Style by purpose: Mallya, Branson, Lalloo

Posted: January 24, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I caught a news story about how Vijay Mallya’s son is going to work at an international spirit manufacturing brand, perhaps for a couple of years, as an intern. The story also mentioned Vijay Mallya having gone a similar route, in his early days, having worked for international pharma company, Hoechst, and also on returning back to India, being put in charge of a smaller outfit, by his father, Vittal Mallya. This is as against, handing the reins of the big business, on a platter!

Yes, we have heard of similar beginnings for the Singh brothers in Ranbaxy, for Ratan Tata, and perhaps, scores of other second and third generation members of wealthy families in India.

But that is not the point of this post.

I am referring here, to the brand image of Vijay Mallya, and the Mallya family as a whole. The partying kind. The kind that love to be on their yachts with beautiful people all around them. The kind that appears to only be having fun, and ‘who-cares-for-the-world’ type.

With that kind of image, is not associated a step where a young son, coming of age, is asked to do his internship rounds, at another company. It’s almost workmanlike.

But THAT, then, is the true Mallya, I perceive.

Vijay Mallya’s image for the masses, is what he wants people to see. His brand stands for “king of the good times”, and he must necessarily emody the same. But beyond that, there is a business to run. And he has ambitions. The large number of acquisitions that he has done, in the liquor business, the launch of an airline, the acquisition of another airline, the rough times of the industry, competing against a stiff rival, purchasing and struggling with a cricket team franchise. All of these are not taken care of by auto-pilot. They demand a huge effort, from his end, and which he puts in.

And yet, he remains his company’s biggest brand ambassador. And if his brands are associated with a Page 3 culture, he needs to be visible on Page 3. If his brands are associated with partying, he has to be visible at parties. No “paid” brand ambassador can bring as much passion to the role, as a brand ambassador who also owns the brand! And so Vijay Mallya does a wonderful job of creating the perception that the world wants to see, of him!

Which, just to contrast, is what another corporate Page 3 stalwart, Yash Birla, does not appear to be doing. His fashion experiments on himself, his presence at the parties, and on page 3, is very visible. But there is not much else that we read about him, in terms of corporate excellence or ambition. So here, his brand image, may not be a perception, but in fact, it may be what he really is! A fun loving, party going kid, who also happens to own many companies, run by professionals appointed by him.

Some other celebrity names who have “used” a brand image to create a perception for the public, are Richard Branson and Lalloo Prasad Yadav.

Branson is the master of PR. One of the best marketeers in the world, he has achieved phenmonel success for his Virgin group. Wherever he goes in the world, he makes sure that he is in the news, and his photograph is on page 1. He does so by bungy jumping his way down a cliff, or by riding an elephant on the streets of Delhi, or doing some other such extravagant feat. That, accompanied potentially by handsome gifts to the media persons, ensures that he makes it to page 1, with a color photograph at that, the next day. He is also seen partying around, and apparently having fun all the time. But again, as the success of Virgin has shown, there is just SO MUCH more to Branson, than what appears in public media. He has used the brand image to the hilt, and has been an amazing brand ambassador for Virgin.

An unlikely name in this list is that of Lalloo PrasadYadav, the current Railway Minister of India.

He has been the butt of jokes, of stand up comedians, and of mimicry artists. He has played the perfect buffoon and ensured that the media is invited to see his buffoonery. My perception of this is that, for a politician, his first priority is to ensure a safe and large mass base of following. In the case of Lalloo, that base is Bihar. And in Bihar, it is this “look” of Lalloo that endears him to his mass base. That he is “like us only”, and that he thinks for us, is what works for him. Now if that helps him to separate himself, from the scores of other leaders in the state, and become the ultimate mass leader (even if currently, his party is out of power in Bihar), he goes ahead and creates that image.

But I am clear that beneath that buffoonery, is a smart brain. Which has used the mass following, the media curiosity, the comedy routines about him, all to his benefit. And then, as a minister, he has put his brains to good use, to not only do a wonderful job as a minister (with quite likely, excellent personal gains as well.. that is a taken, in Indian politics), but also managed to go and talk and enthrall audiences in top notch management schools, in India and in the world.

A buffoon cannot do all of this together. But he has done it. And which confirms to me, that Lalloo is no buffoon. He is a smart politician, one who has a sharp brain, and quite likely, an amazing marketeer’s head, to have used his own brand image, to his perfect advantage.

Mallya, Branson, Lalloo…. their acts are for the world to see, and for them to benefit. Theirs is a style by purpose!

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