13 Jul 2016 19:01 IST

Psychological devaluation as a brand strategy

Emphasising one element over others in a given context and cultural moorings can help brands

Consumers may be interested in many product categories and services. Some may call for lesser involvement than others. (For instance, a consumer may be more involved in the purchase of a car than a perfume or deodorant used in the car.) Such low-involvement categories will benefit if they can adopt a combination of (i) situational focus (ii) inferential beliefs and (iii) the first two aspects leading to what is known as devaluation in the psyche of consumers. Devaluation is a concept that describes the focus on the attention and involvement of consumers, while ensuring that other aspects not focal recede into the background at the particular moment when they are attending to a product or brand (or to any input to any of the senses, sound or touch or smell) In an IPL event, for example, when spectators want to celebrate a moment, all their other interests get devalued. When you visit a multiplex to watch a movie and feel hungry, you head to the cafeteria and the point-of-purchase visual of a brand being considered appears with much greater focus than it would have when you had not been hungry. In practical terms, can a brand make use of the need and attention span of a consumer to “devalue” several other wants of the consumer?

Inferential beliefs

Inferential beliefs are those formed by the consumer based on his/her inference associated with the brand’s ad/communication or word of mouth. By themselves, they are powerful but when combined with situational content and devaluation, they provide very useful inputs to the brand’s communication. Lux for the last several decades (the brand was launched in 1889) has been strengthening the inferential beliefs for the past several decades.

Though several brands of toothpastes may have clove oil as an ingredient, Promise brand few decades ago advertised clove oil as a proposition and tasted success. That natural herbs are harmless and have fewer side-effects is an inferential belief. Consumers apply this belief to a wide variety of product categories. Himalaya, Santoor and Paper Boat are some brands that may have benefited through such beliefs.

There are several categories where brands have herbal variants. Iodex for several decades had a version that was not herbal; today it does. Cough drops, fairness creams, hand wash brands, hard-boiled confectionery, body lotions, face wash, and floor cleaners are some of the other categories that have herbal variants.

Inferential beliefs need not necessarily come from brand communication. They can be well entrenched in cultural beliefs. Some examples of brands that have made use of inferential beliefs influenced by culture are Sunrise’s recent introduction of filter-like instant coffee, Tanishq’s karatmeter to address the lack of trust consumers repose in family jewellers regarding the purity of the gold, the growth of the handwash market in a short period of time, as germs spread diseases and Cafe Coffee Day (socialising).

Consumer relevance

A Lifebuoy ad showed a situation where a stomach upset was attributed to having eaten a delicacy. The ad revealed that the problem was created by germs and not the delicacy. This is an interesting example as it reflected situations that are devalued to put the focus on Lifebuoy and germ-killing. A Lux ad showed a celebrity who says it is not her necklace or her earring but the soap’s perfume that gives her confidence. This is also an interesting ad in which the brand gets its message through by “devaluing” many things associated with one’s looks.

Fair & Lovely’s ad that mentions its proposition of protecting fairness in the summer heat is highly situational. So is Pepsodent’s ad where the mother of a mischievous and playful boy coerces him to brush his teeth. Decades ago Titan’s “gift” proposition was one of the best ads that illustrate the usage of situation and devaluation of several gifts generally associated with the inferential emotions of warmth and love. By making the brand a part of the gifting ritual, Titan had devalued several other categories of products that consumers may have considered for gifting.

Many of the examples from brands’ communication are relevant ones. But when perceived risk or prestige is associated with situational context, they become more relevant to the consumer. The example of Lifebuoy is one associated with a problem-solving situation. Clinic Plus, which has been associated with mother-and-daughter situations, launched an ad dealing with thick hair and associates with the performance of the daughter at a social event (aspirational). Consumers may also aspire for fun and humour in their everyday life (Cadbury’s Oreo and Shots). Kurkure’s family-oriented fun is another example; the brand is strongly associated with a family snack. Kalyan Jewellery’s budget-based aspirations with respect to diamonds (enacted by Bollywood and South Indian celebrities) is a good example to explore the niche associated with a new kind of jewellery in a culture that is strongly associated with gold. The psychological concept of devaluation can take a brand into unexpected frontiers of a consumer’s psyche.

Recommended for you