Devilishly Clever

Written by Geeta Rao | Updated: Sep 24 2004, 05:30am hrs
The Onida devil is back. A reinvented devil with a whole new wardrobe. Black leather and pumped-up body, youthful, more contemporary a designer devil, if ever there was one. I can almost see the production note the agency creatives must have written to give the devil his due. But the question is not about the new wardrobe or new trappings. The big question is: Why What led to bringing back the devil

Twenty years ago, the devil ran in most of the television ads until I think he threatened to overwhelm the communication and so was sent back to rot in hell or wherever it is that devils are sent off in advertising. It was the advertising campaign with the highest recall of its time, and the devil continues to pop up in focus groups. Even though, for the last five years, at least, Onida communication has managed without the devil.

In the latter period, Onidas advertising has been product- and feature-led, a classic format in advertising in this category. It has also won several awards, including advertiser of the year. So, why has the devil come back Is this a case of a brand property becoming bigger than the advertising strategy Or a management course correcting communication before it is too late. Or did the advertising in the last few years build sales but not the brand or memorability Or is it because the account has changed hands from Ogilvy to Rediffusion

These are questions that are relevant to anyone reassessing their advertising strategy, especially in the current fast moves in categories that Onida and their competitors belong to. And, this is even more relevant when you have a brand property, mascot, signature that has become strongly linked to the brand. Titans signature music, Lifebuoys old jingle Tandarusti ki raksha etc., are just some examples that come to mind.

There are dangers in using a mascot/brand personality/character who locks in too closely with the brand. Sometimes you end up painting yourself into a corner not knowing where the script will go next. Peter England shirts, for example, used a dual character, man and ego, and then the advertising went nowhere. The little girl saying:I love you Rasna could not work as a re-run. Even the Budweiser frogs gave way to Louie the lizard. The little boy and dog in the Hutch commercials are beginning to pose the same danger to the brand. In TV serials, the character Tulsi may well overwhelm the real brand Smriti Irani.

I am not going to comment too much on the executions of ads which are chic and slick but more of the announcer variety. Amidst the faceless and mindless use of celebrities, the Onida devil will stand out. But he is so powerful a brand ambassador that he is likely to blur the communication i.e., people will recall the devil in Onida ads, they will tell you they like the ads. But if the devil features in all the ads, the law of diminishing marginal utility will kick in and while people will continue to recall the devil, they may not know whats new about Onida products. Unless the devil is to spawn a little family of designer devilets or if the devil is used judiciously, as an occasional walk-on part.

This raises questions that the agency and client have probably faced and resolved. There is sometimes a romantic element to recall in consumer groups. Recall of ads that are from a pre-cable era. A nostalgic memory of the past does not necessarily translate into brownie points; great likeability does not always translate into intent to buy. It is usually when you open up the core communication idea that you can really see if the brand property is valid or not, relevant and vibrant or just familiar and comfortable. Do only older consumers remember the devil or is he relevant to the younger Moto and Do The Dew consumer Is this a case of going back to go forward

We will have to wait and watch. But unless the devil is used creatively and sparingly, I think Onida may end up not knowing when to kill him again. Bhala uska TV mere TV se behtar kyoun The idea of opening up the core thinking of neighbours envy, owners pride may have yielded richer creative routes than merely bringing back the devil. Could Onida have hijacked this basic insight into life and shaped it into more revolutionary communication

No doubt, Rediffusion, an agency certainly to be trusted with brand-building, and Onida have given the matter much thought. It takes considerable guts and pure confidence to kill a brand property, and even more to bring it back. That takes an advertiser and agency that are willing to take risks, which is a good thing for communication. Onida has given itself a refreshing cool look and that may well be half its battle won. The devil may turn out to be a dude, and that may be the twist in the tail Onida is seeking.

The writer is a Mumbai-based advertising professional