Rajini’s Dominance, a branding perspective!!
Imagine this scene.
Its late at night, so late that its almost the next day. There is a closed gate, and outside it you could see a never-ending line of people, sitting there, eagerly waiting for the time to tick by and the gate to open. Braving the cold, the night and each other, they are sitting there for the ultimate experience.
I could ask you to guess what that was. And I could get two different answers based on who I am asking this to, and both maybe right.
Ask this to a college kid in USA, and without even thinking twice he would say, that’s the line for getting the first pieces of Apple IPad.
If you ask the same to a Loyola college guy in Chennai, he would not only say that its Endhiran first day first show we are talking about, but would go on to brag how he was there, right at the front of that line.
And even though you may be amazed by the similarity, you would be inclined to think that it’s nothing but a coincidence. Trust me, it’s not.
While Apple is considered the most fanatically followed brand in the world, we do have one right here in India who can give even Apple a run for its money on his day, and that’s none other than Brand Rajini.
(While I would be drawing parallels with Apple right through this article, it doesn’t mean that the points I make hold true only to Apple. Rather I am using Apple, as that’s considered the epitome of a brand with a cult following. Others like Harley Davidson, Nike and Coke could also be used as substitutes).
Indeed, Rajini has got every single characteristic which makes Apple what it is, and he leverages it better than even Steve Jobs does. Let’s analyse how Brand Rajini stacks up against the other big global brands when it comes to communicating with the users.
Marketing theory and Contemporary Issues (one of the best marketing courses I have done till now), taught me the power of sensory cues in not only building your brand image but also in retaining it.
Apple does that wonderfully well. You see the image of a partially bitten apple on the back of any electronic device, and you instantly know it’s from Apple. The rounded edges, the unconventional shape, the different colouring, all of them have not only helped Apple differentiate itself from the rest, but also provided the brand with a set of visual cues which are uniquely Apple.
Same applies to Rajini. The man shot to fame with his unique flick of the cigarette, and the way he used to put on sunglasses. These were simple stuff, but what they provided him with was a mannerism and identity, which was not only unique but also tangible and replicable. And this is where I feel he scored over the rest. Indeed there were heroes who were better in acting and looks (contestable if you are a Rajini fan), but then acting and looks aren’t characteristics which are tangible and replicable. What Rajini had introduced was a style which any city youth could replicate (often unsuccessfully), and himself feel like a star in his own small world. Add to this his trademark walk, the way he adjusted his hair, or his baritone voice, and what you get is a wholesome package of sensory cues which would be the envy of any marketing manager. No other hero of repute from any period had such brand identity, which could come anywhere close to the power of these.
Every successful brand has an awesome tagline. Indeed some brands have taglines which are more famous and recognizable than the brand name itself. You know which brand I am talking about when I say “Just do it”, or “I’m lovin’ it”, or “Connecting people”. The things which make taglines work are the relevance to the brand and also their being wired into our psyche through repetitive association with the brand.
In the case of Superstar the tagline is replaced by his punch dialogues. “Yaen vazhi, thani vazhi” (“my path, is a unique path”), “Naan oru tharava sonna, nooru tharava sonna mathiri” (“If I say it once, its as good as saying it hundred times”), and other such punch dialogues became such a rage as they were deeply associated with the character as such, and also as, unlike normal dialogues which are fleeting in nature, these dialogues consistently appear during milestone moments in the movie. Other brand messages like “If you ask who the Superstar is, even small kids would tell” were encoded in songs which then went on to become hits. Indeed the name “Superstar” itself helped him gain a brand identity which made it possible for him to be known without his real name being used at all.
Consistency of communication:
Excellent brands have a positioning in the market which they are always aware of. They always tailor their communication so that it’s consistent and reinforces its positioning. The message may change but the core remains the same. For years together now, Amul has been following a template of doing a parody on anything which is making news through its cartoon strip like ads and people love it. Coke ads have always been about “Enjoying”, Mountain Dew ads have always been about “Adventure”. Indeed the key lies in repetition of the idea to reinforce it in the minds of people. Brands which have toyed with changing their communication every now and then, face a situation where they aren’t associated with anything at all.
