Friday, March 23, 2018

Product placement, a subtle marketing strategy

A brand can ride on a film’s popularity without paying the costs such endorsement would entail
Let me start with a story. Over 25 years ago, I was the regional head of a large advertising agency. One day, we got a call from one of our clients, a large cycle brand in Madras, as Chennai was known in those days. They wanted us to evaluate a proposal for an in-film placement. There were a couple of bright young MBAs from Bombay and they were recounting their story; quite effectively too, I must add.
They had obviously done their homework; they said that their film was about the competition between two schools — one, an elite, snobbish private school; and the other, a government school where the hero was studying. The annual face-off involved high drama and the deciding event was to be the cycle race. The young men said the ‘hero’ would use our client’s brand of cycle, an ordinary roadster, and beat the geared cycle of the ‘villain’ from the private school!
There was to be enough opportunity to show the brand in all its glory and it was slated to be an incredible part of the film’s climax. While it seemed interesting, we hummed and hawed as we were not sure, it was beyond our ad budget and so we told the client that maybe it wasn’t a great idea. How wrong we were! The film was Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and the hero, Aamir Khan, who in later years went on to become a legend. In hindsight, it was a great opportunity for in-film product placement that would have made our brand recognisable across the length and breadth of this country. But, boy had we goofed up!
Things have moved on …
Over the years, there has been a major improvement on this front as more brands have jumped on to the product placement bandwagon. Younger, savvier film producers continued to make interesting films and TV commercials, and wove brands into them by way of engaging story lines so that they didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Some older readers would remember the successful movie Taal featuring Aishwarya Rai, who was at the top of her career; along with her was the bottle of Coke that she kept sipping intermittently. If she was happy, she sipped Coke; if she was in love, she sipped Coke, and the message being subtly reinforced to a gullible audience was that Coke was for the great moments in your life. Here was a ‘commercial’ that you couldn’t skip or move on to a different channel!
There’s no greater value than naming a movie after your brand, as we saw in Mere Dad ki Maruti, that acted as an effective product placement for the Ertiga.

Yes, in-film placement is here to stay, even in television serials that are often more popular than films for a section of the target audience.
Enter the brand manager
Over the years, there has been a subtle and yet, significant change in the world of marketing and that is the increasing importance of the brand manager. Today, the brand manager calls the shots. He looks at opportunities for the brand without worrying about what the ad agency will say or do. He looks at the costs and benefits of options presented to him.
He knows that people can blank out advertising — they skip channels with impunity. Brands have to be subtle in their selling and that is where a strategy like product placement may be considered. Today, rather than ‘in your face’ product placement, or merely having the hero and heroine dancing in front of the brand logo, subtle possibilities exist.
A brand’s essence can be seamlessly woven into the plot of a film. A brand can easily ride on a hero’s or a film’s popularity without paying the phenomenal celebrity costs that endorsements would entail.
Time to be different
Branding is all about being different and standing out from the competition. Today, in this media cluttered world, one must constantly look for new opportunities to be distinctive.
Often, we may think the solution is a high-decibel TV commercial shot in New Zealand and costing a bomb. But it need not be. It can be an in-film placement that is strategic, relevant and subtle. So it’s important to scan the environment and keep an open mind to spot the right opportunity. This could provide the extra push your brand needs!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

In-depth: Understanding the rural consumer and how to market to them

With more and more brands trying to increase their footprint in rural India, what must a marketer keep in mind when reaching out to a rural consumer?

