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Monday, November 20

India's Fastest Growing Brand

My college friend Ram who runs a boutique travel agency - soulitudes, often helps me step out of my routine, regimented life/ comfort zone. Ram, thanks for it! I have always come back from those experiences richer, humbler with the mind having expanded just that little bit extra!

So, yesterday morning when he called me to attend an 'Art of Living'(AOL) gathering with the added bait of 'Shanker Mahadevan', I fell for it.

It was worth the effort. I always had this feeling of AOL being a fast growing new-age spiritual brand. But first-hand experience is a different ball game.

The event was held at BKC grounds. It had about 30-40K believers, and few odd interested by-standers like me! The event itself resembled a spiritual loan mela:-) With the usual bells and whistles and pestering spiritual salesmen/women!

While I was there, just jotted some pointers on AOL. It's based on a very limited understanding of the organisation. So, don't pin me down if my analysis is wide off the mark:-)

Branded Spirituality
1. AOL is a new age brand. An example of Capitalism with a Conscience
/Cause Marketing . Evangelism is an integral part of their marketing communication...

AOL practices 'Believer gets believer' instead of Member-Get-Member':-). The brand bond is 'the art of living'. A brand which is dedicated to serving society by strengthening the individual.

So while most marketers choose to stay away/ pay lip-service to the larger issues concerning society/India, AOL is busy raising money for the dying farmers in Vidarbha!

2. Global Indian Brand . It's more Indian and more global than Mr. Mittal's steel empire! AOL is one of the largest volunteer based NGOs active in over 140 countries.

It is claimed that AOL is the fastest growing organisation after the UN! There are millions of believers, thousands of active, passionate ones(called teachers in their lingo).

AOL is one of the most multi-faceted organizations in the world and works in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.

3. Crossover Brand.. Try slotting AOL into the narrow silo of a product category and it would be impossible. True, they have a flag-ship product/ killer-app called Sudarshan Kriya, sundry other products and services. But AOL is a much larger crossover concept. A remix of 'social/cause marketing' and 'network marketing'. A remix of culture and cause!

4. Amway Model . To my knowledge, AOL is the best Indian adaptation of the in-(famous) Amway network marketing model. At the top of the pyramid is of course Sri Sri! Then there are layers of 'teachers'selling spirituality instead of soaps, cause instead of cosmetics!

5. AOL has the DNA of a 'New Age Brand'. It is collaborative instead of competitive, participative instead of producer-consumer archetype, it uses more of WOM than mass media and the brand is built through communities of belief rather than customer acquisition.

AOL - the organisation has an Al-Qaeda like cell structure rather than a rigid hierarchy. Event marketing is not a BTL activity, its almost the entire marketing!
(A stray comment - Politics is not a bad word for the AOL brand. In fact, AOL actively seeks and gets political patronage. Vilas Rao Deshmukh was present at the ceremony last night!)

6. Brand Communication . And how does the fastest growing Indian brand communicate with its audience! Not the conventional way!

It hasn't needed a 30 sec commercial till date! Instead it has used the CEO as 'Spiritual Guru'. Forget celebrity Endorsement- 'AOL' uses half of Bollywood as endorsers( that too for free) ...

It is quite in-tune with the times when it comes to 'co-branded activities' and collaborative Marketing( sample the Tata Indicom promo leaflet in the pix).

It's more into youth marketing and on a wider plane than many youth brands in the country. Sample this. AOL is organising India's largest youth marketing festival - with over 100,000 students on 24th Dec in Mumbai. Check the details at http://yuvaratri-night.blogspot.com!

After last evening's brief encounter/ interface with AOL, I feel there is much for us agency people and marketers to learn from this alternate brand. It is using all the strategies and tactics of marketing 2.0. In fact AOL is ahead in thinking than most of us, while we may blissfully slot it as a subaltern marketer/ organisation!

Looking forward to comments, suggestions, barbs et al!


jigs said...

