Aspiration is key to human life. In some contexts, it also captures the human spirit of winning against odds, because what was 'aspired for' was worth it.
Brands embody human spirit in all forms. Just as a brand seed is defined around its core, 'aspiration' is the kernel around which a human life is built. For those who are more evolved through their experiences and thinking, 'purpose' might replace 'aspiration'.
One of the ways a consumer expresses her 'aspiration' for a better, exciting, more meaningful life is through the brands she uses. Mind you, this is not limited to the affluent consumer. In fact the deepest manifestation of consumers' aspirations can be seen in rural India. Would you have been surprised to see packets of Maggi and Fair&Lovely hanging in a tiny grocery shop in a small village in Bihar? Or the Ferrero Rocher lookalike gift packs in a small tea shop in rural Karnataka, which I saw today, sitting alongside deodorant brands like Axe, Park Avenue, Ferrari and Adidas...and you thought these brands were created for consumers like you and me !
Thanks to the reach of media (especially television & now internet), alongside increasing migration to cities, consumers in rural India today are exposed to the same brands and lifestyle as their counterparts in Urban centers or even globally, and have similar aspirations from life. It's a fascinating experience to understand the aspiration (& resultant ability to delay gratification) of a 7 year old kid who will save the Re 1 pocket money he gets every day to buy a Rs 5 Maggi pack, while some other kids around him will eat a toffee each of those 5 days, teasing and ridiculing him. Aspiration is a powerful need and driver.
Sadly, Tata motors failed to understand this basic tenet of brand building & element of what makes us human. A fantastic 'frugal engineering' success (NatGeo: Making of Tata Nano) built around the Indian middle class consumer's aspiration to own a car, was lost to pure branding failure.
The need identification was spot on, 'aspiration' to own a car, but this sense of 'aspiration' was completely lost in translation in the journey from product to brand. The product was certainly built in context to a 2 wheeler, but the brand needed to do more than that.
The launch commercial positioned the brand as 'a car for those who always aspired to own, but couldn't afford one'. In the commercial, the entire village gathers to see this new Tata Nano car with glee and admiration in their eyes, probably because it was a first instance in their village of someone having bought a car. Did someone believe that you can sell a car by pointing to the (true but) purported inability of the consumer to buy something that was better? How will you feel as a consumer if you were to go to a fruit vendor and start bargaining for a Kg of apples and the guy said "It's OK. Why don't you buy Oranges instead, they are cheaper". Try bargaining for apples the next time.
The fact that it was cheaper by almost 50% to the then cheapest car in the market was a known fact. Price should have been the 'delighting factor', almost as a sub-text, to be inferred. Which brand has been built claiming to be cheap or for someone who wants something cheap?
This error was probably recognized and the second commercial with a college setting, tried to position the car around 'Young & Fun'. Good idea but bad execution, & importantly having come on top of an earlier positioning blunder. And what is this commercial talking about ?...' 21% more space', ' superior ride quality', 'SUV like high ground clearance', 'class best AC'...really? What were these guys thinking?
Then was a third attempt recently, this time with video of models running, dancing and metamorphosing ...interspersed with shots of the car with a funky background score, scoring nothing while screaming 'celebrate Youness', 'celebrate Kickassness', 'celebrate epicness','celebrate magicness','celebrate Awesomeness' !
Today, ET carried an interview where Jack Trout says " Tata Nano is hard to save. My view is, I would kill the brand". I hope this does not become a case study on 'how not to brand a fantastic product'.
It could very well have been "a fun car to drive, especially in a city, and guess what...it's easy on the pocket". Tata Nano deserves better.