When a bicycle maker chanced upon a village in Rajasthan that believed in gifting the groom a bicycle on his wedding day, it believed it had struck gold. But soon it realised that there was something peculiar about the custom. The colour black is considered inauspicious and so gifting a bicycle without any black part was proving to be difficult. After all, you can’t do away with wheels or chain of a bike. Villagers were buying bicycles and painting over the black parts in a bid to keep the tradition alive. This is when the bicycle manufacturer decided to introduce an all red and silver bike to the village. Yes, even the wheels were red. The bikes were, obviously, a raging success.
Like this anecdote goes to prove, India is full of little eccentricities. Fully understanding this country would be impossible considering the fact that people, customs and even language changes with every few kilometres.
In that case, how would a marketer go about marketing his/her products? Traditionally, marketers in the country depended upon a socio-economic classification system that divided the populace of the country into SEC A, B, C and D and helped the marketer define his target audience. Over time, flaws were discovered in the system and the need for a new and improved system was felt. This made way for New Consumer Classification System or NCCS. While this new system did cover all of India, unlike SEC which was restricted to just urban areas, the fact remains that for the longest time marketers assumed that the rural population fell somewhere between SEC/NCCS C and D or if we are being really generous then somewhere SEC/NCCS B and D.
The rural consumer was, by default, assumed to be poor, with little or no education and limited purchasing power. But that perception is changing. Brands are starting to realise that the rural consumer is as diverse and different as the urban consumer and that they too have the purchasing power that they are looking for. It isn’t surprising then that brands are looking beyond metros and trying to increase their footprints in rural India.
“Brands should resist viewing rural Indian consumers as a homogeneous group. There are various segments of consumers within India’s hinterlands and each consumer segment is different from the other. The drivers of behaviour and also aspirations of a rural consumer vary from an urban consumer. Rural demand is largely driven by agricultural harvest unlike the salaried class in urban India. Our approach is to win our consumers’ trust by understanding what their needs, gaps, pain points are and then accordingly customising our strategy and offerings to meet their expectations,” said Nandagopal Nair, Vice-President, Corporate Communications, V-Guard Industries Ltd.
There was a time when brands had little to no budget to market to the rural audience and that meant taking something they had created for the urban market and praying that it worked for them in the rural markets as well. But that is not the case anymore.
“Earlier, brands did not have any special budgets or special strategy for the rural markets. But in the last two decades things have really changed. Now brands have realised the importance of the rural markets and have specialised teams to take care of these markets. Not only that even the communication, packaging, placements of the products, as well as the one to one connect with the consumers has increased. The overall budget for BTL has gone up when compared to ATL for these markets,” said S Venkatesh, Marketing Director, RW Promotions.
But how difficult or easy is it to market to rural consumers?
Venkatesh feels that it is more difficult to market to a rural audience than an urban audience simply because of how vast this country is.
“Yes, it is difficult to market to the rural markets – India being such a vast country it is almost a continent and factors like different languages, diverse cultures, diverse eating habits, diverse living conditions, different economies in different states makes it very difficult for the marketer to work,” said Venkatesh.

BK Rao
But BK Rao, Deputy Marketing Manager, Parle Products, thinks that marketing to a rural consumer is in fact much easier.
“While reaching a rural consumer is difficult, I would say that marketing to a rural consumer is easier than marketing to an urban consumer. The reason being, a rural market is relatively uncluttered when compared to an urban market. If you look at the number of brands that a rural consumer is exposed to v/s an urban consumer, there is a huge difference. It is far more difficult to appeal to an urban consumer because they are spoiled for choice,” said Rao.
According to Rao, more than appealing to a rural consumer the challenge lies in reaching a rural consumer. It is true that distribution is a problem in the country and that brands that have been able to work around this problem, device solutions and lay down a strong distribution network have thrived in rural India. But the game is changing with the emergence of e-commerce. The Amazons and Flipkarts of the world, assisted by low data costs and increased internet penetration, are able to bring brands to rural customers that they could not reach before.
“The sharp divide between urban and rural, that used to exist say 20 or 30 years ago, is no longer present. E-commerce players have been able to reach out to the consumers living in non-metros and bring brands to them that used to inaccessible,” said Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, Brand-comm.
With all these factors, making rural an alluring market for marketers, what should marketers keep in mind when trying to reach rural consumers?
Simplicity seems to be the universal code when it comes to reaching out to a rural consumer. Communication has to be crisp, simple and should serve a purpose. Giving the example of an ad by Nokia for their 1100 handset, Sridhar said, “The rural consumer then, used to look at mobile phones as a luxury. So, they came up with a campaign which talked about the features of the phone, essentially giving out the message that it is not a vanity product.”
Similarly, the recent ads by e-comm giant Amazon focus on everyday people and the choices they offer to the regular Indian consumer. There is nothing ‘rurally’ about those ads, argues Sridhar but they appeal to a wider audience and the insight that Indians love options.
Consumption pattern:
According to a leading marketer, one of the key difference between rural consumers and urban consumers is their consumption pattern.
“Rural consumers are more likely to consume smaller packs. One-rupee packs of products like shampoos and smaller packs of toothpaste get consumed more in rural areas. One reason for this trend could be the fact that people in rural areas earn money more on a daily or a season-to-season basis rather than a monthly basis. For example, a farmer will make money when his yield is good. Whereas an employee in an urban setting gets a monthly salary,” said he.
Leveraging technology:
Rural India has leapfrogged over the desktop phase and gone on to embrace mobile phones and therefore, it is important for brands to be present where their consumers are.
“Brands are innovating in their approaches in a bid to win rural consumers’ trust. Technology is enabling brands to leverage ‘newer’ platforms like internet and mobile (WhatsApp) to communicate to the consumer in rural India. Just being physically present in these markets no more ensures brand’s success,” said Nair.
A leading finance company of the country, when giving loans on vehicles like tractors or trucks, started enlisting the people who they were selling their loans to as their brand ambassadors. Once, the person had paid off his/her loan, the company would ask them to go to neighbouring villages and take the people over there through the company’s schemes and services. Thus creating a credible brand ambassador for themselves.
Nair also bats for the involving local influencers when reaching out to rural consumers.
“There are myriad ways to reach the rural community/consumer. For example, when introducing a product to rural areas, partnering with local influencers – teachers, doctors, panchayat head, etc. – can be a vital part of an outreach programme,” said Nair.
“It is important to reach out to the rural consumer in his/her language and I am not talking about the text here. It is possible that a rural consumer understands the language of colours. Visual appeal is very important. In fact, people go to stores and ask for products based on colours or the packaging,” said Rao.
It is, therefore, important to understand and consider the rural audience as a separate entity and try to create communication specific to their needs and wants and not peddle something that worked for them in the urban markets.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Make it interesting!

