Peoplewatcher: BigBasket vs dailybasket: Who’s the real victim?

The BigBasket vs. dailybasket fight has landed in court.

Out in the wild interwebs where anyone can weigh in — the defendant, dailybasket, has now positioned itself as a blameless david (lowercase) being crushed under the mega-Pascal pressure of BigBasket, a massive Goliath.

In a brilliant/petty, defensive move — and to gain public sympathy, dailybasket has a site called “bbisabully” that details how unfair this is because evidently, the two brands are vastly different. The logo, the apps, the interface — each of it laid out side by side for “impartial observers” (in quotes because people rarely are impartial, we all have our biases) to view how the two are apples and anacondas. The takeaway it pushes for is that BigBasket is an overzealous bully and should stop picking on a tiny, diligent player operating in a micro-corner of the market. Another defense that’s floating through the ether is that common words don’t really build a distinctive enough brand.

What’s Packed in a Name

It’s true that “big” and “basket” are common words — one an adjective and the other a common noun that are about as vague and generic as descriptions get. It doesn’t evoke the force that Amazon does or the conglomeratey-ness that Reliance bestows.

Why BigBasket even came to mean anything was because Hari Menon (founder) and his team have worked nearly a decade for it to go from being something few Indians wanted or trusted to something a sizable minority lean on. This didn’t happen easily or overnight and the slick, non-glitchy, user-friendly interface we see today evolved from the team (and other vendors) building the brand to be just that.

To be the sort of brand where consumers can liken it to “my mother sending me something when I need it.” — that power of associations doesn’t happen with ANY basket. Big or small.

It happens when you build a brand that means something. When the fight becomes about what lay commentators see in the logo or a noun like “basket,” what doesn’t get addressed is what the brand means to people and what the true loss is to a brand like BigBasket. I’m not fully sure even the courts get to this in a trademark infringement case because the logo and app alone don’t tell us much, not in this case at least.

While I cannot divine why the dailybasket team decided to go with the words “daily” and “basket,” I can explain what it looks like from a semiotic angle. That’s the science of figuring what images, symbols, colors (and definitely logos) mean in a given context. We may not all “see” multiple facets of a logo, but there is literally more dollars tied to logos than most people know. Even in a country where (some) people intend to uninstall Snapchat but end up uninstalling Snapdeal.

Brands BigBasket has no major beef with: Why would that be?

What can we tell about brands like Grofers, Amazon Fresh or Nature’s Basket?

That they’re in a similar “online retail and groceries” category? What more can we divine?

The choice of color (almost a Salamander orange, Pantone 179) in Grofers and a unique name tells us immediately that the brand simply wants to be different. It’s not green-something or something-basket.

Like its gorgeously distinctive Delhi-Gurugram core, it’s there to take a stand and make a point. It’s a portmanteaux (like Brangelina or Virushka) of gopher and grocer. There’s literally no way this can be confused with anything else in the market because they care about that identity and want to make something unique and establish a legacy. Not an ersatz copy and definitely don’t want to borrow from something that exists.

This is important with brand names.

India is a country where you can see obvious copies like “Ray Bran” sunglasses or “Polon’s” talcum powder (written typographically to look like Pond’s) because we have a massive illiterate (at least in terms of brand recognition) consumer base who won’t know better, a poor target audience who want aspirational benefits at a lower price and a weak, ineffectual and corrupt system that rarely does enough to protect brands, white-collar businesses or intellectual property. We don’t often respect what makes brands distinctive, path-breaking or innovative so we tend not to get brands that are distinctive, path-breaking or innovative.

One doesn’t have to go into Tier 3 towns to see this in play. Even in major metros average consumers often assume a brand is “Kellogg’s” even when they’re holding a pack of “Saffola muesli” in their hands. The truth is that consumers really don’t pay that much attention to names and logos and operate under a cloudy web of assumptions and a whole lot of not caring. This is one of the reasons why even when our team does 80–100 interviews for a client we personally go into the home of each consumer and check what they’re saying about their clothes and packages. It’s not because I think they will lie. It’s because someone who sincerely believes they have Vero Moda, often owns something called Vico Mode. Now this consumer will likely never be able to afford Vero Moda — but she did pay money believing she was buying the brand. And the maker didn’t copy the cut and call it Soundarya. They borrowed from an existing brand that paid designers, advertisers, media, marketers and various others to build a world that would make the Vero Moda logo recognizable. It’s those plagiarizing waters that dailybasket seems to get its feet wet in. In the animal world when one animal feeds on the resources of the other, to the detriment of the host, it’s called parasitism.

Amazon chooses to use the generic adjective “fresh” but the green (cueing fresh) logo with the “a to z” infinity smile tells us beyond reasonable doubt that this is their promise and it’s backed by the reliable, delivery-genius power of Amazon. Also in India, if you want to go mass it’s important to not have complicated English words. Generic nouns and adjectives are a good thing — but they also can end up meaning a lot more when a brand burns through cash to hammer that in.

Nature’s Basket tells us about its parent (Godrej) but this is a slightly different game because the target is entirely different. This is a brand that stocks 150 gms of Arla Danish havarti cheese for Rs.520 (Indian cheeses are less than a fifth the price) and has the audacity to sell a handful of imported, Scandinavian vine-ripened tomatoes for about $20. Yes dollars. There really isn’t much “nature” to this as much as it is a “global, frou-frou market that’s severely overpriced for an experience that’s not significantly better than Foodworld.” Yet, those who can cough up $100–200 per shopping occasion will go there because there aren’t that many places you can get the exotic foods or imported brands they serve.

