Saturday, September 18, 2010


This article by U NARAYANADAS on branding in the pharmaceutical industry is the fourth in the series that was published by Express Pharma Pulse and appeared in its issue dated May 26, 2005

While marketingmay not have absolute control on the communications which take place in the customer’s office, many factors influence the modes of communications through which brands communicate with their customers, feels U Narayanadas

An American general visiting forward troops during the Korean War, had to engage an interpreter to address them. The general, seeking to grip the soldiers’ attention, told an elaborate joke, which lasted several minutes. Then, the interpreter said a few words and the assembly burst into laughter. After the speech was over the mystified general asked the interpreter how he translated the joke in so few words. The interpreter informed him, with a sheepish grin, that there would be no point in translating the joke word for word, so he told the soldiers that the general just told a joke, and they should acknowledge it with laughter.

The story may seem inconsequential, but consider the constant tussle between marketing and sales about implementation of strategies - especially communication strategies. 

A familiar complaint from 'marketing' is that 'sales' does not faithfully implement strategies. 'Sales', returns the compliment by whining that 'marketing' does not understand the realities of the market place. While marketing’s uncouth brute and sales’ glamour doll spar at each other, sometimes communications assume strange forms. Sales’ perspective in the story is that the proof of the pudding, after all, lies in eating it.

While marketing may not have absolute control on the communications which take place in the customer’s office, many factors influence the modes of communications through which brands communicate with their customers.


A product manager’s eagerness to score a hit may sometimes cloud his/her better judgement. As a result he/she tries to project what she sees as the benefit, not necessarily what the customer desires. One such product manager insisted on using the hologram on a pack as the brand’s USP. It might have worked for a while, when the hologram was a novelty, but it was not the brand’s innate strength. 

The holographic seal offers, at best, an indirect benefit by offering the consumer the genuine article. The benefit, if any, is to the marketer as his objective is to prevent piracy. 


Secondly the pressure cooker atmosphere, in which a product manager works, forces him to think of a mnemonic or tagline the moment a brand is assigned to him and not after he thought through a brand strategy, drawing it from an audit of the strengths and weaknesses of his brand and its competitors.

This, to use a familiar cliche, is putting the cart before the horse. Once the cart is put before the horse, the rest follows by weaving the communication around the tagline with the unseemly expectation that the cart would draw the horse! 

A product manager wanted to use the taglineA tribute to womanhood’ for an oral anti-fungal for vaginal candidiasis! He was dissuaded from offering such a ridiculous 'tribute to womanhood', but long before another company marketing an iron supplement paid the same 'tribute to womanhood'. The hallmark of a professional is his/her willingness to experiment and change. But, most creative people have this weakness: they fall in love with their work early on and are reluctant to change. 


Thirdly, a bit of amateur product management from the company’s power elite sometimes influences brand communications. A senior official of a company during a discussion on packaging material designs for a new brand insisted that they use the ‘Colgate Ring’ in the designs! He liked it in Colgate’s television commercials.

According to him, the brand offered a protective ring to the patient - it did not matter in which condition it was prescribed. 


Brands are mainly extended either to cash in on their popularity to step into other segments or shore up revenues from plateaued/flagging brands. There may be a situation where, in the new segment, the original product may have only a subsidiary role while the add-ons play a more important role.

For example, if a cough syrup is launched as brand extension of a popular antihistamine, the antihistamine may at best have a subsidiary role in the extension. Most textbooks assign a placebo role to antihistamines in cough mixtures. Therefore in such an extension, there would be no point in highlighting the original brand’s efficacy irrespective of its popularity. 

A brand should deliver on its promise to be successful in the long run. That should be the eternal Rule No. 1. 

The primary objective of the brand extension in the above example, i.e. the cough mixture should be to relieve cough not allergy. When in doubt, Apply Rule No. 1 should be the guiding maxim.

Charles Revlon, chairman of the Revlon Cosmetics is reported to have said ‘‘We make chemicals in the factory, the retailer sells hope in the store’’. The chemical mixed and packed in the factory transforms into a brand, picking up en route a name, an image, an identity, a mnemonic, a tagline and - even a personality! (Brand personality may be more applicable in case of durable and some non-durable consumer goods.) And, the brand communicates hope!


Integration and application of ideas developed by two independent researchers helped marketers along in their efforts in brand building. For a consumer to patronise a brand he should recall it in the first place.

The German word Gestalt is hard to translate into English but roughly means an 'organised whole'. Dr Frederick Pearls, a Freudian analyst, developed the principles of Gestalt psychology and employed them in psychotherapy.

But Gestalt theory’s more mundane application is in advertising. If people are shown a near incomplete circle and asked what they saw in it, nine out of ten people would reply that it was a circle. Readers of this article will have no difficulty in reading the following paragraph and understanding its meaning. We do not know whether such a research was indeed carried out at Cambridge but the paragraph is self-explanatory. 
‘‘Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae, the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.’’
This could probably be the reason for some errors we see in print escaping the eagle-eyed scrutiny of the most intrepid proofreader.

The second important development was the Russian scientist Pavlov’s biological experiments. Pavlov set out to observe the effect of external stimuli on the gastric secretions of rats. The experiment was to ring a bell before offering rats their daily rations. The rats, conditioned to hearing a bell before their meals, continued to secret digestive juices in anticipation of food even when food was not served after the ring, for a few days. And in the process Pavlov stumbled upon the now famous theories of learning.

The principle behind development of mnemonics and logograms is a combination of Gestalt psychology and the results of Pavlov’s experiments. Its objective is to make people remember/recall a product or concept by looking at the proffered concept as an organised whole and remember it by association of ideas.

The writer is Marketing Manager, VINS Bioproducts Ltd, Hyderabad. E-mail:


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