01 May 2008

Book Review: Kapoor and Villa

The examples come mostly from India and the writing is clearly popular, but serious marketing managers can still learn quite a lot from 24 Brand Mantras: Finding a Place in the Minds and Hearts of Consumers by Jagdeep Kapoor (New Delhi: Response Books, 2001, 111 pages).

Kapoor, who manages a leading strategic marketing consultancy in India, uses his own experience with various brands to put across several traditional, as well as innovative, ideas about handling a brand. He uses the usual marketing jargon, such as segmentation, positioning, advertising, promotion, sales distribution, product portfolio design, pricing, and customer service, but by and large, he is able to describe complex marketing realities in words so simple you can read the book while waiting for websites to download when you are surfing.

He has twelve mantras or sayings for the mind and twelve for the heart, both mind and heart being involved in any marketing strategy.

For the mind, he has mantras such as “To build a big brand, adopt a short brand name,” “Sample to sell ample,” and “Brands must make profit, not only noise.” For the heart, he has mantras such as “Be humble, or you will tumble,” “Don’t sell the right product to the wrong audience,” and “Don’t prejudge your consumers.”

He does have a few examples that are not Indian. To stress that “Brand images are fragile, handle with care,” he discusses the Pepsi multiple winners case. Interestingly, he looks at the case in the context of other countries: “The brand took such a beating that the Philippine government had to step in and diffuse the situation. Naturally, repercussions were felt in the neighboring countries as well. While adept handling of the brand saved the day in countries around, in the Philippine islands the Pepsi brand, that had for so many years been lovingly built, stands tarnished.” This was, of course, before Pepsi added a twist to their product.

Some of Kapoor’s insights may seem too simplistic to the seasoned marketing specialist, but for those just starting out to create a name and a fortune for themselves in the marketing field, it will not hurt to heed the 24 pieces of advice he gives.

In the literary field, a brand that has remained strong through the years is the name Jose Garcia Villa. The brand is so strong that the person was even named a National Artist, despite his living most of his adult life in New York City.

One objection to Villa as a brand is his supposedly meager output as a writer. His collected poems will not fill a respectably-sized library volume, though the quality of his poetry is universally acknowledged. Still, in a consumer-oriented society, even in academic circles, quantity is quality, and the brand needed refurbishing.

Jonathan Chua has added to the appeal of the brand by putting together a sizable volume of Villa’s literary criticism – The Critical Villa: Essays in Literary Criticism by Jose Garcia Villa (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2002, 349 pages).

Villa inspired me to do my own listing of the best poems and short stories published in Philippine magazines, but he was more courageous and more brutal, because he put asterisks to indicate what he thought was the quality, or lack of it, of the poems and short stories.

If the poem or short story was not even deserving of an asterisk, he did not even mention it, or worse, he included it in what he called a “Criminal Record” of “The Worst Compositions.” From 1927 to 1940 he made writers in his Honor Roll feel that they had arrived, and he made writers in his Criminal Record feel that they would never arrive. Curiously, a writer could be in both, being praised one year for having “a mind that has risen to the wisdom of the heart” and being condemned another year for writing a text that was “mediocrity triumphant”!

Here are a couple of quotable quotes from Villa’s prose. Villa was particularly incensed by another annual selector, Cornelio Faigao. Said Villa: “I am harsh against Faigao because I don’t like bad taste.” Villa was merciless about writers he disliked, such as Rafael Zulueta da Costa. He wrote, after Zulueta had won the Commonwealth Prize for poetry, “Mr. Zulueta has no talent whatsoever, not even a trace of it. He has not produced one respectable poem in fifteen years of writing.” Villa was gung-ho in general about Philippine writing, however, proclaiming its virtues to high heaven – heaven at that time being the United States – and insisting that Filipinos were as good, if not better, than American writers.

I am particularly grateful that this book has seen the light of day, because my classes in Philippine literary criticism, which usually start with Jose Rizal and, in the period Villa was prolific as a critic, continue only with Alejandro Abadilla, Clodualdo del Mundo, Salvador P. Lopez, and Buenaventura Rodriguez, will now be comprehensive, with the inclusion of Villa in the canon of Filipino literary criticism. If T. S. Eliot is right that every new text changes all previously existing texts, the publication of The Critical Villa will force us to rethink the history of literary criticism, not just in our country, but in the world.

(First published in BizNews Asia, 24-31 March 2003)

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