Thursday, July 16, 2009

It’s showtime, folks!

Some of the advertisements that cut through the clutter on TV, and make life less of a grudge...


Tata Indicom: Leveraging on the power of a simple ‘hello’.

The ICC T20 World Cup is over. India followed Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, England and several other losers out of the United Kingdom. Simultaneously, a nation of a billion people shifted their attention to other crucial and intelligence enhancing activities like watching K serials. A few others realised there was a recession on and they had to actually work while the rest of them went back to doing what they had been doing for quite some time – nothing.

I too was at a loose end given the fact that for a few days there was actually no cricket match on TV. (Miracles do happen!). So I went back to doing what I do, which is watching commercials on TV.

I realise that producing commercials that “reward” viewers and actually “work” at the marketplace is increasingly hard to come by, given the fact that we live in recessionary (there’s that popular word again) times. Clients tend to look for advertising that is more hard-working (read boring) with the brand name repeated in every possible manner and shown a zillion times. Yet a few commercials still pass muster. Let me share the reasons why I liked a few out of the several that passed me by. A few that I watched without flipping the channels and the few that motivated me to write about.

Hello Dada, hello off side!

I am not a Tata Indicom user so I have no idea how good their network or coverage is. They too could be like my service provider whose ads are much better than their coverage. But let me give their coverage the benefit of the doubt and stay with the advertising that I can safely comment about.
Saurav Ganguly is not my favourite cricketer, not that my opinion should matter to anybody. But there is one aspect of him that must be mentioned. Ganguly is someone whom you can love or hate, but someone whom you can never ignore. Not surprisingly, this is the guiding principle for creating ads. You can either love them or hate them but you can never ignore them. Neither can you ignore the Tata Indicom ad that is built around a strong proposition and yet built around Saurav Ganguly the toast of Bengal.

The commercial is set in a bus, presumably in Kolkata. There is a Sardarji reading the newspaper who says gloatingly ‘Dada ka innings katham’. The guy in the left presumably a Dada fan (is there any other type in Kolkata?) is indignant. He raises his voice and talks about Dada’s offside strokes, his strike rate, how he is a tiger and some such stuff. But one’s imagination has to work overtime to figure out the words as the animated Bengali gentleman says “hello, hello” after every other word, a reference to the network of other service providers. The commercial goes on to say that Tata Indicom users would not be subjected to the same tension thanks to the advanced digital network which it provides.

Very often powerful advertising ideas are a function of observation of consumers and their problems. How often have we watched people in trains or buses shouting at the top of their voices and sharing their intimate family or business problems to whoever cares to listen even as they keep shouting “hello, hello!” thanks to the iffy network that they are presently using.
Nor is this all. There is another commercial set in a restaurant. When giving the menu to a young family the waiter is fittingly turned out in a costume with strong oriental overtones. The menu presumably includes some dishes like shrimp, lobster and some other fried stuff, all of which is interspersed with ‘hellos’ to the bemusement of the wife and the complete confusion of the young kid who asks for a ‘fried hello’. To add to the confusion, the phone rings and the waiter breaks into a fresh flurry of ‘hellos’. The commercial ends with the statement that Tata Indicom users do not go through the same heartache thanks to the advanced digital network that the service provider claims.

Advertising is essentially cutting through the clutter and this commercial does that simply by the use of the word ‘hello’. I read somewhere that the word most used in the world is ‘hello”. Why wouldn’t it be indeed, if networks are so pathetic!

Hey it’s about me!

The other commercial I like is one where there is a middle-aged lady who is very tense because her husband has not come home on time (A situation I can relate to). The husband comes home sheepishly and gets it from his wife (been there done that). She tells him about how he left the house and said he would go for a cup of coffee and then how he had gone for a spin in his friend’s new car (of course, one hardly needs to mention that the spin was from Lucknow to Kanpur) and would he ever mature?

The unrepentant husband to whom promises are like buttercups swears that from the next day he would show her how he would be a reformed character.
The product window talks about Max New York Life which inspires ‘awara gardi’ like this. I can already imagine my retired life as the male character seems to think and behave so much like me! Nor does the commercial end, when the son gloats over the father getting it from the mother, the father reminds him about how he has to go to work and do boring stuff!

