Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The advertising year in retrospect

The best advertising is simple, has a powerful idea — and makes you wish you were in it
How was 2017 as a year for advertising?
The industry did grow, particularly in areas such as digital, but I won’t focus too much on the business side of advertising. Rather, I will look into the business of advertising, which is all about making ads and TV commercials.
As an avid consumer of TV advertising (I strongly believe that the advertising in India is better than the programming), I have my own views about them — some of them are quite strong, even if I am not the target audience for many of the products being advertised. Which means that I can be truly objective about them!
If I have missed out some nice ads (which is inevitable in an exercise of this nature), you can put it down to a combination of old age, selective amnesia and boredom.
Broad trends
Were there any broad trends that were observed? Was there too much reference to sex and sexuality, openly or obliquely?
Actually, though certain categories like deodorants and fragrances continue to use sex to sell their products, the references seem a lot more muted now. Even Fastrack, which has a reputation for being in-your-face, is only mildly flirtatious in its commercials.
There has also been the emergence of hitherto unadvertised categories, such as perfumes, making their presence felt. Here is a commercial for Fogg, which talks about how a perfume is a great gift that reminds the recipient of the giver.
It is also worth noting that Fogg, the deodorant, went back to its earlier advertising of ‘Fogg chal raha hai’, showing how the deodorant brand is actually a phenomenon sweeping the country — even at the borders, if the advertising is to be believed!
It’s a woman’s world
For too long, we have lived in a man’s world, as they seem to call the shots in the world of business. Consumer marketing is all about women, who make decisions for household products. But 2017 was different — we witnessed it as being the ‘year of the women’, especially in advertising.
There were a number of commercials that spoke up about women’s equality and portrayed them as equal to the men in the household. There was an initiative by Star Plus, the channel that ran the ‘Nayi Soch’ campaign, which showed Aamir Khan as the owner of a sweet shop. In the ad, he acknowledged the role his two daughters played in taking the business to the next level.
The commercial’s message, that your daughters can scale up your business even better than your sons, is brilliantly captured in it.
The right to a half
Two other ads stood out for me. The Benetton ad is forthright and says women have a right to half of everything — including the power to decide, which has been denied to them for ages. But then, the brand’s advertising has always been about attitude, and this commercial only reiterates that.
Tata Tea, another brand that has believed in exhorting its consumers to act, addresses gender equality, and shows how it is learnt and is not inborn. In the ad, a mother allows the son to go to play badminton, while she asks her daughter to stay back and learn to cook, because otherwise, people will say she hasn’t been a good mom.
Talking about issues
Brands are realising that it is easier to talk about interesting issues in an engaging way than to hard-sell your brand’s attributes. It gives them the flexibility to address these issues in a longer format that YouTube provides, unlike mass media advertising on national channels.
Romance in the air
My favourite commercial, however, is of Dairy Milk Silk, which features two young college kids and how once they start messily eating the chocolate, they hear trumpets and violins — or bells and whistles, if you will!
It’s a young person’s commercial and I am sure the target audience is the young adults and children, who can’t wait to grow up and get out of childhood. I am sure they would like to experience the wonderful emotion depicted so entertainingly and endearingly in this commercial.
As can be seen, the best advertising is simple, has a powerful idea — and makes you wish you were in it! In this case, it would have made you wish you were in the frame, eating chocolate with the girl you love!
Well, there’s no harm in hoping, is there?

What an Idea, Sirji!

