A composite image of Larry Zbyzsko and his logo both upright and inverted

W for Branding

I see branding everywhere. Even in pro-wrestling. Or rather, especially in pro-wrestling. Especially in WWE, which swagged up pro-wrestling. WWE (earlier, WWF) came to India in the early 90s (’91, to be precise), and I and other 17-year-olds and younger were hooked. It was fun, it was testosterone, it was adrenaline, and we realized later, it was fake (ok, “scripted”). But nothing to take away from the costumes (ok, gear) – comprising fur, leather, masks – and each wrestler’s signature moves. And then, we got over it. Perhaps for the same scripted reasons. I can’t remember the last time I watched WWE, and don’t know who the current champ is. Last I knew, courtesy FB Trending, was Roman Reigns, right? (If not, you know how much I know now.)

Another reason perhaps – and a digression this – is that the physiques got assembly line: everyone looks the same six-pack, sculpted, all-shaved now. Earlier, the bods were more “believable” and some even everyday (or what is called dad-bod these days; or basically, my type of bod). I trust wrestlers back then used to gym too, and do steroids too, but somehow they looked less like action figures or the male version of the impossibly proportioned Barbie.

Anyway, one thing I had dug then, and perhaps realized much later, is the gear, each wrestler’s specific costume. Or the way I see it, their unique branding. This sometimes came from a name (such as Jake “The Snake” Roberts building his brand around a snake motif), a personality type (Ric Flair was flamboyance personified with his boa, wooooo and all), or simply, and the way branding goes, with a colour (Hulk Hogan with his bulk of yellow and a smattering of red).

I am sure the wrestlers these days continue that branding tradition, and they need to, but I’ll stick to those from the 90s for this listicle (as my pro-wrestling started and stopped then; if I do catch pro-wrestling on YouTube now, it’s mostly matches from those times). This also makes sense because up until the 90s, pro-wrestlers usually stuck to trunks, tights or singlets. So, nothing to differentiate there.

Here then are my top pro-wrestler branding examples of all time. I’ll stick to WWE, for as I said, it brought branding to pro-wrestling. I have listed just three, but included two more as preambles, to perhaps distinguish between mere branding and smart branding. One or two may not be a surprise, and I may have already mentioned them earlier. But I believe a couple will be, especially the numero uno. Wait, wait, don’t scroll. Else, I’ll give you a piledriver.

First, the ones who don’t quite make it, although they did take their branding forward consistently.

Ric Flair in pink floral robe and a pink boaRic Flair was one of the first few WWE wrestlers I noticed. Could be because he was a famous one. But could also be because of his blond hair. And he took that touch of glam (some would even say bordering on androgyny) forward – to his robe, to the feather boa, and to his calling card: flamboyance. I guess only he could have made all that still appear macho. What I especially like(d) is that he took it all forward right until he hung up his boots. Many wrestlers, as their physique begins withering, begin adopting more body-friendly gear (read: costumes that begun covering the moobs and other body parts that begin sagging).

A graphicized version of Jake The Snake RobertsJake Roberts took his snake gimmick / branding forward consistently too, from a snake graphic curling up his tights to actually bringing a bevy of snakes to the ring. The long, curly hair somehow worked with the gimmick too. In later years, he too started “covering up”, but made sure, like a good brand does, he remained true to his brand: the snake remained, whether on his tights or in his hands.

And now, the actual list.

And the pro-wrestler with the third-best branding is… Canary.

Huh? Allow me. When WWE had first come to India and had started raging in popularity, I was in college. I had gone for this inter-college festival and was witnessing a round of Taboo in progress. Basically, you get a chit with a proper name but also some words you can’t use (those are taboo). You need to give a set of clues to your partner that don’t use those words. So, one guy got his chit and immediately went: “Canary”. And at once, his partner guessed: “Hulk Hogan”.

Hulk Hogan ripping off his T-shirt at the start of a contestHulk Hogan with his canary-coloured trunks, shirt that he would rip, boots, hair and even moush. That is branding. And now, imagine all those Hulkamaniacs dressed similarly. That. Is. Branding.

However, the Hulk too later, as I wrote earlier, changed his clothing according to advancing age: the trunks gave way to tights. With talk of him possibly returning to WWE, though probably not in grappling capacity, it would be interesting to see what branding he adopts now.