Quite an enlightening post Guru!

I recently read that quite a few of topline managers from the fortune 500 cos lined up for a similar program in the US. And while they were there to unwind, they also sought management tips from the Guru who linked all business mantras to spiritual teachings and principles.

So in a way, the conclusion in your post has already been paid heed to by these guys in the US!

Does sri sri hv a blog?!

Manish said...

dont know if sriX2 has a blog...lets chk!

pooR_Planner said...

Being a beef eating Brahmin and spirituality seeker through salsa, find this post extremely interesting.

India was always the golden kingdom of spirituality. And Indian spiritual brands are famous the world over. Few world famous Indian spiritual brands include Swami Vivekananda to start with. Swami Satchidananda who shared the stage with Hendrix, Who, Crosby in Woodstock 69, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Rajneesh, Krishnamurti to name a few. All are successful brands with loyal followers. So the phenomenon is not new to India or the world. But the new found interest by Indian youth in spiritualism is worth an observation.

Indeed, the ways and means to attain spiritualism is a great stress buster which the corporate world has incorporated in their employee well-being package very recently.

AOL sells Sudarshan Kriya, Amma (Mata Amritamayi) sells IAM (Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique), and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi sells his Transcendental Meditation. These are all star products for human well-being.

Now, look at the product diversification that this brands are offering which includes products ranging from body care, hair care, digestive solutions, massage oils, incense sticks, music CD’s. If the fans/followers/practitioners of this brands starting using the by-products, imagine what HLL/P&G/Henkel/ Marico etc. lose out on.

They have started institutions which offer spiritual healing, boarding & lodging, health care under one banner, imagine how new age hotels/ hospitals will run for their money. If the fan/followers start donating rupees 10/- each which the CEO (in this case the Guru) decides to use it for micro-financing, look at the potential and what banks like SCB, HSBC, SBI lose out on.

Last but not the least the slew of TV channels/ FM channels and internet pages that are cropping up which has the potential to give any ZEE or Star or ETV, a shock down their spine.

Few years back, it was a brand becoming a religion/cult. Time has changed and now Religion/Cult is turning into New Age Holistic Brands.

Great post Manish!!

amitabh said...

As we have already dicussed, AOL now has a corporate training arm which has captive business from almost 40, billion dollar plus organizations including the likes of Reliance. Just an example of how to create alternate revenue model around a core product.

Manish said...

roop, just thinking aloud. i dont know whether there ever would be one 'Unified Theory of Branding' that will cover these two seemingly disparate worlds - one centred around selling, the other around spirituality!

chk the HBR link i sent on comment to Crowdcasting ...there are important lessons to be learnt!

Hey by the way anybody interested in starting a new age social advertising agency - that will have the majority of its clients that are in the cause business.

one will definitely also handle stuff like the ITC e-choupal business...

hire people( read creative ) who think beyond Abbys, Cannes and D&AD:-) and planners who want to make a difference to the world not just polish their CVs...

just blue sky thinking...but in a connected world Impossible Is Nothing:-)

pooR_Planner said...

Yes, no 'Unified Theory of Branding' but I can't help thinking about the possibilities these new age brands like AOL & Amma offer under their banner. Spiritual healing combined with spiritual selling is a killer combination.
Sales of Spiritual Oils, Soaps and Medicines to followers was an overwhelming affair during AOL's silver jubilee celebration, which I witnessed.
With an existing base of captive audience, this new age alternate brands can push any product to great sucess.

Anonymous said...

very well written. Something to think about for sure. This is an example where the content is the advertising. Once you create a differentiated magnetic product everything follows. In a sense it is like a cult brand. Manish, I would like to understand how we can take these learnings and apply it to conventional marketing. When it comes to soaps and shampoos and you are given the task to market them, what are the learnings from here. At the end of the day the conventional exercises have to co-exist.

ram said...

