Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blast from the past

Favourite old ads are making a comeback. Did they have to disappear, in the first place?.

Is this revival of old commercials a trend? Or just the action of some smart marketers who are realising that they have good stuff in their own cupboards that can be brought out and screened again to an old audience that recognises them and a new audience that is bound to like them? And more significantly, are there consumers who prefer these old ads to the current crop and would much rather see them?

In the early days of brand-comm, the communications consultancy firm that I founded and that I (occasionally) work for, we did an interesting consulting assignment for Parry's Coffy Bite. For the benefit of those who may not have a sweet tooth or may not have tasted that wonderful bite of confectionery priced at the magical figure of 50 paise, it has a distinctive taste that is a unique blend of coffee and toffee. Children loved the forbidden coffee taste and adults enjoyed the toffee taste.

The first commercial done for the brand was arguably the best, featuring the father and his eight-year-old son both chewing the candy enthusiastically with the son saying “Coffee!” while the father said “Toffee!” and the argument started and continued over the years. Simple thought, clear position, effectively executed. Consumers liked the toffee, not to mention the ad, the brand did well and everyone was happy.

Came the time to change the commercial and complicating the issue was the fact that adults too were tasting the product and enjoying it, and slowly but surely, the focus moved from the taste of the candy to the argument and boy, was it continued! Commercials were made on a number of people having arguments. The commercials became cleverer, the subjects more convoluted and the taste platform was deserted in favour of this more exciting platform, for advertising, at least. The advertising won awards even as the brand, hit as it was by the entry of brands such as Alpenliebe, started to feel the heat in the marketplace.

We came in to look at the situation objectively and all the research seemed to point to a few obvious things. While adults consumed the product, if it happened to be at home, they were not going out to actively buy it. The primary consumer and the heavy user was the kid aged between 8 and 14 years and the product's key attribute was its unique blend of coffee and toffee. The client and agency had moved to the more intellectual terrain of arguments from the taste and it was an obvious solution to come back to the original position that the taste is so good that it is difficult to say whether the taste is coffee or toffee and even run the same ten-year-old commercial for a short time before another execution could be done.

The Tamil poet Kannadasan might have written that the “legs that stray from the right road will not reach their destination” but brands can be more fortunate. They can come back to either running their old commercial or at least reviving the earlier position that served them so valiantly in the past.

Nootruku Nooru Vajram

Another brand which taught us interesting lessons was Vajram, a brand of cement from Dalmia that brand-comm had branded, created the packaging and advertising for and launched in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The communication and branding were research-based and the television commercial ‘Nootruku Nooru' Vajram resonated in homes in Tamil Nadu that avidly watched Sun TV. The brand was one of the most successful cement brands launched in Tamil Nadu and soon became the company's mainstay. The commercial ran for several years and the client, and sometimes even the agency, got tired of it.

Every year at dealer meets we would ask the dealers the same question — “Should we change the commercial?' — and the dealers would look at us as if they had been told ‘India is the best T20 team in the world' and echo a resounding “No!” I am sure they must have been often wondering if the brand was in safe hands. ‘If it ain't broke, don't fix it' might well have been their impression. Several years later, just recently, in fact, the commercial has been changed. I do not wish to comment on that as we no longer handle the communication, but I just wonder! I am sure the results will soon be out for the customer tells us in no uncertain terms what she thinks about the communication and the brand.

People of my age may be forgiven for living in the past and going back to ‘those good old days' when batsmen walked and bowlers politely questioned umpires and where captains did not blame IPL parties for their lacklustre performance. Similarly too, ads were few and far between just like cricket matches and people remembered ads and spoke about them, as they did about deeds on the cricket field. All of this leads me to the key point that I wish to make:

Why can't agencies run some of their old commercials for the brand rather than creating new, expensive advertising which often enough is not a patch on the old one?

To prove my point: ITC Sundrop had a very successful launch commercial of a boy doing somersaults in the midst of some fluffy puris. I was pleasantly surprised to see the same commercial after several years, a commercial that I had liked even if it did nothing to make me more careful about my spreading waist even if the waist was not accompanied by the usual material prosperity that people associate with it. I also saw a commercial featuring Hrithik Roshan where a little boy is having difficulty watching a match in a dealer outlet because taller, stronger, more insensitive people were blocking his view. He sits dejected on the pavement only to be joined by Hrithik Roshan who sees his predicament and switches on the match in his mobile on R World and Yuvraj hits a six and the world erupts.

