Murder by numbers…


The brand versus sales debate has raged ever since a not so famous Greek philosopher sub let the empty seats in his ‘platonic posturing‘ classroom to tired travelers who promised to conceal their mirth as he conducted semi nude experiments on the rich and the infamous. Subsequently this laid the foundation for the guesthouse business (the resting of the travelers, not the semi nude stuff), what became of the philosopher is anyone‘s guess.

"And that‘s our campaign, while I must say that we see great advertising coming out of it, I also think it will do wonders in term of increasing brand equity, we will occupy a unique position in the consumers mind." Concluded PP (the creative director of the exaggerated moustache fame), clearly pleased with the way his presentation had gone.

There was a hushed pause across the table. The marketing head Mr Bose had a rumor of a smile on his face. His subordinate Madhukar Lele (first name, courtesy parents, the second, general public) was typically non-committal, even expressionwise. All eyes rested on the Chairman of the company, Mr Digvijay Sharma (refer ‘Monday Morning Blues‘ in the archive), the doyen of the itching cream industry and the man who had virtually started from scratch, literally, figuratively and metaphorically.

The Chairman had a metallic ear and Ram Shankar always doubted how much of anything he actually heard. He turned a little to face the agency team, the ear clanking along the way.

"In the debate of brand versus sale, it is the brand that must always pale," the hushed Chinese accent, the express delivery of the tea cup and Chai-La (the mystical Chinese canteen boy) had as always invisibly delivered his early morning tea cup and free consultancy with the quickness of advertisers rushing back to Ganguly, post current events.

"The campaign might be fine, but what will it do for my sales?" enquired the Chairman in his measured tone. Pausing to emphasize every word like he was proof checking them. The agency team did what they did best at such times. They shot bewildered, urgent and enquiring looks furtively at each other. There was PP (described in an earlier bracket), Vikas (the extremely flamboyant account head), Dharti (the extremely ravishing account planning head) and Ram (the extremely ordinary account executive) in the room and classically, this was the case of someone having to start the defense.

"Well of course it will increase the sale, this campaign will help the brand make inroads into many more homes," began Vikas, to the background of an inward groan from PP.

"How many homes?" asked the Chairman, gaze fixed on Vikas in a manner that suggested he had some past in third degree interrogative practices.

"Well we can‘t exactly tell you that," started Vikas

"Its impossible to exactly establish how much of a sales increase can be directly attributed to advertising," cooed Dharti euphoniously in support.

"Advertising is not an exact science in that sense," quipped in PP

"It is an exacting one," interrupted the chairman with a sardonic chuckle," considering how much we spend every year. And yet my sales have never really taken off."

"Sir, we need to nurture this brand for a while," said Mr Bose, for once, trying to help the agency, "New communication and new positioning always need time to register."

"And what is the time it needs? I am getting tired of the same argument, I need to see more sales," interjected the Chairman, still looking at Dharti.

"What we need is a promotional offer," began Madhukar Lele, and as was usually the case whenever he troubled the airwaves, was swamped by a blitzkrieg of contrasting opinion.
"Really? that makes no sense at all," started Dharti.

"Lele use your head, at least once a while," boomed PP.

"Where are your branding fundamentals man?" enquired Vikas.

"Can‘t you for once try and see the larger picture?" remarked an irritated Mr Bose, justifying the last name sobriquet so aptly bestowed on his subordinate. Ram was silent, his eyes fixed on the Chairman.

"You know, I like that idea" started the Chairman.

"But the brand image?" began Dharti.

"Our beautiful campaign?" said PP.

"The competitive framework?" added Mr Bose.

"Tea anyone?" asked Vikas, doing his ‘servicing‘ bit, and quickly getting an eyeful from his colleagues.

"Yes, I will have tea," replied Madhukar Lele, and once again bore the brunt of a ‘redirected frustration‘ wave.

"Can‘t you stop thinking about yourself for even a minute?" began Mr Bose.

"This is such a huge issue and that‘s all you can think about?" reprimanded Dharti, as Lele‘s face fell to the floor with a thud.

"Spare the chap," boomed the Chairman, "he has said the only thing that has made any kind of sense in this room."

There was silence all around and Madhukar Lele‘s face was a sight for sore eyes (well actually he was grinning from ear to ear, but still).

"We begin this year with a sales campaign unless anyone has an objection," roared the Chairman in a manner that unequivocally elucidated the value of silence. PP, Vikas, Dharti and Mr Bose exchanged knowing ‘lets give it up‘ glances, as yet beyond the comprehension of young Ram.

"Sir, don‘t you think that given the task for this year and the fact that what we were recommending is so unique and different from the competition, we should invest in a brand campaign? If you create the right associations in the mind, the results in the market are but a logical corollary. Getting into a promotional activity at this time will only send confusing signals to the consumer, it will erode our equity." Ram paused for breath, scarcely believing what he had said, neither did the others.

Mr Bose‘s face was an agitated purple. Vikas‘s expression was that of concealed panic. Dharti‘s was of a grudging envy. PP‘s was that of restrained amusement. Madhukar as always was expressionless.

"No young man, I do not invest in equity," began the Chairman to the bemusement of everyone, "don‘t trust this stock market boom. I believe in making money the old fashioned way, and now lets be gone."

He galvanized Mr Bose and Madhukar Lele out of the conference room and into his car to do a market visit.

"What happened there?" asked Ram, after they had left

"Chief you were lucky you were sitting on his wrong ‘ear‘ side, so he did not hear what you were saying, but you nearly screwed us there," said an angry Vikas as he stormed out of the room, Dharti closely following him.

"Don‘t worry about your boss, he is anally retentive," offered PP in a surprisingly gentle tone," I thought you made sense."

"But why did he decide on the promotion?" asked Ram.

PP helplessly shrugged his shoulders and walked out.

"If sales numbers are the acid test, the brand will be murdered and laid to rest", these wise words of wisdom were whispered in Ram‘s ear as he felt the tea cup nestle in his fingers and looked up just in time to see Chai-La disappear into a discarded pack of the itching cream in question.


The writer is Vice President, Rediffusion DY&R. He is also the patron saint of Juhu Beach United, a football club that celebrates the ‘unfit, out of breath media professional of today‘. You can write to him at (

(The views expressed here are those of the author and need not necessarily subscribe to the same)

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