevant for all categories, the need to foster affinity across the many regions & languages of India is critical. While Mr. Sodhi did not make this point – I find FMCG goods taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach especially when it comes to translation, quality of dubbing and even using situations which don’t have a pan-India appeal. For example, I recall seeing an ad for Lays in Tamil where the situation depicted was that of playing cards during Diwali (a practice common in North India but not so in Tamil Nadu). 

Fast track new product development (NPD) by encouraging ideas from everyone, not just a specialist NPD team: in most organisations R&D departments are tasked with NPD and the lead times could be years. At Amul, everyone is encouraged to suggest new product ideas which are then presented to the senior management after appropriate screening. Products are then developed if approved. This has resulted in turnaround times of 3-4 months and launch of over a 100 products in 4 years (two new products every month).

Be worthy enough to be sought after by influencers:: companies signing up celebrities to endorse their brand is common. Often, consumers know that celebrities are only doing it for the money and are not users in real life. Amul does not believe in using celebrities, letting the product be the hero. However, they do have an ‘association’ with celebrities thanks to them being featured in the Amul topicals. In fact, Amul and its agency get requests for celebrities to be featured in their campaigns. And when Amul does feature them, celebrities share the advert on social media delivering invaluable PR for the brand. 

Dave Trott: Planning 101

A popular author and blogger, Dave Trott enthralled the audience with his deck-free simple talk which was riveting and insightful. In his talk on planning he explained his simple ‘format’ to arrive at a communications brief. The planner had to answer three basic questions and explain why to the creative team. 

Is the brand chasing Market Growth or Market Share?: if a brand is dominant in a category it needs to grow the market as opposed to a smaller player who needs to take market share. 

Are we targeting Trialists or current users?: is the communication meant to create trials (new users) or appeal to current users (build loyalty)

Should the focus of communication be on the Product or on ‘Branding’?: is there a product feature or benefit to be highlighted or is the emphasis more on ‘branding’ which is an euphemism for feel-good emotional advertising (usually for parity products). 

He then showcased a few TV spots and encouraged the audience to retro-fit the above 3 questions. Among the creatives showcased, what was new for me was this campaign for FRAM engine oil filters. Can you figure out which of the above 3 questions this campaign addresses?

In Part 2 of this blog, I will share notes from presentations by Rory Sutherland, Fernando Machado and what brands can learn from Kumbh Mela. 

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