Thursday, May 3, 2012

Of a cute kid and a grumpy old man

Many years ago I remember reading about research that said Indian television viewers preferred the commercials that preceded and followed programmes to the actual programmes. Well, history repeats itself (I must quickly add, to a certain extent) as some of the commercials one gets to see on Indian television are vastly superior to the programmes it carries.

You will realise the truth of my statement if you happen to watch the pre-IPL match telecast (whatever it is called) featuring Navjot Singh Sidhu and the “new, improved” Harsha Bhogle, who must be paid per word as he normally speaks seven words when one should suffice. So, instead of using up valuable words on these people, let's talk about advertising that is either better or worse.

Father, dear father
A young father comes home from work to be greeted by his cute daughter, who asks him to freshen up and come for dinner. She solicitously asks him how his meeting was instead of starting out on how badly his mother was behaving during the day. Thankfully, commercials are set in more idyllic surroundings than real life! She gives him an Oreo with a glass of milk and, when he says that the food is nice, she modestly says that she prepared it specially for him. She also shows him how to eat it by licking it, dunking it in the milk and then as he gets ready to eat it, she thrusts it into her own mouth with a squeal of laughter. I love the commercial because men have a marked and unreasonable preference for daughters. I admired the detailing of the commercial, the way the girl wears oversized heels and the fact that the product is the hero. In this case, I put my money where my mouth is and actually bought a packet of Cadbury's Oreo recently. I am sure my doctor would have thrown a fit if she had seen me with the pack in my hand, as people of my age are better off merely looking and talking about such products rather than consuming them.

Holier than thou
I watch IPL like the guy in the Havell's commercial who alternates between ‘on' and ‘off'. And when I have been ‘on' and that is certainly not during the strategic breaks, I have been appalled at some of the advertising that I have seen. The worst must surely be the V-Guard commercial which I won't even attempt to review, as it is beyond my limited powers of description. But it makes me seriously think of instituting an award for the worst commercial of the year and make it a viewer's choice. But let me get back to other advertising that is happening over the IPL.

One of the campaigns that really bothers me is the Docomo campaign with Ranbir Kapoor. I do generally like the advertising for the brand and have admired the company's game-changing strategy of “per second” billing. This one features four ads that I have seen — where he is shown as a grumpy old man, often a waiter who has scant regard for his customers, generally takes them for a ride and is exceptionally obnoxious. Of course, he represents all the other mobile operators who overcharge, promise you the moon and about whom you have to be particularly careful. Docomo, of course, is a paragon of virtue I am sure! Mind you, Ranbir Kapoor is hardly an actor of great histrionic abilities, and while actors such as Sivaji Ganesan and Sanjeev Kumar have done great portrayals of older men even while they were young, I wonder what this young man's need to do this role is?

At a more strategic level, these scripts do not need a celebrity. And I remember the Tata Sky commercial where Aamir Khan acts as an old Sardarji where his acting ability and demeanour actually lifted the commercial to a different plane.

And, finally, I think the mobile industry already suffers from a lack of credibility, and one of the players saying others are likely to cheat you makes me wonder if the whole industry is full of used car salesmen.

Another industry, another potshot
Yet, in the same breath, I must tell you that I liked the Bharti AXA General Insurance commercial done sometime ago featuring a guy with a “critical lung disease”. Instead of being shocked or worried, he plaintively requests the doctor to give him a stroke or a kidney failure as those are the sorts of diseases his insurance policy allows! While it is an attack on the competition that is probably indulging in unhealthy practices, I still think it is done in an endearing way and leading it to a different level is the earnest portrayal by the model.

Yes, you can be subtle and still achieve the same results without being hammy or artificial.

Here is hoping that the IPL has fewer strategic breaks and finer advertising!

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