Thursday, April 27, 2006

Back to the future

I recall a famous Tamil film song penned by the immortal lyricist Kannadasan which when translated reads as follows “Feet that stray from the right path don’t reach the destination”. And yet I believe it is possible for people and brands to get back on track with a little introspection. Brands stray when they try to be different for the sake of being different. The desire to be different is pretty common in advertising. And this desire to be different usually means a break from the past. If only the agency were to listen to the “echoes” of the past – a term that the famous advertising person David N. Martin (the founder of the Martin agency) was fond of using – it could build on the framework of the past, rather than creating from scratch.

A.R. Rahman resurfaces for Airtel
Airtel is an amazingly successful brand. It has very visible advertising, with a fairly high share of voice. As mobile services is an extremely competitive (cut throat?) category, there are a number of advertising renditions that happen. And yet one of the most interesting ones for me as a consumer was the one with A.R. Rahman in Hyde Park (was it) playing with an assortment of musicians even as an adoring recording artist listens to the music that is carried through Airtel mobile’s service. Well, I know that I can’t be exactly objective about A.R. Rahman but it was a brilliant track. Airtel had integrated this piece of communication making it a fairly popular ring tone. Every second Airtel user was having this ring tone and enthusiastic guys even used it in their cars as they reversed. I am not sure if Airtel has been using this tune in all their advertising. Some of their schemes like Rs.199/- set in paan shops and barber saloons certainly did not. But I was pleasantly reassured to see the Airtel music shop commercial with a predominance of red (the Airtel logo and colours) and A.R. Rahman’s music track again – in the forefront where it belongs. Their other black and white commercial too which is on air which I shall refer to as the “Berlin Wall” commercial has a strand of this music as it ends.

I will not forget A.R. Rahman
Indians love music. Its one of the great unifiers of this diverse country. Music too provides a great “opportunity to hear” (OTH) if you are not in the same room as the TV set. Airtel’s music track has the potency of being a ‘brand property’ if it isn’t already. Titan has had the same music track for a small matter of 19 years. I remember the commentator David Lloyd asking errant bowlers to write 100 lines – “I will not bowl short to Ricky Ponting”, I am sure bowlers would do well to remember this as well – “I will not bowl on Rahul Dravid’s pads” and Airtel’s agency would do well to memorise this “I will not forget A.R. Rahman”. And I wonder if it is politically correct for me to write about this interesting call I received from Hutch saying that they had an unbeatable offer for Airtel’s privileged customers. This deserves another column so I should desist for the present. Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, if Airtel doesn’t get you then Hutch must!

“Thanda” returns to a hot country
Summer time is cola time – or at least cool drink time. A couple of years ago Coke had this wonderful “thanda” campaign with Aamir Khan, which was a break from their global advertising position and stance. Their line “Thanda matlab coca cola” warmed my heart at least. It was an attempt to own the word “thanda” which most of India (read Hindi heartland) could relate to. Then Coke lost its way (or so I said in one of my columns in this august newspaper) and said “Sar Utha Ke”. Clearly Coke was throwing out the baby with the bath water in its quest for change. And now Coke is back – if not with a bang – at least with Thanda. The new campaign with Aishwarya Rai is not my favourite – it’s too Delhi University centric, relies too much on Aishwarya’s histrionics (what are they) but is still built on “Thanda”. Coke, you are getting there. But where is Aamir? Probably in Gujarat….

“The king of good times”
Let’s get back to our original concept, music. Kingfisher first launched their Calypso tune when they sponsored the West Indian Cricket team. Arguably the West Indian Cricket team was the worst then. It is getting there even now but Kingfisher had a good thing going with its music track. The calypso beat had people humming when they were not guzzling. I particularly like Kingfisher’s recent shower commercial with Michael Vaughan and Freddie Flintoff. An interesting use of international cricketers while they are touring. (Perhaps the only worthwhile thing Vaughan has done in India on their recent tour is shoot this commercial!). And an interesting replay of the tune. The same “good times” thought is airborne with Kingfisher airlines as well. Yes, music will work. The question is can we see beyond the tips of our noses? Can we recognize the good thing that we own? Sadly we miss the obvious trick when it comes to brands and branding. So, whenever you are stumped to find a solution at present, just look backwards. You just might find your pot of gold. Your brand’s past could well guide your future.

The author is Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO of Brand-comm