Star Cement: Braving the backlash

Star Cement: Braving the backlash
When Star Cement unveiled one of the biggest campaigns of the festive season in Kolkata with the tag line ‘Eto boro? Sotti?’ (So big? Really?), it could never have anticipated the giant backlash that this would generate. The campaign centred around the world’s tallest Durga idol at 80-feet for the Deshapriya Park (South Kolkata) puja had begun some four months before the festive season. On October 18, the weekend before the pujas were to formally start, a stampede-like situation occurred at the venue, injuring several, and prompting the Kolkata police to draw the curtains on the most-hyped puja; an FIR was also lodged against the organising committee. The place remained out of bounds for the rest of the festival days.

The campaign – a mix of outdoor, radio, television, print and digital -started with a teaser from mid-July and then finally the veil on the suspense was lifted sometime in September. Star Cement spent Rs 6 crore on the campaign and Rs 70 lakh on the idol. It even had Amitabh Bachchan sharing the image on Facebook in a post that went viral. According to the Sajjan Bhajanka, chairman of Cement Manufacturing Company Limited, makers of Star Cement, the campaign increased top-of-the-mind awareness among customers and the brand became a household name.

In the shadow of a stampede
Star Cement had planned to use the festival as a plank to leap into the big league. But after the stampede, can the brand do the same? Can it dissociate itself from the public ire around the debacle? “Crowd control staff for such events is critical. If the event has such a strong association with Star Cement, it could be adversely affected,” feels advertising and theatre personality, Alyque Padamsee.

According to Bhajanka, the fiasco was unfortunate beyond doubt, but the brand got a fair share of national coverage from the incident. “So our visibility didn’t suffer even though the puja was closed down,” he explains.

A Stanford paper of 2009 said that negative publicity had differential effects on established versus unknown products. The perspectives were brought out by three studies. Whereas a negative review in the New York Times hurt sales of books by well-known authors, for example, it increased sales of books that had lower prior awareness. Plus, the studies underscored the importance of a gap between publicity and purchase occasion and the mediating role of increased awareness in these effects.

Is Star Cement big enough to be at the receiving end of the negative publicity? Figures should speak for it: Star Ferro and Cement, the holding company for Cement Manufacturing Company Ltd, had revenues of Rs 1,473 crore during 2014-15, a market share of 23 per cent in the North East and a cement manufacturing capacity of 3.40 million tonnes and clinkerisation capacity of 2.54 million tonnes. That doesn’t exactly put the group in the big league of cement companies, but having achieved a foothold in the North East, it felt that the time was ripe to enter West Bengal and Bihar. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the campaign was found on hoardings at every nook and corner in these states.

Star Ferro and Cement’s annual report for 2014-15 mentioned that the brand expenditure during the year had increased by 6.5 per cent owing to the initial aggressive branding initiatives in West Bengal and Bihar. Typically, Star Ferro spends nearly three per cent of its annual revenues towards marketing and branding.

From negative to positive
Star is not the only one to find itself at at the wrong end of a campaign, many brands have and for various reasons. Take the Cadbury examples – it has had to deal with negative publicity twice, once in 2002 when its ad carried the line ‘too good to share’ comparing its chocolate bars to Kashmir, an obvious dig at the India-Pakistan dispute and then again in 2003 when worms were found in its chocolate. Cadbury withdrew the ad and apologised the first time; it overhauled its packaging and launched a huge campaign to restore people’s confidence in the product the second time.

Sometimes brand ambassadors draw flak for a brand’s misdemeanours. The recent Kalyan Jewellers advertisement with a bejeweled Aishwarya Rai being waited upon by a dark-skinned emaciated child is a case in point. The company withdrew the ad and Rai explained her position to her fans. Negative publicity however is not always quelled by an apology; it could take years to go away. Take the case of oil spills by BP or the auto recalls by Volkswagen and it is clear that the companies are still struggling to reset their relationships with customers. Although Star’s tryst with infamy is very different from its peers, it could learn from their mistakes

[“source -business-standard”]

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