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Why ape when you can create?

business Updated: Sep 06, 2009 23:26 IST
Madhukar Sabnavis

We Indians are more comfortable copying rather than creating. Not surprisingly, in Bollywood and many of the creative arts, once something becomes successful, you see a glut of look-alikes, hoping to quickly ride on the trend and achieve the same success.

It’s not very different in the marketing and advertising world. There are waves of similar advertising – almost often as a flavour of the season… slice of life, humour, animation, songs…

But it gets a little difficult to understand when brands that have had some interesting advertising of their own in the past, suddenly start doing stuff that their competitors have been doing for years – forgetting their own DNA and trying, consciously or unconsciously, to be someone else. Brands built on ‘feel good’ try desperately to introduce ‘do good’ values and vice versa and thus move from their intrinsic strengths and become like everyone else. It’s happened across diverse categories like toothpastes to skincare to malted food drinks.

Similarly, brands that have historically been built on melodramatic, loud personalities begin to tone down on the belief that their competitor’s more mellow, understated tone is more desirable. It’s happened in categories as diverse as telecom and ready-to-wear. And thus such brands lose their charm and endearment. And the most common field of aping is the use of testimonials and celebrities. One brand does it, and others follow thinking they are missing out on either functionality or flair. The result: all brands look alike. Category codes get developed but brands get non-descript.

It’s always so comfortable to get uncomfortable with competition, because it gives a sense of purpose and sometimes accomplishment.

Another Indian truth: we are not naturally competitive or there is no natural quest for perfection. Being dictated is often the easiest way to improvement. And hence, we and certainly many marketers tend to be driven more by competition than our own tasks.

This is amazing because the Indian market today is at such a stage of development that it can accept multiple players and platforms with ease. There is no one formula to success. In fact, a diverse, large country like India actually provides marketers multiple triggers to tap the market and attract consumers. And so allows for a diversity of approaches to happily co-exist. While we are continuously going after penetration and market expansion, we behave as if the pie is limited and feel better when we outdo others. Not surprisingly, even a leader gets tempted to ape competition rather than lead them.

“Stick to your knitting” could be a strong marketing mantra. Something worth thinking about.

Madhukar Sabnavis is Country Head – Planning, Ogilvy and Mather, India