In public interest

Written by Pritha Mitra Dasgupta | Updated: Aug 30 2011, 10:39am hrs
A group of young people gathers to protest against the government. As the protest turns violent, there enters the hero Salman Khan. Khan lifts his right arm, but instead of getting aggressive he pulls out a Rotomac pen from his pocket and says Haath Uthao, magar likhne ke liye (Raise your hand, but to write). He then proceeds to sign the write to information act and urges the youth to follow that. An uncanny resemblance to the current anti-corruption demonstrations sweeping across urban India

Chai-paani is the code word for bribes in India. So when Tata Tea (now called Tata Global Beverages), the second-largest tea production company in the world plonked a cup of tea in front of a corrupt official in an ad campaign in 2009 as a wake-up call to Indians to fight corruption, the message was not lost on anybody. This was one issue, that every Indian could relate to.

The current standoff between social activist Anna Hazare and the government over the Lokpal Bill which aims to fight corruption has made Hazare the poster boy of the Indian middle-class. But anti-corruption has been a popular theme for corporate India for quite some time now, if the ad campaigns of several well-known brands are anything to go by. In fact, these ads with anti-corruption as the main theme represent some of the oldest and best pieces of Indian advertising. Be it dairy brand Amul, which is known for its advertising based on current events, beverage brand Tata Tea with its Jaago Re campaign which has won several awards, telecom player Idea Cellular which stood out in the telecom category with its Democracy and Keep Cricket Clean campaigns, Rotomac Pens with its Haath Uthao campaign, The Times of India with its 100-rupee ad campaign and more recently, Nokia C-200 with its leaked question paper ad and Kaun Banega Crorepati 5 with its Shuklaji campaign, all of them have been to strike a chord in the hearts and minds of viewers, if not tickle the funny bone, with their takes on corruption. And more often than not, these ads have held a mirror to the socio-political climate in the country.

Lets begin with Indias oldest campaign in this seriesthe round-eyed, chubby-cheeked Amul girl dressed in a red polka dot frock, who made her appearance in 1966. The Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) launched its Amul butter outdoor campaign on current events, primarily on billboards in strategic locations. This Amul butter mascot may be 45-year-old, but her witty one-liners still make the most cynical of Indians smile. Sylvester daCunha, the then managing director of daCunha Advertising, along with art director Eustace Fernandez had created this memorable billboard journey for Amul butter. So from the Hare Rama Hare Krishna wave in Mumbai, to the Naxalite struggle in Bengal, to the current Anna Hazare movement and the issue of Lokpal bill, theres nothing that escapes the brands attention as it comes up with a new poster every three days. While the mandate has always been to use topical issues in the Amul butter ads, today it has become the USP of the brand, says Rahul da Cunha, managing director, da Cunha Communications.

Tata Tea had first launched its Jaago Re campaign in 2008, which was anchored primarily by a television commercial that urged the youth of the country to vote. This campaign designed by ad agency Lowe Lintas was a runaway success not only with the youth of the country but it cut across every socio-economic strata. Riding on the success of this campaign, the campaign launched a second edition in 2009 before the Lok Sabha elections. The campaign titled Aaj Se Khilana Bandh, Pilana Shuru (No feeding (read bribes) from today, only drinking (read tea)) took the issue of corruption and urged Indian consumers to fight it.

Sanjiv Sarin, regional presidentSouth Asia, Tata Global Beverages, says, The Tata Tea Jaago Re campaign has always been about being a catalyst for change by communicating in a manner the youth of this country can relate to. Whether it was the politician and voting campaigns which were done prior to the last Lok Sabha elections or the current corruption campaign, Jaago Re was a call to awaken, to be the change you wanted to see around you. Importantly it has always been an inward pointing message which is intended to give the individual the energy to effect change.

The Tata Tea anti-corruption campaign had a host of surround activity to directly engage with the youth of this nation. A Vrath Yatra a 38-day bus journey against corruption, was one of the first on-ground activities. The bus was a live radio studio from which radio jockeys broadcast their interactions with the youth across the country and exhorted them to take a pledge not to bribe. It covered 6500 kilometres in 38 days passing through 12 cities and innumerable small towns in between. We engaged with over one lakh retailers who participated by taking a pledge never to bribe. There was a school contact programme where we integrated the pledge not to bribe in an essay contest in which 285 schools participated. and social media also played a key role in engaging with youth. In all, we got over 2 lakh citizens who pledged not to bribe again, most importantly all these responses were spontaneous, adds Sarin.

In 2009, another company took a strong stand against corruption using the polls as its backdrop. Launched just before the general elections, Idea Cellulars Democracy campaign was lauded as one of the best TV ads of that year. The ad took inspiration from the farmers protest against land acquisition in Singur.

The ad opened with some people suggesting to the minister to okay a proposal to acquire an agricultural plot to construct a shopping mall. However, the secretary (Idea brand ambassador Abhishek Bachchan) suggests an open opinion poll among the people so that the minister gets to know the views of the common man. A quick opinion poll via Idea Cellulars mobile phone service shows that people are against the idea of a shopping mall and thus the minister refuses to give her approval. Crafted by Lowe Lintas, the ad had some of the most unambiguous and hard-hitting dialogues. Sample this: Aap jaanta ki sunenge toh jaanta aapki sunegi. Warna bahut maregi. Isi ko democracy kehte hay! (If you heed the peoples opinions, they will listen to you. Otherwise they will beat you up. This is democracy).

