Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cycling away to Cannes

What is the first association that comes to your mind when I say ‘France’? A normal person might say ‘perfumes’ while an advertising person (not to suggest that he is abnormal) might well say ‘Cannes Lions’, so imp ortant is the winning of this international award to people in the business of creativity.

Coincidentally, it was a brand of agarbathi from the NR Group, a fragrance company headquartered in the quaint town of Mysore, which won a bronze lion at Cannes in the radio category in the first set of awards that were announced on June 18. An award at Cannes is still something that the Indian advertising industry yearns for and so rarely gets, and Mudra Communications, the agency that created the spot, has every reason to be proud of its achievement.

The power of the brand
There is a criticism levelled at agencies, not without justification, that most of their international award-winning work is for public service advertising or for marginal brands. The significant fact in this case is the fact that Cycle Brand is a dominant brand in the agarbathi category with over 30 per cent market share of the organised sector. The brand that has been in existence for 60 years, no mean achievement, has a few interesting reasons behind its success. Most successful brands have a simple, yet effective brand name.

The brand name ‘Cycle’ has a few striking advantages in the Indian context. A cycle is something that every Indian has seen, wanted to own, owned or ridden. It needs no translation, has a visual mnemonic that is recognised across the length and breadth of the country and most importantly represents ‘value for money’ which is really one of the key reasons for the brand’s popularity and dominance. Let’s move on to the award winning commercial.

Radio, the Cinderella medium
For quite some time, radio has been ignored by advertisers, media planners and creative directors. Thankfully the trend has been changing, courtesy the increasing importance of the youth market and the phenomenal rise in the incidence of traffic jams in every metro. FM radio is here to stay.

In the same breath, however, one needs to accept that India is primarily a television country if script writers are anything to go by. It is all fine to say that ‘radio is the theatre of the mind’ but if the scripts are anything to go by then the scripts for radio more often than not end up being mindless. Of course, I must mention that radio channels seem to do better scripts for themselves than for some of the clients who entrust their creative work to them.

In fact, the actual number of entries for Cannes in the radio category has come down from 46 last year to 36 this year. It is in this context that the award-winning Cycle brand commercial has to be viewed. Let me explain: The entire film is one long and shrill (as per a member of the jury that awarded it) rendition of the familiar Indian tune ‘Om Jai Jagadish …’ on the cycle bell. The commercial is dramatic and single-minded, even if my description is not! Yes, as someone said, “Great advertising is produced by a single-minded thought that comes alive in a compelling way.”

Throw in a tune and a chant that the whole of India can relate to and you have a winner. Once again, I must hasten to add that this is not dependent on turn of phrase, or ideas lost in translation in this vast and confusing land that is India, which even jurists who did not understand the language or the significance of the words could still award. It certainly has ‘legs’ as it could be extended to ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ and a whole host of tunes pertaining to other religions that this not always secular country can recognise, if not relate to.

Awards and media
All of us are familiar with the ‘strategy’ of agencies releasing their award-winning entries in cheap media at their own cost. I am sure that this is not one such happening and this campaign will get extensive media as the idea surely has the capability not only to win an award as it has done, but will also deliver at the market place, addressing as it does, the Indian ethos and preferences for things that are religious, and stokes the Indian penchant for prayer, particularly in the face of problems! Speaking of media exposure and visibility, one must mention also the ‘Lead India’ campaign that had tremendous media weight behind it, not to forget celebrities such as Amitabh Bachchan, also winning an award as did other well known brands such as Luxor and Reynolds. Indian agencies too had sent 295 entries this year as against 252 the previous year. Yes, winning is important for Indian agencies as it represents global recognition for Indian talent.

Winning at the market place
It is generally accepted that the creative mind is very different from mine, dull and predictable as it is. Awards matter to the creative mind like nothing else and winning at Cannes must be the ultimate. At the risk of pouring some cold water on their enormous enthusiasm, I must say one thing. India is an enormously diverse, complex country ridden with differences of language, colour, caste and religion. To sell here is no mean achievement and many of our eminent brands and creative people do this with regular ease. Some of the work done for dominant brands in the Indian context continue to deliver outstanding creativity that makes customers notice it, on occasion smile and almost invariably buy. Let us put a premium on work like this and if it wins an award, then it is a bonus. Let us not get preoccupied with the approval of a few foreigners who have limited understanding of this country, its people and complexity.

Taking a leaf out of the BCCI
Let me digress to cricket, my obsession and I can almost hear you saying, ‘So, what is new?’ In the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, India – even if it was a good team and the winner of the Cricket World Cup, was a nobody in the pecking order of the people who mattered, when it came to running the game. Our itinerary was at the mercy of the biggies like England and Australia who treated us as ‘illegal immigrants’ on their hallowed turf. Now all that has changed; India has the eyeballs, the spectators, the TV revenue, the marketing acumen and now wonder of all wonders – a good team.

The shoe is on the other foot. We call the shots and the erstwhile dominant countries are protesting and perhaps some of our actions are worth protesting about. But the balance of power has shifted, slowly, steadily and inexorably in India’s favour. The cricketing world had to sit up and take notice when we ran the IPL. Now others are trying to do their own versions and only time will tell how successful they will be.

Similarly at Cannes, one suspects that India and Indian advertising is not as well represented or as powerful as it ought to be. There are whispers of South American dominance in the jury for one. My submission is that our time will come and that day is not far off. Let us not do what we used to do in the world of cricket for so many decades, complain about being discriminated against and sidelined, but discover a way of getting the recognition that we rightly deserve. Recognition, not only for our work, but also for the industry. Let us learn from our clients who faced the same problems that we are facing globally and yet who have placed India on the global map through their achievements whether it is the Tatas through their acquisition or the technology companies who have put us on the global map of recognition. It did not happen by whining or ‘whingeing’ as the Aussies might say, but by the power of achievements, that just cannot be ignored.
Yes, we can!

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO brand-comm and the author of “One land, One billion minds”)

2 comments:

Sriganesh said...

1. France is known by it's wines and for the common Indian travellers to foreign country by it's shows rather than perfumes.

2. The Indian software industry was unkown till a Mr. Dewang Mehta came in and presented the Indian s/ware industry to the world as the one that could "resolve all technology issues".

3. Taking the Agarbatti advt. Trust you have seen Honda City advt. that uses the do re me fa so... to co-relate to fuel efficiency

4. The Indian Advt. industry has to showcase and present itself to the world like Dewang presented the Indian IT industry and the world will eat "Amul Butter".

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

The software example is a good one. I agree that advertising can certainly learn from software.