As Jet Airways stumbles, its competition will certainly seek short-term gains, taking advantage of the spurt in demand. This is a predictable and common behaviour when a major competitor or set of competitors succumb suddenly to debilitating pressures. Brands must, however, consider investing in a Bro Code, standing in unity with a fallen brother, especially when the circumstances are generic or accidental. In the long run, this will help sustain the dynamics of the category, securing sustainable demand and the continuing trust of customers.
Bro Code is, of course, the friendship etiquette followed by men, coined famously by TV star Barney Stinson. It thrives on an unwritten set of rules, prioritising the values of brotherhood over opportunistic pursuits. A happy version of OMERTA, the code of silence of the Mafia, made famous in the Godfather series. It can be adapted easily for brands, the sustainability of categories overriding lucrative but eventually-damaging individualistic gains. Interestingly, this is a smart and not magnanimous view, in an era when the environment of trust can rapidly degenerate. Driven largely by the rampant reach of social media and the opinion-happy state of the modern digital citizen.
A fine anecdote I must share is actually from the 1970s, when Clarion Advertising was going through its darkest days, due to union-led instability. The legendary Subhas Ghosal, then leading HTA, issued a mandate that his company would not poach any business from them, believing firmly that strong competition was essential for the growth of the advertising industry. In modern times, many industries are facing fundamental crisis situations, rendering one or more players severely damaged. Boeing is a prominent case with the Max 8 debacle, this could have easily occurred to Airbus as well. Telecom in India is facing a mammoth crisis with both BSNL and Vodafone-Idea bearing the brunt. In the world of e-commerce and food technology, such cyclical aberrations do occur, leading to massive layoffs and stunted operations. The cases mentioned are usually to do with industry-level issues, not isolated mismanagement or misguided intentions of promoters, like the Volkswagen emission case or Nirav Modi.
So, what must the Bro Code be for brands of our times? Quite honestly, a series of dos and don’ts that must be followed by policy, unconnected to the short-term provocations. The first element of this code must be an embargo on public shaming, in communication or in trade practices. Just as competing carriers should not malign Jet or charge exceptional fares, Airbus and Embraer should not be proactively capitalising on the negative equity of Boeing by undercutting or any such means. Instead, at every public point of contact, there should be an expression of due empathy, offering solidarity where advisable, else resisting from degradation. The continued confidence in civil aviation is a necessary foundation for the entire industry, not just Boeing. When Maggi Noodles fell out with the regulator, the competition surprisingly tried to take comparative advantage, an unwise move as a damning indictment could have ruined the category at large.
The second element of this code must be tacit or direct collaboration in problem resolution, to whatever extent permissible and ethical. If there is a technical resolution that can be best delivered by a proprietary technique, Airbus must collaborate with Boeing. Any airline offering to fly stranded Jet passengers for the original ticket price would earn enormous plaudits for itself and, of course, the industry at large. If there is ever a rerun of the cola pesticide or chocolate worm allegations, every sensible player must collaborate to undo the perception.
The third element must be corporate practices most notably to do with recruitment and remuneration. As a smart ethical gesture, employees from the destitute organisations, like Jet or BSNL, must be hired by the thriving players at competitive industry salaries, no advantages of duress undercutting must be encouraged. Similar practices with B2B vendors with captive installed capacities seeking a client desperately for input materials.
Finally, a key pillar of this code must come from the employees of these affected organisations. In two ways, the first being a gesture of genuine collaboration, supporting the brand in public and private forums. The second being a whistle-blower wherever necessary, protecting the interests of the brand and the entire industry from the best vantage point. If there is a serious act of negligence or falsehood, that must be highlighted for urgent corrective action.
Due to a combination of compulsion and choice, brands of the day thrive in an environment of active collaboration. The Bro Code is just another way to create a culture of responsible competitors constantly nurturing the interests of the precious market.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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