What are the odds?

On my third morning in Bombay, I was sufficiently unjet-lagged enough to enjoy the early morning breakfast offered at the hotel. After negotiating the magnificently meandering halls of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, I found the salon where guests were treated to a mish-mash of global breakfast fare: from lox, bangers and croissants to masala, corn flakes and camembert. The salon was a splendor of 19th-century colonial rule and etiquette (the Taj Mahal Palace is over 100 years old) overlooking the Gateway of India, a symbol of British entry to and exit from (both inglorious) this overwhelming country.

My tea was poured over pungent Darjeeling, a tuxedoed waiter lit my first Marlboro of the day and two local newspapers were placed at my side. It was a perfect way to start a morning.

This trip almost didn’t happen. I was supposed to be here two weeks ago, but had visa hang-ups. A few frantic phone calls and a hefty fee to a broker got me the right paperwork for the trip, and after a slight delay, I was in-country.

After a couple of days of all-day meetings and all-night drinks, I was scheduled for a tour of Dharavi in the early afternoon. (This was an eye-opening experience. Anyone who knows this place in Bombay knows what I’m talking about.) The morning was open enough for me to read the two papers cover-to-cover…and I’m glad I did.


The Times of India was devoured first. The second – The Hindustan Times – was uncorked with my second Marlboro. I found most of the articles echoing the Times, until I reached the business section of the HT. Delightedly, I stopped at a headline describing something very dear to my heart: experiential marketing.

The headline – The New-Age Marketing – certainly caught my attention. But the use of “experiential” in the first paragraph really got me stoked. The article itself is very well-written, insightful, contextual and wholly applicable. Allow me to reproduce it here in its entirety:

In today’s hyper competitive scenario, more than three quarters of the money and time spent by companies go towards acquiring and retaining customers. Customer-centricity is the buzzword. Positioning companies, services or products is a technique which helps in easy brand recall due to its approach of occupying separate place in customer’s mind.

Experiential marketing helps the customer in retaining and recalling the service or product offered by companies. In other words, “Experiential marketing helps brand marketers gain valuable insight by interacting directly with consumers outside mass-media landscape”.

Experiential marketing is the next marketing methodology that can bridge the disconnect between customers’ increasing demand to engage marketers and brands on their own terms and the slow-footed reluctance of traditional marketers to move away from mass-media marketing.

Today, traditional marketers continue to contend that mass media is still relevant to the customer, especially while launching a new brand. However, they need to understand that there is an increasing demand for out-of-box ideas and experiences that the mass media may or may not be able to offer.

An experiential approach to launch a brand may be more effective and relevant than anything that television/print advertisements will offer. For example, Mahindra Tractors wanted to launch their Hy Tec brand which was a strong hydraulic tractor aiming to help farmers saw the field.

To show this technology to the farmers they engaged them through a technique in which sensors were fixed to the hydraulic and a large LCD monitor was placed for the farmers, which captured the movement of the cultivator on an ECG graph. This activity was easily understood and remembered by the farmers and the sales graph was tremendously increased.

Experiential marketing provides experience of the brand and not just the product. The innovations, designs and concepts cut through the clutter of thousands of impressions that people are bombarded with each day. The innovative and multi-dimensional experiences create emotional resonance; strengthen the bond between Brand Identity and Brand Loyalty.

An experiential approach to launch a brand may be more effective and relevant than anything that television advertisements can offer. One of the best example is Absolut vodka. In Australia, Absolut Vodka launched a brand called “Cut”, through a strictly experiential marketing point of view. Using public relations, point-of-sale, online and event marketing, Absolut was able to eschew traditional advertising altogether, something unheard of when launching a spirits brand.

In a rather astounding bow to experiential marketing over mass marketing, Absolut leased two bars in Sydney and Melbourne, put on DJ sets, band concerts and photo exhibitions in these spaces. Visitors to the Absolut Cut bars got a free bottle of Cut, and consumers were given a chance to contribute their photos to the exhibits, generating what Absolut hoped would be a viral element to the campaign. The campaign flew in the face of traditional ways to launch a brand. Instead of using mass marketing to blanket the millions in order to reach the few, Absolut chose to target the few to eventually reach the masses.

