Should Successful, Media-Shy Brands Advertise or Not?

In the days when loud, full-on advertising and a host of other media content are beamed at you 24×7, including on social media, a media-shy brand sounds like an anachronism. Even more so, when it is a successful brand, highly regarded by customers worldwide and by discerning media channels.

In fact, how many such brands even exist? Do they need to communicate with their audiences and why?

Tesla, for example, is one such brand that ever since its launch prides itself on not relying on advertising for its sales. Yet, it is the world’s No 1 electric car in the luxury category and perhaps in the overall market for electric cars. Patagonia, the environment-friendly brand of outdoor apparel that is considered one of the world’s most innovative brands by Fast Company Magazine, and recently even announced the “donation” of the company is another.

There are quite a few brands in the luxury category that tend to not advertise, or at least not very much, and in many of these cases, it works to their advantage. The luxury segment is driven by the need for exclusivity and therefore not being seen in mass media too much can actually be an indicator of an exclusive, high-end luxury brand. This might not necessarily mean that they don’t communicate at all, but that they choose to communicate occasionally and with the right target audience relevant to their brand.

Many companies choose not to advertise, not even to build their corporate brands, and I think this might have as much to do with not fully understanding the benefits of building a corporate brand, as with thinking that advertising individual product brands is good enough. What about companies that don’t really have products to sell, but services, whether it’s B2C (business to consumer) or B2B (business to business). In India, for example, though we are considered a significant force in the information technology industry, and our big four tech companies are known globally, they do not advertise in mass media.

I am not sure that they do not communicate at all; perhaps they do advertise very selectively in tech trade publications and they probably rely a lot on direct sales pitches. Not very sure if they even rely on direct marketing as a way of strengthening their relationships with their clients or on PR to communicate what they’ve been working on in the tech business. Whatever the case might be, not communicating or advertising to build one’s brand cannot be a very good or sustainable strategy.

What does advertising do for brands that other communication disciplines cannot?

  • It helps position your brand in consumers’ minds and sets the strategy for your business
  • It persuades the majority of your audience what sets your brand apart and why they ought to consider/prefer your brand
  • Through advertising in mass media, it creates an aura around your brand that no other communication discipline can create in the same way
  • When considered in combination with other relevant communication disciplines, and through the right media channels, it is an indispensable tool to build your brand and your business.

Sounds pretty obvious, right? Why then would many successful media-shy companies and brands not advertise? Or perhaps a better way of looking at it is to see when and how should such brands start to advertise.

  • When they diversify into new businesses and suddenly need to tell people who they are in the first place
  • When they try to raise money for a project or go for an initial public offering
  • When they expand into new markets
  • When they are suddenly swamped by a lot of competition
  • When they need to explain the value of what they do to the general public
  • When they need to change a widespread perception of the company/brand that might actually harm their business

In each of these instances, it ought to be possible for any communication discipline to step in and do the needful. Why advertising? For the same set of reasons, I mentioned earlier. In which the strategy for the business and the brand are best addressed through advertising and brand communication, as these are closest to the product/service in question as well as to the customer.

I’d like to take up one such case in this article and share my thoughts on why even successful, media-shy brands ought to advertise. It is one of India’s finest luxury hotel chains, one that is known worldwide as a brand originating from India. And even though it is an exemplar of Brand India, par excellence, it has shied away from advertising and communicating with its audiences.

I am talking of Oberoi Hotels and Resorts. A brand of luxury hotels that is Indian and international, considering it spans countries from Morocco in the west to Bali, Indonesia in the east. I had a brief business encounter with Oberoi Hotels and its chief, while working on American Express in Ogilvy Delhi decades ago, and I also mentioned it in my blog post and presentation on Indian brands going global. It is one of India’s three great luxury hotel brands that are known and recognized beyond India’s shores. It is known to hardly ever advertise, but Oberoi Hotels always finds itself among the top ranked hotels in international travel magazines. At a time of increasing competition in India and overseas in the luxury hospitality industry, though, I think there is a need for Oberoi Hotels to communicate better with its audiences and establish itself as the undisputed leader in the business.

Inside an Oberoi Udaivilas Hotel room; Image: Christopher Michel on Wikimedia Commons CC by SA 2.0

This would require a new, more focused business and brand strategy to start with. One that positions the Oberoi Hotels brand as not just India’s finest, but capable of competing with the best in the world. However, that requires more complete information and knowledge about the company, its performance, the brand and its clientele, and I have nothing to go by except the company website, which itself needs a rethink. Nevertheless, even with all these limitations of information and knowledge about the company and the brand, I have devised a strategy that I think fits the Oberoi Hotels brand perfectly and at the same time differentiates it from all the rest. It is based on combining the strengths and differentiating features of the Oberoi Hotels brand with interpreting hotel stays in an entirely different way. You may read my brand strategy and ideas for Oberoi Hotels by clicking the link below.

How Oberoi Hotels Can Build its Brand

Successful, media-shy brands such as Oberoi Hotels and Resorts ought to advertise, but advertise selectively, targeting its audience sharply and communicating the right message in the most relevant media channels and communication disciplines. The communication ought to be as understated and elegant as the brand of luxury hospitality. In this context, I must mention that Oberoi Hotels’ use of digital/social media needs rethinking as well. For a brand that doesn’t advertise in mass media, it seems to have turned social media into an advertising medium, which I think is the wrong use of the medium for a luxury brand.

As far as other companies such as Tesla, or the Indian tech companies not bothering to communicate with their audiences is concerned, more intense competition will force them to consider differentiating themselves from the rest. That, willy-nilly, means advertising and communicating their brand benefits. As I have written before, in the case of Tesla, they have been happy to ride the wave of a new technological phenomenon in electric luxury cars. But when electric cars become ubiquitous, and the only technology in town, Tesla will have to begin communicating what it stands for.

Finally, brands are relationships that companies and their products build with customers in their minds and hearts. It is an integral part of corporate strategy and provides companies with their competitive edge. Not communicating or advertising is not an option.

 The featured image at the start of this post is of the Oberoi Udaivilas Hotel in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India, by Uri Sittan Tripo on Wikimedia Commons CC by SA 3.0

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