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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Inside page of the books 'Yours Guru Dutt', with a print of his signature

Branding Guru?

Apart from being a supremely creative soul in filmmaking (from high-concept films like Pyaasa to the highly immersive song picturizations in his movies), Guru Dutt, it seems, was also quite adept when it comes to branding. I say this after finding logos or motifs for himself and / or his production house, the eponymous Guru Dutt Films Private Limited, in the last book of his I had left to read.

Cover of the book, Yours Guru DuttYours Guru Dutt: Intimate Letters of a Great Indian Filmmaker includes several letters written by GD to the other GD, his wife, Geeta Dutt (nee Roy); written over 13 years, from their courtship to the later years of their marriage, which saw them have three kids but eventually separate. (The book is “presented” by documentary filmmaker and author, Nasreen Munni Kabir, who has written quite extensively on him and also made a documentary on him.)

In the book, there are letters written on different stationery, some from hotels where he stayed, but many that seemed to be letterheads either of his personal self or his company. And on these letters, you come across their logos, or at least, their motifs, all of which I believe GD designed, or at least, conceived himself.

Just like the letters (more of which perhaps in some other post), they show evolution too.

In the early letters, you see only a G in a classical style, like from the opening pages and chapters of a literary classic.

A capital G within a classical floral and plant motif

Later, you see the closest that comes to a logo, and my most preferred one. His name appearing along with an icon, a torch, symbolizing the banishing of darkness and leading the way.

The words 'Guru Dutt' with a graphic of a hand bearing a torch

The next one is simpler, a typeface bearing the name of his company.

Letterhead of Guru Dutt Films Private Ltd.

The final one is both simple and clever. It has just his initials, but is more stylistic and even looks like an ambigram.

The letters GD written stylistically

To these all, I am tempted to say, or sing: Jaane woh kaise logo the…

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

Cover pic for this post, also the logo for the series, with a cartoon dog wagging its tale fervently with the name broken into two parts and written on each of his sides

Irfanimals | Wags in a Name | Here’s Wagging…

Irfanimals LogoChaining them. Caging them. Thrashing them. Training them (for the circus, where this practice still goes on, or training them beyond limits if at home). However, something equally “criminal” we can do with a dog is… giving them a commonplace name.

Pic of one of my street dog friends with some meme text of sorts

One of my many street dog friends, Johnny, who I’d love to rename, but who’s stuck with this name since he was a tot

I won’t go into home-dog territory (as I’m more of a street-dog lover), but I’ve lost count of the Tigers, Leos, Brunos and Caesars I’ve heard). Even among the streeties, the few that some folk deign to name, they show equally lazy thinking. Moti, Raja, Sheru, among the Hindi vernacular; Tommy, Rocky, Johnny, among those who know English; and down South, Lakshmi, Mani, and well, Mani. (Coming to this in just a bit.) Lakshmi (the Hindu goddess of wealth / prosperity) is such a popular name for street dogs in Chennai / Tamil Nadu that almost every second dog I come across that I haven’t named seems to be called so, including… the male ones. Arrey, at least check properly and then call him Lakshman, no? But no, a goddess has higher standing than a god’s brother, right? As for that double Mani thing, it’s a prime example of the height of laziness (and that’s why the double hyperbole). Two dogs who hang around together are both called Mani. How does which Mani know which Mani is being called? And with the equal number of men who seem to be called that, how mani, sorry, many men will also turn when I shout that name?

Well, I’m here to correct this anomaly. An ad guy, especially a branding aficionado, and a (street) dog lover, I’ve decided to put these two powers together to put together a primer of sorts on how to name a dog you come across (on the street, who you decide to become friendly with) or one you decide to bring home (if doing so, do bring one from the shelter; there’s too much cruelty in buying a breed dog, but more of that some other time).

Cover pic for this post, also the logo for the series, with a cartoon dog wagging its tale fervently with the name broken into two parts and written on each of his sidesSo, dog-loving ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Wags in a Name. A short sub-series within my animal series, Irfanimals, on how to name a dog, so that, as the name suggests, you’ll see their tail wagging. Another way of looking at it is, the name should sit well on the dog, just like their wagging tail. I’m so clever, no? That’s why I’m in advertising, I guess.

Anyway, wag, er, watch this space. Woof!

Cover pic for this post with the text 'On1y The Best', the 'On1y' formed using the On1y logo
A close-up of the famous Hulk Hogan's famous moustache

Irfanvertising: Brandamania!

Irfanvertising Logo

This year is the 25th anniversary of several of my favourite things…

The secondary-section building of St Xavier's School, KolkataIt’s been two decades and a half since I left school, actually, schools. I was in two schools from the first to the 10th across two cities (and in a third for my KG) – from class 1 to a bit of 9 in St Xavier’s, Calcutta / Kolkata and 9 through 10 in Don Bosco, Bombay / Mumbai. I had great joys in Xavier’s – the greatest being winning the inter-class football tournament in classes 7 and 8 – and my two best friends come from Bosco. I don’t know if the Bosco folks are organizing a 25th year reunion, but I know the Xavier’s folks are, and I plan to go.

