Madhukar Sabnavis, country head – planning and discovery, Ogilvy & Mather India, says, “The marketing director or the marketing head is the brand’s custodian.”
MG Parameswaran, executive director, Draft-FCB-Ulka, says, “The CEO of the company that owns the brand, is the brand’s custodian.” Lynn D’Souza, head, Lintas Media Group, says, “The brand manager is the brand’s custodian.”
Jagdeep Bakshi, head honcho at Contract Advertising, says, “The power of brand custodianship vests in whoever knows the brand best.” Josy Paul, head of BBDO India, says, “The consumer is the brand’s custodian.”
A decade back, depending on which advertising agency you were working with, the brand custodianship as a responsibility was defined by the agency’s philosophy. As Bakshi explains, “Around 15 years ago, to get more upstream client work, advertising agencies developed this concept of brand custodianship – Ogilvy & Mather – or brand stewardship – JWT. The agency decided to nominate one person on its rolls without whom nothing would happen – the account planner, whose understanding and knowledge of the brand and its consumer connect would be extensive.”
Looks like ad folks still differ on who the brand’s custodian actually is. Sabnavis insists, “The fixed custodian of the brand is the client. The agency is seen as a partner that provides ideas that are communication solutions. If the client moves to another agency, the custodianship moves with the brand.” He adds, however, that the learning curve with a new agency takes time so a client wouldn’t just shift agencies easily.
D’Souza states firmly, “Account planners in media and advertising agencies are trying to take away the brand manager’s job. The brand manager is the ring leader in a distributed leadership. The agency provides the reach and touch. Ultimately, though, the consumer is the owner of the brand.”
Bakshi says the brand custodian is the person who is usually given the authority because he knows the brand and the consumer best. “The client – the process owner – has to accord this authority. Custodianship is not ownership.”
Parameswaran insists that the steady state initiatives for the brand – what it stands for in its long term strategy – rests with the CEO. The fortunes of a company can swing with its brand’s. “Iconic brands today are almost all handled by CEOs. At companies such as ICICI, TCS, Amul, CEOs are involved in brand decisions.”
Paul is emphatic in saying, “When a brand evolves to reach iconic status, the consumer becomes its custodian. Till then, the client is the custodian. Nike and Apple today are in their consumers’ custody – the consumers take charge of the brand ideology and control its meaning.” The consumer lives, supports and acts the ideology, he adds, therefore owning the brand’s uniqueness – a powerful belief, a consistent behaviour. “The role of the marketer and the ad agency is to provide convincing brand thought. The ad agency is merely a catalyst.”
On brand ideology, he says, “Take Gandhi, Martin Luther King – both very powerful brands. They offered something unique, relevant, meaningful and what their ‘consumers’ were waiting for, in their ideologies. It’s a response. You sense it because its also inside you. The brand owners’ responsibility is to provide clean, simple ideologies.”
So do we have a hung jury on brand custodianship? That would be a silly conclusion. However, it may be sensible for both agencies and advertisers to acknowledge that ultimately, they have to let go of the brand to the consumer. Bakshi has a unique analogy: the client looks at the bluebird he owns with binoculars, while showing it to the agency guy who has no binoculars. The client sees nothing but the bird, the agency sees the surroundings along with the bird. If both client and agency accept that the brand’s custodianship finally rests with the consumer, it could just create that critical distance to be able to work on the brand objectively, but with all of the specialist’s passion.