The post is very insightful. One key addition is the question of acceptance from the rational, intellectual class of the spiritual movements of today leveraging the innovations of areas like marketing, finance, technology and money and the respectability. The biggest challenge Art of Living and Swami Ramdev face are from the intellectuals of the country who think they are spewing nonsense. I dont think they have spent time studying, understanding and empiricaly analysing what such movements are doing. If they did, they wouldnt have such severe reactions.

Manish said...

excellent point Ram. In the past, I have myself brushed aside many such endeavours/ movements/ spiritual brands aside because they were non-mainstream and were difficult for me to slot them under a neat caption.

Manish said...

in reply to how do we take the lessons of AOL to soaps.

well, it will depend upon a lot of things. once again as i said, there isn't a single unified theory of spiritual marketing/ branding to dip into...

but certain new age values need to be taken seriously in the future even if it's for selling soaps!

1. be open, 2. stand for a cause - say like a ponds is standing for action against domestic violence.

3. co-create the future products, experiences along with consumers. that's the future. Use the wisdom of the crowds...

4. cut hype,be true 5. build communities of interest eg. sunsilkgangofgirls, etc.

6. treat consumers not as targets to be captured but as evengelists...

i hope they give a direction...lets talk more on the subject!

pooR_Planner said...

Manish, just a wee thought from your last comment. I agree that new age brands need to own a cause which they can stand/own for in the long run. Sunsilk GOG has 2.5 lac members already. But how many are actually buying the product. I mean, is there a way to measure that? From conventional marketing POV the objective is make consumers buy the brand or the product. Did Sunsilk/ Ponds/Elle manage to increase their sales through this kind of excercise??

Manish said...

I don't know whether Sunsilk/ Ponds/ Elle managed to increase their sales...dont handle any of them...:-)

the larger point is that Sunsilk with 2.5 lac members maybe has made a wee bit entry into the teen mind...

Maybe it's a lil 'cooler brand' than before.
And what's the cost of a blog - zilch minus the mass media support!

Maybe when they now sponsor a teen/ youth/ rock concert there will be a more honest brand connect...

Start-a-blog-and-people-start-buying-you cannot be the immediate result!

pooR_Planner said...

Lol ... buy you Sir!!

meraj said...

this new age Baba movement is remindful of the Hippie movement of the 60s/70s.

the Hippie movement was a protest or answer to the war-torn world having troubled political situations all over and their tools were music and mind altering substances :)

the Baba movement is like a happy balm to the tech overburdened, highly stressful, 24x7 life of today. And here, the tools are Yoga & Vedanta. there is a parallel Buddhist 'chant' movement becoming highly popular in the urban centers of the world.

considering the depth of culture and heritage which the orientals have, its logical that these movements are coming out of Hindu / Chinese philosophy.

Manish said...

right meraj... jai ho...maybe there is a space for the planner baba as well LOL any takers?

meraj said...

yeah...with the usual crisis of talent and lateral thinkers across the canvas, there is a need for 'Planners movement'. as in jim morrison once said...'we can plan a murder or form a religion'

and coming to think of it, aplanners role in angency is pretty much like a baba...guiding the agency and the client in the right direction.


Manish said...

wondering if the role can be better served from being outside the agency but being a part of the agency eco-system...

let me explain - are more planners needed for WPP than an Ogilvy, David or Rediff Y&R??

Sort of a role which Jon Steel is playing at WPP!

bhattathiri said...

American Justice Dept upheld Indian Yoga and Meditation

Your website is beautiful, informative and Excellent.

Article by M.P. Bhattathiri, Retired Chief Technical Examiner , to The Govt. of Kerala. Humble request that it may be published in your website and magazine after editing if necessary

Let me bow to Indian Maharishi Patanjali with folded hands who helped in removing the impurities of the mind through his writings on Yoga, impurities of speech through his writings on grammer, and impurities of body through his writings on Ayurveda.

