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Review of Mainak Dhar’s Brand Shastra

books Updated: Oct 21, 2016 19:58 IST
Sujoy Gupta
Sujoy Gupta
Hindustan Times
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Elephantine brand recall: Advertising for a fairness cream in October 2001. (Himanshu Vyas/HT Photo)

Both the beginners in marketing and the bigwigs too swear by 55 books authored by the legendary Philip Kotler, 85, who is currently the SC Johnson Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, USA. Against this formidable backdrop of an extant Titanic treasure trove of seminal management literature in marketing, Mumbai based IIM-A alumnus Mainak Dhar has authored an endearingly easy to read homespun book, which despite the somewhat misleading ethnic connotation inherent in its title, provides a plethora of fresh insights relating to marketplace realities worldwide. Cutting cogently through the clutter of complicated, often contradictory, scenarios isn’t easy but Dhar has delivered a must-read book.

I bestow the “must-read” compliment because Dhar addresses the ubiquitous common citizen. This consideration for the generally silent majority is one of Dhar’s huge strengths.

But precisely whose marketing pitfalls and problems does this book analyse? Which factors influence ordinary householders to choose a particular brand of detergent powder over another? To what extent are audiences (who are also obviously consumers) wowed by celebrity endorsements?

Personalities fade away but sometimes brands endure. Actor Kanan Devi in an advertisement for Lux soap (HT Photo)

Dhar writes: “A Bollywood starlet might well enhance the appeal for a brand of lipstick, but her endorsement for a brand of paan masala may leave one scratching one’s head.” How best can nervous job seekers market themselves? What do’s and don’ts must anxious parents eager to help a daughter or son catch the best possible life partner via matrimonial ads never forget? How can responsible parents shield vulnerable children from being led astray by the undesirable and unwarranted product enticements of hardcore marketers’?

While answering queries like these, Dhar seamlessly weaves in definitions and explanations of fairly complicated marketing principles such as “product differentiation”, “active disengagement” and “zero moment of truth (ZMOT)”. To start with, lay readers might feel intimidated enough to lament that they can’t quite understand what the author is trying to say. But Dhar knows his subject and in a few paragraphs lucidly explains the relevance of these items of marketing theory. The reader is left feeling wiser and enlightened.

A men’s race in progress on 25 October 1970. The hoarding in the background features Dunlopillo, which continues to be among the top 10 brands of mattresses sold in India (Virendra Prabhakar/HT Photo)

A reader might well ask: “How come Mr Dhar knows so much?” This brings me to the author’s credentials. Managing director of the Mumbai-based Indian subsidiary of a US multinational, one of the largest food companies in the world, Dhar’s work entails selling a slew of items ranging from commonplace flour to high-end ice-cream and expanding both popularity and acceptance of the company’s upmarket brands. Some day Dhar’s autobiography might tell the tale but within the space of these columns his claim to marketing fame rests here.

Read more: Nawabs, Nudes, and Noodles: The story of 30 years of Indian advertising

That’s not all, though. He’s also written a thriller published in India in 2016 and a book on marketing entitled “Brand Management 101” published in the USA in 2008. The book under review is his third. I have no hesitation in recommending it to everyone who wants to understand what makes some products successful.

Sujoy Gupta is a business historian and corporate biographer