Titan show the strength of sonic branding

Guest post by Prasad Narasimhan, Managing Partner for Asia.

We in India know so little about western classical music, but when Mozart’s 25th symphony plays, every Indian ear perks up to the magical familiarity of its charm. The reason is Titan, India’s most popular watch brand that has a 70% share of the market with sales of over $1b.

Titan is a wonderful example of sonic branding, using the power of music to create a property that gets instant recognition. They have however gone well beyond just creating a sonic signature, in that they have linked the music inextricably to the beautiful emotion of ‘the joy of gifting’. This ensures not just that the brand is recalled, but also that the recall is the warm & fuzzy kind that builds affinity or brand Titan each time.

Building a property

Titan invested in this more than 2 decades ago, well before all the recent excitement around memory structure. And they have continuously invested in building this property over the years. Below is a sample of Titan advertising in the 90s.

Titan didn't just stuck with this property; it has explored several variations to the music while keeping its core character, in the process refreshing the mnemonic itself! The film below shows one such exploration with some of India’s most revered musicians. 

Forgetting what made you famous 

Titan went through a brief phase where they overlooked this brilliant property. Trying to break from its past & contemporize the brand, Titan hired leading star Aamir Khan as its ambassador. For the next 3-4 years, Titan’s ads were written around him, with scant attention paid to the sonic signature. The narratives also went away from the ‘joy of gifting’, an intrinsic part of this property. Unfortunately for them, this period also coincided with a rising trend of competition including some big imported brands. The result is that Titan lost a fair amount of salience & distinctiveness with customers. 

Additionally, the brand stretched in this period to include new variants like HTSE and premium sub-brands like Edge. Through all these extensions, the music was not always leveraged fully, possibly because the brand team felt that the extensions need to distance themselves from the motherbrand.

The double whammy here was that not only did Titan miss the opportunity to leverage the signature music; it also did not multiply the salience with the signature emotion. 

Refreshing the brand property

It was a pleasant surprise when Titan broke media recently with an ad that marked a conscious return to this property. Reminiscent of the Honda chorus ad, this ad brings back both the emotion as well as the bigness around the ‘the joy of gifting.’ 

Interestingly, Titan has not just chosen to bring back this property, but has also chosen to dive deeper & skin it better. The music is emotional yet contemporary, appealing to a wide audience base. The brand team has recognized not just the joy of gifting, but also the joy of receiving. It celebrates the act of giving without expectations. And finally, it has chosen to create a series of ads in this space (fresh consistency), the first of which is the current one which is a tribute to the ancient Indian tradition of ‘Guru-Shishya’, or teacher-student.

This reiteration of valuable memory structure is admirable, and one can expect customers to feel strongly for the brand once again. And the intent to leverage this advertising idea across executions will further build brand distinctiveness. 

But Titan will also know that this is not enough. Much has happened from a competitive standpoint. The brand now has to supplement this move with action on other fronts too – innovation, activation, distribution & core extensions, to mention a few. And knowing how good the brand team is, I am hoping to see some really interesting moves going forward.