The second-best now. And this, frankly, I noticed only recently. But delighted almost immediately as I did so. Larry Zbyszko with the very difficult surname (oddly enough, his real name is simpler: Larry Whistler) but with the wicked ambigram logo: the L looking like a Z and vice versa, no matter which way you look(ed) at it. When Larry Met Branding Gold. Ok, silver. Because gold’s up next.

A composite image of Larry Zbyzsko and his logo both upright and inverted

Branding also, or especially, works if it has some intrigue value. You wonder what the name or icon means, and when you crack it, you go “Aha!” And then, lavish some more attention over it, this time with the knowledge of achievement.

So, I had “got” this guy’s branding early on. Or, maybe it’s only in my head – but I do believe it’s clever. That apart, I also like(d) him as he had an everyday physique. Hell, he’s even had a paunch for as long as I can remember. (I “suffer” on both those counts.) And the best part is, he continues to wrestle (although in smaller leagues) to this age, which is a ripe 68. Maybe that’s why he’s lived and wrestled so long: he doesn’t look like he did steroids to pump up his body, because those who did, mostly passed away. He says he’ll continue to wrestle until his last breath. Which might be a bit alarming as he’s already suffered a heart attack when in the ring sometime back (although not while wrestling).

Jerry Lawler in the late 80sNow, without further ado, I give you… Jerry “The King” Lawler. Yowzer? Sure, he’s not too well known in India, and outside, folk will be aghast at a list in which he surpasses the Hulk or even Flair. But folk, reminder: this is a branding list.

So, did Lawler’s King gimmick, complete with crown, royal robe, and regal tune appeal to me? No, that I thought was quite the expected. But take a closer look at Jerry’s top gear: the single-shoulder strap. Do you see a J this side and an L the other side? As in J-erry L-awler. Well, I do. And I saw it back then. And I even wrote to him once, about my fan-worship and the initials on his strap. And he replied, though not to the latter. So, perhaps, it was indeed only in my head?

Jerry Lawler's strap with two red lines to depict the J and the L from his name

Or maybe not. Jerry also has this action, where in the latter part of a match, to indicate he means business, he takes off the strap (although I’m not sure how the latter means the former). So, what happens to the J and L then? Ah, then, he becomes the King. See, I told you I see branding everywhere. And that makes Jerry Lawler also the King of Pro-wrestling Branding.

Although, again, I’m not sure the others will like it too much. I already see them coming after me with leg drops, figure-four leg-locks, guillotine chokes and… snakes.

PS: In researching this piece (yup, this needed research too, apart from the sourcing of pix), I came across a couple of interesting sites, one on branding in pro-wrestling by former pro-wrestler Mongol Santino on his eponymous site, and the other on graphic depictions of WWE wrestlers’ gear, which is both fun and has you guessing from the first slide to the last.

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Cover pic for this post, a composite of ebay's image of "10 Crore Products" along with their message of 'not judge'

Irfanvertising | Ebay Shows the Way

Irfanvertising LogoYou are not among the top three e-commerce sites in India. You didn’t go in for a logo change recently, or even about a year back. You in fact have struggled with an identity change since you entered India: you were an online auction site in the US and, since that concept was new here and never did catch on, you then became an e-tailer, like many of the others. You were launching your festive season campaign much later than the others, and perhaps with shallower pockets. And you don’t seem to have any discounts on your site, or at least in your advertising. How then do you stand out?

You do something radical.

That’s what ebay.in has done with its festive season campaign, #ThingsDontJudge. The TVC begins with an “obviously” effete guy practicing Bharatanatyam. Your eyes open wider with what happens two sequences down the line: a guy on his knees, wedding band in hand (yes, a guy with a wedding band), proposing to… another guy. And both are everyday-looking guys. That’s the more radical part.

After this, the other sequences might seem less “rad” in comparison. But they have their own charm, speaking with their intended audience in their own ways. A homemaker rests her visibly tired feet and body on a recliner. Yes, homemakers needing rest is a revolutionary idea in many an Indian household. And finally, a gran skipping to her inner child’s content in a park. Nothing great about that, for you’ve seen that in tons of commercials, right? Yes, while this one might seem the softest one, when you see the audience it’s targeting – getting an older generation to think of buying online, even as something as simple as a skipping rope – that is sensational.

