Thursday, May 11, 2006

Is daddy cool?

The setting is a primary school classroom. The children are all busy listening to their teacher. Outside the class a parent (father) is trying desperately to catch the eye of his child who is equally desperately trying to avoid his eye. The kid’s friends also draw attention to the gesticulating parent and reluctantly the boy comes out of the class. His animated father asks him how to get the cricket score on his mobile and how he can get to R World. The exasperated son looks at his father with barely concealed scorn and tells him “just press the button”, gets him the score and goes back to class. The film ends with the father’s delighted, albeit ill-timed jig at the Indian score and at Dhoni’s six. Two nuns, who are passing by, wonder what’s happening. I like this commercial for a number of reasons not the least of which is my own anxiety to know the cricket score, sometimes when I am in alien lands like Thailand where cricket is nowhere in the scheme of things. But back to school and our commercial.

Execution – only half the story
At the risk of carrying coal to Newcastle, I must repeat that there are two components to any communication. The execution is that which we finally see, love, hate or are indifferent too. It is difficult not to like the Reliance R World commercial. Key to the executional success is a cute kid whose histrionics holds the commercial together. I am sure many of us have noticed the bevy of cute kids that waltz into our living rooms emoting for one brand or the other. This kid is one such. Let’s move on to the other part which is the strategy or ‘what’ is being said: This precedes the ‘how’ that you and I get to see.

The ‘parity economy’ we live in
One of the most abused clich├ęs of our times is the statement that we live in a competitive world with multiple brands in every category. Every product is depressingly similar to its competition and there are so many of them whether it is soaps, shampoos, detergents… You name the category and I would be hard pressed to name the brands within it. So unique selling propositions like ‘bottles washed in steam’ or ‘only toothpaste with clove oil’ are increasingly difficult to come by in this day and age of product parity. The solution is not within the product but within the consumer. However difficult it is we must strive to find a consumer insight that strikes a chord in the viewer’s heart and moves the brand’s sales graph up. This commercial has one such insight. It’s not the ‘R World’ feature. Airtel offers value-added services too as I am sure does Hutch. And I am sure all these brands are powered by a website like Cricinfo. So there is no differentiator there. But the difference is that this commercial strikes a chord through its understanding of its consumers.

Daddy is a technophobe!
Just look around you and you will be amazed at how technologically challenged most consumers are. Nor is it a new phenomenon. In the eighties and nineties, one out of every two middle class Indian households bought a VCR but few among them ever used the ‘record’ switch, perhaps even more infrequently when a program that was scheduled for later had to be recorded in absentia. Even today people seem to be more comfortable ‘forwarding’ e-mails than composing them. People who own the snazziest LCD TV’s do not know how to tune the various channels that are beamed off the cable network. Owners of satellite radio do not know how to feed the password to get it on air and most relevantly many of us have fancy mobile phones with umpteen features that we haven’t the foggiest notion about. I wonder how many people above 40 who have cell phones with camera can actually take a picture and use that visual as wall paper. I for one cant! So what do we do? We enlist the support of our children who thankfully don’t suffer from our technological deficiency. These kids can delete our unnecessary messages, store important numbers, tell us how to activate voice mail and use call waiting facility. And they barely need to be out of their diapers to do all these seemingly mind boggling things.
It is this insight that drives the ‘R World’ commercial.

Insights are pure gold
Phil Dusenberry, the advertising great who was behind some of BBDO’s path breaking campaigns has this to say, “Good research demands brilliant analysis which inspires blazing insights that lead to ground breaking strategies and award winning executions.” Traditionally we have believed in the power of ideas. I am not knocking ideas. They have their use- but insights are long term and far more valuable. GE’s ‘We bring good things to life’ based on a strong insight ran for 24 years. The starting point is research. And research does not mean tons of spreadsheets or mountains of data. It is understanding the consumer, her motivations and problems. It is time spent intelligently at the consumer’s house or at the retail outlet or at the pub if beer is our product. Insights have been discovered before by observant marketers. And will continue to be discovered in future too. If you want to secure your brand’s future have no stone unturned. Just unearth that insight!

The author is Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO of Brand-comm