Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Name in Flame - Zippo, a Tribute

Until the first time I laid my eyes on it, I never fully fathomed its true worth. I always wondered why the men folk would relentlessly discuss it for hours just like they would analyze in detail a Manchester United - Arsenal match of the UEFA championship.

One evening my eyes caught the glint of shiny metal twirling between my friend’s fingers, which in my opinion he seemed to be quite adroit at. He brought it to a smooth halt and opened his palm to reveal a smart looking burnished case. That was a Zippo and this post is a tribute to it.

An all American cult brand of nearly 75 years is not just an obsession with most smokers but the non-smokers as well.

The Story of the Zippo Manufacturing Company is a remarkable tale. It’s the story of its people, from the founder - George G. Blaisdell, to the many Zippo employees, customers, and collectors who have played a part in its history. Their loyalty to Zippo has made it one of America’s great companies, one with a vivid history which is detailed here.

In 1933 Mr. Blaisdell remodeled a utilitarian Australian lighter and named it Zippo after his liking for the sound of the work ‘zipper’. Little did he realize then that this rectangular case would become iconic.

This rare Town & Country transitional Zippo from 1969 depicts George G. Blaisdell who invented the Zippo lighter in 1932 and who founded the Zippo Manufacturing Company in Bradford, Pennsylvania. He named the Zippo after the then recently invented zipper.

From the very beginning it was backed by Mr. Blaisdell’s unconditional lifetime guarantee – “It works or we fix it free(TM).

The Zippo history is an interesting marketing case study. To delve deeper one has to go back to the days of World War II, which had a profound impact on Zippo. Upon America’s entry in the war, Zippo ceased production of lighters for consumer markets and dedicated all manufacturing to the U.S. military, for which they made a special black ‘crackle’ finish lighter.

Millions of American military personnel carried the lighter into battle which was a significant catalyst in establishing Zippo as an icon of America throughout the world. Stories of the Zippo, nestled in the breast pocket, saving soldiers lives by biting bullets raised its reputation from being an iconic symbol to a religious cult.

Producing Zippos for the military market helped Zippo set up a full fledged manufacturing unit and made it a financially viable company.

Post war the company resumed selling Zippos to peace time America. To fuel this in 1947, the Zippo car was born.

Zippo has been cast in 1500 Broadway shows, movies, television shows over the years. To enhance the collecting experience, Zippo began hosting the Zippo/Case International Swap meet which is held every year at Bradford and Japan alternatively.

Music and Zippo have been a lethal combination since 1960. Theirs is a relationship of mutual respect and admiration. Zippo launched special lighters with music maestros engraved in them while the lighters themselves have been featured on album covers, tattooed on rockers’ skin, and wielded in Rolling Stone photo shoots.

The Zippo slim introduced in 1956, primarily to appeal to the women was another major milestone in the Zippo history. It appealed to both the sexes and a lot of men own Zippo slim.

Zippo Click the official collectors club has registered members from over 60 countries. Zippo has captured the world history in its lighters with special tribute to American presidents, Hollywood, sex icons, Music, countries, science and moments that changed the course of mankind.

1963 slim Zippo commemorating the European Trip of President Kennedy in June 1963, the same year JFK was assassinated.

This beautiful 1948 Zippo commemorates the War Crimes Trials held in Tokyo from 1946 to 1948 in which General Tojo and other Japanese World War II leaders were convicted. The lighter was hand tooled in Japan for Jake Schneider

Companies use Zippo lighters as an advertising medium and Zippo “advertiser” lighters continue to be among collectors’ favorites. This trend was first started in mid thirties by Bradford’s Kendall Refining Company who placed an order for 500 Zippos and branded it.

The official website of Zippo says, ‘The lighter is ingrained in the fabric of both American and global culture. In marketing parlance, the brand enjoys an unaided awareness rate of more than 98 percent. That means 98 out of every 100 people surveyed have knowledge of the Zippo name and lighter without being coached in any manner – an astonishing recognition factor.’

The company is currently owned by the W R Case and Sons Cutlery Company and despite almost 75 years the Zippo is still backed by its famous lifetime guarantee, “It works or we fix it for free.” Since 1933, no one has ever spent cent/paisa/penny on the mechanical repair of a Zippo lighter regardless of the lighter’s age or condition.

