Monday, December 28, 2015

How to make “feel good” advertising better

Such commercials are effective when they are timely and people are inclined to receive the message

It is that time of year - Christmas, a time of universal peace and brotherhood. Different people have different images of Christmas and yet they are all about peace, togetherness and friendship that cuts across races, religions and languages. Yet even if Christmas is around the corner, the world is going through trauma and personal distrust. Positions are getting polarised as people are unable to look at people with diverse backgrounds with equanimity. Terrorism seems to be rearing its ugly head all too frequently and people sadly look with suspicion at people from different religions and that is a sad commentary of the times we live in. It is in this context that one can see the value of the new Tata Sky commercial which has been set around Christmas and the attendant celebrations. It is a pleasantly shot commercial, lit differently and opens to musicians who are clearly Muslim with their long beards playing Christmas Carols even as the stage is beautifully glowing with warm candle light. It could be set anywhere, a church, a mosque, even a prayer hall. The musicians are playing instruments that are essentially Eastern even if the tunes they are playing are well recognised Christmas carols. The 105 second long commercial for Tata Sky does not have a branding message but entreats people to not give up hope on the human race - just yet. Of course, it helps that Tata Sky has its own channels to keep playing the commercial unlike say other advertisers.

We must remember too that today many commercials are produced for longer durations despite the media cost being prohibitively high because they are created primarily for YouTube. Everybody wants to create videos that can become viral and this commercial has succeeded in its attempt probably because the timing is right as it reminds us of the need for universal brotherhood at the time of Christmas.

Two nations who need to communicate
India and Pakistan have had a disturbed relationship and even the halting attempts to get closer together have been compounded by stray incidents. While it is easy to blame it on politicians or the other country there is no denying the fact that there is a problem between these two neighbours who till 1947 were a large, undivided nation. The premise is that the people of these two countries actually are fond of each other and are separated by borders and restrictions imposed by hostile and suspicious governments of these two countries. The man on the street wants to understand what is happening across the border and realises that people are the same wherever they may live and they have commonalities with people who live across the border, and this is precisely what Coca Cola does in this elaborate video where they created a machine that enabled people to do things like placing hands, dancing and demonstrate their emotions which are similar to those depicted by people across the border. Of course we must remember that Coca Cola is sold in both countries and the brand was reaching out to consumers and prospects with this feel good message and long video primarily created for YouTube and sharing.

Airtel, the largest mobile service operator in the country too did a commercial with the same theme though it was more of a television commercial rather than a demonstration video like the Coke effort. It features two small children living on different sides of the border who play football together and addresses and reinforces the fact that barriers are man-made and people are bound by common interests like football.

Efforts like this are not necessarily new and my mind goes back to 1988 and one of the most popular commercials of that time in Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” which was a classic in my early days in advertising. Watch the commercial featuring some of the biggest singers, actors and celebrities of that time. The thought was that despite India being a land of diverse people, religions and languages, Indians are essentially the same and have a lot in common.
Again, the need for something like this was quite high as the nation was recovering from differences between people from different religions resulting in violence and loss of life.

Is there a better way?
Clearly “feel good” advertising has a role to play. It works better when it is topical and when people are more inclined to receive the message. In my view it would be better for brands to not do isolated pieces of communication on random subjects but create on one theme which is perhaps linked to their CSR. This would enable brands to build on the relationship with their CSR and try to own it. It is important for companies to demonstrate that they have a heart and are willing to put money behind it. 

What is your company’s cause and what are you doing about it?

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