The American justice Dept. have recently approved the power of yoga and meditation vide a recent judgement in the American court."Man Who Slapped Wife Sentenced to Yoga, It's Anger Management, Says Judge." First there was house arrest. Now there's yoga. A judge ordered a man convicted of slapping his wife to take a yoga class as part of his one-year probation. "It's part of anger management," County Criminal Court at Law Judge Larry Standley said of the ancient Hindu philosophy of exercise and well-being. "For people who are into it, it really calms them down. " Standley, a former prosecutor, said the case of James Lee Cross was unique. Cross, a 53-year-old car salesman from Tomball, explained that his wife was struggling with a substance abuse problem and that he struck her on New Year's Eve during an argument about her drinking. "He was trying to get a hold of her because she has a problem," Standley said after the court hearing. "I thought this would help him realize that he only has control over himself." The sentence came as a surprise to Cross, who was told to enroll in a class and report back to Standley on his progress. "I'm not very familiar with it," Cross said of yoga. "From what I understand, it may help in a couple ways, not only as far as mentally settling, but maybe a little weight loss." Darla Magee, an instructor at Yoga Body Houston in River Oaks, said she would recommend that Cross take a basic yoga class emphasizing breathing and including a variety of postures -- forward bends, back bends and twists. "Yoga can help us to get rid of many emotional issues we might have," she said. "It's a spiritual cleanse." Prosecutor Lincoln Goodwin agreed to a sentence of probation without jail time because Cross had no significant criminal history http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/2365341.
Yoga which is one of the greatest Indian co tribution to the world has got vast potential in all fields. In Tihar jail India Yoga is experimented among the inamtes and found successful. Their criminal mentality is changed. This study aimed at investigating the effect of Vipassana Meditation (VM) on Quality of Life (QOL), Subjective Well-Being (SWB), and Criminal Propensity (CP) among inmates of Tihar Jail, Delhi. To this effect the following hypotheses were formulated. 1. There will be a significant positive effect of VM on the QOL of inmates of Tihar jail. 2. VM will have a positive and significant effect on SWB of inmates. 3. Criminal propensity (CP) of inmates will decrease significantly after attending the VM course. 4. There will be significant difference in SWB and CP of experimental (Vipassana) group and control (non-Vipassana) group. 5. Male and female inmates will differ significantly in SWB and CP, as a result of VM. In the famous "Time" magazine the importance meditation and yoga, an ancient Indian system, is high-lighted that the ancient mind- and spirit-enhancing art is becoming increasingly popular and gaining medical legitimacy. It is a multi billion dollar business in US. In many Universities it is accepted as subject and included in the Syllabus. In the latest famous book "Inspire! What Great Leaders Do" written by Mr.Lance Secretan recently published by John Wiley and sons, the benefit of meditation is elaborately described for good corporate governance. By practising transcendental meditation, or TM, many people have got relief from back pain, neck pain, depression. The mind calms and quiets, . What thoughts you have during meditation become clearer, more focused. Anger, anxiety and worries give way to a peace. In the world exhorbitant medical expeneses one can definitely make use of meditation. Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and Sri Ravi Sankar are poplarising this. The Iyengar Yoga institute in US is famous.
In Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna has inspired Arjuna to rise from his depression by preaching Gita in the battlefield and to rise from the depression to do his duties. In Holy Gita we can see, being hidden by the cosmic overview of any institution beset with myriad problems, not the least of which is its lack of moral probity, there is a groundswell of educated people seeking answers to deeply personal but universally asked questions. Chie Executives taking lessons from yoga, meditation and learning how to deal with human resources equations in an enlightened manner. Individuals from every walk of life can get ideas of how to be better human beings, more balanced and less stressed out.