When I see impressive commercials such as these (all the YouTube comments I scrolled through were mostly positive, and some even said that ebay is suddenly their most favourite e-commerce site; so, advertising, nay, good advertising works, no?), I try backtracking. How would they have arrived at this? What insight would they have worked with? What inspiring message from the servicing person in the brief and briefing (hopefully) would have given them this flight of fancy?

In this case, it seems quite work-out-able. An advantage of buying stuff online is that the seller, unlike in a brick-and-mortar store, doesn’t really see who you are and therefore doesn’t form an opinion of you – whether you are too old for something, that you are a man buying a “woman’s product”, what use you’ll put it to… And therefore, you can go ahead and buy it without fear of the attendant judging you, or in other words, as it addresses in the commercial too, “log kya kahenge” (that perennial Indian fear of “what will people say?”).

Well, most people seem to be saying, “Yay!” Both to ebay and its advertising. This is sure to go well with the award judges.

The cover pic for this post, featuring the Israel (Tourism) logo and lead-in text
Cover pic for this post, with Meena Tai in the logo saying, "Baseline mangta..."

Irfanvertising | Meena Tai’s, Meena Tags

Irfanvertising LogoAs an ad guy and a branding- and logo-lover, I not surprisingly find myself scrutinizing the same in ads I view. And as an ad consultant, I often find myself emphasizing the need for this to potential clients. However, perhaps because the potential clients at my level and stage of working – I started out on my own just about a year ago, that too in an Indian metro not really known for its ad industry (Chennai), compared with the earlier metro I was in, which is considered the Mecca of Indian advertising (Bombay / Mumbai) – are “relatively small”, I find them not quite getting the necessity of having a baseline to emphasize their promise to their potential customers, or at the very least, to accentuate their branding.

So, when I get a chance to come up with the baseline / tagline of a brand, that too of a category I love (food / hospitality), that too for a restaurant I have been to, loved and blogged about, how can I pass up the opportunity?

The logo for Meena Tai's, the newly opened Maharashtrian restaurant in ChennaiThus, when the relatively new upscale Maharashtrian restaurant, Meena Tai’s, announced a tagline contest on its FB page, I dove right in. Into my scribbling pad. I sweated and swotted over it for a few days, then as the end date approached, decided to go for gold by not just putting it in the comments section of the post as most folk seemed to be doing, but creating a PPT for it. Complete with a ToC, notes, routes (Maharashtra-based, Tai-based, Maharashtra- and Tai-based, Marathi-based), and yes, even an end Thanks slide. Any surprise then… that I ended up winning!?! That, and the fact that I love the restaurant, and was born and have lived in its source state for the better part of my life.

Below are some of my entries, the one that won, links to the blog posts I’ve done on it (from a vegan perspective, of course) and the site’s own links. Check them out while I go do nom-nom. The prize is a dinner for two.

A few of my entries for the Meena Tai's tagline contestThe acknowledgement post for my winning entry for the Meena Tai's tagline contest

The first of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one a prologue: Meena Tai’s – Prologue

The second of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one the main post: Meena Tai’s – Vegan / Friendly

Meena Tai’s on FB: MeenaTais

Meena Tai’s on the web, or should I say, bheb: meenatais.com

A pic of the Nike Da Da Ding TVC, twisted to 'Just Da It'

Irfanvertising | Just Da It

Irfanvertising LogoI’m guessing,

Because the sporty male target audience is saturating,

Nike’s getting into female targeting –

They know women like spending,

And now they’re also getting

Into football, cricket and kick-boxing,

So, they’re featuring

Top women players in everything

Sporting,

And to make it more attracting,

They’re even pulling

In the Bollywood queen reigning,

So, everyone’s going –

‘Da da ding’

And hoping

The cash registers will be sounding –

‘Ta ta ting’.

Illlustration of a sombre-looking Oriental girl wondering, 'Where is he?'

Irfanvertising | Only the Girls

Irfanvertising Logo

The new (actually, not-so-new) Jeevansathi.com TVC shows a desirable man “still looking” for his better half. It might have the guy speaking, but it’s actually speaking to the girl, as a target audience (TA).

