The [funny] art of naming a nail polish

The [funny] art of naming a nail polish

American Hustle (2013) is a peculiar movie. This highly entertaining flick is put together brilliantly. Don’t know how many of you noticed Jennifer Lawrence’s (Rosalyn Rosenfeld in the movie) obsession over her [supposedly] beautiful nails and the particularly beautiful nail polish she wears. In one of the scenes, half way through the movie, she goes on and on about her fragrant nail polish while she is dining in a restaurant with her husband and another couple. The sweet spot we are interested in this scene is the way she describes her nail polish. She says, ‘There’s this top coat that you can only get from Switzerland and I don’t know what I’m going to do because I’m running out of it but I LOVE the smell of it’. And then she asks everyone to smell her nails and describes it as ‘perfumey but also something rotten’.

Painting nails is not a new avocation. It has been there for centuries. The commercial practice of it started only in 1878. The first nail salon was opened in Manhattan during this time when women entered the workforce. It started off as an inexpensive luxury. It was so in demand that people bought nail polish even during the Great Depression. Back then, when asked what makes nail polish so desirable, women said that it makes them feel good about themselves. People certainly couldn’t disagree with this opinion as men had too many things to feel good about themselves. Later, Hollywood stars and advertisements propagated the appealing nature of nail polish and it eventually became a great topic to talk about among women.

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When people talk about something, they use names of people or places or events or anything related to it. However, initially, nail polish had only numbers for each shade. Each colour had multiple shades and the manufacturers didn’t think much about numbering each tiny bottle. The unpleasant fact is that we have only limited terms for colours and infinite numbers. Both are equally displeasing. A great thinker once said that to name something is to begin understanding it. Perhaps, Jennifer Lawrence attempts to name her nail polish only to fail, but ends up giving a glaring description. She understood it, but could not name it.

It is interesting to notice the way language restricts our verbal expressions. A linguistic study revealed that there are only 6-8 colours that can be recognized and associated universally with a set of words. Some tribal languages have only three colour terms – dark, light and all the others. Russian has two words for blue (wonder what they say to ask for a pair of blue jeans). Most Indian languages do not have words for colours like pink and purple. Some of the colour terms are even borrowed from fruits, vegetables and animals’ nomenclature. We have hundreds of colours and their respective shades, but only a few terms to represent them. But, all these linguistic barriers did not stop Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, the Hungarian-American businesswoman who founded O.P.I, from inventing new names for all the lovely shades she had produced in her company. She was so unstoppable that she named one of the shades ‘Lincoln park after dark’. The company is known for it’s hilariously witty, funny and innovative nail polish names.

O.P.I was originally Odontorium Products Inc., a small dental supply company. After it was sold out, Suzi and her partner turned this company into a nail polish manufacturer. They started giving funny names to different shades and every collection holds relevance. When the company plans a limited collection to be released in a particular city, Suzi flies down to that city, explores all the iconic places and makes notes. Later, she will be accompanied by her naming squad, typically consisting of people from different departments of the company, and they thumb through maps, atlases and books to arrive at a clever name. No wonder they came up with a name like ‘Sun, sea and sand in my pants’.

Suzi was hit with this idea of giving clever names to nail polish when she was at a Starbucks once. She wondered, when a coffee seed can be brewed in different ways and it could be sold with different names, nail polishes too deserve a new identity like that. Other nail polish manufacturers too followed their naming architecture and created a gorgeous industry. When asked about what she feels about nail polishes, Suzie said it’s a ‘personal experience’. It’s true. This experience comes alive when a friend or a stranger at the bar comes up to a woman to know the name of the nail polish shade she is wearing and the name the woman utters is what makes it tick. It circles in their social circles until the stock is sold-out.

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Here are a few names that didn’t leave our mind after we read them.

A butterfly moment | My Chihuahua bites | I’m not really a waitress | Crawfishin’ for a compliment | Don’t Bossa Nova me around | Can’t find my Czechbook | Alpaca my bags | Vant to bite my neck? | Don’t make me wine | Tea with the queen | Jealous boyfriend | Jamaican me crazy | Pet my peacock | Cougar attack | Don’t pretzel my buttons | Did you ear about Van Gogh

The last one is our favourite – not the shade, just the name.

There are two interesting stories worthy of sharing. Suzie was bitten by a Chihuahua when they were under the process of naming and hence ‘My Chihuahua bites’. A woman from the naming team was in a restaurant once and the waitress spilled some wine on her accidentally and said ‘I’m not really a waitress’ and that apologetic phrase turned into a name instantly.

If this is the way to name things, ‘Rotten flower from Swiss Alps’ would make a perfect name for Jennifer Lawrence’s nail polish in the movie American Hustle.

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Notes from our design studio

Notes from our design studio

The taste for identity and an urge for differentiation is nothing new. Like we have corporate logos today, the Japanese created their own family ‘crests’ for each family name, centuries ago. Each crest represents a surname (usually called a family name). These pieces of identity are also called Coat of Arms in some parts of the world. This fact might belittle a graphic designer at first but it reinforces their efforts towards their work of art as they are practicing one of the oldest arts, but in another way and by using modern tools. Nothing we do today is born out of thin air and nothing can all stand by itself. Artists seeking originality today have to attempt a dialogue with history.

A researcher once said that his passport is more powerful than him because it has all the information the other person has to know about him and it looks cuter than his whole self and that it can cross borders alone, but he cannot without carrying it. His argument postulated the inevitable inclination towards brevity and information. Although his statement corresponds to a different field of study, it seems more relevant in the context of design. Communication is essential in this world and we are more and more dependent on machines and mechanical persons for that purpose. To declutter the process, downsizing has to take charge.

