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Lessons of Paris's Louvre need to come to India!

By Bharat Bambawale
August 04, 2017 08:59 IST
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Adding oomph to an ageing brand? When the first wrinkles appear, the search for the fountain of youth must begin!

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Sketch by Dominic Xavier

Francois Mitterrand, president of France for two terms in the 1980s and 1990s, was the creator of Grands Projets.

It is an architectural programme to provide modern monuments in Paris symbolising France’s role in art, politics and economy. The best known among these is the redesign of the entrance to the Louvre.  

The Louvre is the world's largest musuem. Home to 38,000 pieces of art, including, of course, the Mona Lisa, exhibited over nearly 73,000 square metres, it received 7.3 million visitors in 2016, the highest in the Western world. As an icon of France’s cultural pre-eminence, the Louvre is unique.

But back in the early 1980s, the Louvre reportedly faced a number of problems. Footfalls were poor. Its eight sections had an unbalanced distribution of visitors. Crucially, it had lost relevance to the youth.

If something wasn’t done, this proud French icon could have become another faded relic of a long-lost past.

The Louvre rejuvenation committee made three brave and far-reaching choices. First, they appointed Chinese-American architect IM Pei to design the new entrance.

Second, they accepted Pei’s radical proposal to install a glass pyramid (and three smaller ones) in the Louvre’s forecourt.

Third, they implemented Pei’s proposals without compromise.

Unsurprisingly there was considerable consternation in the French cultural establishment: An American architect? Why not French? A pyramid? But that’s Egyptian!

Significantly, Pei’s design is not only an aesthetic triumph, but also solved the Louvre’s problems: footfalls are up. The young now flock the museum. Visitor distribution is balanced, with the atrium below the pyramid influential in traffic management. The Louvre’s pyramid is a terrific example of adding oomph the right way.

Unilever’s Lux is an example of what not to do.

Imprisoned by a drooping decades-old idea desperately in need of overhaul, Lux remains a soap. Meanwhile a vibrant ‘luxury beauty’ category has blossomed around Lux.

Beware the fool’s gold of history. An archaeological dig will unearth ancient artefacts, but these may not help with the future. People change, tastes change, expectations change.

Tata famously brought commercial aviation to India, leading to what became Air India. Tata rightly and unemotionally dispensed with its unhelpful history when launching Vistara, and is much the better for it.

Another red herring is to look for new insights in the brand’s own category. This will deliver a poor catch, especially if the category is mature or overfished.

An Indian category in need of largescale brand revitalisation is our banks. Different logos, liveries and graphics do not make different brands when their products are similar, their branches are similar and their legions of apparatchiks similar.

How can they reverse age if they only look at others like themselves? The real answers need discontinuity and intuition. They lie outside banking in other and newer categories, in new needs and wants, in new personal and life aspirations.

What’s said about banks applies to other brands too. Tata Motors, for example, is a brand that is long overdue a transformative makeover.

Too many brand owners tinker or are timid. The ‘fountain of brand youth’ is unlikely to be found in the backyard. It lies a daring adventure away. Why wait for the first wrinkle to appear? Why not make it an everyday journey?

Bharat Bambawale is a brand consultant and founder of Bharat Bambawale & Associates.

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