The next commercial in the series talks about the father telling his wife that they would be going all the way to Kolkata for a wedding. Whose? A friend of a friend of a friend who comes with our hero for his morning walk! Once again the confidence of the retirement plan and money under his belt leads our retired hero to a path of ‘awara gardi’. As someone who hopes to join the club I have nothing but the highest regard for the inspirational hero that I hope to be one day!

Yet, I have a problem. While I had seen these commercials several times over and laughed at my friend’s travails, I could not recall the brand name.
In fact, when I wanted to retrieve the commercial from YouTube to see it once again, the technophobe that I am, I kept telling my tech-savvy young colleague to look for a commercial of Kotak Mahindra. Many years ago, I used to idolise my uncle who was a movie expert. So in one of our conversations, I referred to a film, I knew the scene sequence even, but could not remember the title of the film though I kept insisting that it was a great film and he promptly told me, “It can’t be a great film if you can’t remember the name.” For some strange reason I remembered him now.

To continue the analogy, the script would have served any pension fund admirably though all credit to Max New York life for thinking of it first. But still a worrying thought – are we merely doing a great ad or are we appropriating the idea exclusively for ourselves?

Come to me I’m the real McCoy

The last commercial that finds a place in this piece has a wailing baby and the mother is busy getting her hands ‘mehendied’ – if such a word exists in the lexicon. So the child is passed from one unwilling handler to the other as the baby’s wailing increases in volume. The situation seems to be almost unmanageable as none of the people who are asked to hold the baby are in control of the baby or the situation! But thankfully the mother has finished what she has do and picks up the baby which instantly stops crying and starts gurgling happily. The commercial ends with the voice over exhorting the viewer to bring his Maruti to the authorised Maruti outlet.

What a simple and yet powerful analogy! I got some hidden meanings. The car is something very precious to the owner, like the child is to the parent, how others cannot handle it with the same love and affection… a whole host of things that were never said in the commercial . But an endearing commercial to my mind at least.

Yes, there is hope for the human race yet. There may not be cricket on my telly just now, but at least advertising like this makes life less of a drudge.
Hello, you still there?

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)

22 comments:

Ram said...

Nice picks Mr. Sridhar. Some how I felt one could always make out which commercials would actually work at the market place by just how you feel about the commercial on first exposure. More than any extensive research.
If it gets you involved first time you see it it means it is working.
The hello commercial surely is a winner because the simple but powerful idea has been well executed without giving it any excessive creative overdoses.
And the anology of the maruti commercial is very appropriate though one could argue it might appeal to the female sex more.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes Ram, quite a few people had mentioned the Tata Indicom commercial and they could actually remember who it was for.
I really do not know how good their network is, I only hope it is just not good advertising.
Interesting comment about the Maruti ad being more appealing to women, never struck me!
Blinding flash of the obvious!!

Bala said...

Hey, I enjoyed reading this and it is funny, I had the same experience with the Max advt. I was talking about it to someone the other day, and I remembered the advt, but not the brand. I have been “following” a lot of advts in TV, especially the ones that come around news shows, cricket / tennis matches and CNBC, and I should admit there are many which catches one’s attention these days. One advt where I see a lot of news on is the Vodafone advt (zoozoo), but somehow I didn’t like it that much. Even tho I admit that I cant forget the advt and the brand it stands for. The other Vodafone advt (the pug advt – wiiling to help) is great.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes today there is so much clutter that advertising agencies and advertisers are trying that much harder to get "noticed".So they have clever scripts and attention getting story lines.But sometimes the product window is not all that unique, so the same ad could do as well for any competing brand.
I share your sentiments on the Zoozoo ads, in fact I did research with young people on the ads as they were probably aimed at the younger mobile phone user.

Vaishali said...

Very nice article Sridhar – I enjoyed reading it. And yes, I do agree that most often, the brand promise does not match the consumer expectation. And that is when consumer experience starts going downhill, steadily.

Nice article again. Thanks for sharing it.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes ,unfortunately most advertising is independent of the realities of the brand.
Whenever advertising over-promises the brand runs into a problem.

Sivaramakrishnan V said...

Very witty, excellent reading. I agree with you on Ganguly, the Tata Indicom ad, and the insurance ad (see, I forgot the brand too). Personally, I thought the Maruti ad has a strong idea but takes too long on problem set-up, that too using a crutch…..but that’s my opinion!!!



Cheers,

Siva

Sridhar Ramanujam said...

Thanks Siva,

Interesting about the delay in the problem set up! The trouble with advertising guys is that we spend too much time in coming to the point!