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You are bound to reinvent the wheel and yes, it is useless. While thinking about a graphical/artistic representation of a product/brand you might first produce something that is close to an already existing piece of art. You will then go for some other unexplored areas to get a hold of a new perspective. This happened with the invention of the hand axe for the first time. During the hominin evolution, those who invented the hand axe could not transmit the knowledge of how it was made to the next generation and so it was invented several times over centuries. The hand axe and the subsequent compound axe were invented over and over again. Against this epic failure, a designer must avoid reinventing things by transmitting his knowledge from project to project about how not to think and where not to look for inspiration.

Design (graphic design for that matter) is closely related to semiotics. The French thinker Roland Barthes had a distinct voice in this regard. His idea of semiotics and the interrelatedness of every object within its vicinity sheds light on mass culture. Film is one such culture. For instance, the movies made in the early 60s and 70s had a nature of feeding information with every frame. Posters and titles have had many direct visual and symbolic representations of what the maker wanted to convey. So, it seems, film has always got the necessary semiotic perspective, if we reinterpret one of Roland Barthes’ statements that meant – the audience always looks for signs to interpret a narrative. For example, Saul Bass’ ‘Anatomy of a murder’ is one iconic poster designed for the film by the same name. Sometimes design acts as a substitute for language and thought, and other times it cannot be substituted.

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Orson Welles didn’t make ‘Citizen Kane’ all by himself and had a number of inspirations for many scenes of the film. Xerox didn’t invent photocopiers. Microsoft didn’t invent Windows. Apple didn’t invent MP3 players. Amazon didn’t invent online shopping. Sony didn’t invent games consoles, video recorders, or portable cassette players. They all just brought together all the greatest inventions and consolidated them to make the best product. When you don’t have an idea, stay open to the world and work things in your way later. A person, a word, a street or a coffee might give you an idea (not restricted to these and not necessarily in this order).

Few designers talk about Design Thinking, few others talk about Design Doing, some talk about Design Being but you can always end with Design Feeling.

Thinking of brands

Thinking of brands

People think of a brand as much as a brand thinks of people.

People thinking

People do not think about a brand unless they have a need and a brand serves it well. Those needs could be functional or emotional. Several products came into existence to serve the many needs of people and brands drop their ads and visual identities whenever and wherever possible to grab their attention. Early in the infancy of this industry, naive-experts (oxymoron) understood that a brand is what people know and what they think about it and not what the brand actually wants to be. A brand exists as a knowledge structure in the mind of the consumer The power of a brand lies in what resides in the minds of customers. And, so, accordingly those brands that make people think become stronger brands. Such strong brands are always rooted in culture or in daily lives. To emphasise, stronger brands deliver customer value by providing culturally resonant stories and images that customers use to buttress their identities.

Marlboro was reintroduced in 1955 as a filtered cigarette targeted to men. The new advertising showed tough men sporting a military tattoo on the top of one hand. The ads told stories of these men enjoying themselves working on their car or fishing. This launch was a huge success that fetched a 5%increase in share. This tattoo campaign was pulled in 1959. For the next four years, agencies experimented with a variety of ideas intended to communicate masculinity and none of them worked. Finally in 1965 the brand took off again with a campaign depicting the autonomous life of industrious cowboys laboring on the range, with music from The MagnificentSeven playing in the background, and named this new imaginary place‘Marlboro Country’.

Budweiser was a competitive but not dominating brand in the 1970s, strongly challenged by other well-known brands. In 1983, they launched “This Bud’sfor You,” a campaign that showcased men working cheerfully and industriously in artisanal trades, men whom Bud saluted with abaritone-​voiced announcer proclaiming “this Bud’s for you!” The results were startling. American men, particularly working-class men, flocked to the beer. By the middle of the decade, Budweiser was unchallenged as the most desirable beer in the country, dominating the premium segment.

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People think for themselves and not for the brands. They are insanely busy and unapologetically forgetful. A brand can have a moment with them provided the brand relates itself to them culturally and individually.

Brands thinking

Brands have no choice but to think about people. ‘People can remember brands but brands cannot remember people’ is an obvious overstatement but it emphasises the need for doing something worth remembering.

A Lexus dealer once delivered a serviced car to a customer. The next day, the customer complained of a leak from somewhere which left a dark stain on the concrete floor of his garage. The usual apology of a luxury brand would consist of two more free services or something in that line. But the dealer serviced the car for free again and instead of getting the floor cleaned, he replaced the entire concrete floor with a new one.

When Apple first thought of opening their own stores, the primary thing they are worried about is the customer experience. Their idea of brick-and-mortar stores were those that offer an immersive experience. To test their ability, they erected a wooden replica of their pre-planned store in the outskirts of the city only to dismantle it because Steve Jobs didn’t like it. Though they fell short of time and budget, they worked around their shortcomings and what we see today is a result of months of experimentation. The idea of the GeniusBar too holds a similar back story.

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Brands have so much to lose with each touchpoint. The ad could be great but the shopping experience could be dissatisfying or the product itself could be poorly designed. A brand’s job is to assimilate everything onto the same page. An average product and an average service creates an average impression. A Great product and a great shopping experience create a lasting impression. Sloppy product with a great service and an average ad create only confusion. This confusion is harmful in a competitive market. Nike is based upon ‘authentic athletic performance’, which exists as a knowledge structure in customers’ minds. Yet, consumers’ knowledge of ofNike’s athletic performance is inconsequential. They hold similar knowledge structures for Adidas, Puma and other athletic brands. This knowledge does not differentiate success from failure, and has nothing to do with why consumers valueNike’s brand symbolism. Consumers value Nike primarily because they find value in the stories that have been embedded in Nike, its symbolism, and draw upon these stories in their everyday lives.

