Book review: Freakonomics from the ad world

The book's title is misleading.

Mainak Dhar is a man of many talents; wearing many hats. He has a day job, he is an author when not working. Which means he is always at it. And his brain is always at it. And that shows in his latest book, Brand Shastra. What does Brand Shastra do: Simply put, it distils some of the core principles of marketing he follows and shows how their application in everyday situations can bring about transformation. It tells the reader that marketing is about understanding people, their motivations and about influencing their behaviour. There is nothing more to it, really. If his previous book on brands (Brand Management 101) told us the difference between what you learn about brands in classrooms vs what you learn about them in real life, Brand Shastra tells us it is all in the emotions.

Here are some things you need to know and not know about the book — things that work and don’t work for the book. Brand Shastra revolves around how the core of marketing is people, evoking emotional reactions and influencing them. It is not strictly a business book. It dispels some myths and sets some definitions right: Marketing, for one. If read end to end, it is evident to anyone that marketing is actually a fairly sophisticated science. Done well, it is about creating consumer connection, and if done badly, marketing is just a hustle to sell something. If you are a marketing or advertising student, it actually has some very interesting things you can learn. Owing to his experience of working in Asia and Australia, and across categories of products from P&G to General Mills today, Dhar has some insights about consumers and how they behave. There are culture codes hiding in this book that can prove useful to anyone trying to create their own campaign for a product or induce behaviour change.

The book can come in very handy to teachers and psychology students too — a surprise audience for a book about brands and branding, you’d say. But that’s a pleasant surprise, you’d find — because belief follows behaviour, as the old adage goes. Brands tailor it to behaviour and also help shape it. The book is not all old-school. It touches upon the new (and perhaps permanent) change in the world: Social media. It shows how social media is a big equaliser; it gives the same voice to a young consumer as well as a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. And how true that is. The book teaches us that the strongest brands are those which can evoke such emotional reactions and memories When one has worked as much as Dhar has, it is tempting to use personal stories. What’s refreshing to see in this book is he has not. It is not focused on things that he has done personally. But it is based on his learning and experiences, and observations over the years, naturally. So, it gives us his view about the world and not the world he created.

What makes the book fascinating is the parallels it draws: It may not help with topics of day-to-day importance like standing out for promotion at work, making marriages last, and bringing up children, etc. — but it sure does tell the reader how marketing tips and techniques can help with that. It draws parallels one never imagined. It reminds one of Freakonomics — where the writers drew parallels between sumo wrestlers and teachers! How does the book draw these parallels? By showing how everything is about habit change: for example getting consumers to adopt a new category — these can also help us stick to our resolutions: because it is all about changing habits!

The book’s title is misleading. It is not a shastra per se — in its serious sense. The title makes you think it is a how-to, or a marketing bible. It isn’t. The book’s cover is boring. For a country that judges its books by their covers, it could have definitely been better and more enticing, if you may. The book is about brands and branding, but if one were to put down a brand image for the book, it might be difficult to. The book doesn’t have a specific personality (what a brand needs). So, ironically, a book about brands and its application in life isn’t quite a brand itself. A huge miss, perhaps. It goes into terms that probably may be a bouncer to a layman — though the author does take the effort to explain them — First, Second and Third Moment of Truth, for example. One wonders if there was a more fun way of explaining this.

And that’s true for largely the whole book: One wonders as you plough through the pages — why do I have to plough through such interesting content? Why am I not breezing through? And that’s in the writing. It is a little dry, a little matter-of-fact; and can leave the reader wanting more. The book loses the battle of form vs content. In a time when the coffee cup is just as important as the coffee, the book sort of serves great coffee in not such a great cup. If only. All in all, a dry read, but an interesting read nonetheless. Understand life through life. Understand life through brands. Pick it up. You won’t regret it.

Omkar Sane is an author, film writer and a Mumbaikar

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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