Rajesh Kochhar said...

Sridhar,

Nice to hear you are writing again.

Strange that you mentioned the tata indicom ad as my wife and I were discussin it the other day and we agreed that while it was amusing it was an ad detrimental to the product. While the idea being coveyed was good - the best network - unfortunately the network part was not well relyaed. At the end of the ad I was left with 2 images - Tata indicom and the subject yelling hello ! hello!. It formed an ( negative) associative image of Tata indicom and a bad network.Is our imagery a minority and is the well conceived ad not made well enough to override the negative image. You are an adman and would probably be in a better position to answer my question.

The insurance ad is brilliant and a model a nobel position to be in

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Dear Rajesh,

Interesting response. A product is supposed to solve a problem. In communication we often raise a problem and offer a solution through our product. If that does not come through clearly then we certainly have a problem!

Dilip Dhopavkar said...

Sridhar,

You write very well. Really captivating. I went thru all the three commercials. But I am a guy who cannot appreciate ads while watching TV. In fact when you are watching a good TV programme , ads are so irritating !

Let me give you an instance. Nowa days I am watching a serial Raja Shivachhtrapai on Shivaji Maharaj. I watch it with an intensity and sometimes become very emotional or sometimes feel so elevated by Shivaji's values. Imagine all of a sudden there is a break and the commercial on some stupid product breaks in. It is such a great climb down. Feel helpless at times. I realize that commercials make it possible for us to watch these good programmes as they are the defrayers of expenses. This is the price one has to pay. Still the irritation is also a reality. So I have adjusted myself to the great paradox.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Dear Dilip,

Interesting point of view. Actually I have written often about how advertisers are taking consumers like you for granted by interrupting programs with commercials.

We should not end up killing the golden goose - that is the consumer!

Muralidharan R said...

Dear Sridhar,

I feel pretty good after reading the article. reasons are as follows:

i liked the ads mentioned there too. and i did not remember the service provider in the retirement solution insurance provider either but remembered the commercial.

why did i feel good. i patted myself on my back ( undeservedly may be), saying If Sridhar thought so too, does it mean i have begun to appreciate the advertisements the way they should be. I can see you wincing!

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Dear Murali,

Thanks. Glad to note that you too could not remember the service provider!

P Sankaran said...

Good choice of Ads and great delineation, laced with humour! And then there was this inevitable reference to cricket! Enjoyed the article thoroughly!!

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Dear Murali,

Thanks. Glad to note that you too could not remember the service provider!

P Sankaran said...

Good choice of Ads and great delineation, laced with humour! And then there was this inevitable reference to cricket! Enjoyed the article thoroughly!!

C N Ram said...

Loved the critique - many similar thoughts in my mind when I viewed the ads, but without the insights that you have given!

Anil Kumar Puthumana said...

Thanks.

Well written.. personally , I agree with some of the remarksJ

Nivs@Blogger said...

It's a nice pick, I agree with Sridhar, the ads are not complete if one cannot recall the brand after seeing. In fact, I realised that the Pension plan ad. was made for Max. Life. In sharp contrast the Maruti Suzuki ad. is just brilliant, it caught my attention the first time I saw it. I called all my family members to see the ad. when it was aired the second time.

One thing about the Tata Indicom ad. in the restaurant, Tata indicom has its audio as a caller tune. When I call on a Tata Indicom number I hear a message to press * to make it as my caller tune, then after the message it immediately starts "Hello, Hello, Hello.." twice I was mistaken that the receiver must not be able to hear my "Hello" only to realize it's a caller tone.

Nivs@Blogger said...

It's a nice pick, I agree with Sridhar, the ads are not complete if one cannot recall the brand after seeing. In fact, I realised that the Pension plan ad. was made for Max. Life. In sharp contrast the Maruti Suzuki ad. is just brilliant, it caught my attention the first time I saw it. I called all my family members to see the ad. when it was aired the second time.

One thing about the Tata Indicom ad. in the restaurant, Tata indicom has its audio as a caller tune. When I call on a Tata Indicom number I hear a message to press * to make it as my caller tune, then after the message it immediately starts "Hello, Hello, Hello.." twice I was mistaken that the receiver must not be able to hear my "Hello" only to realize it's a caller tone.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Very interesting about the caller tune. I did not realize that. Sometimes we try to integrate the brand message across various media, but end up with funny results. Tata indicom this way may actually end up being associated with poor coverage this way!