It is very difficult to build a brand property which could be a campaign idea, a tune or a tag line
I have an unreasonable liking for Idea, the mobile services brand. And this proclivity has to be understood slightly differently. I used to head the advertising agency that launched Birla AT&T in Pune. It was great fun and a challenge to work with a demanding American client, who was solidly behind the agency.
Those were the early days of the mobile phone in India and people frantically called each other from the cheaper landlines, when they got calls on their mobiles — the rates were that prohibitive!
Things moved for the brand once Lowe Lintas, as it used to be called in those days, started working on the account. I started following it even if I didn’t subscribe to the service. One of the first things that drew me to the brand was the signature tune, that had a piece composed by Ilaiyaraaja.
For my generation, he was God. Here’s one of the earliest commercials, showing a variety of people using the mobile phone. For me, what made the commercial memorable was the music and that signature tune, which became the ringtone for Idea users. For the brand, it became its property that it has held on to steadfastly over the years.
Social messages
One of the ad differentiators, that set Idea apart from its competitors Airtel and Vodafone, was the focus on social messages. They used Abhishek Bachchan to great effect in quite a few commercials.
But here is one of my favourites. This one is about children from the village, who are unable to get admission into a city school because of paucity of space. In such a situation, Idea steps in and helps the children get the best education, thanks to its network.
It has a fairy tale ending, with a bright village girl becoming the student of the year to the absolute delight of the school principal, who is Abhishek Bachchan, the face of the brand for several years. This commercial had the ‘What an Idea, Sirji!’ theme.
Nothing is more delightful for a copywriter than for his line to become a part of the editorial in every newspaper. How often is it that something innovative in the news been headlined with the brand’s line? To me, that is a testament to the creative product’s excellence and how much it has become a part of the mainstream. And this element, of having a social message, has continued to differentiate the brand.
Walk when you talk
I could talk about several commercials of Idea that I liked, but I will stay with one simple, highly-effective commercial that again features Abhishek Bachchan. This one exhorts people to walk while they talk, thus creatively ensuring that people stay fit even as they keep talking endlessly on the phone!
One never knows why agencies lose clients, especially when they have been handling the same brand for years. However, I believe in the adage that clients are won on great creative and lost by poor servicing. The Idea account has moved to another agency after several years. Here’s the new commercial.
It’s interesting how, sticking with the social message genre, it talks about subjects that are getting increasingly popular, such as women empowerment and how women need to get stronger — and, of course, how a network can be a part of this strength.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water
Clients and agencies tend to get tired of their advertising campaigns even if the customers don’t and are often guilty of dispensing with good promotions before they outlive their usefulness. In this case, however, even though the latest campaign was done by another agency, they found the social message campaign relevant and powerful enough to be sustained, albeit with a different execution.
Remember, it is extremely difficult to build a brand property which could be a campaign idea, a signature tune or even a tag line. If customers remember something other than your brand name, you should consider yourself fortunate and compliment the advertising agency for persisting with the same.
But it is even more creditable that despite the change, both the client and the new agency have seen that some ideas can be extremely powerful and should be continued and even improved upon, as in the case of this commercial, which talks about how a video can change your life. This shows that company has recognised the importance given to videos by today’s young consumer, the primary target audience for mobile services.
So think once again. Must you change? And if yes, how do you do it for the better?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Can a personal brand win an election?

Superstar Rajinikanth is the latest silver screen hero to take the plunge into politics
December 31, 2017 was a day for fireworks, celebrations, and popping of champagne corks in most parts of the world. However, for the political leaders in Tamil Nadu (or at least for some of them) alarm bells began ringing!
Rajinikanth, known around the world as “Superstar”, finally announced that he will launch a political party. Mind you, he has been threatening to do this for as long as I can remember, so the announcement didn’t come a moment too soon. Let’s not forget that Rajinikanth is from the South India , where there is a unique culture in which people from tinseltown make it big as political leaders; whether it was NT Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh, or MGR and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu.
At the risk of being slaughtered, thanks to the internet, I think Rajini is perhaps a bigger brand than the doyens of old. But the question is, will his personal charisma and brand lead him to power, even as he vows to contest from all 234 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu in the forthcoming elections?
Political leaders can be brands
The world has seen several political brands, be it Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Gandhi, John F Kennedy or more recently, Narendra Modi, they all had strong brand associations. Lincoln stood for equality of blacks; Churchill was stubborn and refused to give up; Gandhi stood for non-violence, and so on.
Rajinikanth’s strongest association is his ‘style’, which may or may not cut much ice with the political masses. But I am sure he has the following to cause some disquiet amongst his opponents. He has to refine his positioning and offering, which has a greater relevance for voters.
Promise, big promise, effectively worded is what moves the masses. Remember “blood, sweat and tears?” “Garibi hatao”, that Indira Gandhi used to great effect, “Labour isn’t working” which swept Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party to power, or “achche din aane wale hain” that ensured a Modi landslide (even if there is no talk of that now).
Similarly, if Rajini is to follow in the footsteps of MGR and Jayalalithaa, he has to craft his own positioning that will be a much lower common denominator than the spiritualism plank that he has taken to launch his party. I am sure the king of punch dialogues that Tamil Nadu loves will come up with his own slogan for the future of his party.
The time is right
Successful brands always seem to gauge a gap in the market. There is a crying need for them; and that’s where Tamil Nadu is right now. With the passing of Jayalalithaa and the continuing illness of M Karunanidhi, there seems to be a complete void in leadership.
The people of the south India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, seem to strongly believe that they need film heroes and heroines to save them! What bigger hero than the ‘Baasha’ to save the people of Tamil Nadu?
It is also in the same breath that we need to speak of another film star — Kamal Haasan, who has also started a political party, perhaps only on Twitter. But I am sure he realises the opportunity and the gaping void in Tamil Nadu politics that is yearning for leadership and direction.
What of the future?
I am hardly a soothsayer and we all know the hazards of making forward-looking statements, particularly in the stormwaters that Indian politics can be. Merely launching a new party or great credentials may not be enough. Rajini has to demonstrate that he understands politics as well as he understands films. He needs to find a position that is better crafted than the interesting platform of spiritualism. He needs to have a proper team, as fans might give you loyalty but they are yet unproven in politics or administrative capability. Rajinikanth needs a strong promise that will click with the people who may be disillusioned with the Dravidian clique and the fact that Tamil Nadu is no longer the dominant state it was. Clearly, the Dravidian oligopoly is not working.
Tamil pride and anti-Hindi as clarion calls have outlived their usefulness. Sadly, the Tamilian psyche seems to believe that giving and accepting bribes is okay as long as the job is done. However difficult this may be, Rajini must change the passive acceptance of wrongdoing which is rapidly dragging the state down.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
It is too convenient to expect dramatic things to happen overnight. But given the increasing discontent in the state, and the disenchantment of the people, perhaps the time is right for personal branding to come to the fore.
Maybe Rajini can take a leaf out of MGR’s book. MGR would never drink or smoke in movies and women always wooed him! Every Tamilian completely believed the screen persona of MGR and thought that he could do no wrong and eventually voted him to power. Rajini has similar credentials. He is a decent guy, God-fearing and free of controversies. More than anything else, he is a leader with a large following.That might tilt the balance, just.
So let’s wait to see what the people of Tamil Nadu have to say about the latest personal brand in politics.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A brand new logo for a struggling old city

