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Survival of the smartest
Draftfcb’s MG Parameswaran reviews brand stories in Adapting for success

Two thousand nine was a special year. It was the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and the bicentenary of the birth of its author, Charles Darwin. A full two years later, Anand Halve drew inspiration from Darwin to come up with a book on brands that have adapted to survive and grow. Using information largely from the public domain and many interviews with veterans who were involved in these ‘Darwinian brands’, the author has tried to portray a picture of how brands, largely Indian, have managed to combat new challenges, grow and become powerful.

The stories are readable and packed with historical anecdotes, interviews and tidbits that are not commonly known. We learn, for instance, that ‘Taste the Thunder’ was first written on a napkin (what’s it with soft drinks? ‘Fido Dido’ was also first doodled on a paper napkin). The book does not make itself out to be a collection of case studies, and the author says that he is just presenting ‘brand stories’. The collection includes stories of brands like Thums Up, Cadbury Dairy Milk, Saffola, Lifebuoy, Amul, Titan, Asian Paints, Hero Honda, Femina and Airtel, all of which are outstanding examples of brand successes. Halve writes about them in a very readable format. 

Remember that several books have been written about Indian brands and the advertising that builds them. 

Subroto Sengupta’s book of cases, published in the 1070s, was possibly the first. The books of cases from FCB Ulka/ Draftfcb+ Ulka have also attempted to present interesting perspectives on the brand building and advertising process, though many of the cases in these books were campaign-specific. Jayanta Sengupta’s book of brand successes, on the other hand, attempted to present a long-term take on brand building and marketing activities. What’s good about all these books, including the one under review, is that they are all written by professionals who are neck-deep in the business — they bring a strong flavour of the real action to the brand battles. 

These books have also been designed as study material for classrooms, which deserves support because there is an acute paucity of Indian cases for use in classrooms. Moreover, they work because they present the brand building process in a short, easily readable format, instead of the usual 60-pagers.

In his On the Origin of Species, Darwin created a new paradigm in our understanding of evolution, and he questioned many well-enshrined schools of thought and religious beliefs. This book, too, could have tried to arrive at some core genetic material that defines a Darwinian brand: the spirit of innovation, the restlessness, the ability to change, the organisational leadership, etc. I wish the author had dedicated a chapter at the end to examine these aspects. Instead, Darwin’s Brands appears to end a little abruptly, without going into a Darwinian theory on the evolution of brands.  Still, it’s a great addition to the documentation of successful Indian brands.
A must read. 

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