The Superstar has been the epitome of consistency and reinforcement. Most of his movies fall into a template of good-vs-evil, with an introduction song, a fun-filled first half, trouble and pain followed by a climax where the good finally triumphs. Right from the first instant the audience know that the hero is going to win, but they still stay glued on to see how. Even the trademark way in which his name is displayed, right at the beginning of the movie is an example of this consistency. Indeed this particular aspect has been an object of much criticism, but the critics don’t realise that it’s this consistency that has made him what he is today. They see movies as individual units rather than being part of the larger canvas.
Delivering an experience:
It’s a clichéd statement in the marketing world that “Good brands deliver products, great brands deliver experiences”. People know that the coffee in CCD is over-priced, but still go there because they cherish that experience. The silencer technology which mutes the engine sound in bikes is ages old, but still Royal Enfield retains the classic thud-thud sound in its engine as its part of the experience of driving a Bullet. Iconic brands like Disneyland are built around the concept of getting a new experience. When a brand delivers only a product it wins customer satisfaction, but when it delivers an experience it wins customer delight and as an extension his loyalty for life.
What Rajini offers you is not just a movie, but rather a movie watching experience. The experience starts right at the point of getting a ticket. The very fact that it’s so hard getting a First Day First Show (FDFS) ticket makes it all the more exciting for everyone involved to try and get one. And it almost feels like a mini-victory when the ticket is in hand, and we can brag and boast in front of those weren’t that lucky enough. Next come a series of rituals which enrich the experience even more. Starting from the Paal Abhishegam (milk libation), to garlanding the cut out, to bursting crackers, the fan obtains a whole lot of experiences much before the film has even started. Compare this with most other movies, where you just buy a ticket and walk in, and you can see how stark the contrast is. And when the movie starts, the whistling and dancing by fans in the crowd keeps your adrenaline pumping and helps you derive a lot more out of the movie than the mere visuals and dialogues. His movies are formulaic, its hard to get a ticket, when you get one its real expensive, you can’t hear the dialogue in the theatre and there is just too much crowd. But as all these are part of the experience that the fan has come to expect, they indeed emerge as huge positives for the movie while for any other movie in any other place, these would be negatives which would be enough to ensure a flop. This is the power of the brand, and this is why he is the Superstar.
I know it’s getting too long, but what would be a post on the star if you don’t mention about his fan clubs. Interestingly, one fact which distinguishes a Rajini movie from the rest is that the movie creates its own buzz, just because of the presence of the star. No in-depth interviews required, no public appearances needed, no extensive marketing budgets needed. The fans are there to take care of it all. They are there to spread the message about their star and his movie. They are willing to contribute money and effort in erecting his cut-outs and posters. They are there to drag their friends and family to the screens. This is what is called Brand Evangelism, and this is the very pinnacle that a brand can reach.
Indeed very few brands have reached this height. Apple and Harley Davidson are examples which come to my mind. Apple has fanatic user bases having fans who are ready to buy anything that is Apple. They are willing to wait for hours to grab the first pieces of an IPhone. They are ready to go on Facebook and fight for their brand. Harley Davidson has these wonderful HOGs (Harley Owner’s Group), which is a bunch of Harley users who have formed clubs and organise their own biking rallies. Not many other brands are lucky enough, and they have to keep shelling out huge portions of their revenues as marketing budgets, just to remain known to people. Even the above two brands do feel the need to market their products. Which helps us understand why Rajini sir and his support network of hardcore fans are so special.
Why Rajini makes business sense:
When Sun Pictures decided to invest nearly Rs.200 Crore in the movie, many called Mr.Maran a fool. But having possession of a brand so powerful, that in comparison even Apple fades in brilliance, he just needed to the rethink the existing distribution strategy to leverage the star to his maximum. And once when he did that, the result is for us all to see. Indeed it wasn’t the brand that was lacking for so long, but rather the skill and imagination levels of those who exploit it.
The Rajini brand is much bigger than the man himself. The power of the brand lies in the experience, the aura, the behind-the-screen stories, the legends of past conquests, and most importantly the bond it has formed with the fans. It would now be interesting to see how they respond to his new digital avatar as Sultan-the warrior, because therein lies the brand’s next big test.
This article appeared in the Business Standard, dated November 25, 2010. Here is a link to the online version of it.
It was also published in The Marketers, the marketing blog of IIM Calcutta.