If you want viewers to snap out of their apathy and care, make the communication different
The sad reality is that many of us are extremely apathetic to social issues, however important they may be. To be brutally honest, we don’t give a solitary damn! Many of us are too focussed on ourselves, our needs and our immediate family, and it’s difficult for us to think beyond ourselves — of the immediate community and of the world at large.
Communication, however, can play a big role in making us aware. But it has to be interesting, grab our attention and be not boring.
The trouble is that we equate serious subjects with ‘lecturing people’. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say ‘lecture’? Boredom (Just ask my poor students!).
As David Ogilvy said, “You cannot save souls in an empty church”. Interest the viewers, get their attention and hope that they will be roused from their apathy.
One of the long-standing examples of communication that really impacted viewers was the ‘pregnant man’ ad done over three decades ago. The advertising agency that created it won accolades.

his ad created waves and even made it to the cover page of Time magazine! Why was the ad so successful? Because it was based on the consumer insight that men, who have to be careful, don’t take precautions while having sex and more importantly, don’t care because it doesn’t affect them! Would they be more careful if they were the ones who got pregnant, questions the ad, making a viewer think.
Creatively solving problems
India is a diverse country with a multitude of problems. Often, these are unique to this country. Where else can you find people scared of using the word ‘condom’? We are a nation of shy people who shy away from saying ‘condom’ and perhaps even shier of using it, if our population growth figures are any indication.
So here are a series of commercials that show how uncomfortable different people are — be it a policeman, a lawyer or even a coolie in a railway station — even uttering the word. These commercials were done some time ago, but they still make for interesting viewing. The buzzword here is ‘interesting’, because if the creative doesn’t catch people’s interest, the entire communication can go waste.
Social = boring?
India is a vast country, and not everyone is up to date with today’s developments and advancements. A lot of people don’t even realise the value of basic things such as the need for toilets.
They need to be communicated to, and for decades, the government has been sending out messages on a variety of issues, whether it is population control, digitisation or even cleanliness. Sadly, a lot of the communication is boring and dull. It has the stamp of ‘Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity’ in every frame. Consequently, these messages are largely ignored. Here’s a sample of something that we get to see.

