Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Times That We Live In

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.
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shibakumar sethy said...

Thank q sir. for sharing a insightful and observant post with mentioned in the post,why these agencies playing with the emotion and sensitivity of there no restriction for these type of mis-conceptualizations...?

Sandeep Srinivasan said...

Provocative, yes. But I think the country has never stopped being modern more. This is like beating a dead horse, don't we already know that change is permanent! But I guess it hurts sometimes, nevertheless, to move away from culture.

I am not championing suggestive advertising. Although, I see it from the viewer's perspective. At one point, images were considered titillating, then changing fashion trends started to make significant impacts - from skirts, short skirts to t-shirts to 'tops' to spaghettis. Nude would pass too, it was tried too soon. I guess this whole idea of crossing *cultural barriers* in advertising has always been relative - both from a visual and content perspective.

To look from a child's POV, I think the country has "progressed" greatly in the last decade, so ads like these may not necessarily evoke curiosity as they would during my childhood. Most importantly, India is a country with a significant chunk of youth population (more than 45%), so guess the marketers are not wrong from a business perspective by customizing largely towards that age group :)

Although I am not expert to provide a solution to this issue, I would say time-slotting of ads can help in a big way. Nice post.

shrini said...

Well, at times i agree ppl tend to over react, but there has to be a line of demarcation between social responsibilities and social trend. If i were to pick one,I wud definitely choose the latter, not to follow but to forgo. sometimes, we don have time to understan that the society is movin so fast tht in a wink of an eye, goes the days of pagers, typewriters and nowadays.. so does the dress worn by celebrities in adds. its so embarrasin at times to be a part of a family watchin such a sport with gr8 zeal, bein interruptd by the so calld commercials jus to feel awkward. Maybe thts the way the add makers make us realize that its time do some exercise, walk around..see tht helps us get diverted rather than gettin stuck with TV for hrs together and suffer from back pain. Nevertheless, its time MAKERS understan wat TAKERS want!!!

cube said...

While it is true that half of the youth are always attracted to the bindas lifestyle they try to mimic, i don't think these ads reflect anything urban or young Indians.
I can point you out that almost all of the new local mobile manufacturers entering the market are using almost zero creative ads to make their presence in the market.(Lemon, i ball, max mobiles and micromax to some extent with that irritating Akshey Kumar ad).

Although these Desi mobile companies have introduced bad ads, i think they did something good in terms of creating a confusion about the mobile model. Since they introduced clones of premier models like blackberry, you never know how much the phone is actually worth. (It can be anywhere between 3000 to 30k).

Thats just my take.
Thank You

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir, I agree with your friends who called and started venting their anger about the lava mobile phone ad . Yes the kind of ads like Tech Berry , Max mobiles and now the Lava masculine phone is highly irritating and really highlights that we are so immune to such reproductions of gender stereotypes . Ads are another mode of information , informs consumers about another product , why should there be any kind of gender implication about a gadget and how insensitive and so highly stupid it is to show case condoms .Surely no one notices the phone whether it has adult edges or boy edges or feminine edges. yes phones have to look trendy , have modern features, how does any one care whether it has an adult image or a boy image. Ads become very suggestive , does not have any brilliant concept or creativity , instead it is pre historical and completely regressive in character in thought and production .

Rajeev said...

Good post, Sridhar- thought provoking.

Guess the key question to ask is- did its raciness sell more stuff or not and i am sure you would agree that in terms of global raciness, this doesn't hold a candle to some of the european stuff- the chaps there make the anglosaxon world look prudish...

the moral sensibility question is perhaps another question - but the question there is - whose's morals apply? there is no such thing called a common code, is there? and would it be right to insist that ones morals apply to another? and we are moving on in india, arent we? i still remember the "choli ke peechey" song causing a huge ruckus, a long time ago...would it cause the same ruckus were it to be released today?

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I agree. Sadly marketers are busy giving their message, without even trying to understand what their consumers are saying.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Sadly the only regulation we have is self-regulation and we all know that it does not work. I think perhaps a strong consumer reaction works best.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I think one thing we need to remember is that many millions of households in India are single TV households and that is where your suggestion of timings for programs makes sense. I know that the times are changing but does this represent the times we live in or is it over the top?

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I agree. Surely there could be a better analogy than that of using condoms to demonstrate the manliness of the phone and how it separates the men from the boys.

Gthoughts said...


Keeping aside the crudeness of the advertisements you have mentioned as examples in your post, fact remains that these ads does not say anything about the product or its utility. (Except if one takes the ad where Genelia puts the bag over the camera as an attribute:D)

So in the long run does this do any good to the product, which is being promoted?

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I daresay that the Fastrack ad talks of a product benefit- the number of things a bag can hold. As for the mobile phone, the less said the better.
I think the desire to be stand out and be different is taking over the desire to sell.

Shwetz said...

Hello sir,

Your reaction to these Ads was very much expected out of the elderly side (as u hv mentioned)
which is not wrong at all ! :D

These are the kind of ads that u watch once, laugh or criticize imediately and let it pass by.

Talking about the fastrack ad, this one stays in touch with its other ads, stays in line with their concept of moving on, being cool and being modern.
And these ads are very much popular in the youth.
It might be in the face, but it sure is smart !

My personal take is that, theres nothing worng with these ads, they are still in the limits of what might be seen in some other countries.
And about the younger generation asking Qs, well, the days have come where we might be asking the same Qs to them :P

India is moving forward, modernising, developing etc.... and its happening fast ! And we need to MOVE ON with it :D

WRITER said...

