Aaj TV Groping For ‘The’ Brand Power To Dethrone Geo TV IV: GUERRILLA WARFARE

Up till now we have been discussing the niceties of competition. Unfortunately real life is anything but nice, and so is the competition in any field. Even if you want to play it fair and square, the other guy may have other plans. And then what constitutes fair and square  all depends upon perceptions. The Americans believe they were fair in waging war on Iraq and now staying on to clear the mess; the locals there believe they are justified in using suicide bombings and guerrilla warfare to drive them out.

So what is guerrilla warfare in the marketing battlefield?


This is what Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller had to say in their book Marketing Management, which is considered to be the Holy Bible of Marketing:


“Guerrilla warfare is practiced by a smaller firm against a larger one. The smaller firm launches a barrage of attacks in random corners of the larger opponent’s market in a manner calculated to weaken the opponent’s market power. Military dogma holds that a continual stream of minor attacks usually creates more cumulative impact, disorganization, and confusion in the enemy than a few major attacks.”


There are as many GW methods as there are marketers in the world, but since we are following the branding laws, let’s continue to follow the brand perspective or in other words the Ries’ school of thought.


Ever heard of depositioning? Simply put, depositioning is removing your competitor’s brand from an enviable position in the mind of the consumer so that you can occupy that vacated seat. It’s not that the rival brand ceases to exist in the consumer’s mind. It only moves down in his or her list of priorities while yours moves up.


Again, it’s easier said than done. No one goes down without a fight, the least of which would be a brand that earned itself a respectable position in the consumer’s mind. However the counter-attack can be beneficial to both you and the category. Many marketers have come up with the conspiracy theory  that the Cola-Wars was just a combined promotional gimmick by the two giants to create noise around their business so that the Cola category blossomed and with it the two brothers-in-arms.


There are innumerable examples of depositioning in the advertising world. The classic Cola Wars, the Dew/ Sprite scuffle are just a few of those. Everyone does it except the Pakistanis, who rarely indulge in it. It’s really strange considering that we can be nastily spiteful when it comes to throwing dirt on each other. The parliamentary sessions epitomize this habit of ours.


Depositioning, however, doesn’t mean smearing your rivals. The aim is to turn you rival’s strength into a weakness.  The best example of this is when Mobilink came up with their Happy hour promotion where a few hours of the day had special concession, Ufone depositioned it impeccably by coming up with a low uniform rate for the entire day and claiming in their ads “Every hour is Happy hour now”.


So its not that we can’t do it, it’s just that we are not really inclined to do it. Those inclinations better change soon if you want to be competitive.


So what can a TV channel do to launch an attack against GEO TV? Plenty. First go for its strengths. The biggest strength of Geo TV is its ability to grab the movers and shakers of other TV channels when they have achieved stardom status.


The biggest grab was that of Dr. Shahid Masood from Ary, who according to Geo’s own employers is being paid an astronomical salary of Rs. 22 lac. And no, it’s not the yearly gross. It’s the monthly figure! Ali Azmat of Junoon was paid Rs. 1 lac per episode of Pappu Yar, a Talk show aired on Geo’s Aag. The most recent snatching was that of Farah, the cooking sensation of TV One. And the most controversial would have had been that of Begum Nawazish Ali which fortunately for Aaj TV, didn’t happen. According to Ali Saleem, the man behind the begum (no pun intended), the idea of becoming the Begum was floated by him in the Geo TV camp. Geo ignored it, so he then went to Aaj TV who gleefully accepted it. Once, however, Begum Nawazish Ali show attained stardom, Geo TV alleged that Aaj TV stole the idea from it. In the end, the case came to naught, a triumphant Hameed Kashan informed me.


But how do you really do it? The way to go about it is not to malign anyone. Instead of adding venom in your offensive, add a healthy dose of humor.


The hefty salaries these big shots are being paid can be cunningly inculcated in a sitcom or something. In fact, why not a sitcom about the world of TV personalities and their idiosyncrasies? Kamran Khan, Hamid Mir, all of them can be made cannon fodder for a blitz campaign since they are after all public figures open to scrutiny. For instance Dr. Masood uses very loaded Urdu in his Meray Mutabiq. You can attack that aspect. The sky is the limit.


So what’s the downside? For an established brand, the downside is that the aggrieved party is going to launch a counter-offensive to blast the intruder to smithereens. The campaign may not actually achieve that, but it would certainly sting badly.


For a newcomer or a weak brand, however, there’s nothing to lose. The big brand under attack cannot launch a proper counter-attack since it doesn’t know the other brand very well. Then there’s the dilemma if the big brand does launch an attack against the newbie or nobody, it’s like acknowledging its presence and admitting that the small fish has created enough ripples in the pond to trouble the big one. Nothing can be worse than that, so the big fish pretends to ignore the smaller one even exists at all, like Coke did when Pepsi was nowhere near it. It was such a big deal that the employees were not supposed to even say Pepsi in front of outsiders to the headquarters. Pepsi was referred to as the ‘imitator’. Coke chose to ignore and is now paying the price.


Hence it’s going to be a Catch-22 situation for Geo TV if a new channel launches a depositioning campaign against it.


However if Aaj finds all these strategies too overwhelming, it can still remain in the ancient category of something-for-everyone and make do by following the Law of Ladder and the Law of the Opposite among others. It could go for something like Avis’ brilliant advertising campaign: “We are No.2 We try harder.”, which worked wonders for it. But the downside is it will always have to be content with the No.2 or No.3 spot and the market share that is reserved for these spots. If it wants to go for the top slot, it will have plunge into the branding strategies paradigm. There’s just no way around it.


Currently, Aaj TV is looking to come up with a couple of new TV shows, one a sitcom and the other a Survivor like show, although it is apprehensive about the moralistic implications of it in our conservative society. Are these shows going to help Aaj deal with the competition? Not by a long shot. At best, they are going to up the popularity numbers by a few notches in the short run, and that also only if they are successful.


Having observed the Aaj team from up close, I believe they have the firepower to upset the reign of Geo TV Empire. They have a highly unstructured workplace hierarchy where everyone meddles with everyone’s business with the intention of helping out, sort of a cross-functional teamwork if you compare it with a formal structure. A very Google like environment suited to the highly unpredictable world of media.


Now, if only they can come up with a lynchpin in their ranks who can show them the way to branding glory, and more importantly if they can follow that entity by setting aside their skepticism of the laws of branding.