Don’t you think it could have been more creative?
So, what’s happening here? Crores of rupees are being spent, but very poorly, in my opinion. What will elevate it to the next level? Clearly, it has to be more creative and that is where it fails.
Now let’s take this discussion further with a recent film.
Not so sanitary
Recently, I watched an interesting film, Padman, which, for all intents and purposes, could have been made into a documentary. It was dealing with a sticky subject. It addressed the issue of getting women to use sanitary napkins, which were earlier unaffordable. It is based on a real-life story of a revolutionary man, who had the vision and passion to transform rural India.
While the thought was powerful, executing it on-screen could have been boring. It needed someone from advertising to transform it into an emotional and inspiring movie, with enough gripping situations and characters that made for an inspiring and entertaining film. I am sure films like this can actually lead to a change in behaviour and action.
So what’s the lesson?
The lesson is simple. We have enough causes to communicate in this vast, complex country called India. The reality is that lots of money is being spent. But the question we should be asking is: How is this money being spent? Is there a better way of spending it? Is there a better way of accessing the best creative minds in the country to work on these causes and bring them to life?
I am sure agencies want to do exciting work and win awards for their creativity. Public service advertising, when done interestingly, can move people while winning accolades at the same time. Let’s make it interesting for the creative people in India to work on these social projects. You will be surprised at the dramatic change in interest and action that will happen.
But will we do it?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Does same celeb ambassador for decades help a brand?

In early February, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan dazzled Australians by appearing in a black fishtail-style gown with a perfectly fitting lace bodice embellished with gemstones. The former beauty queen was attending the launch of a Longines boutique in Sydney in her capacity as the Ambassador of Elegance for the Swiss premium watch brand. Rai has been the face of Longines since 1999 and more recently, the endorser of French cosmetics brand L’Oreal since 2003. Likewise, her Bollywood counterpart Shah Rukh Khan can boast of South Korean automobile giant Hyundai retaining him as their ambassador for two decades (and more).
Brands are often seen changing their celeb ambassadors as the seasons change, bringing in currently reigning icons and younger faces to portray the brand’s evolving qualities. Why then do certain brands prefer continuing their association with a particular celeb for years together?
Brands are all about the long-term, about consistency; and if the celebrity too can be ‘long-term’, it’s a rare phenomenon, says advertising and branding veteran Ramanujam Sridhar. He says Hyundai (for example) have acknowledged the value of Shah Rukh to the brand’s launch, success and growth. “Shah Rukh has been involved with the launch of the company, when it was not so well-known here and SRK was the big brand. His ads ‘Should I or Shouldn’t I’ certainly made waves. His charisma and appeal to women helped the brand as he did commercials with Preity Zinta. It’s a tribute to the resilience of the star and the consistency of the brand owners that the association has endured,” says Sridhar.
Just like in any partnership, long-term associations, especially when they continue to stay relevant, are always good for a brand, says Jiggy George, founder & CEO of brand management and licensing company Dream Theatre. According to George, the brand and the celeb must continue to evolve and echo the same DNA. “The celeb’s performance equity must continue to grow in such associations and if that is not the case, the association can run the risk of being out-of-touch,” says George.
Moreover, having the same ambassador enhances brand recognition and recall, say experts, as the celeb becomes the signature of the brand, helping the message to get delivered faster to the consumer.
However, the drawbacks of the same face for a brand are too many to be ignored. Long-term associations with a celeb can do more harm than good, says Kaustav Das, CEO of creative agency Ralph & Das.
Firstly, says Das, the brand’s fortunes get inexorably linked to the celeb’s fortunes. If the celeb faces a controversy or his or her performance sinks, it impacts the brand. “Secondly, celebs age and their personality matures over time. But brands have to evolve and stay fresh all the time. Celebs cannot necessarily evolve to comply with a brand’s re-set vision,” says Das, who feels that hiring celebs ‘’is the conventional wisdom of lazy marketers.”
Having different ambassadors helps maintain freshness in a brand’s communication, say experts, “As new celeb endorsers address changes in consumer preferences. It also helps to send out a new message or advocate a novel product or service with a new celeb.”
Do mascots like the Amul baby or Air India maharaja stand a better chance over celebs then?
“Perhaps”, feel experts. Das says the mascot can evolve. “A fine example is the V-Guard kangaroo evolving after 40 years. Or the Qantas Airlines kangaroo that has undergone changes over the years.”
Mascots can never get into controversies, says Sridhar. “But the challenge is that they have no appeal of their own and it has to be entirely created. But brands like Amul have managed to do it over the years.’’
Mascots can also be used to convey topical messages (like the Amul baby) “without having to resort to long-term planning, co-ordination, shoots, etc. But mascots have to be created and invested in over decades to turn legendary,” says George.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Making inroads in India