Most importantly from BigBasket’s perspective, there could be an overlap of premium Indian customers shopping at both Nature’s Basket and the BigBasket app, but this segment is simply not likely to confuse the two. Interviewing these customers, will yield stories (not just from marketers) where they tell you not just why Iceland frozen pizza available at Nature’s Basket isn’t worth it, but how Happy Chef pizza available exclusively on the app is a viable, local alternative and BigBasket’s house brand.

Parle’s Fab!0 vs Mondelez/Cadbury’s Oreo

That is a different audience from mass to mild premium customers who cannot be bothered about why Apple (of iPhone fame) had to trademark the “soft corner on a rectangle” or Coca Cola has famously protected the shape of its bottle. All of these seem super common and obvious and inevitably get mocked on Twitter — but it takes a lot of work, money, trials and losses to figure what works, what FEELS special, what builds a distinctive brand etc.

It’s not just small and obscure Agrawale brands that do an “Anu Malik” inspired copy of an established brand world and borrow from its glory, to make its life easier. Seen above is what Parle is currently playing. Here the brand name and logo are largely different, but even upper-end, English-first consumers could quickly grab Parle’s Fab!0 when they intended to select Oreo, because most people don’t overthink these purchases and are often hassled when at a store. That’s what some players bank on and then it becomes the business of serious brands and their team of lawyers to protect this world.

We may love to browse for clothes or electronics but few people derive great joy while shopping for groceries. It’s that “pain point” that BigBasket has worked tirelessly to eliminate for those who will pay into that world. That world was certainly not built in a day.

BigBasket is among the few businesses that grew under the rancid, destructive shade of Covid-19. A force that killed businesses, decimated services and hurt consumers across the globe. But a quick search will reveal that even as they grew 36% in FY20, their loss widened 6.7%. That’s a loss of 611 crores even when they’ve worked tirelessly through the pandemic while keeping many Indians safe and socially distanced, in their homes. They also face a constant existential threat from the likes of Amazon and Reliance and also the fickle, business-unfriendly country and price-conscious consumers who on any given day can choose to just order from the local grocer. (Which they should in a free market.)

Retail is a punishing business and inside stories from BigBasket will tell you of the blood, sweat, tears and hair lost in the process. The socialist markers in India’s DNA tends to have most citizens automatically believe bad, rapacious rich versus poor, struggling masses myths. The reality, as it often is, is way more complicated.

Is BigBasket a more powerful brand and is dailybasket operating in a city that’s outside BigBasket’s current operating turf — yes and yes.

But that doesn’t mean that they won’t benefit from the associations of what’s the most salient brand. Stuff that BigBasket built. Loyal, regular users will attribute any number of glowing associations to BigBasket and as the primary online player their halo will extend even in markets where they don’t operate. This is the norm in today’s more consumer-connected society where metros and Tier 2 towns “wait” for brands like Curefit or Urban Ladder or BigBasket to arrive on their shores. So the “not your turf” argument is a non-starter. In BigBasket’s words, “they may be small but even they must play by the rules.”

If dailybasket is allowed to operate with these borrowed/copied benefits, when BigBasket launches in Coimbatore, the latter will run into an established, local player that’s masquerading in BigBasket’s clothes and benefiting from the existing BigBasket world. Salient leaders invest to grow their categories.

Even assuming dailybasket has zero benefits, it’s BigBasket that takes on the body blow that comes from an upstart brand that tries to be “somewhat it, but not quite.” What you see below is literally “red, but not that red; green, but not that green; clip art plus swipe these two words.” Clip art images in the brand world are like a middle school project level of puerile art. It’s uncreative and unprofessional. Not much chance of mistaking one for the other if you’re paying close attention, but NO ONE who understands brands can honestly say the upstart doesn’t benefit from copying a model and borrowing from a world that’s worked. This is an approach that neither Grofers nor Amazon fresh used. This is an approach no self-respecting brand with an intent to build a a real brand and a legacy would use.

While “big” and “basket” may not be inspiringly distinctive words, the two together have meaning. It’s hard to say that “daily” and “basket” aren’t derivatives or an easy copy of the leading, established brand with a sense of identity.

You may have been BigBasket if you’re an older sibling

If you have seen (or been) the older of a pair of siblings build something with significant love and have that swiped or destroyed by a younger sibling, only to have the parent intervene and coddle the younger sibling or be dismissive of the damage inflicted on the older (creator and owner) sibling — that’s the analogy in play here.

Consumers of mass India tend to side with bigger brands because they believe that one gets to be a leader only because it’s through the “sheer dint of hard work” that they achieved that sort of legacy and position. America, on the other hand, tends to hate on established brands and monopolies and loves challenger brands. English-speaking, westernized urbanites tend to toggle between these two worlds depending on context and it’s easy to think of dailybasket as a blameless challenger creating its own, independent footprint in a free market.

If that were true, it would be good to see an ounce of creativity and not the tell-tale signs of a shoddy, derivative copy job. Another Curefit or Swiggy— in terms of what these brands set out to create is a fantastic thing for consumers. Another Anu Malik “inspired by” A.R. Rahman, not so much.

More than that, to call a victim a bully is a special brand of injustice. Being smaller or younger doesn’t automatically make one more flawless or pure.

::Nima:: is the CEO and founder of Berylitics, a boutique consumer+brand+culture insights firm based in Bangalore. A partial client roster includes Reliance, Swiggy, Ajio Business, Asian Paints, Aditya Birla, Google (USA) and Siemens (Germany.) Before this, she was Sr. Vice President at Kantar Insights (WPP) Los Angeles. BigBasket is not a client. Any sympathy expressed here stems from a deep love of brands, originality and fair play.

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