By Rajiv Banerjee & Shuchi Vyas
BRAND EQUITY, THE ECONOMIC TIMES
9 May 2007
At the MTV head office in Mumbai, the channel’s seven
CEOs troop in every month to report their observations. And
just like their Mumbai counterparts, CEOs from six other Indian
cities too mail in their reports diligently every month. Meet
the campus executive officers — the eyes and ears of the
music channel, which sweep colleges across India looking for
what’s hot or cool.
It’s the kind of information which enables MTV to get
deep into its target audience’s minds. “The insights
may not lead to a radical overhaul in our offerings, but we
do incorporate elements into our shows — in the style
and packaging — to make it contemporary and in tune with
our target audience,” says Aditya Swamy, vice-president
– marketing, MTV Networks India.
While MTV keeps its antennae tuned to the latest fads, Sanjay
Luthra, MD, Mattel, bemoans a missed opportunity. The Pixar
‘Cars’ phenomenon isn’t even a whimper in
India, even though Mattel factories across Europe and America
are falling behind on orders. “In India, it didn’t
work as well as expected,” admits Luthra.
The reason, in all probability, could be traced to the fact
that Cars (the movie) wasn’t as big a hit in India. “A
fad has to be identified and supported by more than one party.
Today, when a fad emerges, it has a high-intensity, high-velocity
impact, whereas earlier it was a gradual build up. The potential
return is high, but there are risks as well,” Luthra adds.
It’s a conundrum which marketers today are grappling
with. A fad today has a faster build-up and a shorter lifespan
than ever before. He-Man moved from a fad to a trend with a
life long enough for marketers of every stripe to ride on it.
Today, it’s Pokemon to Yu-Gi-Oh to Pixar, re-mixes to
Brit-Asian to hip-hop — all flashing by on fast forward.
While some do last long enough to become more durable phenomena,
others have a very short shelf life. Time it and you ride the
wave; miss it and you come crashing down.
The question that begs an answer: are fads worth all the effort?
BS Nagesh, MD of Shoppers’ Stop, says that the fashion
and lifestyle format no longer counts on short-term spikes.
“We learnt this lesson during the days when Valentine’s
Day was a hit. We used to work towards giving the occasion a
spike. Now it’s just faded away. So unless it’s
a product which creates a fad, which still has to be well planned,
we don’t look at short-term waves,” he says.
Some of the fads that Titan’s FastTrack has seen are
the neon collection in the watches category, and the amber-coloured
and mirror effect range in sunglasses. “We see that when
a campaign is taken off air, the demand drops. When put on air
the second time, it revives interest only for a small segment,”
says Simeran Bhasin, marketing manger, FastTrack, referring
to the interchangable range launched for women, which did not
pick up after the first few months.
But Bhasin also sees comebacks after a three-to-four year
lull — in sunglasses, ‘avaitors’ and ‘bug
eyes’. Trendspotter Robyn Waters, who’s written
a best-seller called The Hummer and the Mini: The Contradictions
of the New Trend Landscape, believes that today, as soon as
something becomes commonplace, the early adopters move on to
the next thing. “That makes it even trickier for marketers
to capitalise on fickle fads.
It’s easier to identify because it’s so ubiquitous,
but harder to capitalise on because the product lifecycle is
so compressed,” she says. Dharen Chadha, MD, Momentum
Strategy Consultants, says that fads are an example of downstream
marketing. “They have their importance in certain categories
like children-oriented ones in which you need to keep the stimulus
Brands should be about the eternal rather than the ephemeral,”
he warns. And even in a kids’ category like toys, for
players like Mattel, knowing what fad will catch children’s
fancy in the future is crucial. For instance, Luthra has to
be ready when kids go on holidays in April 2008.
“Even as children are more globalised today, they are
‘getting older younger’ (GOY), which means a move
away from interest in sustained medium-intensity activity to
short-term high-intensity fads,” he explains.
The shortened time line for fads owes to the faster dissemination
of information through media like the internet and mobiles.
Social networking sites and blogs allow anyone to propagate
what he or she thinks is cool. “Earlier, a customer was
exposed to a fad through a marketer.
Today, as the exposure is so large, sustaining a fad is becoming
very difficult,” says Nagesh. Adds Santosh Desai, CEO
of Future Brands: “Today, we are able to forget very easily.
It’s a hallmark of media-based society. We grew up at
a time where everything was given and stable. Today, it is based
on change. What’s changing is growing.”