A strong brand can no longer shield a company from competition, nor can it ensure that customers stay loyal to it. Products are also becoming congested with too many features, making it difficult for the customer to distinguish one product from another. This environment forces brand managers to find new ways to create and maintain a relationship between their product or service and the customer in a way that makes their brand more than just a fancy nameplate in front of a product.

Perhaps this is why some leading companies are choosing to forgo brand extensions for something more experiential. As empowered customers are increasingly demanding better products and services, and thereby disproving the notion of brand loyalty, brands are beginning to team up with each other to offer customers a new type of brand that answers this demand.

It is now no longer surprising to see two, three, or four separate brands combine their core competencies to launch a so-called “branded brand.” Like Rin and Surf Excel, the leading clothes washing bar, coming together with the dual branded bar.

Customers are more skeptical than before about marketing and advertising, and often tune out marketing messages completely. This only becomes imperative for brand managers to find out and appreciate how their brand is understood by the customer and how they are interacting with them differently than before. By engaging in experiential marketing campaigns, brand marketers are able to gain valuable insight into this realm by interacting directly with consumers outside of the mass-media landscape.

With Indian markets getting more complex and demanding, mass media is working less and less. Today, the best marketers have a skew that is 55:45 mass media to experiential marketing. According to a study done by HPI Research Group, 68 per cent of surveyed marketing executives spent more on experiential marketing in 2006 than in 2005 and half of those executives expect to increase spending in 2007. Currently, BTL holds 15 per cent of the total advertising expenditure which is expected to grow by another 10 per cent in the coming years.

Brands are now also being driven by the customer themselves, through experiential elements like Converse’s co-creation marketing or Nike’s iD system, design your own shoes. Nike came up with an innovative idea to gauge customers by giving them an experience of being themselves. Customers can design their shoes according to their likes and dislikes, material, colour, shape etc… which was definitely creating an identity for themselves.

More far reaching is what experiential marketing holds for the future of our everyday experiences with brands and services. Experiential marketing can make brands important again. Instead of marketers spending their time on new products, line extensions, or new-and-improved packaging, they should concentrate on their existing marketing strategies to see how they are engaging, benefiting and empowering their customers.

This is an excellent article! And about 85% of it is lifted directly from my book.*

Imagine my surprise when reading this piece, written by Priya Monga, business head at RC&M. I laughed out loud, looked around the luscious salon, took a glance at the Gateway of India outside the window, and asked myself: “what are the odds?”

I was published in India. Well, not me per se. But my words were in print in The Hindustan Times. The Hindustan Times! What are the odds that I would read this in person, physically, and not online? And what are the odds that I would be in the country when the article was published? Clearly this is an omen, no? And if so, what can it possibly mean?

By the way, if anyone knows Priya please point out some of the other great writing in the book. I suggest pages 1-312.

*Starting on p. 292 in the Canadian publication (red cover) and p. 298 in the US version (yellow cover).


  1. yashesh shethia · · Reply

    85% isnt all that good, you would have known if you did great in your book if there was atleast a 95% paste job!!
    anyways, glad you had a great time here, hope the chicken didnt create trouble on the way back!!!!
    and hey David, catch up with you wen you are here!

  2. It has to be pretty awesome to know that your book is THE book when it comes to experimental marketing. I have loved the read and have sharing the pearls of wisdom in it to anyone who will listen. Safe travels and please keep the knowledge coming!

  3. A well wisher · · Reply

    Interesting read. I had the pleasure of working with Priya Monga a few years back.
    Just in case you to want to congratulate her upon the brilliantly written article ;-), she may be reached at 91-11-40505050
    I had her mobile number as well but I junked it – not worth the trouble !!

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