Made in China

Made in China
Made in China

Made in China

This is the story of ‘Ainonghui’, a farmers’ association in China. This is also a story about social change. In 2005, a group of people found that they could not access good, safe food in regular markets of Liuzhou, Guangxi province. In search of quality produce, they went to the nearby villages that are located around the city. In that remote countryside, the villagers still practiced traditional agricultural models of organic farming. With the notion of helping these farmers and developing a stable channel of organic produce, they founded a social enterprise called Ainonghui. They helped those farmers streamline their activity and attached them to a few restaurants that serve organic food. This small story looks even smaller when shared like this but the amount of effort that goes into bringing about a social change is huge. Especially in a country like China, this story looks tiny. With so many tiny stories like this, the Chinese created an ocean of change.

This is how China became the rising Sun.

First, they stopped being ideologically rigid. In less colourful terms, the Chinese realized their future at the cost of a surge in inequality and a substantial share of carbon emissions. With an overarching goal, they moved from a centrally planned economy to a market economy. Recently, Syed Akbaruddin, former diplomat and Indian representative at the United Nations, recalled his brief stint in China while addressing the students of the University of Hyderabad, his alma mater. He said that he watched the Bollywood movie Tezaab while he was working in China and when he returned to India, he happened to watch it again and was taken by surprise learning that the movie he watched there was censored frame-to-frame. He expressed his contentment that the country has moved forward and has changed completely now.

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A lot has changed indeed since then. In both China and India, average real incomes have approximately doubled in the past thirty years. China joined the World Trade Organization by the end of 2012, which meant that the country was willing to test its strength on a global stage. Until then, China was used to playing by its own rules but now that it is part of WTO, the rules have been rewritten. This very move altered the dimensions of the manufacturing industry. Chinese brands and businesses moved their manufacturing facilities to China entirely in the process of ‘offshoring’. Offshoring is a great deal because they can make products at a low production cost and sell them to the world. At the same time, Chinese brands earned the name ‘original-equipment-manufacturers’ in the beginning, and slowly became leaders who create and manage global brands.

Maybe, it all started with Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese Communist leader, politician and reformer, saying, ‘to get rich is glorious’. This reform happened inside out. The decision of the third plenum of the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party listed over 300 reform items essential to improve the economy, including monetary, social security, health care, and environmental items, along with the state-owned enterprises. After the well planned & executed ‘silk road’, Chinese trade routes laid out themselves allowing a flux (both in and out) of technology and innovation. This accelerated progress and made China a part of the global market. Adding to this, the digital revolution and cultural exchange has influenced the markets and consequently the consumer behaviour, and the advertising industry too played its part. In a country where advertising was seen as a capitalist evil, huge billboards of Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s appeared everywhere. Apparently, Deng’s statement is more relevant now.

With the new economic policies, China has welcomed western brands and in fact, Chinese make a large fraction of the luxury brands’ consumers. Concurrently, Chinese brands have made their way into our lives and became a part of our routine. This social and technological leapfrogging is a spectacle, but operating in the global market means fighting with global competitors. The twenty-first century came in and shifted the power to consumers and now consumer-centricity is an acquired trait in global brands, without which any enterprise is doomed. So, the next spectacle would be how tough would Chinese brands get against western ones to thrive in a global market.

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Against this background, when researchers asked international consumers to describe Chinese brands, the most used/chosen words were ‘cheap’, ‘low value’, ‘poor quality’, ‘unreliable’, ‘unsophisticated’ and ‘innovative’. The last response here is comforting, but innovation needs quality and sophistication.

There are quite a few Chinese brands that actually make it big in the home-market. Most brands operate in industries such as computer applications, gaming, consumer electronics, mobile applications, ecommerce and other services. Alibaba, Haier, Lenovo, AirChina, Banggood, Bigo Technology, DH Games, Fotoable Inc., Ant Financial and many other valuable companies stay in the top 50 Chinese brands list and they are trying to venture into the west. Out of these brands, Lenovo and Haier have already made their presence formidable in the international market by deploying a functional brand strategy.

Lenovo is the new name of the old company ‘Legend’. The first two letters of the old name have been retained in respect of the legacy the company carries, and ‘novo’ has been added as a suffix making the name what it is now. A year into its rebranding, the company acquired IBM’s global personal computer division, which now owns a seven percent market share. In the same way, in an attempt to appeal to global consumers, Qingdao Refrigerator Plant was renamed as ‘Haier’ and proper distribution and supply channels were established. Now, Haier is a global competitor who cannot be ignored at any cost. It appears that Chinese brands share a common quality of centrifugal growth. Having built a strong consumer base and establishing themselves as a dependable brand in the home-market, they venture out into the international markets either with a new name or by buying out a company from outside China or investing in a foreign firm.

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The 2018 KPMG report notes that within the consumer goods vertical, the Chinese consumer electronics brands have some of the highest levels of brand recognition. The report states that if goods made in China were associated with low quality products, that perception is rapidly shifting. Today, international consumers, especially those in emerging markets, are very receptive to products from Chinese companies. With a hold in the home-market, many Chinese brands have already entered nternational markets such as Thailand, Indonesia and India and this is quite a market-diversity to exhibit.

The ‘Made in China’ mark surely was a little disappointing earlier but they believe it will not be anymore. Chinese brands have managed to find a new voice and a narrative. On the contrary, sloppy Chinese products are readily available too. If not soon, this dichotomy will have to change in the near future to make the mark less disappointing.