India has provoked Google, which is not a big advertiser, to look at traditional mediums of advertising
I have always been enchanted by the subtle and not-so-subtle manner in which brands try to become an indispensable part of our lives. As someone who grew up in Madras, I was intrigued by the average Tamilian’s dependence on The Hindu newspaper and a cup of piping hot coffee to start his day. If this did not happen for whatever reason, you would witness chaos!
Today, I observe an even greater dependence on another brand — Google. When we were children, we were taught ‘Mata, Pita, Guru, Daivam’. It means your father, mother and teacher are God. Today, most people would cheerfully say ‘Mata, Pita, Google, Daivam’ — so complete is the domination of the technology major in our lives!
While Google continues to be one of the most valuable brands in the world, it has historically not been a large advertiser. Yet India, the land of infinite possibilities and enormous challenges, has provoked Google to look at other mediums to advertise for the vast Indian middle class. Despite the digital medium being the fastest-growing in India, print and TV tend to be extremely important for this vast population.
India may soon become the country that has the largest smartphone population in the world, but no advertiser can afford to ignore the traditional media. Do you remember the high profile launch of the Google phone with full-page newspaper ads?
Indians and directions
India can be a misleading country in more ways than one. Directions and signs are rarely found. People tend to ask others for directions and people are always willing to help — even when they haven’t the faintest clue of where that place is!
This does not seem to deter people from asking, and later, curse the people for misguiding them. The dependence on maps is minimal.
However, Google is slowly but surely changing this. A few years ago, I became a total convert and an unabashed admirer of ‘Googleavalli’, as my family cheerfully calls the lady who flawlessly guided us through Mannargudi and Mayiladurai (Mayiladuthurai) . While a majority of young, tech-savvy urban youngsters have taken to Google Maps like a duck takes to water, a number of others haven’t.
Advertising can make a difference
A lot of Google’s acceptance happens through word of mouth. India, however, presents different challenges given its diversity and complexity, in addition to the issue of poor connectivity. How do you reach out to people of different demographics and psychographic status, who live in the same city and struggle with the same traffic snarls?
This is when Google started its city-centric outdoor campaigns aimed at inducing more people to use their maps. Here’s a sample of what the brand did some time back.
The ones that followed on television showed smart, young people who stayed away from crowded roads caused by marriage processions and victory processions after the inevitable cricket match. One of India’s most frustrating feature is the absolute lack of concern that people have for everyone else, and nowhere is it in greater display than on the streets. Which is where Google Maps comes into play.
Of marriages and tension
The most recent commercial is an interesting one, as it is set in a typical Indian wedding scenario with its share of tension and drama. The bride’s mother is tense and starts worrying about the garlands, that haven’t reached the marriage venue yet.
She keeps calling florist, who keeps getting stuck in one traffic block after the other, even as he keeps saying ‘paanch minute’ (five minutes), like most Indians who are invariably late for most places and events say. There is an element of humour, as the lady uses the same ‘paanch minute’ technique to delay the florists’ payment!
So what do we learn? That even big, global brands like Google realise that India and its consumers are different. It may be a vast and often untapped market, but you do need a strategy to tap it. To equate it with Mexico or Philippines would be replicating the mistakes other big multinationals who have bitten the dust here, make. As Steve Waugh, the Australian cricketer discovered, you need to embrace the country and its people before you attempt to conquer it. The same philosophy applies to its consumers too.
Are you ready to embrace India and its consumers?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Why public relations companies need to be creative