Designing a logo isn’t going to save Bengaluru, a city that is bursting at the seams
On December 24, Bengaluru got itself an extremely interesting and striking new logo. This had several firsts to its credit. It’s the first time an Indian city has had a logo. Many cities in other countries already have distinct logos and identities. (Remember, the “I love New York” logo and campaign that made its way onto T-shirts, caps, pens and mugs?) Another feature of the new logo is that the design was crowd sourced and chosen from 1,350 entries. The design, with its blend of English and Kannada, also subtly draws attention to the tagline ‘Be U' or be yourself.
The State government, while feeling justifiably proud of its latest creation, talks about creating and marketing merchandise to the bevy of tourists, both local and international, who flock to the already crowded city. Let me state upfront that I find the logo distinctive, colourful and striking, which are all laudable qualities in choosing and identifying a logo when multiple alternatives are presented.
But, as someone who has lived in Bengaluru for almost my entire working life, I have certain suggestions to the city and its administrators on the branding front as a brand is not only about a logo or colours. I really love this city, or at least what it used to be, so all my comments should be viewed in the spirit of the anguished cries of someone who is getting increasingly frustrated living here.
Brands need strong logos
A logo is the visual representation of a brand and the first thing that brands invariably do when they have a name in place is to design an identity that is distinctive, has certain strong colours, and stands apart from its competitors.
Companies have also discovered that consumers remember shapes and when reinforced often, they will creatively recall them in the context of that brand. Who doesn't remember the Nike swoosh that is so powerful, you may not even have to write the name Nike when you are referring to the brand.
Children remember the “golden arches” of McDonalds and are drawn to it when they are anywhere near a mall; never mind the brand’s current problems in the North and East India.
But these brands and the many other successful ones we have come across, have more to them than a strong logo and a visual identity. This is precisely my bone of contention with the Bengaluru logo. While it is commendable that the administrators have finally realised that Bengaluru has the potential to be a brand, they are, in my opinion, a bit late to the party.
The most recognised city in the world
Bengaluru has always had several tags. It was initially, rather derogatorily, referred to as the “pensioner’s paradise”, as many old people, suitably clothed in mufflers, were seen walking in the gardens of the city. The widespread greenery soon earned it the distinction of being the “garden city”; something that I quickly realised the truth and value of when I came from a parched Madras in 1980.
Then, with the emergence of software majors such as Infosys, Bangalore, as it was known then, became the “software capital of India”. People who lost their jobs in software got used to the expression “Bangalored”. The city was a boom town and grew on its own accord with capricious politicians who allowed even greedier builders to build anywhere and gave away lakebeds for development.
The traffic is a nightmare, roads non-existent and garbage reigns everywhere. Any outsider who comes to Bengaluru complains about the roads (or lack thereof) and the traffic. The city spawns jokes such as: “In the US, people drive on the right side of the road, in the UK, on the left side and in Bengaluru, on what is left of the road”. But the government was secure as Bengaluru next became the “start-up capital of India”.
Mind you, it is important to remember that a large part of Bengaluru’s development happened without any special effort from the government and, in many cases, despite the government. In fact, many global players bitterly complain about the lack of infrastructure and governance.
What of the future?
Now that the government is taking credit for the new logo, it can also formally recognise that Bengaluru — as it’s now known; another harebrained change — can actually become a brand that is known and respected world over. This cannot happen cosmetically, by designing a logo. It is time to realise that the brand needs a champion who can guide the city to its destiny. It is time to realise that there are other important stakeholders: the people who live here, the investors who come from across the globe, and also the tourists, who are presently being targeted.
The government is sitting on a gold mine of a brand. Only if they realise its value and nurture it can the brand hold its own globally; and the government can hold its own not just on the strength of design but on political will. And that, my friends, is what is lacking. Let’s build on the equity of brand Bengaluru now that we have made a beginning with a new logo.
Is anyone listening?