Europe was the twentieth century’s setting Sun.
America then became the rising Sun.
China is rising now. So, what is next?
Maybe it is too early for the new Sun to rise.
Anyway, two Suns cannot be rising at once.

What this pandemic means to us in 480 words

What this pandemic means to us in 480 words
What this pandemic means to us in 480 words

What this pandemic means to us in 480 words

One thing everyone is sure about is that this pandemic is a taste of things to come.

Although people are unaccustomed to this kind of lifestyle – which includes washing hands frequently and avoiding handshakes – they are warming up to this new normal. The world hasn’t changed a lot in the past few weeks, but people have. They all had to move away from their regular ‘coping, hoping, doping & shopping’ cycle and do everything from home and at home. Now work is where WiFi is. With this swift change, businesses and services were also forced to take an indefinite break. Though people are coming out now, armed to the teeth, they wouldn’t move about like they once did. Now, with the fear of infection prevailing in the society and a new set of guidelines for markets, what is the future anticipating from us?

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There was a time when business owners talked about building a future-ready company. Of course, not many walked their talk. To be future-ready is to be able to hardwire the habit of openness and zero-resistance towards transformation. For example, when the digital transformation changed every industry, some companies stepped back or were left alone for various reasons. Polaroid, Blockbuster, General Motors and other such companies, which failed to redraw their road maps at the time, had to take the hardest blows in the decades that followed. Though this pandemic is not as mighty as the digital transformation phase, it surely poses an opportunity for business leaders to reprioritize their business goals and emerge reskilled.

With more government intervention, shopping habits of people and the way businesses function would change in the months to come and this change is here to stay. Many companies spent the last few weeks on keeping their heads above water to protect their market presence. Therefore, in every possible way, this is the best time to effectuate the growth hacking ideas brands have shelved. This also stands as the right time to take the step-of-transformation brands have been avoiding. All said and done, the last thing that carves out a new niche in these unusual times for any brand belonging to any industry is the message brands convey to their customers. When the customer knows that their favourite brand has transformed during this extraordinary situation to serve them in a better way, they feel better.

At the end of the day, we too are a brand. Even we took the bold and transformative step. In the past few weeks, we have acquired new skills and designed a new strategy and it is our job to communicate with the world that we are emerging anew.

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We are ready to provide proactive guidance to brands to help them effectuate new ideas and to communicate the same with their patrons.

One thing we are sure about is that the hungriest wolves hunt the best.

Putting oneself in an athlete’s shoes

athlets blog post - M+M
athlets blog post - M+M

Putting oneself in an athlete’s shoes

A young Israeli-Jewish boy goes on a school field trip to an austere Holocaust (mass destruction/slaughter of Jews in Germany) museum. He gets to know about the extremely callous Nazi ideology and remembers his grandfather who was a victim of that holocaust. He passes through each room – full of pictures depicting the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany before and during the Second World War. He gets back home and there’s a surprise gift for him waiting to be unpacked. The gift is his favourite pair of expensive Adidas shoes his doting parents got for him.

*****

India has seen greatest athletes and sportspersons of all time. We’ve seen Milkha Singh, Dhyan Chand, P.T. Usha, Karanam Malleswari, Anju Bobby George, Abhinav Bindra, Mary Kom and many others. They all have pushed boundaries to make it to the winner’s podium. And on a global stage, we talk about Muhammad Ali, Jack Dempsey, Michael Phelps, Birgit Fischer, Usain Bolt and other legends who have outperformed against all odds. Each has a success story. Each athlete earned all the attention s/he got at the winning moment. If we glance through history, we can learn that athletes have always been famous. The star status athletes and sports persons enjoy today is not a recent phenomenon. This is as old as sports itself.

Orsippus of Megara, an ancient Greek athlete won the stadion race of the 15th ancient Olympics in 720 B.C. He was the crowd’s favourite, and he was thought to be a great pioneer for being most likely the first ever athlete to run naked. Varazdat was an athlete from Armenia who won the Olympic Boxing tournament during the 291st Olympic Games. Although only men were allowed to compete in the Olympics initially, the rules have been rewritten later. Several women took part in the ancient games, and even won competitions. The most famous of these was Cynisca of Sparta, the first woman to win. On the other end, Milo of Croton was a wrestler who had won numerous tournaments in his long career. This tradition of celebrity-athletes continued and their charm never waned. Unlike any other time in history, athletes possess a great amount of value, following and money today. The reason was the post Second World War hunger. It is not an easy job for any athlete to outperform his/her competitors but how modern athletes kept their fame intact and leveraged it with an unbelievable monetary value is the question.

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In the 1940s, most sports events were cancelled because of the Second World War, which includes two Olympics. Not surprisingly, a number of athletes have served in the armed forces and fought for their countries. In the 1950s, sports like Baseball and Boxing were widely known and Hockey and Football were growing slowly. In the United States, Baseball and NBA gained the most attention at the time and the tournaments were aired on television. The beginning of 1960s witnessed the Pro Football leagues on television which was a huge success. On the other hand, Boxing bred a separate fan base for itself around the controversial and iconic figures Muhammad Ali and Cassius Clay. Later, the 1970 Olympics witnessed tragic terrorist attacks on Israeli participants. Nothing eventful happened for a decade after that and in 1980, Russia hosted the Olympics. In protest of Russia’s invasion in Afghanistan, 60 countries refused to participate that year. Until then, sports have been a matter of entertainment and valour and time has added business to it. Decades have passed since then and the world has seen the best of the best performers in every sport. Some sports gained unprecedented popularity and some have been completely ignored. Brands entered the stadium at this moment and created an industry that was struggling to take birth. In no time, brand associations have brought athletes closer to their fans. In a way, brands have packed and sold people’s favourite athletes and their successes in nicely designed boxes. Suddenly, the shoes worn by a famous NBA player or a celebrity-athlete became a novel piece of gear.