PR persons must learn to think innovatively and provide clients with useful information
The first word that comes to mind when one thinks of advertising is ‘creativity’. Other phrases or words that might come up are ‘out of the box’, ‘different’, ‘whacky’ and even ‘weird’ (a reference, perhaps, to some of my advertising brethren’s choice in clothes and hair styles). One thing, however, is pretty clear: an agency’s creative abilities help brands get noticed and move the consumer to action. Agencies often get new business only on the basis of their creative talents.
My question is, should the related field of public relations also adopt creativity as its very motto in today’s challenging times? This leads me to an important question: what exactly is creativity?
Peace activist and artist Mary Lou Cook said, “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”
My submission is that PR companies have a strong need to re-brand and reorient themselves as “the other creative communications agency”. Why do I say that?
Today’s challenges
Let’s step back to look at public relations in today’s scenario. Despite the proliferation of social media and various other platforms, it is still difficult to get a story across in the media. A far cry from the earlier days, when all you had to do was to meet the journalist and, lo and behold, you had a front page story! Those days, there were fewer companies and the media had to hunt for stories. The main skill-set that PR executives needed was the ability to build relations with media and clients. The phrase ‘wine and dine’ was often unfairly used to describe a PR agency’s work.
Today, with a bevy of verticals, numerous PR companies pushing their clients’ causes and the media becoming increasingly selective in what it will carry, the challenges have become more pronounced.
The power of a story
One of the main reasons why people love advertisements and, at times, prefer watching them to television programmes, is that advertising has powerful stories driving its content. The Samsung customer service ad for India — where the service engineer faces numerous obstacles, including a tree-blocked road and mountainous terrain, to get a TV repaired so that blind children can watch their hostel-mate participate in a singing contest — topped the list of most-watched ads on YouTube in 2017, with over 150 million views!

What sets it apart? It is simple, has an element of surprise, is touching but does not go overboard, and isn’t soppy. I believe the power of the story made it hugely popular. So, where’s the analogy for PR companies and what must they do?
What’s your pitch?
Today, to put it mildly, journalists lead stressful lives. They work under myriad pressures and ever-shrinking deadlines, even as they compete with their colleagues to break stories or move up to the front page of their respective newspapers. Then, why should they read your pitch? They will read a press release if it is well-crafted, caters to the current interests of the reader and is brief. Remember the saying ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.
I wish our PR executives would write to the point and better so that they capture the essence of the content in a few, well-chosen words rather than in voluminous paragraphs that sorely tempt the recipient to press the delete button.
The way forward
Sadly, the PR industry does not train its young people as well as it ought to. So, the bright young people manage on their own initiative and ability while the rest just about get by. While maintaining relationships is important, it is difficult for youngsters to build a rapport with older, more experienced journalists. But there is a silver lining. The media will welcome you if you are an expert on your client and their vertical. It will love you if you can give the story a nice angle that is not only about the client but is also interesting for the reader.
Can you tap into a current trend? Can you provide information that the journalist might otherwise take hours to find? Can you help the journalist without asking for your pound of flesh? The challenge, therefore, is for PR companies to train people to think differently and innovatively, and write succinctly. Then we will have a breed of PR professionals who think brand, think media and think creatively.
When that happens I will call it a day!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The campaigns, they are a-changing

