Monday, March 27, 2017

Can a model be your brand’s property?

Ad professionals must use unique and recognisable models to make sure their commercials stand out
As India braces itself for another blistering summer, I am reminded of a time long ago - over 25 years ago — when a company based in Ahmedabad would feverishly prepare itself for the peak season. It was marketing a famous brand of soft drink concentrate back then, called Rasna, that many middle class Indians grew up and slurped on. 

Although I had nothing to do with those commercials, which were path-breaking, I was one of the several Mudra employees who basked in the glory of our Ahmedabad office’s creative. Crucial to the success of these commercials was a cute, cuddly girl who eyeballed the camera and said “I love you Rasna”! 

The entire India wholeheartedly accepted the adorable little girl and I’m sure many parents wanted their children to be like her. Here is one of the many ads that featured this much-loved child in the late 1980s and 1990s. She had become Rasna’s brand property and was always mentioned when research was done on the brand. 

Fair or Lovely or both?
Another brand that I have always admired (though never used) is Fair & Lovely. It has often caught the attention of activists and young girls who wish to appear fairer than they actually are.
It has been a bestseller for Hindustan Unilever, irrespective of what the detractors of the brand have to say, as the advertising has always appealed to middle-class women. One of the constants of Fair & Lovely advertising in recent times has been Yami Gautam. 

She also featured in a recent Bollywood film. While that may or may not have helped the brand, there is no denying the fact that this model is a constant feature in the brand’s advertising and will surely be recalled by consumers. 

The Airtel girl
Not too long ago, Airtel launched a high decibel campaign for its 4G offering, with a series of commercials. They were on different themes and had multiple creative executions, all of which featured a model who beamed at us from TV screens, newspapers and hoardings all over India.
The model, Sasha Chettri, talks to a variety of people on the features of 4G and its speed; she travels all around the countryside, goes to villages in bullock carts, holidays in the Himalayas and claims that 4G works extremely well, wherever you go. While one can quibble about the veracity of the claims, there is no doubt that the girl’s image is strongly associated with Airtel 4G. 

It was in this context, therefore, that I was a bit bemused when I saw this commercial for Quick Heal, an anti-virus solutions brand, featuring Sasha Chettri! In the ad, she tells a group of youngsters about the various types of viruses their smartphones are vulnerable to. More intriguingly, the setting and the script of the commercial is very similar to that of Airtel.

I have always maintained that our advertising creative executives don’t seem to watch enough of other Indian advertising, which explains the similarity between advertising and scripts across categories, to say nothing about the choice of models. 

Keep your eyes open
The reality is that most advertising professionals seem to have a very poor view of other ads produced in India. Hence, they consider it beneath their dignity to watch advertisements created by others. This places a greater responsibility on clients to ensure that their own advertising stands out and is easily differentiated.

One of the easiest ways to not get lost in the crowd is to use a unique and recognisable model, just as Fair & Lovely, Airtel and Rasna have done. While it is difficult to ensure that models are not used in multiple categories, it is certainly within your power to look for models who are not overused, and try to appropriate them for your own brand.

Yes, small things can make a big difference, if only you put in the hard yards. Are you ready?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Should your brand ride the Women’s Day wave?

Can it beat the clutter or will it be just one of many brands jostling for attention? Choose wisely!
India is known for going gaga over a global concept that it speedily assimilates. Cricket is an example that comes readily to mind. A game that has often been described as one played by ‘flannelled fools’ has completely taken over the country’s imagination, as we saw last week in Bengaluru in a test match that had thrills, spills, excitement, controversy and the possibility of a major face-off between two of the most powerful boards in the world. Thankfully, the country quickly moved on to another international concept — International Women’s Day.

Women’s Day is probably more relevant for India than it is for the Western world, which probably treats the female sex as equal while, closer home, after taking the opposite sex for granted for 364 days, people are probably suddenly reminded of their obligations that seem to have been conveniently forgotten thus far.

Brands, too, realising that women are consumers and decision-makers (who dictate whether they flourish or merely exist) usually plan some activities on International Women’s Day, thereby adding to the clutter and the advertising revenues of channels. While there were several, let me focus on the ones that caught my attention.
Power of the idea

Star Plus, the popular TV channel with its huge base of women consumers, uses its enormous reach and viewership to extend its Nayi Soch concept to Women’s Day with an interesting, yet simple, commercial featuring the eternal celebrity Aamir Khan, who is shown running a very successful sweet store. When an acquaintance compliments him on his success, he attributes it to his smart children, who have converted the store online. When the admiring friend compliments Aamir on his sons, the proud father points to his two daughters who are responsible for the success and says it is not so much about son or daughter as it is about the power of the idea.

