While advertisers are trying to get Young India right, will they please think of the other, especially, younger India watching their commercials?.
Is it a reflection of the times we live in or a young creative person's ability to get our attention?
It is 6.30 a.m. on a wintry morning in Bangalore and England has just retained the Ashes in style, beating an Australian side which used to be “awesome” and is now pretty much “awful”, to raucous chants of the Barmy Army - “Australia, are you England in disguise” they cheer and Australia have nowhere to hide for it is all happening at the Sydney Cricket Ground and not at some remote place like Nagpur or Ahmedabad. Earlier I had proudly watched the Indian resistance on a quagmire of a wicket and India demonstrated to a disbelieving Western world that it deserved to be the No.1 test team in the world as they stood up to everything that the Proteas threw at them, including a bottle on our own home-grown brat Shantakumaran Sreesanth.
Graeme Smith could handle neither his swing nor his sledging and promptly whined (or is the right word whinged) as he has been known to do in the past.
Much as I would have loved to go on and on about test cricket and its ability to hold the attention of cricket-mad clowns like me, I am going to desist out of deference for my concern for you, dear reader and focus on some (don't worry) of the advertising that I had been meaning to write about, but could not as I was watching the tussle between bat and ball too anxiously.
Of course, Star Cricket and Ten Cricket (what a cheap thing Ten Sports did by foisting one more channel on us and threw in the worst imaginable commentary team as a perk) ensured that advertising was never out of our (and if I may add, their) scheme of things as they kept showing the same commercial over after over and often during the over as well. (How dare the bowler bowl a wide and deliver a seven ball over - shouldn't he know that it is commercial time!)
It's showtime, folks!
I have always been influenced by a few points of view that I have been exposed to. The first is the adage that every client gets the advertising that he deserves, much like Australia is getting the retribution it deserves for its arrogance.
The second is that advertising reflects the times that we live in. The third perhaps is that truly great advertising is on the “verge” of being outrageous. Now let's see whether the advertising that is going to be reviewed will remind us of some of these adages. I, however, need to caution myself that this is not about me or my prejudices, biases and pet theories but about the consumer. You need to remember, dear reader, that I was born in a village once called Madras (as many well-travelled people would sarcastically remind us) and spent my formative years in the conservative heartlands of Mylapore and Mambalam. So if at times you find an environmental bias creeping in, resist.
You be the third umpire on my judgments. Having provided a healthy preamble let's move on to a couple of edgy commercials that I have seen in recent times.
What, really,are these brands trying to convey through their advertising?
In the bag
In the heyday of Australian cricket (which Star Cricket keeps reminding us about in their pre-World Cup build up) the Australians would never let the opponents get up once they were down and their supporters would have placards which read “in the bag” a jaunty reference to how imminent victory was, which leads me to talk about the Fastrack bag commercial.
I am not sure if it has the visibility of some of the others that I will talk about later but let me explain. Of course, I need to quickly explain that I am not the target consumer as balding 58-year-olds don't go about shopping for fancy bags, however young at heart they may be. Having said that, I must mention that the accessories that the brand has launched have helped the brand talk to youth and perhaps even enhance its youthful image.
The commercial has two celebrities (after all, we love celebrities, don't we) in Genelia the actor and Virat Kohli the budding cricketer who clearly seem to be BPO types (easily recognisable in the pubs of Bangalore). They enter a cabin to some serious petting (not to be confused with the NDTV show featuring pets) when the ever-alert cricketer points to a close circuit camera. (It is not only TTD employees who are aware of close circuit cameras.)
The enterprising Genelia empties the millions of things in her bag (Fastrack bags are commodious) and covers the camera with her bag as they do whatever young people do in the confines of closed rooms unobserved by the prying camera.
Then the two set off hand-in-hand with the super “move on”.
While it is certainly an interesting use of celebrities – even if you did not know Virat Kohli the cricketer, the young man in the commercial fits the part of a brat, a role the cricketer has been trying hard to live up to in real life – but it is about the commercial itself and its tone of voice that I want to talk about.
Is this young India? Is this urban young India? Is it the aspiration of young Indians to lead such “ bindaas” lives? Is it a reflection of the times we live in or a young creative person's ability to get our attention?
Probably a little bit of everything. But it did not shock me unduly and made me wonder where my youth had gone.
From mobiles to condoms
The next commercial that I am going to talk about is perhaps a little edgier and closer to the “outrage” factor that I spoke briefly about earlier in the piece.
The commercial is set in a modern retail outlet and there is a young, smart-looking girl at the cash counter. She wears designer spectacles and perhaps seems more suited to the boardroom. A young man comes to the counter and pays up even as he keeps the mobile on the counter.
The lady apologises for not having change (where does all the change go, I wonder) and gives him two bits of confectionery. Another young man enters the frame and promptly deposits his mobile phone in a strategic location so that the camera and more importantly, the teller, can see.
It is a Lava phone, a masculine, ‘rocking phone' as the advertiser would like to believe. He too hands over a large-denomination note of which there seems to be no shortage with the youth. The shortage, of course, is with the change and consistent with her behaviour with all young customers, the lady again apologises for not having change.
But she does something different; instead of giving her usual confectionery she hands over a couple of condoms. The voice-over says, “The new Lava A10 with a gun metal finish and sharp masculine edges separates the men from the boys”. I got a couple of enraged calls from my friends, who belong to the same vintage, after they saw the commercial. My friends believe and know I am in advertising and when something offends their sensitivities or sensibilities call me to vent their ire, holding me accountable for everything that is wrong with the world of advertising. Of course, I felt like calling a couple of people too. There was nothing smart or cheeky about this ad, in my view. It was in-my-face and sending out wrong signals.
What were they saying? Was the girl making a “come hither” gesture and sending out a strong signal to the young man? Are mobile phones such a strong indicator of lifestyle indicators? Is young India like this? Were the phone's messaging and features getting clouded under all this? Of course, the client and the agency can and will tell you how their advertising is being talked about and a conversation piece in pubs (if you can make yourself heard, that is) and how it is a rage amongst young people. But to me, who incidentally is a mobile phone customer, it just did not seem right. Or is the expression just not cricket?
A little responsibility, perhaps?
I know I am sounding my age, but is it too much to ask for a little responsibility from broadcasters, advertisers and agencies? Pushing the envelope is fine, but only up to a point. Cricket matches are being watched by people of all ages.
How on earth am I going to explain this commercial to my eight-year-old nephew , or should I ask him to close his eyes like we unsuccessfully did with our own two kids while they were growing up? So tell me, am I overreacting or do you agree with me about my view on commercials like these?
You be the Third Umpire!
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
Read my blog @ http://www.brand-comm.com/blog.html