A lot of brands keep changing their ad campaigns, even before they have outlived their usefulness
When do clients change their ad campaigns? Usually when they believe that their consumers are getting tired of them. The reality, however, is that clients and agencies get tired of their campaigns much before the consumers do. That’s because clients see their own campaigns so many times — in their conference rooms, as part of agency reviews and every time they have a visitor.
Consumers, however, have a million other things on their mind. They don’t spend time in conference rooms. They are too busy standing in queues, ensuring their family has three square meals and in figuring out their children’s homework! And throw in around 900 TV channels they have access to, and it’s a miracle that they actually remember their house address, much less your brand!
And yet, brands keep changing their ad campaigns, sometimes even before they have outlived their usefulness.
Pugs multiply, creativity diminishes
How many of you remember ‘Hutch’, the mobile service? Or their advertising? Well, it is difficult not to remember the dog, a pug, that the brand introduced. Clearly, the advertising had created a brand property in the pug, which I am sure would have scored highly in all advertising recall studies.
While the pug featured in more commercials than a few Bollywood stars (and even escalated the price of pugs in India, if rumours are to be believed), it was part of several memorable commercials. This ad shows the boy’s faithful friend following him everywhere and ending up on his bed, the final message being the network follows you everywhere.
Let me once again reiterate my peeve with the brand’s advertising, which is true of all mobile service providers in India — ‘It has no relation to the actual level of service or coverage in the country!’ Sadly, as a consumer of Vodafone, I cannot really believe the claim of the network following me everywhere, as it has not been my experience with the brand.
Most recently, Vodafone came out with another commercial, that features another young boy being followed by a whole group of pugs. And the commercial has an astonishing claim — that it adds a tower every hour! Wow! Some clock! This claim seems as outlandish as saying Afghanistan is the greatest cricket team of all time, just because it made it to the Under-19 World Cup semi-finals in New Zealand.
Where is Hari Sadu?
Do you remember the old Naukri ad? It features an ill-tempered, evil boss who is universally hated and aptly called Hari Sadu. The boss’ assistant tells him the restaurant he wants reservation at, is on the line. Even as he tries to book a table for two, the man on the other end of the line seems to have a problem getting his name right.
At this time, one of his subordinates offers to help and does so by giving a cheeky expansion of the name — H for Hitler, A for arrogant, R for rascal and I for idiot — to the absolute delight of his peers and the shock of the boss. The tagline from the brand said, ‘Guess who has just heard from us?’
Clearly, a lot of young people leave their jobs because their immediate supervisor is insufferable. And while the ad may have offended a few employers, I think it was quite popular with younger people, whose bio-datas populate the brand’s website.
The brand recently changed its commercial for a more functional, less edgy and perhaps even less interesting one, featuring a number of bored, unwilling employees who have to be dragged to work on a Monday. Naukri offers itself as the alternative to a boring life at work — by helping them land jobs they will actually enjoy.
Now, irrespective of whether or not you’re looking for a change, which ad do you find more interesting? I realise that the brand has changed its positioning, but as a consumer, do I really care?
And men will always be men
Let me end with a new commercial, where, a young man wanting to impress a young woman on the road, attempts to change a car’s punctured tyre, presuming it was hers — only to realise later that it wasn’t!
But why do I prefer the earlier commercial, which features two guys with paunches (resembling mine), who suck it in with great effort to impress a young woman?
This is the eternal challenge — changes happen in both agencies and clients’ offices and those normally result in new advertising campaigns with different executions.
But is change always for the better? You tell me!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The advertising year in retrospect

The best advertising is simple, has a powerful idea — and makes you wish you were in it
How was 2017 as a year for advertising?
The industry did grow, particularly in areas such as digital, but I won’t focus too much on the business side of advertising. Rather, I will look into the business of advertising, which is all about making ads and TV commercials.
As an avid consumer of TV advertising (I strongly believe that the advertising in India is better than the programming), I have my own views about them — some of them are quite strong, even if I am not the target audience for many of the products being advertised. Which means that I can be truly objective about them!
If I have missed out some nice ads (which is inevitable in an exercise of this nature), you can put it down to a combination of old age, selective amnesia and boredom.
Broad trends
Were there any broad trends that were observed? Was there too much reference to sex and sexuality, openly or obliquely?
Actually, though certain categories like deodorants and fragrances continue to use sex to sell their products, the references seem a lot more muted now. Even Fastrack, which has a reputation for being in-your-face, is only mildly flirtatious in its commercials.
There has also been the emergence of hitherto unadvertised categories, such as perfumes, making their presence felt. Here is a commercial for Fogg, which talks about how a perfume is a great gift that reminds the recipient of the giver.
It is also worth noting that Fogg, the deodorant, went back to its earlier advertising of ‘Fogg chal raha hai’, showing how the deodorant brand is actually a phenomenon sweeping the country — even at the borders, if the advertising is to be believed!
It’s a woman’s world
For too long, we have lived in a man’s world, as they seem to call the shots in the world of business. Consumer marketing is all about women, who make decisions for household products. But 2017 was different — we witnessed it as being the ‘year of the women’, especially in advertising.
There were a number of commercials that spoke up about women’s equality and portrayed them as equal to the men in the household. There was an initiative by Star Plus, the channel that ran the ‘Nayi Soch’ campaign, which showed Aamir Khan as the owner of a sweet shop. In the ad, he acknowledged the role his two daughters played in taking the business to the next level.
The commercial’s message, that your daughters can scale up your business even better than your sons, is brilliantly captured in it.
The right to a half
Two other ads stood out for me. The Benetton ad is forthright and says women have a right to half of everything — including the power to decide, which has been denied to them for ages. But then, the brand’s advertising has always been about attitude, and this commercial only reiterates that.
Tata Tea, another brand that has believed in exhorting its consumers to act, addresses gender equality, and shows how it is learnt and is not inborn. In the ad, a mother allows the son to go to play badminton, while she asks her daughter to stay back and learn to cook, because otherwise, people will say she hasn’t been a good mom.
Talking about issues
Brands are realising that it is easier to talk about interesting issues in an engaging way than to hard-sell your brand’s attributes. It gives them the flexibility to address these issues in a longer format that YouTube provides, unlike mass media advertising on national channels.
Romance in the air
My favourite commercial, however, is of Dairy Milk Silk, which features two young college kids and how once they start messily eating the chocolate, they hear trumpets and violins — or bells and whistles, if you will!
It’s a young person’s commercial and I am sure the target audience is the young adults and children, who can’t wait to grow up and get out of childhood. I am sure they would like to experience the wonderful emotion depicted so entertainingly and endearingly in this commercial.
As can be seen, the best advertising is simple, has a powerful idea — and makes you wish you were in it! In this case, it would have made you wish you were in the frame, eating chocolate with the girl you love!
Well, there’s no harm in hoping, is there?