The commercial ends with the camera panning to the shop’s signboard, which proudly reads “Gurdeep Singh and Daughters”. Clearly, a commercial which is against popular sentiment and serves as an eye-opener in a country that blatantly discriminates against women, even at birth. And what better way to drive home the message than through a celebrity. Here’s the commercial that I liked.

The channel has gone further, featuring a series of successful fathers and daughters and the relationship between them, as this one featuring Sashi Sinha (IPG Mediabrands) and his daughter. Clearly, the concept is one that can be extended for it to get wider reach and appreciation.

Let the woman lead her life
Another stereotype we are familiar with is that of the woman who has to do everything for someone else, whether it is her husband, her children or even her in-laws, and has hardly any time for herself. We have seen this in mothers, wives and daughters, haven’t we? It is this consumer insight that Reliance Fresh draws on in its new commercial for Women’s Day.

It features a middle-aged couple and an annoyed husband who is just unable to handle the fact that his fifty-year-old wife is going on a “girls’ gang” trip to Goa for five days. He throws objection after objection to his smiling wife and threatens her that she will call him in two days because she will get into a problem! The wife smilingly laughs away all his objections and even ridicules his poor attempt at ill-health and cheerfully rushes off with her waiting friends, bag and bikini packed, with the closing line ”If I don’t do it at fifty when will I do it?” 

Then there is another disturbing commercial which talks about sex change, a sensitive topic if ever there was one. Here’s the commercial for UrbanClap that will certainly catch your attention.

But what should brands do?
Having said all this, what’s the way forward for brands on occasions like these? Here are a few thoughts for your consideration.

Think long and hard whether you actually need to be here or you could use your money elsewhere with less clutter.

Have a calendared, annual plan. Things like this should not be ad hoc.

Does your brand really belong here? And even if it does, can it beat the clutter or will it be just one of several brands jostling for attention?
Can your brand beat the stereotype? How many commercials can we have for long-suffering Sati Savitris?

Can your brand go beyond mere advertising, as Star Plus is doing?

Can you put enough media weight behind this?

Can you focus on men, for instance, in your commercial in an interesting way that will get the attention of all women?

Finally, the old adage is worth remembering. Don’t do something that you can’t do damn well, both in strategy and execution.

Yes, the world is full of opportunities. Sadly, everything comes with a cost. Choose your opportunities carefully and belated wishes for a happy Women’s Day!

Monday, March 13, 2017

I love you but I love my phone more ….

Is it enough for ads to play on the obsession with smartphones or should they go the extra mile?
Imagine if you had a choice between taking your spouse or your mobile phone to a desert island: which would you choose? Ok, ok you don’t have to answer that. I can, because I am secure in the knowledge that my wife never reads anything I write (even a shopping list) and can tell you that a mobile phone wins hands down.

Have you observed what young people do when they are sitting at a restaurant or even in a park? They keep staring intently at their mobiles instead of looking at each other, for who knows which WhatsApp message might disappear if they looked at it an hour later!

While this malady may seem particularly associated with young people, I think it is a universal problem that cuts across ages. Nowadays we have older people whose day starts with Facebook and not necessarily with Venkatesa Suprabhatam, as it might have done a decade ago. Yes, the mobile has captured our attention, imagination and hearts, hook, line and sinker! It is in this context that Vodafone has done a new piece of communication which says “Look Up”.
Look up at your partner
Watch this new video done for Valentine’s Day which is perhaps more interesting for picking on a theme that is universal and which everyone can relate to as it happens all the time in everyone’s lives; and that is about mobile phone usage. It takes a light-hearted look at how obsessed we are with phones so that, even when we are on a date with our loved one, we are peering anxiously at the mobile phone instead of looking lovingly at our partner’s face.

The communication starts at a fancy restaurant, where valets offer to take charge of your mobile phone for the time you are at the restaurant so that you can have undisturbed time and probably even talk (!) to your surprised partner! Unsurprisingly some mobile phone users decline the offer, saying that their boss might call, and so on.

Of course, a few others take up the offer. Obviously they enjoy the meal and, when interviewed later, relate a multitude of favourable experiences, ranging from how interesting their partner is without a mobile phone to how they actually looked at each other and what a fun time they had without the constant distraction of the phone.

While it is clearly a message for Valentine’s Day, there is a deeper message to all of us who seem to have difficulty in looking beyond our mobile screens, on how personal moments and relationships are getting badly hurt, thanks to this wonderful invention. 

