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Skimming the surface
Sandeep Goyal reviews Brands As Engines for Profit

John Philip Jones worked for ad agency J Walter Thompson for 25 years before moving on to the world of academics. In Jones’ 2012 published book, Brands as Engines for Profit, it is difficult to say which part of him dominates: practitioner or preacher. The book is written for beginners in marketing but makes an interesting enough read for even the hard-boiled professionals in the field. Jones follows a pristine instructional style in the entire writing, breaking up every chapter into smaller sub-parts, each of which is explained through detailed bullet points or sub-chapters.

Academic constructs and chapters apart, Jones has written this book with a focus on the Indian marketplace. Towards this purpose, the author has picked many a local example. It is a remarkable exercise but perhaps needed a deeper understanding of India and its brands. Jones’ explanation on Indian retail, is somewhat stretched and biased. He talks of India’s 500,000 kirana stores “which occupy small premises without  air-conditioning, and selling household commodities in small quantities.

The system suffers from high margins associated with a multi-link distributive chain, and therefore unnecessarily high prices to the consumer. Supermarkets can charge much less because of their large volumes of purchases from manufacturers, and also by the small amount of spoilage in their air-conditioned stores”. Oops! This is neither founded on facts nor is it a very scholarly explanation of actual market reality where, despite all talk of modern retail, Aggarwalmart is beating the living daylights out of every foreign version of Walmart in India! It still remains to be proven that kirana stores are more expensive than supermarkets. So, conclusions derived by Jones do seem prejudiced perhaps by his western exposure and experience.

In the chapter on topical aspects of marketing in India, too, Jones fails us. There are hardly any worthwhile examples of Indian brands. Even when he talks of the stagnating coffee market in the US, despite which Starbucks succeeded, one really wishes he would tell us what he thinks of our very own Café Coffee Day or Barista, but he does not.

Later in the chapter he clubs Air India with Nestlé’s Maggi, Kingfisher Beer and the Taj and Oberoi Hotels. Jones has visited India eight times (or so his introduction says) but perhaps he needs to come to our country far more often to understand the reality of a tired and tottering brand like Air India!

This is an interesting book, well worth a read if you are a student of management or marketing. But do not expect too much in terms of local insights on brands or even a brave new perspective from a learned outsider. One wishes Jones had devoted more time to the myriad local brands that are making their mark in an emerging India. If only Jones, a global thought leader, had tried to explain how he sees these brands, a more lasting impression could have been created and we would truly know how brands can be engines for profit. 

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