What an Idea, Sirji!

It is very difficult to build a brand property which could be a campaign idea, a tune or a tag line
I have an unreasonable liking for Idea, the mobile services brand. And this proclivity has to be understood slightly differently. I used to head the advertising agency that launched Birla AT&T in Pune. It was great fun and a challenge to work with a demanding American client, who was solidly behind the agency.
Those were the early days of the mobile phone in India and people frantically called each other from the cheaper landlines, when they got calls on their mobiles — the rates were that prohibitive!
Things moved for the brand once Lowe Lintas, as it used to be called in those days, started working on the account. I started following it even if I didn’t subscribe to the service. One of the first things that drew me to the brand was the signature tune, that had a piece composed by Ilaiyaraaja.
For my generation, he was God. Here’s one of the earliest commercials, showing a variety of people using the mobile phone. For me, what made the commercial memorable was the music and that signature tune, which became the ringtone for Idea users. For the brand, it became its property that it has held on to steadfastly over the years.
Social messages
One of the ad differentiators, that set Idea apart from its competitors Airtel and Vodafone, was the focus on social messages. They used Abhishek Bachchan to great effect in quite a few commercials.
But here is one of my favourites. This one is about children from the village, who are unable to get admission into a city school because of paucity of space. In such a situation, Idea steps in and helps the children get the best education, thanks to its network.
It has a fairy tale ending, with a bright village girl becoming the student of the year to the absolute delight of the school principal, who is Abhishek Bachchan, the face of the brand for several years. This commercial had the ‘What an Idea, Sirji!’ theme.
Nothing is more delightful for a copywriter than for his line to become a part of the editorial in every newspaper. How often is it that something innovative in the news been headlined with the brand’s line? To me, that is a testament to the creative product’s excellence and how much it has become a part of the mainstream. And this element, of having a social message, has continued to differentiate the brand.
Walk when you talk
I could talk about several commercials of Idea that I liked, but I will stay with one simple, highly-effective commercial that again features Abhishek Bachchan. This one exhorts people to walk while they talk, thus creatively ensuring that people stay fit even as they keep talking endlessly on the phone!
One never knows why agencies lose clients, especially when they have been handling the same brand for years. However, I believe in the adage that clients are won on great creative and lost by poor servicing. The Idea account has moved to another agency after several years. Here’s the new commercial.
It’s interesting how, sticking with the social message genre, it talks about subjects that are getting increasingly popular, such as women empowerment and how women need to get stronger — and, of course, how a network can be a part of this strength.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water
Clients and agencies tend to get tired of their advertising campaigns even if the customers don’t and are often guilty of dispensing with good promotions before they outlive their usefulness. In this case, however, even though the latest campaign was done by another agency, they found the social message campaign relevant and powerful enough to be sustained, albeit with a different execution.
Remember, it is extremely difficult to build a brand property which could be a campaign idea, a signature tune or even a tag line. If customers remember something other than your brand name, you should consider yourself fortunate and compliment the advertising agency for persisting with the same.
But it is even more creditable that despite the change, both the client and the new agency have seen that some ideas can be extremely powerful and should be continued and even improved upon, as in the case of this commercial, which talks about how a video can change your life. This shows that company has recognised the importance given to videos by today’s young consumer, the primary target audience for mobile services.
So think once again. Must you change? And if yes, how do you do it for the better?