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Brand Management 101 Feat. Mollywood

Brand Management

This semester, I took a marketing course called Brand Management. Our professor would take us through an array of real-world marketing problems that were centred around how companies developed, reinvented and sustained their brands. However, one question he never really answered explicitly was: What is a brand? 

But again, the cases were pretty comprehensive and this ensured that by the end of the course, everyone had a fair idea of what a ‘brand’ represented and what its implications were on a company. My takeaway was thus: A brand is a mostly intangible asset that has financial implications owing to the impact it creates in the minds of people.  (Marketing pundits, feel free to correct!) 

Now, my course was obviously targeted towards managing brands that sold products and services. But being a quintessential pop culture boy, I couldn’t help but think about how people in the film industry are also essentially brands: for one, they have a powerful medium (cinema) through which they influence the minds of people; and two, their involvement in a project has a direct financial impact on the budget. In theory, every social creature on this planet with the ability to communicate is a brand. But considering the widespread impact that film personalities have as compared to individual people, I’m going to try and explain a few basic brand-related terms within the milieu of our film industry. Let’s go! 

Brand Equity

This refers to the value that a brand holds in the minds of consumers. When consumers have consistent, positive experiences with the brand over time, its equity increases. All through the 1980s and 1990s, Mohanlal and Mammootty did back-to-back blockbuster films that helped them cement a place as the A-listers of the industry, thereby, achieving a really high brand equity. The good part about building brand equity is that its long-term, cumulative nature allows it to not get affected by a mere handful of failures. Even after a string of unsuccessful films, when Balettan was released in 2003, it became the highest-grosser of the year because Mohanlal had too high a brand equity to fail permanently. 

Brand Identity & Brand Image

Brand identity is the way in which an entity aims to present itself to the consumers, ie the way in which it wants to be perceived. Brand image, on the other hand, is a snapshot of how the brand is actually perceived by people. Jayaram, who is currently in a slump, wants to still be perceived as (or, holds the brand identity of) the quintessential family hero (which he was, in the 90s and early 2000s) – but currently, owing to a decade of failed (misad)ventures, his equity has been seriously impacted and the audience isn’t sure what image to have of him. (Makal, if it had been released in say 2010, would most probably have been a hit?) Here’s hoping that the actor redeems himself with projects that bring his brand image closer to his identity! 

Brand Positioning & Repositioning

Positioning refers to how a brand places itself in the minds of customers, to differentiate itself from competitors and achieve a certain brand identity. Sometimes, the positioning doesn’t work (or stops), in which case the brand is repositioned. Repositioning is the process of tweaking a few things here and there to change the consumers’ perception while keeping its identity intact. 

Suraj Venjaramoodu is a great example of repositioning. He entered the industry, with the identity of being a talented actor. However, his antics, Trivandrum slang and comic timing in back-to-back films in the 2000s earned him the image of a comedy actor. He felt restricted by the kind of roles he was being offered. And so, he decided to reposition himself. By actively staying away from comedy roles and scouting for roles with more depth, via films like Action Hero Biju and Perariyathavar, he was successfully able to get a few steps closer to people perceiving him as a talented actor – his brand identity. Indrans, Kalabhavan Shajon and Baburaj are also examples of people who have been able to successfully re-position themselves in the industry. 

Also Read: 5 Malayalam Actors Who Tweaked Their Script Selection And Found Immense Success

Co-branding

Co-branding happens when a product is promoted using two or more brand names. Most multi-starrer projects are exercises in co-branding. In Mollywood, Twenty20 is probably the father of them all; its trailer had a simple pitch – “All superstars on one screen” and the audience was sold, owing to the fact that it was able to mobilise the takers of all brands (read all the cast members). 

Brand Extension

In my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects of a brand  – and also the most tricky, at that – is the plausibility of brand extensions. What this essentially means is:  Using the name of an established brand in a new territory, to cash in on its pre-existing equity. Dileesh Pothen extended his portfolio from that of a director to that of a supporting actor. It is an example of an extension within the film industry. If we take a broader business canvas, Mohanlal’s Taste Buds and Lalisom are explicit examples of the extension of the brand Mohanlal. Taste Buds was a roaring success in the Middle East thanks to good marketing (Check out this TVC that uses Mohanlal’s appeal in the most inclusive way).

However, Lalisom was a failure despite the heavy media coverage and buzz surrounding it (the National Games debacle made things worse!). As you can imagine, not all extensions make sense in the real world. This is primarily because people inherently have certain biases about brands, and getting them to be open to new brand associations requires a lot of planning. And some degree of manipulation too?

There are a dozen more brand management buzzwords that I can bore you with, but then this article would become longer than my actual Brand Management project submission… And that would make me very guilty (: But I’ll leave you with one last thought: Would you agree if I said that Tamil stars are bigger ‘brands’ than Malayalam stars? 

(Read on only if you are intrigued by the above question)

In a brilliant Linkedin post, Aravind Subramanyam narrated a story where Kamal Hassan defines a brand: In the 80s, Rajini had a few mannerisms that became an instant hit with the masses: the cigarette flick, the hair combing etc. And with each passing film, he continued to repeat these actions, which pleased the fans and eventually made him a bigger star than his seniors (including Hassan himself, who was experimenting all over the place). Repetition, Kamal says, is key to building a brand. In that sense, actors in Kerala seem to be more experimental and less repetitive, and so are possibly restricting themselves as “brands”. Just a thought. (I know that by market size, Tamil Nadu is a much larger market and so even a mid-sized star like Sivakarthikeyan might have the brand valuation of some of our topmost stars. But keep that factor aside and think about it?)