The number of antics one could do with the Zippo amazed me. My favourite and the only one that I learnt that night, lighting it by creating friction between your jeans and your Zippo. I dropped it a zillion times in the bargain much to my friend’s disgust, but what the heck, it’s got an unconditional warranty.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Brand Bollywood

Brand Bollywood is witnessing an upsurge thanks to Hollywood.

The Indian film industry is expected to be worth Rs. 100 billion by 2008, says a report released by FICCI recently. Bollywood alone churns out close to thousand films a year (of which only a handful go on to become box office hits) making it the second largest motion picture industry in the world. Ironically an industry with the highest mass appeal in this country has, until recently, hardly paid any attention to marketing. For the longest time, producers have been negligent in the marketing of films to consumers. As a result, a number of good films have failed to pull audiences to theatres. Yet, there have been instances of average films doing well because of the smart marketing strategies employed by its producers and distributors just before the release of films.

With limited options for entertainment available to the public, movies experienced a golden age, at least commercially, with audiences flocking to the halls over long time spans.

Things are not that rosy now. With the liberalisation in the early 90s, we suddenly saw a boom in entertainment options apart from good old cinema. Assuming that consumers have limited time and resources allocated towards leisure activities, Bollywood faces severe competition in the clutter of entertainment options available today. Besides competing with other movies and various avenues of entertainment, new releases have to compete with pre-release sales of pirated VCDs and DVDs.

Bollywood producers have now armed themselves with this new marketing mantra and are reaching out to the masses more effectively. Fast cuts, racy scripts, snazzy costumes, once very exclusive to Hollywood, are now very much a part of most bollywood movies.

Marketing has become very critical for Bollywood movies as the first three days makes or breaks a movie. To make a mark in this phase they create movie websites, mobile downloads and interactive content, place the actors in their characters in TV channels, tie up with brands for cross promotions to reach consumer touch points and get into movie merchandise.

Bollywood today is exploring new avenues to reach out to their target audience. After tapping into print, radio, television and the internet, many advertisers are gravitating towards the mobile phone, PR & events, in serial placements and even buzz marketing campaigns.

Some Bollywood producers are also resorting to desperate measures like negative publicity to promote their films. Sometimes creating hype works well too for example the Karan Razdan directed GirlFriend, which in typically ham-handed fashion "addresses" a lesbian relationship, opened to a 40 per cent collections.

Post-release too Girlfriend continued its rounds in the media. Be it the protests by political parties or the subject being vigorously discussed all over the media. The Rs. 20 million film (approximately) had finished its first week with a 50 per cent extra over the estimated collection.

Movie producers are also looking for online media partners to advocate their films. Films first made their foyer into the WWW with online movie reviews, then moving on to banners, shoskels and popups on web pages, to online contests, free downloads of movie trailers, music, wallpaper and ringtones. The audience could also read exclusive interviews of the cast featured on the internet. Movies are now the vanguard of the blogsphere.

One such famous example is the publicity blitz and marketing activities woven around the Aamir Khan starrer Mangal Pandey — The Rising. Mangal Pandey himself or Aamir Khan posted comments on an exclusive Mangal Pandey - The Rising blog on MSN Spaces and interacted with users as a publicity stint before the release of the film.

The Yash Raj film’s have invested a considerable amount to create online communities and online portals for their films. Their recent blockbuster Hum Tum, Bunty Aur Babli, Salam Namaste and even their average performer Neal ‘N’ Nikki had dedicated websites where one could read descriptions of individual characters and the cast, download the music score, lyrics, film promos, stills, wallpapers, ring tones, etc.

Movie merchandise in India is still very nascent and is restricted to sale of movie VCD / DVD, music CD and cassettes. The Indian Animation movie Hanuman saw movie merchandising go to the extent of sale of toys, gifts, T-shirts and other gift items. And while we’re still on the topic of merchandising, Rajinikanth’s movies in the south experience a lot of merchandising activities months before release. Rajinikanth’s moderate grosser Baba, before release, saw the sale of caps, bandanas, t-shirts, key-chains, etc, all with stills of Rajini holding up his famous Baba hand gesture. And, for the first time ever in South Indian Cinema, the Baba gesture and merchandise were patented. Maybe there’s a marketing lesson that Bollywood can learn from her South Indian sister.

India still has a long way to go to create a complete online experience for its movie goers. Online games engaging bollywood stars will soon catch the eye of big production houses one can then see a wide array of action and adventure games that the audience could select from.