Yes, my friend, those were the days Yuvraj was fit, was hitting sixes and India was winning matches and commercials were working. Again I am getting sidetracked. Another commercial that I saw recently and that was made earlier was for Mak lubricants featuring a young, sexily dressed girl with the song ‘ Jawaani something something' playing in the background (You must forgive me, I can remember the tune and the music but cannot remember the Hindi words).

Is this revival of old commercials a trend? Or just the action of some smart marketers who are realising that they have good stuff in their cupboards that can be brought out and screened again to an old audience that recognises them and a new audience that is bound to like them? And more significantly, are there consumers like me who prefer these old ads to the current crop and would much rather see them?

The paint of India

Asian Paints is one of India's most savvy marketers and I have always loved its advertising. Whenever I have had the opportunity I have written, spoken about and brought it out as case studies in my classes and training sessions. Take the case of the Asian paints Apex which too has had some outstanding advertising over the years. It started with ‘Sunil Babu' whose tone of voice and style of delivery became a way of speech in India and when it got translated into Tamil the ‘ Kalkarrey Chandru' became a part of the local idiom of Tamil Nadu. What more can a copywriter hope for?

The next ad was for Apex Ultima and featured another popular TV commercial (in my book, at least) of a Chote Nawab standing in front of racing horses who kick up a cloud of dust. The villagers are astonished and the shaken Nawab preens himself ready to receive the accolades of the villagers rushing towards him. He finds to his consternation, however, that the villagers are running towards the house and the line says “ Haan toh bhai, bahari diwaron par dhool ko tikne na de” which I am told is ‘Dust can never remain on a wall painted with Apex Ultima'. Even if I did not understand the words, it made sense to me and an impact on me.

I wish I could say the same about the new Apex Ultima commercial featuring a performing magician who is able to make the house disappear but not the paint. I can't explain why the ad leaves me cold. Is it because I prefer the older, simpler ones? Is it because the brand suddenly tries to be upmarket and suave in startling contrast to the earlier ones? Of course, the standard responses of agency types to statements such as these are usually “You are not the target audience?” Excuse me, but I am, I am just building a house in a golfing resort in preparation for my retirement and in the hope that my golf handicap becomes less of an embarrassment!

At stumps

So here are a few thoughts for your consideration:

Are you getting tired of your commercial before your customer is? Have you checked with the consumer or the trade?

Does it still have legs? Have you measured wear-out?

Who is pushing for change, you or your agency? (One client shared the funny problem of the new creative director in the agency trashing the client's commercial made by his predecessor in the same agency and pushing for change).

Are you changing your position?

Are you losing out in the process of change?

In short, are you throwing the baby out with the bath water?

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly: Branding on Indian Turf)


Rajendra said...

I think a part of the story is that we like ads that we grew up with, like music. But it makes sense to test the old ads once in a while, and bring them back if they perform better. I still remember several from the 'good old days'-in a world of changing values, some things stand apart, for example. Of course, this may mean gagging some creative directors!

JAY said...

Sir, Its amazing how you can draw parallels to Cricket in almost any point that you make :)

I somehow think that the lifetime of an AD is restricted to one generation of its target audience. The reason being that, what motivates/appeals/amuses a particular age group today will not be the same a decade later. For example, the 'Sundrop AD' that was affable 10 Yrs back may appear childish to the audience of the same age-group today.

I can remember of one advertising attempt to run old ad's with a consideration to change in priorities. In 2001, Bajaj Auto Ltd. did re-run their most successful advertisements ( but in vain. Their mistake was that they tried to sell PULSAR and Bajaj in the same AD. The consumers ended up confused if PULSAR stood for the same set of beliefs that Bajaj did.

Its important that an advertisement has to appeal to the flavor of its time period. But the flavor does change with time and maybe its inevitable for the AD's to change too...

Ram said...

You are right there is too much clutter today and some of todays ads pale in comparison to the ads of yesteryears. Advertising of today lacks 'melody' and people are trying to say too much too quickly and too often making the consumer irritable.
You cant create 'more' clutter to break through the clutter.
Marketers quite often are forgetting that just like the editorial the advertising needs to be enjoyable and make sense to the consumer.
Todays commercials are almost like 20 20 cricket. Too much happening too fast and not every one enjoys it.
If a Don can be remade after 3 decades why cant we remix an old commercial and relaunch it to cater to todays audience. Not only that. Everything doesn't change in life with time. There are some things that are constant. Children always like chocolates doesnt matter which era they were born!