As communication goes, it is simple rather than dramatic. Clearly, it does not have the sophisticated execution that earlier Vodafone commercials do but, then, neither does this seem a communication for mass media. 

Rather than get into the execution of the commercial, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the TVC has universal appeal as it is based on the obsession of today’s youth with the mobile phone and it seems perfectly acceptable behaviour; usually, the other person is too busy to notice this as she is peering at her phone too! Insights like this get the following reaction from consumers: “wow, it’s really true. It’s about me. I can relate to this”. This is precisely what the communication gets by way of response from viewers, and that is its biggest success. 

Insights are not new
Mobile services and their use have been a hot topic for years now for advertisers and ad agencies. I’m sure some of you remember the commercial for Airtel on a young person’s obsession with “missed calls”. A youngster’s car gets vandalised in a multiplex and, as the concerned youngsters hang around the car, the owner asks his friend if he has called the police. The young man replies that he has given a missed call to the police and they should soon call him back! This highly successful commercial, which made waves for Airtel, had youngsters look at the Airtel brand more seriously. 

Back to Vodafone
Having discussed insights, let us go back to the original Vodafone communication. While it is interesting, the way to really engage with the consumers and demonstrate to them that Vodafone cares about them is to take the concept online, request people to share their experiences when they are not on the phone, have contests, write blogs, do cartoons and just about anything that can be done to ensure that the concept of “looking up” gathers momentum and steam so that it becomes a mass movement that the brand can eventually claim credit for. 

Otherwise, it might just remain what it is now - an interesting piece of communication from a brand known for its creativity.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Will Virat Kohli be India’s Michael Jordan?

Puma might have bitten off more than it can chew with its latest endorsement
Last week witnessed two momentous events in Indian cricket, and neither took place on the field. The first, not necessarily in terms of importance, was when English all-rounder Ben Stokes, who bowled the disastrous last over in the T20 World Cup final, got picked up by Rising Pune Supergiants for a small matter of ₹14.5 crore. 

This paled in comparison to India’s cricket captain and record-breaking batsman Virat Kohli’s deal with Puma, which exceeds ₹100 crore! The eight-year-long contract beats all endorsement deals signed by other sportspersons in India. This is an indication of the growing significance of Virat as a player and a brand ambassador, and the increasing dependence on cricket by brands in India.
However, we must pause to understand why a major global brand like Puma, which has signed the likes of Usain Bolt, agreed to pay this mindboggling amount and royalty on sales to our star.
Celebrities, once again
India depends on celebrities for everything, from selling toilet cleaners to luxury cars. Sometimes, it makes me wonder if our marketers and advertising agencies are so bereft of ideas that they cling to well-known personalities the way foreign teams cling to theories about Indian pitches!
Sure, brands like Nike and Pepsi have achieved phenomenal success using this strategy, but I wonder how much other smaller brands introspect before making the same move.
So, let’s talk of the Puma deal. No doubt it is a fantastic brand fit; not only is Virat the most successful Indian captain so far, but he is also a premier batsman in all three formats with almost a fetish for fitness which typifies the brand’s values.
And despite attempts by many brands and marketers to promote other sports and leagues, cricket still rules the roost and consequent marketing money follows it with ease. So, what’s the catch?
Cost vs benefit
Marketers often forget that any decision is about costs and benefits. The cost of this deal is already well-documented but let’s not forget that a brand spends more to announce a deal — making new commercials with the celebrity, riding on their popularity through ads, and hoping they continue to break record after record. And what are the benefits?

While there will be a dramatic improvement in brand awareness, it’s still speculation whether celebrity endorsements actually lead to greater interest, desire, and purchase action.
The other doubt I have is whether Virat’s endorsements are within Puma’s control. Celebrities are products at sports management companies, and they look to maximise on the celebrity’s popularity before another hot star hits the firmament. Right now, Virat endorses more than 20 brands; how many of these do you associate with him? And should you associate Puma with Virat just because the brand forked over ₹120 crore?
Is admiration enough?
I recently read an interesting piece on ‘the Virat Kohli paradox’, which argues that while he could be the greatest Indian batsman ever, there is more admiration than love for him. I agree with the writer, as this admiration is not similar to the do-or-die sentiment we shared with Sachin Tendulkar or the regard we had for the Rahul Dravids of the world. Virat has placed himself on a pedestal with his passion, commitment and competence, and that makes me wonder whether he has distanced himself from his fans. I hope that’s not the case for Puma’s sake…
It’s easy to sit on the fence and look at both sides. What’s my own take on this deal? I admire it — it shows commitment to a sport, a country and a player. But something tells me that Puma has bitten off more than it can chew.