With the advent of satellite television more and more Hindi films are taking a piggyback ride on wide reaching daily soaps to present their case. Weaving the movie character into TV serials allows the film producer to soft sell his film. Unlike other media it does not seem intrusive and forced on the viewer.

Big screen stars like Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherji made their debut on NDTV before the launch of Bunty aur Babli both of them presented the day’s news as Bunty and Babli. This not only assured the movie definite viewership, but it also helped NDTV push their TRPs. It was hence a win-win situation for both the film and the channel.

This tie-up was extremely sensitive since a news channel has the onus of broadcasting the right news to its viewers. Their credibility is built over a period of time and the channel takes extreme measures to safe guard the trust their viewers place on them. Therefore the entire bulletin was marketed, promoted and produced in a way that it was clear that this was a one-off affair.

The lead protagonists Saif Ali Khan & Preity Zinta of Salaam Namaste were seen contending in Star’s popular Show ‘Kaun Banega Crorpati-2’. This show is believed to have been launched with a record breaking TRP of over 19.0 plus. Riding on this success Yash Raj Film’s entered into alliance with KBC-2 to promote their film which went on to become a block buster.

The marketing spends in case of big banner films is big since their pockets run deep and can afford to splurge on marketing and promotion strategies. However even smaller budget movies these days have funds allocated for pre-release hype generation and other on-ground activities as a part of their marketing campaign.

A major challenge faced by filmmakers lies in convincing the distributor. Even though the audience tastes have evolved to some extent, distributors-who take the film to the last mile-are prisoners of eighties mindset and loath any change. Producers are now taking interest in every aspect of the film from visual merchandising to media coverage and not just restricting their imaginations to the storyline.

In a scenario where alternative forms of entertainment are available a dime a dozen, marketing becomes the best weapon in the hands of the producer. Filmmakers can't rely heavily on the story as the industry hasn't been stressing on innovative concepts and quality themes. Bollywood still uses the same old hackneyed formula of boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy gets girl and of course the villan is thrown into the picture somewhere. The audience doesn’t cease to be enthralled by the clich├ęd bollywood emotion and drama, and that is exactly what the bollywood marketers are doing by keeping the luster on. Its only a question of who does it better.

Thankfully, the picture is changing. The industry’s international profile got a boost through recent films with Indian themes such as "Bend it Like Beckham," "Monsoon Wedding," and "Lagaan" which was nominated for a 2002 Academy Awards. And a number of Bollywood production companies are now taking marketing of their films seriously.

Films both international and Indian are looking at innovation in their marketing strategies to reach their audience at appropriate touch points. Engagement is the new buzz word for all marketers even films have jumped into this shinning bandwagon which holds a lot of promise of green.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Girls Night Out

Don’t be surprised if you see women donned in dancing shoes and dressed to kill thronging ‘The Beach’ on a Wednesday night. For it’s ladies night out and the girls are all out to have fun. What was a revelation for me was that the Beach attracts even more number of men on Wednesdays; one needn’t take an Einsteinish guess to figure out why.

I was there last Wednesday with my girlfriends and boy we sure did have a blast – Bitching, girl talk and dancing.

The ambiance is that of Goa, very chilled out and laid back, and it helps set the mood for the evening. They often spice up the evening by having theme parties like retro, or bohemian. The liquor is on the house for all the ladies till 9.30pm even after which the crowd doesn’t cease drinking neither does it stop more people from flocking to the place.

The evening kick-starts with retro music and later transcends into hip-hop. Early on, one would find couples fresh out of dance classes doing their little jig on the floor. But later the rising crescendo and intoxicating concoctions gets the whole place moving and grooving.

Ladies ought to be prepared to listen to hilarious pick-up lines and to take home a couple of phone numbers for most men seem to readily hand out visiting cards.

I thought the ladies night was a sales kicking idea, besides partying on a Wednesday gave me the much needed break from the daily mundane of work. Come to think of it Wednesday is such a strategic choice for throwing a party. It’s the time of the week when everyone is suffering from the mid-week syndrome. To attend a ladies night out on Wednesday is a real spirit stirring (pun unintended) experience for both sexes.

So girls let your hair down and shake that booty a little harder for the tide is high and the music just couldn’t get better. And oh, don’t mind the boys. They just wanna watch.