A still from 'Lamhe' featuring the younger Anil Kapoor and older Sridevi charactersIt will also be the silver anniversary, come November, of one of my favourite films of all time. Lamhe released, I believe I remember correctly, on November 21, 1991, along with Ajay Devgan / Devgn (man, people’s names have changed along with those of cities in this period) debuting in Phool aur Kaante. And promptly flopped. (Phool aur Kaante became a roaring hit.) The story of first a younger man (Anil Kapoor brave enough to play this character and take off his moustache) falling in unrequited love with an older woman (Sridevi) and then the woman’s daughter (Sridevi again, doing very well to look and project an 18-year old) falling for this now-older man (Kapoor) was considered too “advanced” for its time. Most aspects of the movie (music, acting, cast) were appreciated by the masses and the movie itself by the folks who could see beyond society-instilled taboo and of course by romantics such as myself. But the movie, due to that big mental block of a storyline, could not last beyond some lamhe at the box office. Thus clipping Anil Kapoor’s contention for the numero uno position, after big hits the previous few years (Tezaab, Ram Lakhan, Parinda). Whenever I’ve watched the movie, though, I still feel good and warm in all the right places.

The older logo of the earlier-name World Wrestling FederationAnd it will be also be 25 years since WWF / WWE (here we went with the name changes again) came to India. WWF caught the imagination of a nation of testosterone-charged and adrenaline-pumping teen boys (I was then) and also some grown-up men like perhaps IPL in its early seasons. Guys quickly became familiar with moves like clotheslines, power-bombs and DDTs, and with wrestler names, or rather nicknames, like Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, and the star of this piece, Hulk Hogan.

Hulk Hogan in heavily graphicized version of his T-shirt ripping gimmick

In my opinion, for the longest time, Hulk Hogan was WWE and WWE was Hulk Hogan. With his blonde hair (what was left of it), moustache (which has come to signify him as much as Anil Kapoor’s) and trunks, his pythons (his bulky arms, not serpents; Jake the Snake Roberts was the actual snake guy), his ripping of his T-shirt before the match, the ear-tipping to the fans on the four sides of the squared circle at the end of the encounter (of course, only on winning); in short, his brand of Hulkamania and therefore his legion of Hulkamaniacs, fans who loved and mimicked him.

While I continue to feel fond for Xavier’s and Calcutta (I can’t ever call it ‘Kolkata’) and football and Bombay (I can’t ever call it ‘Mumbai’) and Lamhe and Anil Kapoor (after losing out in the Bollywood war to the Khans, Kapoor seems to have come back with a bang as a senior actor), I think I lost my craze for WWE a long time back. Like with most other folks / guys back then. Many lost interest on realizing it’s staged, I on finding the new age of WWE pro wrestlers to be very assembly line, and almost everyone on just growing up.

I wasn’t so hot about Hogan either. In fact, I think I actually preferred Ric Flair to the Hulk – I dare say he had more charisma (with his ‘Wooooooooo’ and post-win strut) and he kept himself enough fit to last a long time, going on to fights with sons of wrestlers he had fought in his heydays (Randy Orton, I believe; s/o Cowboy Bob Orton).

The text 'Hulkamania' in red against a yellow backgroundBut where I dig Hogan, and this is the point of the piece (what, you thought this was me on a nostalgia trip, after a reference to advertising in the piece’s title?), was that he was a… brand. At a time when terms like ‘personal branding’ and ‘celebrity branding’ hadn’t even come to the minds of the people marketing Bombay Times.

Here’s a stellar example of what I mean. In college, a few years after WWF had entered and become a craze, I had gone for one of those inter-college fests. I would go only for the quizzes, but for this one, for some reason, I think because we had time to kill, we decided to also go for one of those word games, like Taboo and such. One of the members in another team, on getting the word on his chit of paper, just uttered the clue-word ‘canary’ to his partner sitting on my side. And his partner went pat: ‘Hulk Hogan’. Killer. I don’t think if the personality was some other wrestler, anyone else would have got it. Even Macho Man would have required two words (you could use only one at a time): Crazy Glares.

A graphic of Hulk Hogan's face, with moustache, red bandanna and yello T-shirtAnd I got thinking of all this not because, like my school days and Lamhe, I was fondly reminiscing about Hogan, but because in someone’s post on FB a few days back, I saw an image that someone had shared that reminded me of what the Hulk would look like in / as an icon. And I commented as much, attaching a graphic of the Hulk as an icon. On doing a Google Image search to get this image, I realised what an instantly recognizable brand the Hulk is: through just a graphic. (Why, if he decided to come up with an app, this is what its logo would look like.) After all, didn’t you too, if you are 30+, recognize the guy in the cover pic by just the moush? Go, on, say, “Yes, brother!”

BTW, I didn’t pen this piece solely out of some admiration for the Hulk or due to my love for branding, but because I was approached for a personal branding exercise of sorts for someone. (It may or may not happen, though.) Plus, I’ve been fascinated by how celebs use Twitter (and Instagram) to promote themselves. Yes, call me a… brandamaniac!

 Anyway, you can check out this slightly oldish interview of the Hulk on his site, talking of personal branding, among other things: Hulk on Personal Branding