Brand management 101 Feat. Mollywood

This semester, I took a marketing course called Brand Management. Our professor walked us through a range of real-world marketing issues centered on how companies developed, reinvented, and maintained their brands. However, one question he never really answered explicitly was: What is a brand?

But again the cases were quite comprehensive and this ensured that by the end of the course everyone had a fair idea of ​​what a ‘brand’ stood for and its implications on a business. So my takeaway was: A brand is essentially an intangible asset that has financial implications due to the impact it creates in people’s minds. (Marketing experts, feel free to correct!)

Now, my course obviously focused on managing brands that sold products and services. But being a quintessential pop culture boy, I couldn’t help but think about how people in the film industry are also essentially brands: on the one hand, they have a powerful medium (cinema ) through which they influence people’s minds; second, their involvement in a project has a direct financial impact on the budget. In theory, every social creature on this planet with the ability to communicate is a brand. But given the widespread impact of movie personalities versus individuals, I’ll try to explain some basic branding terms in the midst of our movie industry. Let’s go!

Brand Equity

It refers to the value a brand holds in the minds of consumers. When consumers have consistent and positive experiences with the brand over time, its equity increases. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Mohanlal and Mammootty made back-to-back blockbuster films that helped them carve out a niche as industry stars, earning very high brand equity. The good part about building brand equity is that its long-term cumulative nature allows it to be unaffected by a mere handful of failures. Even after a series of unsuccessful films, when Balettan was released in 2003, it became the biggest hit of the year because Mohanlal had too much brand equity to fail permanently.

Brand identity and brand image

Brand identity is the way an entity aims to present itself to consumers, i.e. how it wants to be seen. Branding, on the other hand, is a snapshot of how the brand is actually perceived by people. Jayaram, who is currently in crisis, still wants to be perceived as (or hold the brand identity) the quintessential family hero (which he was, in the 90s and early 2000s) – but currently, due to a decade of failed (misad)ventures, his equity has been seriously impacted and the public is unsure what image to make of him. (Makalif it had been released say in 2010, would probably have been a hit?) Hoping that the actor redeems himself with projects that bring his brand image closer to his identity!

Brand positioning and repositioning

Positioning refers to How? ‘Or’ What a brand is placed in the minds of customers, to differentiate itself from its competitors and achieve a certain brand identity. Sometimes the positioning does not work (or stops), in which case the mark is repositioned. Repositioning is the process of tweaking a few things here and there to change consumer perception while keeping its identity intact.

Suraj Venjaramoodu is a prime example of repositioning. He entered the industry, with the identity of being a talented actor. However, his antics, Trivandrum slang and comedic timing in sequel films in the 2000s earned him the image of a comedy actor. He felt limited by the kind of roles he was offered. So he decided to reposition himself. By actively staying away from comedy roles and seeking out roles with more depth, via films like Biju action hero and Perariyathavar, he managed to relate to people who perceived him as a talented actor – his brand identity. Indrans, Kalabhavan Shajon and Baburaj are also examples of people who have successfully repositioned themselves in the industry.

Also Read: 5 Malayalam Actors Who Polished Their Script Selection and Found Huge Success


Co-branding occurs when a product is promoted using two or more brand names. Most multi-star projects are co-branding exercises. In Mollywood, Twenty20 is probably the father of all; its trailer had a simple pitch – “All the superstars on one screen” and audiences were sold on its ability to engage takers from all brands (read all actors).

Brand extension

In my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects of a brand – and also the trickiest – is the plausibility of brand extensions. This basically means: Using the name of an established brand in a new territory, to leverage its pre-existing capital. Dileesh Pothen has extended his portfolio from that of director to that of supporting actor. This is an example of extension within the film industry. Taking a broader market canvas, Mohanlal’s Taste Buds and Lalisom are explicit examples of the extension of the Mohanlal brand. Taste Buds has been a smash hit in the Middle East thanks to good marketing (Check out this TVC that uses Mohanlal’s appeal in the most inclusive way).

However, Lalisom was a failure despite the heavy media coverage and buzz surrounding it (the National Games debacle made matters worse!). As you can imagine, not all extensions make sense in the real world. This is mainly because people inherently have certain biases about brands, and getting them to be open to new brand associations takes a lot of planning. And some degree of manipulation too?

There are a dozen other brand management buzzwords I can bore you with, but then this article would become longer than my current brand management project submission… And that would make me very guilty ( : But I’ll leave you with one last thought: Would you agree if I said that Tamil stars are bigger ‘brands’ than Malayalam stars?

(Read on only if you are intrigued by the question above)

In a brilliant Linkedin post, Aravind Subramanyam told a story where Kamal Hassan defines a brand: In the 80s, Rajini had a few mannerisms that became an instant hit with the masses: cigarette smoking, hair combing, etc. And with each passing film, he kept repeating these actions, which pleased fans and ultimately made him a bigger star than his elders (including Hassan himself, who was experimenting all over the place). Repetition, says Kamal, is key to building a brand. In this sense, Kerala actors seem to be more experimental and less repetitive, and therefore perhaps limit themselves as “brands”. Just a thought. (I know by the size of the market, Tamil Nadu is a much bigger market and so even a medium sized star like Sivakarthikeyan might have the brand valuation of some of our bigger stars. But keep that factor aside and think about it?)

Cathy W. Howerton