According to the branding consultant and professor David Aaker (1991, 1996), brand association is one of the four constructs of brand equity. The four constructs are – brand awareness, brand loyalty, perceived quality, and brand associations. In his model, brand associations were classified into four categories (product, organization, person, and symbol). In his framework, consumers associated product-related attributes (e.g., quality, usage situation, users, country of origin) organization-related attributes (e.g., innovation, culture), personality of the brand (e.g., fun, active, young, humorous, boring) and symbolic image or meaning of the brand (e.g., logo, endorser). Not all this seems unusual or merely theoretical if we know the history of Nike, Puma and Adidas.

It is said that Nike has not tied itself to a distinct identity with any country, not even America. However, Adidas has both German and American identities. Nike inspires individuals to become athletes and therefore sports individual iconic sportspersons and Adidas always captures the team spirit. Romanian Tennis star Nastase, Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal, Michael Jordan and LeBron James were the prominent brand associates of Nike and the whole world knows who they are. On the other hand, it’s not that Adidas didn’t have individual players as brand associates, but it still is identified as a brand that gravitates team players. Here, it can be assumed without hesitation that the perceptual attributes (celebrity athlete, speed, victory) and functional attributes (durability, comfort) have worked their way in both cases and made inroads into the market giving each brand a sub-category to occupy. Like an example from the luxury automobile industry – Mercedes is to luxury as Land Rover is to performance – what comes to your mind when you are to choose between Nike and Adidas is just a walking history that crosses paths with your personality.

Rudolf and Adolf Dassler, the famous German brothers, made their first sneakers in the laundry room of their parents’ home. By 1927 their small company had grown to 12 employees and the brothers were forced to find other premises. Their big breakthrough came at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin when the athletes they associated with received seven gold medals and five silver and bronze medals. And then came the Second World War. After the war, the brothers parted ways establishing the brands Adidas and Puma. A couple of decades later, in the United States, came the Blue Ribbon Sports, now known as Nike. It was properly branded in 1972 and the products were designed and marketed by Phil Knight (founder) and Bill Bowerman (track-and-field coach). Even though Nike imported shoes from a Japanese brand initially, it eventually made its own products with the insights and inventions of Bill Bowerman.

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Now, if you see closely what international relations and the world wars have done to entrepreneurs in different parts of the world, you will hesitate to imitate the branding techniques used by the brands mentioned in here. First, Olympics gave birth to an upcoming brand in Germany and the war has split it into two (Adidas & Puma). The relation between Japan, Germany and America has created Nike and later the cold war had fueled entrepreneurship in the United States. None of these brands were created out of thin air. As every athlete has a different story, every athletic brand has one too. The resources they had, the markets they found and the innovation they exhibited were the only things that fetched them a recognition. So the next time you feel the urge to follow or imitate any of these brands, you might want to have a historic incident for you to draw inspiration or see your country at war. Not to overstate, but there were quite a number of brands, which followed in the footsteps of these pioneering companies and all they experienced is a pratfall. In the beginning, we quoted David Aaker. He talks about product-related attributes and organization-related attributes. Glance through the attributes that have been mentioned in the parentheses and instantly the timeline of a brand per se unfolds at your feet.

Only shoes were discussed in here, which makes only a small part of the big picture, because it is said – the rest [of the picture] is history.

*****

[Continued]
The boy opens the gift already knowing that his parents got him his favourite shoes. His mother tells the boy that she got him a good pair of expensive German shoes. With this, the boy reminds his mother that his grandfather is from Germany and the mother falls silent thinking about the horrific past. Then, the boy says to his mother that he is going out to play with his friends and puts on the shoes. While walking down the street and into the playground, all that the boy thinks about is his grandfather and the holocaust. He moves his feet carefully not to stamp too hard or heavy because he thinks his grandfather is in his shoes. Even while playing football, he kicks hesitatingly and carefully. At last, he kicks a tiebreaker and then feels more comfortable in his new shoes. By the end, he assumes that his old man in the shoes liked his last kick, and walks back home.

This is a short story by the Israeli writer Etgar Keret. It was first published in 2004 in an anthology named ‘The bus driver who wanted to be God & other stories’. This short story meanders through the many phases of history. It reminds us of the post world war inventions, global aspirations, brand aspirations, east meets west discussion, pain, memories and an optimistic future the then entrepreneurs envisioned. Before starting out as a brand, sensible entrepreneurs first learn where they are and what they have and then they move on to question who they are. The ‘who’ is the identity one builds over time. Therefore, building a brand identity is a historic event.

Indian cricket also had seen one of the longest and most respected brand associations that almost nudged a company to make a product that is far from their product line. This is the story of Sachin Tendulkar’s cricket bat with MRF (Madras Rubber Factory) sticker on it. Although MRF does not make cricket bats, kids would buy a fake bat with a fake MRF sticker just for the pleasure of perceptual attributes at the time. Thus and thus, how MRF leveraged Sachin’s batting stance and cover drives is a different story altogether.

How brand linguistics rescued Kellogg’s

brand linguistics - Marks & Methods
brand linguistics - Marks & Methods

How brand linguistics rescued Kellogg’s

The Indian subcontinent is inhabited by a significantly large population and the people speak languages belonging to three major language families: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Munda. These three language families have dozens of languages under them and these languages have some traits that are common and also entirely unique (compared to other language families) at the same time. It’s needless to say that India, as a linguistic area, is a living laboratory of linguistic evolution.