One outcome of the global information exchange is that Indian
customers now see hardly any lag before a fad that takes shape
in another country reaches India. Devangshu Dutta, chief executive,
Third Eyesight, a Delhi-based consultancy, points out that this
market is still very different from Japan and the US, where
the electronic media is more dominant and specific market segments
“There is still a significant ripple creating power
in India. Fashion has more of a pan-India effect, while fads
trickle up, down and sometimes across,” he says. Citing
the example of an international retailer that he worked with,
Dutta says two years ago, the retailer noticed there was an
increase in demand for ‘ponchos’ and so they made
25 varieties of ‘ponchos’ for the UK market.
“They sold large volumes, but when other companies tried
it just six weeks down the line, no one really bought them,
and within two-and-a-half months, almost no customers picked
them up,” he says. Even when it comes to fashion, Bina
Mirchandani, head – category management, Future Group,
believes time spans are coming down, even in India.
Two years ago, Pantaloons introduced Seven Seasons, with each
season lasting around two months, which according to Mirchandani,
proves that the timeframe for trends is decreasing. “We
see that silhouettes last for a longer period of time compared
Also, comfort level is a factor that determines whether a
fad goes on to becoming a trend. For instance, kurtis started
out as a fad, but because people found that it is a comfort
outfit, its lifespan has increased.”
So marketers are looking increasingly at capturing trends,
rather than going after short-term fads. Ashwin Rajgopal, GM
– marketing, L’Oreal, explains: “We are in
the business of science and technology. Fashion is just a part
of the entire spectrum.” Explaining the emphasis on creating
trends rather than riding fads, Rajgopal says that considering
the size of the country, if it’s just a fad, it may get
restricted to major metros like Mumbai.
This also explains why the company does not indulge in limited
editions — barring the recent Aishwarya Rai lipstick shade
— dismissing it as a short-term game. “The challenge
for us is to appeal to a large cross-section of people, especially
when others join the bandwagon soon after we’ve introduced
something in the market,” explains Rajgopal.
Most marketers believe that identifying fads is part scientific
and part gut feel. While enormous amounts of time is spent researching
consumer behaviour, preferences, media habits and language,
whether tapping a fad will rake in the moolah for marketers
is a matter of chance — and timing. To know what the target
audience would be interested in the future, Mattel depends on
Play Plus, a research which combines both internal and external
“The idea is to service the play needs of a child, whether
he wants a toy or internet or games. The list we have seen is
getting more and more crowded,” Luthra says. One insight
which came from the Play Plus research was children spending
more time with mobile cameras.
So Mattel came out with a digital camera which, according
to Luthra, is gaining popularity all over the world. Mattel
has launched this in India too, but it remains to be seen whether
kids here will latch onto what is a rage in other markets. “At
the end, Play Plus will identify five properties — three
may do well and two won’t. But it’s a continuous
bet,” he says.
Ashish Patil, VP – creative & content, MTV Networks,
admits that it’s a combination of research and going by
the gut. “But what we bank on is our experience of what’s
worked in the past, and whether something will work or not.
That understanding gives us the confidence of saying this will
work the minute we see it or hear it,” he says, adding
that there are some broader trends like Bollywood.
But even within that there are fads like a ‘John Abraham’
from Dhoom 1 to a ‘Hrithik Roshan’ in Dhoom 2. “Today
humour is big, but the kind of humour where you have fun at
someone else’s expense is a fad.”
It’s not always easy predicting fads — they can
be sparked by just about anything. Take, for example, the Motorola
Pink Razr, which the company launched in a market dominated
by black and grey coloured handsets. Lloyd Mathias, head –
marketing, Motorola, says the initial reaction to the idea was
met with skepticism.
“People thought it was bizarre. But we decided to go
ahead with it and see the reaction,” he says. Within a
fortnight, the company was inundated with calls from all over
India with youngsters, particularly girls, asking for the Pink
Razr. “We thought it would be temporary, but it went on
to become a trend.
We took a gut call and decided to break the clutter. It worked
for us,” says Mathias.
Interestingly, Dutta of Third Eyesight points out that mobile
caller tunes have moved from being a fad to a permanent feature.
“When the application was first introduced, youngsters
used to change the caller tunes almost everyday,” says
Marketing is rife with examples of trends that were mistaken
for fads and vice versa. And while fad creators almost always
gain disproportionately, cashing in is invariably a function
of knowing when the end is nigh.