06 August 2015 12:04:40 IST

What makes some brand associations click?

It’s an uphill task for advertisers and marketers to figure out what works and why, and why not

What comes to your mind when I say Coke?


And what about Pepsi?


What comes to your mind when I say Titan other than watches? In most case, it’s the same melodious music track that has been played in every commercial of the brand for over 28 years.

What about Britannia? Other than the biscuit associations, what comes to your mind?

The music track ‘tin tin da din!’ that features at the end of all ads. And so the list of associations goes on.

And while some are inherent to the design of the brands in question, the other is the role played by advertising agencies, which have been consistent with their execution over the years.

Why do associations matter?

Many of the brands are similar to each other and hardly different. And yet marketers and advertising agencies have to ensure that their brands are remembered, and stand above the plethora of choices that the consumer has.

This is why colours matter. This is why shapes like the Harpic bottle’s have a high recall value. This is why the distinct, somewhat a strong smell, of the Amrutanjan pain-balm is remembered by consumers and the whole world knows if someone has applied it.

There is also an important concept that we need to remember here. Associations that are carefully nurtured and built by sustained and memorable advertising ends up as a brand property, and Titan and Britannia clearly have become brand properties that are worth boasting about!

An association can be an early warning symbol

Not all associations however are positive. Negative associations have the potential to hurt a brand. How many of you remember Toyota Qualis? It was launched in India in the year 2000 with great fanfare and it achieved tremendous acceptance in the Indian market, as it had in others, such as Indonesia. People were very happy with its size, the ruggedness, its ability to transport people and luggage. However, another phenomenon was making itself apparent at the same time. Any resort, hill station or tourist destination you went to, you found the Toyota Qualis being used as a taxi there. Soon, one saw the Qualis everywhere as the taxi of choice. Passenger vehicle consumers began to have second thoughts about the brand. Why would anyone want to buy a brand of cars that had come to become synonymous with taxis, for their own use, particularly if the roads are littered with them? The company then came up with the Innova, a superior more expensive product and a premium brand.

Will history repeat itself?

Let me begin by saying that the Toyota Innova is a brilliant vehicle that has taken to Indian roads and the Indian markets like a fish to water. It is easily Toyota’s largest selling vehicle in India and the Indian consumer today instantly recognises it as a family vehicle, a long-trip companion. Remember, India still has a united family that goes on pilgrimages, not to forget young families going in groups for trips and holidays. However, it’s important to bear in mind that like the Qualis’ fate, the Innova too has come to be used as a taxi in places such as Ooty, Kodaikanal, Mysore and Lonavala.

As a consultant who worries about brands and their welfare, I wonder if the Innova might end up like the Quails. So here’s a quick research done by some students who were part of our branding programme in the form of an association map which points to some warning signs for the brand as many people mention “taxi” as the first association.

Of course a small-size research like this is merely an indicator of a possible problem but the company must worry about this and probe this in greater detail nonetheless. s

How can we use this technique?

This technique is very useful to give you an understanding of what the consumers think and feel about your brand. The question to ask is: What is the key association? Nike with shoes for instance.

Which association is more important and which is less important, is another question. For instance, Nike had spent millions on their brand’s advertising using the legendary golfer Tiger Woods as its ambassador. But this hardly came out in the research which must have got their antenna up.

Yes, associations are a useful brand management tool. They are not complex and don’t need too much investment. It is a simple but effective tool that many brands and consultants have used with great success.

As an exercise, think about some of the brands that you use and check for associations.The results might surprise you!

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