Doesn’t celebrity come with responsibility? How many star endorsers really use the things they promote?
Two decades ago the BPL brand was king. As someone who was involved with the brand's advertising for several years, I feel a great sense of sadness that the brand has virtually disappeared. But the purpose of this piece is not to indulge in nostalgia, however enticing that prospect is, but to remind you of something that the brand experienced and which has relevance to what is happening today. At this time, probably in the late Eighties, the BPL brand was on top of the heap even as Amitabh Bachchan was picking up the shreds of his career that had been shot to bits and his much touted company ABCL was on the verge of closure. (This was pre-Kaun Banega Crorepati). It was then that BPL in a stroke of absolute madness (or so I thought) signed on the Big B to be its brand ambassador. Why, oh why was my reaction then and even now. Why would the brand, which was on top, sign on a sagging brand and an aging star?
Be that as it may, a series of high-profile commercials were done for the entire range of BPL products which had enormous visibility. Everything was hunky dory till IFB (I hope my memory of the brand name is right) got into the act for it figured out that Amitabh did not own any BPL product other than a four-door Sanyo refrigerator (if rumours were to be believed) even if he was endorsing the entire range of BPL products and he actually owned an IFB microwave. So they promptly came up with a takeoff on BPL's tagline (‘Believe in the best') and took a hard hit at the leader with an ad which said that Amitabh believes in the best which is why he owns an IFB microwave! Well, to say the manure hit the roof would be an understatement. Having spoken elaborately about a brand that was on top while I had hair on my head, let me talk about another brand that is trying to make its presence felt through very visible ads featuring a much younger celebrity - Ranbir Kapoor.
Stand up and be counted
One of the features of the mobile services category is not only its enormous growth but also the phenomenal creativity that the category seems to inspire in a variety of creative directors. In fact, I have often said that while cola might have been the category to work for two decades ago, mobile services are the category that most young creative minds would like to create for. Having said that my constant refrain as a mobile consumer is that all mobile advertising is what Rosser Reeves might have classified as “puffery” and bears no relationship to the actual service that consumers like me get.
I was an admirer of the advertising that Tata Docomo brought out from its launch and its “life can change in seconds” was something that captivated me. The advertising, aided, of course, by a game-changing strategy, was truly memorable. In my case, the advertising really worked as I went out and subscribed to a Tata Docomo service. To classify the service as ‘poor' would be a euphemism. It was pathetic. It did not work in most of the places that I “roamed”, call drops were the order of the day and to activate any service was a challenge of monumental proportions. In disgust, I gave up my service and several months after I have paid everything and moved away I get calls every day reminding me about some due which is non-existent. So will they pay me a penalty as young Ranbir Kapoor so interestingly promises? This leads me to the current lot of commercials.
Very funny, but is it true?
I like Ranbir Kapoor, though Rishi Kapoor, his father, was arguably the hottest young star of our time. Could anybody from my generation forget Rishi and Dimple in Bobby? God, how ancient I sound! But let's move from the hot star of the past to today's teenage heartthrob and his latest range of “Keep it simple silly” commercials for the Tata Docomo brand. He is a stand-up comedian taking potshots at the mobile services industry in general. His cracks on marriage and his father and other mobile service providers are quite funny. Strategically, Tata Docomo too moved away from its earlier advertising stance and roped in a celebrity. While that strategy is questionable, there is no doubt about the execution as the commercials are genuinely funny and hold one's attention. I believe that in the Indian context where every consumer has the dangerous weapon called the remote control that enables her too easily to switch channels, commercials must entertain first and sell later. These commercials certainly do that, so let's discuss the story ideas and what they are attempting to convey.
Keep it simple
I have seen a series of commercials on the “simplicity”. The first (or so I presume) is the one about people choosing complexity over simplicity with his example of a wedding card and saying how guys choose to get married when their lives would remain simple if they stay single. Surely commercials like these will strike a chord with married people like me. (Of course, I can make statements like these with impunity and total courage as my wife usually never reads what I write). The analogy is with mobile companies that embrace complexity over simplicity, unlike Tata Docomo. Then there are others about the family plan where Ranbir mimics his father's tone of voice, particularly when he has a glass in his hand. He talks about keeping his dad's credit card while his dad is welcome to keep his mobile bill.
There are a few other funny commercials about the family plan where he talks about animals and how the family that eats together, stays together. The context of this well-enacted commercial is the family plan of Tata Docomo. There is another commercial on the family plan too where he speaks about breaking off his engagement with a girl because she put herself in his family plan. How dare she? Then there are other commercials which ridicule the customer service of other mobile service providers and how customer service guys keep mouthing inane statements like “your call is valuable to us” and how you have to press ‘1', ‘2', ‘3', ‘4' or ‘5' as against Tata Docomo where you can actually get to speak directly to a real, live operator. It also ridicules another service operator who keeps sending bills long after the customer is dead.
So what is the verdict?
As I keep repeating, the commercials are interesting, humorous and use the histrionic ability of this talented star to great effect. I am sure commercials such as these will have high recall, not only because of the creative treatment and the celebrity but also because these are real pain points for mobile users. I know what it is to try to speak to a service provider. It is easier to pick Murali's doosra! But my basic question is: Is Tata Docomo all that it claims to be? I really, really wonder and as I mentioned earlier, I used to be a customer of the same service provider and left completely annoyed and irritated. I am still being harassed by them long after I have given up the service and I have the mails to support my claim for the brand's inefficiency. But I am not going to go on and on about the service but want to talk about a slightly larger issue and that concerns advertising agencies and celebrities.
Who is your mobile service provider?
Sometimes when I see ads for mobile services and banks (definitely) I have a basic question. Does the agency which creates these ads use these mobile services? Do its people travel the length and breadth of this country, including the smaller towns, and try to communicate with their other colleagues in Mumbai or Delhi using the same service? Have they tried other services to compare and contrast the claims that they are so readily and so creatively promoting? And what about the responsibility of celebrities? Has Sachin ever ridden a TVS Victor after the shoot? Does Shah Rukh ever use a Santro (or maybe his gardener does?) and what about Ranbir Kapoor, our hot young star? Who is his mobile service provider? Has he ever used Tata Docomo? And if he does, I wish he would travel to a remote place for a shoot and desperately try to connect with his girlfriend in Mumbai whoever she might be, and then do a commercial.
Maybe I am asking for too much, but what the hell, I am a consumer, and more importantly a voter too, and as I end my piece two women have just swept the polls! But that is another story.
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
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