Not knowing the diversity of comprehension and expression of Indians, many global brands have ventured into the market in the baby steps of globalization. Some of them were embraced by Indians. Some were rejected. A few were given a chance to improve according our likes and dislikes. One such brand that was given many chances was Kellogg’s. After tasting a series of successes in the west, this brand landed in the land where nearly 1600 languages are living. Almost all MBA graduates and marketing professionals know the case of Kellogg’s as a brand, which took decades to own a place in the Indian market. They all have dissected the case in and out. They tried to understand why it failed initially, what Indians like for breakfast, what they usually eat, which taste do they prefer and how can they position the brand to appeal to the consumers. However, they all missed one simple thing – they missed exploring the languages they speak.

They ignored the tip of the iceberg.

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Kellogg’s has struggled to stay relevant on the shelves for decades. Somehow, Indians were not buying the idea of ‘corn flakes’. After extensive research, they marketed the same product as ‘Basmati Flakes’ which did well with numbers for a few years. Identifying this make-over, Andre Lefevere, a noted professor and critic, mentioned in his essay ‘Composing the other’ that this change in the name made all the difference. He reminded that even when Indians speak multiple languages, we still have something ‘Indian’ in all our languages and cultures, that nudges people towards belongingness.

India is such a country which is open for any amount of foreignization until it comes domesticated. This is the reason why we love paneer pizza along with coke and we are up for a Meetha-Paan at the end. So, when brands are forced to fish or cut bait like Kellogg’s, it is advised to look up brand linguistics.

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After decades of persistent trials and punctual errors, it got an identity as a good option for breakfast. Of course, the domestication of the name ‘corn flakes’, the positioning and the marketing of the brand, and the introduction of newer flavours helped the brand to find a niche, but it is brand linguistics that held things together – not letting them fall apart. Concurrently, the proof of the pudding is in the eating

The love life of arts and science

The love life of arts and science
The love life of arts and science

The love life of arts and science

I think part of what made Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.
– Founder of a tech-product company named after a fruit

1939
June 10, 1939 was the first time Isaac Asimov sat down to write a Robot story. It was his first piece of fiction. It is the story of a robot nurse and a little girl and love and a prejudiced mother and a weak father and a broken heart and a tearful reunion. Science fiction was quite famous at the time and Asimov was the first person and the first writer to think of robots as ‘industrial products built by matter-of-fact engineers’, as he puts it. He continued writing such stories and the idea of – carefully built robots that assist humans – permeated his stories and it didn’t stop there. Almost all sci-fi writers took his path.

In 1942, he coined and used the term ‘Robotics’ for the study of robots in his story ‘Runaround’. He didn’t use any existing word but created one. In the same story, he listed ‘Three laws of robotics’ which were regarded as pioneering principles at the time. However, those principles were stretched across the length and breadth of AI and science later and were criticized for the naivety. Asimov admitted that he had no thought that robots would come into existence in his lifetime. He was formally trained in biochemistry but wrote some intriguing sci-fi stories. He was one of the original thinkers of his time who envisioned the future without inventing it. Asimov’s three laws:

    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

In the late 1950s, Joseph F. Engelberger, an American entrepreneur and physicist, founded a firm by the name Unimation, Inc., because he was so interested in robots and made their production his life work. But how did he become so interested in manufacturing robots when there was no such industry? According to his words, he grew interested in robots in 1940s when he was a physics-major undergraduate at Colombia University, reading the robot stories of his fellow Columbian Isaac Asimov. Later, Engelberg even invited Asimov to write the forward for his 1980 book ‘Robotics in Practice: Management and Application of Industrial Robots.’ Asimov, in all his stories, envisaged a world with robots that have built-in safety techniques and are employed to do specific jobs assigned by humans. It all came true.

To invent this future, it took a little over a decade, along with a biochemist’s wild thoughts and his art of writing, and a physicist’s courage to make it happen because he just believed in his fellow’s wild thoughts. They both scrapped the que sera sera mood of the post-world-war 2 scenario with sci-fi.

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1984
On 24 January 1984, the Macintosh was unveiled to the world at an event in an auditorium, throwing the crowd into a frenzy. Too many hands and too many brains were involved in building the machine. There were too many cooks too but nothing was spoiled. This event took the founder and the firm to a higher celebrity orbit. It’s a thing of the past but it’s worth remembering that the seed for this heavily idolized machine was sown by someone else.

Jef Raskin is philosophical guy who could be both playful and ponderous, writes Walter Isaacson in the biography of Steve Jobs. He envisioned Macintosh, and even named it, to be a computer that has a graphical interface and available to everyone at a low price. Raskin had studied computer science, taught music and visual arts, conducted a chamber opera company, and organized guerrilla theatre. His 1967 doctoral thesis at U.C. San Diego stated that computers should have graphical interface rather than text-based interface. If we see his life, we find odd polarities in his tastes and likes. He was a computer scientist who taught fine arts.