But Ideas anti-corruption campaign did not end with this ad. This year, right before the ICC Cricket World Cup, the company launched a new campaign against corruption in cricket called Keep Cricket Clean, also created by Lowe Lintas. The TV ads featured six World Cup winning captains Clive Lloyd, Kapil Dev, Allan Border, Imran Khan, Arjuna Ranatunga and Steve Waugh who spoke candidly about innovative ways to keep cricket clean. These ads had the cricketing legends suggest smart ideas to deal with situations and people which are against the spirit of the game.

While the company declined to comment on the Democracy campaign and what inspired them to take up the issue, an earlier communication from Idea Cellular said, The new campaign gives the idea of participative management for governance where two-way communication is encouraged between government and public. The ad explores the idea of the government using mobile service as an efficient tool to gather public opinion and support, while taking vital decisions impacting peoples lives.

Regarding the Keep Cricket Clean campaign, Anupama Ahluwalia, then senior vice-president - marketing of Idea Cellular had said, Cricket is a passion in India and fans like to enjoy the sport in its utmost purity and true spirit. With the new campaign, Idea aimed to spread the message of Keep cricket clean to build a strong connect with millions of cricket fans across the country, during this cricket season.

Concenptualised by Leo Burnett, one of the leading advertising agencies in the country, the Shuklaji campaign for Sony Entertainment Televisions Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) 5 launched earlier this year is another ad of recent times that targets corruption. The ad revolves around the life of Shuklaji, a middle-class, idealistic man for whom bribes are anathema. His colleagues not only demand bribes from the public but also mock Shuklaji for not taking advantage of his position. Shuklaji, burdened by a big loan, however, cannot raise his voice against his corrupt colleagues for fear of losing his job. But one fine day, he gets lucky. He wins the jackpot at KBC and when Amitabh Bachchan asks him what will he do with all the money, he says, Pehle toh loan chukayenge sir, aur phir muh kholenge (First, clear my loans, and then open my mouth).

Danish Khan, senior executive vice-president and marketing head, Sony Entertainment Television says, The Shuklaji ad was part of the Koi bhi insaan chota nahi hota (no individual is small) campaign that we built for KBC 5. While crafting the campaign we decided to bring to the fore five themes including corruption, price rise, money over relationship. While the campaign was not around corruption, it does touch upon the issue and I believe any form of art reflects social realities.

While all these ads have used corruption as the main theme, whether these ads have helped draw attention to this malaise is debatable. Besides selling the product or taking the brand strategy forward, does the message reach the consumer or is it mostly ignored by them Brand expert and CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults, Harish Bijoor, says, The advertising goal of all these pieces of advertising must never be under-assessed. Their primary purpose is to catch the eyeballs and earn share for the brand in question. Yes, there is social purpose. Yes, there is a crusade value in them. However, the message reaches the consumer directly,and consumer connect is quick. The target group emotes.

He further explains that whatever be the stance of the brand, awareness is the primary purpose. As far as the message is concerned, most brands have tackled it well. Whether it be Idea Cellular or Tata Tea. Or whether it be the messaging of Mahindra Rise campaign, which is doing it in a subtle way. The key issue is topicality of the messaging. Marketers are finally getting their pulse onto the consumer attitude, mood and dominant sentiment of the day. All messaging is communicating this, he says.

Advertising veteran Piyush Pandey, who is the executive chairman and creative director, South Asia, of Ogilvy & Mather, says, The effectiveness of these ads depends on how one does it. It is a good way of saying we are aware of what is happening the country. But it can't be the brand strategy. He further says that A1 Brooke Bond Tea was one of the first companies to take up anti-corruption in their advertising and they did something similar to what Tata Tea did later. There are many companies who are fighting for various causes. But I sincerely believe that these social messages should not be mixed up with the business purpose.

But most of these campaigns are sporadic in nature and except for the Tata Tea and Amul campaigns there isn't any continuity. The very sporadic nature of this advertising does make one question the intent. It is important for a corporate advertising campaign to be continuous, says Bijoor. The brand consultant also adds that such advertising themes need to first get clearance from the board of directors. When you advertise on causes and issues that are macro, a buy-in from the top decision-making body in the corporate entity is important. Once having received this mandate, it is important to go ahead till the end goal is achieved, says Bijoor.

However, given the current socio-political climate of the country, will more companies come forward and voice their opinion against corruption Pandey says, It depends on where the belief lies. If they have an opinion then they should voice it. However, a brand message should look beyond issues. It should look at consumer issues. But its also nice if companies once in a while raise their voice against social maladies.

Says Bijoor, I do believe corporate India's objective is corporate profit and corporate business, in that order. The mandate of a corporate entity is the business it handles. The corporate entity is answerable to its stakeholders. I do believe the role of an employee who works in a corporate organisation is different. This employee could be an active crusader. The individual needs to do more. Not the corporate entity.

Some corporates would not like to see the momentum lost. Sarin of Tata Tea says, We would like to take up social issues which are top of mind for the common man where we believe that the Jaago Re communication can be a catalyst for change. A similar sentiment is echoed by Rahul da Cunha for Amul butters outdoor campaigns. We are in fact compiling a book on all the outdoor ads which should be out in the next six months.

But unless there are more companies raising the issue, unless there is harmony in the message sent out and there is earnestness in the intent, India Incs anti-corruption movement will tend to be called be a whitewash.