Moves that tweak attitudes

Written by FES Bureau | Updated: Sep 30 2007, 06:04am hrs
Youve been through the grind. Youve seen the alluring woman, the cherubic boy, the debonair man in a sharp suit. Theyve all got their 30 seconds plus to make you reach for your wallet. Its the same slick, smart stuff on air at commercial-break time. You debate whether to flick the channel. Then you see a boring family planning advertisement flash on screen, and you cant hold on any longer. You move swiftly for the remoteBut not all public service advertising is a yawn today. In fact, the reverse has become the norm, with many of them making you think.

There are two parts here that need to work in tandem to make the magic happen. One is the client who wants to broadcast a social message and the other is the advertising agency that is going to prepare the campaign for dissemination. Much of what goes on air is a commercial proposition for the advertising agency. It is when it opts to prepare the campaign gratis or at discounted rates that it becomes a CSR initiative. For the agency.

Going back to over a decade, advertising guru Alyque Padamsee, who is currently chairman, London Institute of Personality Development says: When I was with Lintas, we used to keep aside 1% of our profits to make public service advertisements. It was our way of giving back to society. But now, it is the age of the multinational advertising agency in India, where profit is the driving force. Pro bono work is, therefore, on the backburner, he feels.

Many in the advertising world feel this is so also because they have very thin margins to operate within today, compared to earlier. But there have been occasions. Ask Piyush Pandey, group president & national creative director, Ogilvy & Mather India (O&M), and he says: We decide on a case-to-case basis, depending on what the message is. Sometimes when an NGO comes to us without a budget, we dont charge for the creatives. But we usually ask for reimbursements of actual expenses incurred. So O&M has done its share of social welfare recently, with campaigns for the Cancer Patients Aid Association, the Jaipur Foot Association, Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption and Child Welfare, among others.

Talking about the kind of social advertising that goes around, R Balakrishnan, national creative head, Lowe India says: Most of these campaigns are made with a view to bag awards. Many times they err on the side of extreme cleverness and dont manage to touch you in any way.

More often than not, there are briefless social campaigns that people in agencies keep working on, which get canned as there is no funding. Paying broadcast bills can also be daunting. As Navroze Dhondy, CEO, Creatigies Communications says: We want a more generous media. Perhaps the world would be a better place if TV channels and the print media offered to showcase some of these advertisements at discounted rates.

Gone are the days when a government-sponsored campaign would bore you no end. Today, making a public service campaign is as professional and creative as painting the town red with the latest chocolate brands media blitzkrieg. But distinguishing between an adoption message and a soap pitch, S Anand, creative director, Lowe, who conceived the well-known Condom, bindaas bol campaign says: Such campaigns need to bring about behaviour change and attitude change. Its not about telling someone to go buy a particular soap brand.

Varsha Chawda, who heads Somac, the social communications division of Lowe says: We believe that all projects to do with social causes dont have to come for free. The campaigns can be as professionally done as, say, for a shoe company. But nevertheless, some of these advertisements by Lowe are done at concessional rates whether its the art work, film-making or creative fee.

In their personal capacity too, many of those in advertising have helped out. As one grateful mother of a special abilities child says: Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman and regional creative director, south and south-east Asia, McCann, Prahlad Kakkar, advertising filmmaker, Piyush Pande, among others, took time out to do half-day sessions on filmmaking with a group of special abilities children, free of cost. These sessions helped them open up a great deal.

The story is, however, different when an organisation with big bucks enters the fray. As Augustine Veliath, communications specialist, UNICEF says: No advertising agency so far has said we will charge you less because you work for the welfare of children. In fact, at UNICEF we call almost all the top billing agencies and then do a shortlist of who will design a campaign for us.

There obviously are no set parameters when it comes to charity.