Because of the fog of war in the then Silicon Valley, nobody noticed the radical diversity possessed by some companies and Raskin was a part of one such company. The counterculture movement inspired Apple’s culture. The company gathered a diverse group from diverse backgrounds with diverse interests and of course diverse capabilities. Jobs’ vision for his company’s future was vividly playing before everyone who worked for the firm. He justifies the possibility of a computer scientist being a musician or anything for that matter. Not only Raskin, a few others also had different interests and a few members of the Macintosh team didn’t come from a relevant educational background. Jobs was not an artist but he often left space around artistic souls to do something new, not fearing naivety. He blended his knowledge of the art of calligraphy and typography in the Mac with ease. This tinge of art around science is what defined as innovation. He says that if we want to live our life in a creative way, as an artist, we have to not look back too much and the more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of us, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, they go and hibernate somewhere and maybe later they re-emerge a little differently. His understanding of this sort of diversity at workplace and the ‘let’s-run-risks’ nature gave the firm a shot in the arm every now and then.

2014
On 7 November, 2014, the movie ‘Interstellar’ had a worldwide release. Chris Nolan delivered an ambitious, mind-bending spectacle to the world and The Telegraph described him as both a rational puzzle-maker and a problem-solver. There is one person alongside Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, who steered this movie preventing scientific embarrassments. He was the physicist and researcher Kip Thorne, who was also the executive producer of this film.

While writing the film, the Nolan brothers spent a substantial amount of time in Caltech, where Kip Thorne had been working for a long time. His research on gravitational waves spanned decades by the time, beginning in the late 1960s. Chris Nolan’s English literature degree might have helped him write a racy plot, laced with the inspiration of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do not go gently’ poem, but Kip Thorne fed the script with some shapeshifting scientific principles that made the film a spectacular watch. While they were discussing the science, art and possibility of designing a black hole, which had never been done even by scientists, he collaborated with VFX experts to translate the equations he’d been sleeping on for decades, into a visual medium. In the process, Kip Thorne, along with his team, published two research papers on how they created a software to invent the image of a black hole and how accurate it turned out to be. It all paid off well and later it was proved that there is maximum possibility that the black holes, which his team had designed, are close to the real ones.

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Excepting Kip Thorne, none of the team members knew anything about physics, leaving out what they’d learnt in school. None of them had formal education in such science but they somehow pulled it off with accuracy. In 2017, he won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics for his remarkable research on gravitational waves.

These are not the only instances where the intersection of art and science created a bang. This same point of intersection may have inspired the author Mary Shelly to predict about organ transplantation in her 1818 novel ‘Frankenstein’. She didn’t attend a medical school. All these seem borderline-surreal but they came true, not by accident but maybe by design.

Arts and science as disciplines were studied together in ancient times. Later, when each discipline branched out accumulating great amounts of knowledge, interdisciplinary knowledge became scarce. In Ancient Greece, there was a unity of arts, science, and philosophy. In the renaissance and pre-modern days, scientists were not only scientists but also artists, mathematicians and philosophers. Leonardo Da Vinci was known both for the mural painting ‘The Last Supper’ and topographic anatomy of human body. Samuel Morse invented the Telegraph and he was also a painter. The great German poet Goethe wrote on colour theory and also botany. The lead guitarist of the British rock band ‘Queen’ was an astrophysics researcher.

Earlier, one person had diverse interests and excelled in more than one. Today, not individuals but diverse teams are proving to be innovative in inimitable ways. Scientists and artists are coming together from all over the world to exchange perspectives. In this future our ancestors talked about, ideas are crossing paths. Neuroscientists are collaborating with theatre directors to work on auditory impulses, the Antarctica climate-change project has a painter in their team of researchers to document the images. Speech scientists are working with poets. Photographers and sleep scientists are studying human sleep patterns.

Scientists and artists have many opportunities to collaborate, from exploring philosophical questions to making products. However, no two collaborations follow the same recipe. The secret spice differs in each collaboration.

Twitter, sandwich, donkey, economics & advertising

Marks + methods - Chicken Blog Post
Marks + methods - Chicken Blog Post

Twitter, sandwich, donkey, economics & advertising

A few tweets made a popular restaurant run out of chicken sandwiches in a week.
Are we missing something here?

Twitter & sandwich

The end of the last decade has shown us what brands actually mean to their followers. Brands meant so much to them that they started a small battle on twitter and ended it as quickly as they started.

In Aug ‘19, Popeyes, an American fast food restaurant chain started making chicken sandwiches for the first time and they posted about this on Twitter. Chick-fil-A, another American fast food restaurant chain, also tweeted about their already famous chicken sandwich claiming that they invented it. Popeyes, being cocky for a while, replied to that tweet whether ‘they’re doing alright’. It all started off on a lighter note but escalated quickly. Fans and followers of both the brands came on board and continued retweeting this issue until it took a ride across the country. Popeyes claimed that their sandwich is the best, which was challenged by Chick-fil-A, which has been making sandwiches for a long time now. Eventually, both the companies sold sandwiches like never before. No amount of advertising has helped them run out of food in their entire lifetime.

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While both the parties occupied the battlefield, a third player entered. It was another American fast food restaurant chain named Wendy’s. With no intention to win the war or conquer the followers of the former, they just tweeted with peace. They said their chicken sandwich is the second best. They tried to have a bite of the market and eventually succeeded. After a week or so, it was reported that Popeyes’ sales soared in a short period and one of its store even ran out of sandwiches one day

The philosophy of the ass

French philosopher Jean Buridan expounded about free will with a hypothetical situation of an ass/donkey that is hungry. He asks, if there are two identical (in appearance & quality) haystacks lying equidistant from the ass, which stack would it choose to eat? For this, the philosopher’s answer is rather sour. Buridan argues that, unable to choose one, the ass dies of hunger. There are other versions of the same paradox with different variables, but the point of interest is about choice between two equal objects and equal forces.