Similarly, the Shaadi.com TVC that came sometime back had girls speaking – about what they were looking for in their guy as well as sharing their own attitudes – but they too were talking to the girl, as a TA.

No surprise actually that the matrimonial sites are talking to the girl. Only the girls seem to be looking. While the guys seem to be busy playing to their stereotypes: commitment-phobic, not looking, interested only in LTRs (light-term relationships) and not LTRs (long-term relationships).

Any wonder then that if TVCs themselves are something to go by (Fastrack from 2013 and Anouk by Myntra from last year), women are turning to themselves?

Cover pic for this post, using a part of the Social Beat Digital Chai pe Charcha ad and my text

Irfanvertising | On the ‘Social Beat’

Irfanvertising LogoLogo of Chennai-HQed social-media agency, Social BeatSocial Beat is a, or even, the leading social media agency in Chennai. They’ve handled digital marketing (DM) and social media marketing (SMM) for clients ranging from start-ups to conglomerates. But that isn’t why I’m talking about them. And no, I don’t consult with them either.

The Digital Chai pe Charcha post for Content MarketingOnce a month or so, since January this year, Social Beat has been organizing these DM / SMM chat sessions called Digital Chai pe Charcha (DCPC). These are open to all and free of charge. (Why, Social Beat even sponsors beverages and biscuits for attendees.) Each session is around a chosen topic – which they publicize for about 10 days or so before the session – and goes on for about 1-1.5 hours. So far, there have been sessions around content marketing (one of my areas, which I ironically missed as I was out of the city / country), digital advertising, Instagram, ROI on DM (Social Beat’s baby, as ‘ROI’ is there in their baseline too, and thus obviously what their agency focuses on), and the first one was a generic one.

The sessions are beneficial for multiple, though perhaps expected, reasons: networking, knowledge-sharing and gaining, and in my case, refreshing. I had taken up a course in DM from NIIT about a couple of years ago when I started working in a digital agency. However, I didn’t start applying the knowledge until I started off on my own. These sessions at Social Beat thus act like monthly checkpoints, showing me how much more I know since yesterday or the last time and what gaps I need to fill. And even where I don’t seem to know much (like with the Instagram and ROI sessions), I still seem to end up being quite a vocalizer, as I am then eager to know more, or even all.

Logo for On1yDCPC has also been good as it has led to one work, or rather showcase, opportunity. I blog a lot about vegan stuff (under the series, IrfindingVegan). So, when Social Beat organized a food bloggers’ meet for On1y, a brand of gourmet herbs, spices and seasonings, I requested them to accommodate me, although I don’t really consider myself an “influencer”. (I don’t have too many followers on my blog, but that’s because I blog about several things – which is what my blog tagline says too – and I’m okay with this.) The good folk at Social Beat (am connected with most of the senior folk on social media) were kind enough to do so, and I eventually found myself at The Raintree, Anna Salai one Friday, first listening to a presentation about On1y and then tasting some fine dishes sprinkled with their range. I of course touched only the vegan dishes. Happily enough, all of On1y’s range is vegan.

The sessions seemed to have served their purpose for Social Beat too. I’m guessing they initiated this to be seen as thought leaders / experts in what they do, network with potential clients and other professionals, and provide a forum for DM / SMM / start-up discussions.

Not surprisingly then, I look forward to these sessions, and ever since they started being held on a Saturday evening (as against Friday evening earlier), it’s become even easier to go for them. Last time, they even asked us what we’d like to discuss next. Some suggestions that came up were influencer marketing, growing a brand organically on DM / SMM, handling negative comments (trolling) on SMM. I can’t wait.

A pic from the first Digital Chai pe Charcha session

A pic from the first Digital Chai pe Charcha session. Me at the back in blue. And trust me never to be looking at the camera.

And oh, why did I pen this piece? Is it some form of content marketing for them? (No, don’t think they need it, although any positive press never hurts.) Work opps from them or other professionals and clients coming there? (Nah, the info coming from there is precious enough for now, though again, chats with potential clients and new connects never hurt either.) Well, simply to return the favour. I don’t like freeloading.

And that’s not why I don’t touch the beverages and biscuits. One’s unhealthy and the other unvegan. But then again, the sessions are refreshment enough.