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Mktg – Do you have a brandvocate?

Harish Bhat

When well-known people voluntarily advocate the use of a brand, that’s ‘brandvocacy’..

You don’t have to go far to find brandvocates. Step into the nearest Kingfisher aircraft, and you will find Vijay Mallya espousing the merits of the airline and how it will provide you the finest flying experience in the country. He walks ontothe television screen in front of your seat, and for a few minutes thereafter talks about the brand new fleet of aircraft which Kingfisher possesses, the delightful facilities on offer, and how the staff will take care of every single need.

Vijay Mallya is a brandvocate. While he is a promoter of the airline, it is unlikely the company is paying him a separate fee to be its brand ambassador as well. He knows the world of flying very well, and he lives in the world of opulence himself. So he is well positioned to talk about the world of luxury on board the flights. He has stepped out from being merely primary shareholder of the company to advocating the product himself.

Vijay Mallya (for Kingfisher airlines)

Consider a different kind of brandvocate. When Barack Obama was fighting the US presidential elections last year, Oprah Winfrey bolstered his chances significantly by advocating brand Obama.

She passionately believed in Obama’s brand of politics, and endorsed him because she genuinely thought he would be good for the country. She did this of her own volition, and as her credibility is extraordinarily high with a fairly large segment of US voters, what she said really mattered. From being TV host and celebrity, she had stepped out to meaningfully advocate a brand.

Brandvocates are not brand ambassadors. We know of so many ambassadors – respected Bollywood and sports celebrities who promote Indian and global brands. Tiger Woods for Accenture, Aishwarya Rai for Longines watches, Shah Rukh Khan for Pepsi, Sachin Tendulkar for Aviva Insurance, several leading Bollywood actresses for Lux soap, Amitabh Bachchan for several leading or upcoming brands. They appear on television and newspaper advertisements, they attend launch events featuring the brand and they are often anointed the “face of the brand”.

Many of these brand ambassadors certainly help brands cut through the clutter, build awareness and also develop a good consumer connect. But there are two factors which sometimes affect their appeal.

Most consumers know that these celebrities are paid huge sums of money to endorse the brand. Also, several consumers often wonder – do these celebrities use the product themselves, or are they merely mouthing a script which they may not entirely believe in?

Brandvocates, in sharp contrast, are well known men and women who voluntarily advocate the use of a brand. They charge no fees for promoting it, but do so primarily because they believe strongly and passionately in the brand whose cause they are espousing.

In some cases, they may be part-owners or promoters of the brand they are advocating, yet they are still stepping out of their narrow role as shareholder or investor to actively market the brand themselves. In other cases, they may have no financial interest at all in the brand.

Brandvocates share a few common characteristics, which make them such a powerful and trusted voice. They are well-known individuals, often celebrities, in their own right. Often, they are iconic figures for a certain segment of the population, hence to that particular audience their views are not merely respected, but virtually held in awe. They have either developed the brand themselves, or they have actively used and experienced the merits of the brand which they talk about. And most importantly, they have no legal contract with the brand for advocating it, they talk so positively about the brand of their own choice. For all these reasons, brandvocates are very different from brand ambassadors, and their appeal is very distinct and credible.

I must narrate a recent instance of brandvocacy which we experienced in our company. Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, Dalal Street celebrity and one of the most successful investors in our stock markets, is very fond of Titan Nebula gold watches. During the recently concluded Diwali season, at our request, he voluntarily wrote to several hundred of his associates urging them to buy a Titan Nebula watch for the festival season.

He wrote: “This Diwali, a perfect gift for yourself, your family or your loved ones is a solid gold Nebula watch from Titan. I myself wear a Titan Nebula gold watch with great pride, and I regard myself as a strong advocate for this product, because it is one of the finest and most prestigious watches created by one of the world’s finest watchmakers, Titan.”

Brandvocates: Dalal Street celebrity Rakesh Jhunjhunwala (Titan Nebula)

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is a prominent investor in our company, but a key reason for his advocacy of Titan Nebula is his passion for these beautiful gold watches, which he owns and wears himself. For this very reason, he was credible and consumers to whom his voice mattered responded very favourably. To many of them, he is indeed an iconic figure. Several hundred investor Web sites highlighted his views on Nebula watches, and the brand had a very successful run during the festive season.

Yet another example of a very successful brandvocate is President Barack Obama himself. In recent times, he has done more for the Blackberry than any brand ambassador could have hoped to achieve.

By refusing to give up his Blackberry after assuming office, and by extolling its many virtues which made it his constant companion, he gave the instrument more fame than it could handle. This was of course a case of unsolicited and unintended brandvocacy, but the brand must have found it very welcome advocacy nonetheless. I am certain Blackberry attracted several thousand new consumers shortly after this episode.

So the brandvocate becomes one more powerful weapon in a brand’s armoury. Yet, a prerequisite for brandvocacy is that the product or brand has to be so relevant and compelling that a well-known personality is willing to often spontaneously extol its virtues to a wide audience.

Few brands belong to this exalted space, and it is, therefore, easy to see where this will lead to. Strong brands will become even stronger in the future.

(The writer is Chief Operating Officer – Watches, Titan Industries Ltd. These are his personal views.)

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October 29, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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