If we read the chicken sandwich story against this philosophy, it appears that when we ought to choose one among two options, we try to evaluate the available options considering different parameters or wait for the conditions – in which we are placed – to change. So, if the object is a sandwich, we will not die of indecisiveness of course, but would choose any one or just walk away disliking both. As an add-on, if we have a third option to evaluate, as in the case of the chicken sandwich ‘tweet war’, what would we do?

The economics of searching

Suppose you decided to change your car, what would you do first? You go see what is trending in the market and you may read some reviews about the options you are considering. Then you may take a test drive and then get home one which pleases you the most. For all this, you spend some money and time. The sum of this money and time is defined as ‘search cost’.

So, at a nano level, suppose you are searching for a good chicken sandwich. Given a chance to decide on one chicken sandwich (so that you need not try different sandwiches later in your life) how much would you spend? Now that there are three options at hand – Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s – one would obviously try all the three and pass their judgement. Because the search cost is too less here, it works. Unlike Buridan’s ass, we settle down with at least one. The search cost helps us to choose between equal looking options.

The argument may seem flimsy but it apparently sold more than anticipated.

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Marketing or advertising or just proper branding?

Now the debate stops at the Wh- questions – the whats, whens and whys. No party in this case advertised extensively but managed to sell what they wanted to sell. People may argue that it is just a momentary marketing technique, which burns out in no time. But isn’t all advertising short-living in nature and isn’t selling the ultimate goal of any advertisement? So, why did tweets work in the place of advertising?

There could be multiple reasons for this to have worked out so well such as the season, the brandscape, history of the respective brands and the brand equity they possess. As professional brand consultants, we see something basic here. It is the presence of these brands on social media and right branding that worked like magic. Brand advocates and followers, who usually hibernate, rise to the occasion to defend their favourite brands as in the case of the chicken sandwich. Advertising may not work all the time but branding does.

Slowly, brands are acknowledging the fact that the brandscape has moved from magazines and billboards to social media.

Corona: A Twin Earth Case

Corona: A Twin Earth Case
Corona: A Twin Earth Case

Corona: A Twin Earth Case

Remember ‘it’s not in the head’.
We’ll talk about this toward the end.

The Ting Tings, a British musical duo, released a song by the name ‘That’s not my name’ from their debut album in 2008. This song is about a girl whose name people forget and call her by different names like Hell, Her and Jane. The girl reacts to it and says out loud, ‘that’s not my name’. After more than a decade, this song still seems relevant.

Corona, the Mexican-brewed beer, has been struggling to cross some unanticipated roadblocks since a couple of weeks, but at the cost of its brand equity and value. Ever since the news about Corona virus broke out, searches on the internet ebbed – about the virus and where it has been spreading. Surprisingly, people are searching with the keywords ‘Corona-beer-virus’. By the second week of January 2020, the searches for ‘beer virus’ jumped up more than 700% and the searches for ‘beer coronavirus’ soared to a staggering 3,200%, which is quite a blow to this brand.

It all seems stupid but somehow stupidity works at times. Maybe, it’s time for Corona to sing a song like ‘that’s not what my name means, for god’s sake!’

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This is not the first time something like this happened. In 2016, Tata Motors announced a city car by the name Zica but they renamed the same car just before its initial release because of the outbreak of Zika virus, which is a homonym of the car’s previous name Zica (derived from ‘Zippy Car’). Tata had some luck lurking in their pockets which helped them pull it off really well. In 2014, Italo Sussie, the Belgium chocolate maker, renamed their brand as ISIS but called off this new name because it sounds like one of the Islamic terrorist organizations (ISIS). In 1987, a diet candy which went by the name Ayds, decided to find a new name for itself because AIDS (which sounds like Ayds) virus was too serious to be ignored. These are just a few instances where a brand name made some irreversible changes to brands.

When such roadblocks appear in the way of a brand, does it mean that the brand is destined to fall into panic and take a break or rebrand itself? Maybe not. A brand’s name is as good as its brand persona. This persona grows over time. When naming a brand, brand owners deliberately try to plant as much sense as possible in the name so that it is pregnant with meaning. Amazon, Slack, Intel and Accenture are a result of such a thought process. Corona, Ayds, Zica also fall under the same category.

When a virus possesses a name that resembles that of a brand, just like Corona, the brand suffers misrepresentation. It may be because of the fear of viral contamination or precautionary steps of prevention, but when a tech-giant (Amazon) bears the same name as a rainforest that had been recently burnt down due to wildfires, why didn’t people relate the forest to that tech company?

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Corona beer stands in stark contrast with Corona virus; and so does Amazon with Amazon rainforest.

The American philosopher Hilary Putnam has left an answer for this with his ‘Twin Earth experiment’.

Putnam says, it [meaning of a word] is not in our head. He says we acquire the meaning of a word through the environment we live in. His ‘Twin Earth experiment’ says: If there is another planet just like the Earth and that planet also has water like thing on it, but not exactly, we call it water for our understanding because it resembles the water that is on the Earth. But, it is to be noted that the water present on the Earth and the ‘water’ on the other planet are not identical. It just possesses the same name. The meanings and references are entirely different. Therefore, meaning of word is not in our mind but it lives in the ecosystem we live in. This linguistic concept answers the questions of Corona and Amazon too. Corona may be a refreshing beer for its consumers but it is a fatal virus for many others who do not consume it. The people who consume the beer may have surfed the interned just to be sure of its safety. Therefore, it is just a name that is living in two ecosystems, but with different references.

Such unprecedented problems are quite difficult to avoid while naming a brand. So we believe. a multidimensional linguistic evaluation of a name is necessary before naming a brand. Shakespeare may have said ‘What’s in a name?’ We say, in a name, there are things that a brand cannot afford to buy, such as brand equity.