But trying to be different in some way or other makes us all the same.. Its high time don't think out of the box... maybe we are the only one left within the box which by itself makes us different!!!

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Interesting comment. Perhaps the first time I am seeing a point of view like this.

Anonymous said...

Sir, Nano's new ads are giving us the message that it is a family car , husband and wife in the front seat , and two children behind , a classic show casing of Nano as a family car which can pull along fairly well inside the cities and and as well in the rural /urban fringes- kind of suitable for all kinds of places inside India. Sir, now these new Nano ads are trying hard to push this car into the first car buying segment and not just as it was earlier seen as a car which your wife may own or your college going children or your old father may own . A Nano may not have the power steering or it may have a rear side engine which does not impress a modern day car buyer , but definitely if the nano could satisfy the customer in terms of the original pricing , then it can see the light of the tunnel.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I agree. In fact I did mention that the greatest disconnect was Tata's inability to hold on to the price point originally promised.

Shwetz said...

Your reaction to these Ads was very much expected out of the elderly side (as u hv mentioned)
which is not wrong at all !

These are the kind of ads that u watch once, laugh or criticize imediately and let it pass by.

Talking about the fastrack ad, this one stays in touch with its other ads, stays in line with their concept of moving on, being cool and being modern.
And these ads are very much popular in the youth.
It might be in the face, but it sure is smart !

My personal take is that, theres nothing worng with these ads, they are still in the limits of what might be seen in some other countries.
And about the younger generation asking Qs, well, the days have come where we might be asking the same Qs to them
India is moving forward, modernising, developing etc.... and its happening fast ! And we need to MOVE ON with it

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Interesting comment. Yes the times are changing and so must the advertising. But is advertising getting ahead of people's aspirations and acceptance? I know I am not getting younger but I try to remain young. I still cannot accept the Lava ad.

shrini said...


But trying to be different in some way ....within the box which by itself makes us different!!! "


Anonymous said...

@Tata Tea Advertisement:
I personally feel that over doing with the issues and addressing the same msg can set in fatigue, which according to me is what is happening to IDEA.They just say No idea... Get IDEA in almost every add... its almost evident that the add is going to finish only in such tone. May be its high time that TATA TEA finds effective ways to even communicate the same theme in different ways rather than different themes in same way, as what they claim as the same message!!!

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I think the theeme appeals to young people. They probably could have different ads. As for Idea, I feel a direct message that they are using is probably a better option than what some of the others are doing. In any case, I think the best judge will be the market place.

Anonymous said...

But trying to be different in some way ....within the box which by itself makes us different!!! "


Ramanujam Sridhar said...

The comment has been posted in your name only. I have given my response to it.

thimmaiah said...

The Lava ad is simply one of those ads that will keep you talking, love em or hate em, nobody is going to ignore them! Will that ad increase footfalls in their stores or push up their sales, I highly doubt it. But for a brand that is coming in new they did the one thing any brand manager would want, that is to lodge the brand in the mind of the consumer.

WRT the Fastrack ad I think it shows of the products utility and with a tongue in cheek approach functionality. It is however an ad most youngsters would connect to and smile about. But again the question that comes up is the would their sales have gone up with an ad like that? Possibly not, but it definitely has got the target customer engaged.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Interesting take on both the ads. I think the key is attention getting and both these ads score on that front. Only time will tell whether these ads will make the cash registers ring. Though I believe clients should ideally be good judges of the effectiveness of advertising.
My only point of view on the Lava ad is that many TV viewing households in India are single TV households and I wonder if the Lava ad is for universal viewing

Anonymous said...

Dear sir
This started way back when moods introduced the revolutionary advertisement followed by KS and the godfather was the AXE perfume..we should be in for more surprises i suppose.
Michael,Bishop heber, trichy

Sajith S said...

hi sir...
a really debatable choice of topic for the post as the number of comments show...
getting straight to the matter, if i am the 3rd umpire, i would rule the decision in favour of both fastrack and lava...
Fastrack would be safe by a few inches or so but lava, just giving benefit of doubt to the batsman...
I think fastrack has given a celeb touch to its move-on positioning and the ads stuck to the theme... Only, we can always feel that kohli and genelia could've been put to better use...
And as for schedule of the ad, there are no perfect times or perfect programs where we can screen ads for 100% TG only... and people young-at-heart could be buyers too even if not users...
as for the lava ad, it is on the edge... its tough to say how many people who have watched the ad would go straight ahead and buy the phone...but the ad was a talking point and gave it some word of mouth... now with the mobile handset category overloaded with makers and models, and every model stuffed up with endless list of features and lucratively priced, what can a maker do to stand out..? (counter: in our area, people say,"will you run around with out clothes to gain attention..??"... may be that time has come for poor handset guys..)..

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Thank you for your comments. The first point I wish to make is that it is always great to get a different point of view. I did mention that the fastrack ad was bang on. As far as the lava is concerned , the greatest thing going for it is this"you can either love me or hate me , but for God"s sake don"t ignore me". You certainly cannot ignore the Lava ad , but I don"t share your views - hopefully because I am much older! Sadly I am a customer too for mobile phones.

Sajith S said...

I don't think you a customer for LAVA. they were originally targeting rural customers. and now with some feature-loaded models, trying to attract semi-urban and urban population. almost all of their models are priced below Rs5000 catering to the low-end/medium device segment.
People like you or me don't belong there and so LAVA guys need not care what we think about the ad. It might work on the segment its targeted on.