Medical studies continue to show regular meditation working magic in reducing blood pressure and stress-related illnesses, including heart disease. Brain images show that regular meditation helps calm the most active sensory-assaulted parts of the brain. The ancient Hindu sage Patanjali who had mastered the secrets of the human mind has written a book "Yogasutra".In this book we can see how super powers can be achieved by meditation. It has both cosmic relevance and cosmic resonance. In spite of its universal appeal, for most people total control of mind remains an elusive goal and daunting task. From time immemorial, there have been many attempts throughout the world to unlock the mysteries of the mind and to achieve total control over it through a variety of techniques. One of the most powerful of these techniques is meditation.
Many spiritual leaders, sages, saints, and holy people such asSri. Buddha, Sri Ramakrishna, Madam Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda have practised this. One of the ways to control physiological reactions to psychological stimuli is meditation, Yoga, Zen Buddhism etc. The scientists take Transcendental Meditation (TM) as the uniform technique, and base their observations on the study of the subjects engaged in this form of meditation. In summing up the results the scientists have come to conclusion that the effect of meditation is a "wakeful, hypo-metabolic state". They have found that: 1) Yogis could slow both heart rate and rate of respiration, 2) Yogis could slow the rate of metabolism as confirmed by decreased oxygen consumption and carbon-di-oxide output. 3) Electro-Encephalo-Gram (EEG - recording of brain activity) in Yogis showed changes of calmness in the form of "alpha rhythm" during both eyes closed and eyes open recordings. 4) Th ir skin resistance to electric stimulation was increased (indicating increased tolerance to external stimuli). Our usual 'defence-alarm' reaction to emotional and physical stress is in the form of "fright, flight, and fight" mediated through over-secretion of certain neuro-transmitters and neuro-modulators, namely adrenaline and dopamine by way of stimulation of sympathetic nervous system. Under the influence of these chemicals and hormones, we reflexively become panicky or aggressive, our blood pressure rises. Thus stress and anxiety is the end result if we allow our natural age-old sympathetic reactions to act and to come to surface. We try to run away, become fearful, or fight the situation. But today these 'defence-alarm' reactions have no place in our lives. Rather, they should be replaced by more calm and serene reactions of equanimity and fearlessness. The need is to just 'face the brute, and it will go away'. Such desirable reactions of non-aggression and peaceful attitude are generated by Y ga and meditation. EEG Studies on Yogis and The Zen Meditations: Yogis practising Raja-Yoga claim that during the state of samadhi they are oblivious to the internal and external stimuli, and they enjoy a calm ecstasy during that state. A study was undertaken to record the electrical activity of their brain during this state by means of a regular and useful test known as electroencephalography EEG. Physiological and experimental studies have demonstrated that the basis of conscious state of brain, among other things, is due to activation of "reticular system" in the brain-stem in response to internal and external stimuli. These stimuli bring about various changes during sleeping and wakeful states of the organism and these can be studied by EEG. The study was carried out on four subjects during the state of concentration and meditation. Effects of external stimuli, like a loud gong, strong light, thermal simulation, and vibrations were studied. The results were compiled and analyzed. It was observed that two Yogis could keep their hands immersed in extremely cold water for about 50 minutes (raised pain threshold). During state of meditation, all of them showed persistent "alpha activity" in their EEG with increased amplitude wave pattern, both during 'eyes closed' and 'eyes open' recording. It was observed that these alpha activities could not be blocked by various sensory stimuli during meditation. It was also observed that those, who had well-marked "alpha activity" in their resting EEG showed greater aptitude and zeal for maintaining the practice of Yoga. Similar observations and results were obtained when EEGs were recorded in persons adept in Zen Meditative technique. Can we say that only those persons who exhibit such recording of "alpha wave rhythm" in their EEG are fit for Yoga? and be designated as right candidates for meditation and Yoga practices? (Such experiments are indeed very few and the number of yogis examined is also very small. Therefore, scientifically and statistic lly these observations have only a tentative importance. Further research is definitely called for, albeit it will have its own limitations.) It is said that in the unknown period of Lord Jesus Christ , He was under meditation.
Ref. Yoga magazines
Newyork times
Time magazine