IN the last couple of weeks, there has been a slew of new advertisements unleashed on television. With the ICC World Cup in full flow, and with the fortunes of many teams getting thrown about like kites in a storm, advertisers and marketers have got themselves a completely riveted audience now.
For a nation that had almost written off the team, we are now a blazing land of rejuvenated pride and patriotism. Everyone is upbeat. Everyone is giving India the cup back. None of us want to give it back.
Essentially, if you wanted a tailor made environment that guarantees eyeballs and long hours across all socioeconomic segments, you couldn’t have asked for a more fertile patch of real estate to invest your advertising. In the same breath, you’d also need to inhale the understanding that your brand and product, if hosted on lifeless advertising, would get the ire of the entire nation; plus or minus a few hundred million.
Remember that rather out of character film that Dettol came out with? Everyone had something to say about it, and sadly most of that wasn’t pleasant. Despite the unshakeable trust that India has for the brand, it did something that went against everything it stood for. That jingle unfortunately just didn’t go down with at least urban India, and there was a lot of social media violence.
Brand pride getting wounded is not a nice feeling. As much is the viral power of the trigger-happy lot sitting in front of interconnected devices with a huge point to prove on social media. But then, this isn’t going to be the only ad that will get skewered over fire and brimstone. And neither will appreciation for entertaining ads get held back. We are a boisterous lot, we respond with cardiac efficiency, and we love to chatter.
The quick glue ad, the one that showcased caricatured soldiers at the border, was a darling. People fell in love with it. And more importantly, the timing of the ad, released when India was playing Pakistan, added the most potent fuel into the mix – patriotism. Now that’s something that goes up like a rocket when India wins.
The wonderful channel campaign that revolves around fireworks is yet another that gets help from patriotism, and the way it has managed to create advertising that’s topical to match results is brave thinking. As the channel that’s telecasting the Cup, and since it has complete and total power over how quickly it can beam them out, this is more of a media aberration than affordable and doable media innovation for other brands.
Considering that ads for these landmark tournaments have to locked-in with the channel a few weeks ahead of telecast dates, the complexities of what might happen at the later stages of the tournament will pose big issues. And while this can be sold off to rich clients as proof of execution, the sheer scale of multiple result-oriented production is something that just might not tickle many CMO fancies.
Good things apart, there are some bizarre ads doing the rounds as well. There’s an ad with a dacoit holding a gun at some poor villager’s head, threatening to blow his head off. And in dances a twerp who digs out the product can as a makeshift drum. Perhaps the logic and connect, if they exist, are all buried in the rich tapestry of the song which is a warthog of many accents and languages. But I’d safely think that it will be lost on India that’s south of Bangalore, east of Raipur, and west of Nagpur.
The other notably warped ad is the telecom brand that’s hammering out the guiles of children and the gullibility of fathers. Does my son have to be artificially sweet to me for me to get him on my phone plan? I must be one dull nitwit dad and clueless human being to fall for that. Come on, really?
As a business that involves multitudes of agencies and brands, and if we maintain that only 10% of people in decision-making chairs have the credentials to judge good from bad and eventually buy them, you are generally looking at a rather sad bulk of advertising that’s either average or bad.
Don’t just look at the pretty ads we make for awards. Look at the stuff that we normally dish out. They are pretty much un-nuanced and fool proof. You really don’t end up with work that requires employing the grey matter of ordinary folk.
Use a celeb from Bollywood and have him or her strut or sashay all over your ad and you have advertising at its laziest best. Currently, there’s a paint brand that’s working with the same gentleman out of an online fashion brand, and they are both roughly balanced on the delicate point of clumsy advertising.
Using the star isn’t the bad part. But allowing the star to dictate the creative execution is hara-kiri. All things said, Bollywood’s sensibility and quotient seem to be mired in very old-fashioned narcissism.
A couple of them do get it right and beautifully so. They understand that brands have to be put ahead of themselves. Perhaps it’s time for advertisers to ensure that the creative idea behind a campaign is the main driver of the campaign and not the star.
The star is an insulated entity. Even the worst performance in a 30-seconder will not sink their boat. Some other starstruck brand will come with a fatter wad of cash. Plus they have the next 3-hour feature film to redeem themselves. Poor brands don’t have that luxury. They have a small wedge of an opportunity to drive their cause. They seek star shoulders to get a boost. Not to stand aside and clap for them.
The Ranbir Kapoor ads usually get him to play a role and extend his character to the script. The potato chips commercial may not be extremely crispy, but at least the man allows for a narrative that’s not about his star life. The car ad, for instance, the one with the rugged young star with a moustache and an older swan from the past—the one that talks about what celebrities do and don’t is a good example to throw in front of those stars who would want to do what their managers deem fit. I wonder how you pronounce the name of the car though. The tyre ad, however, the one with the couple in a black SUV has nothing to do with celebs, despite the fact that we have a full-blown celeb at the wheel.
Unlike evolved markets where you could push a lot of other buttons and depend on accumulated brand understanding and advertising wisdom, we don’t have to. Most of our country is advertising dark. And our advertising audiences are usually thirsty. If not, pray tell me what’s that plumbing pipe advertisement featuring a hunk of a salesman, flexing his biceps and flirting with maidens, doing in the public space? Complete with double entendre, etc.
Just how much creative quotient does one need to think up something like that, and just how warped are people to think, create, buy, sell, applaud such crass advertising?
Come to think of it, they seem to be the kind of fruit one could pluck from the vast serial orchards that overhaul our entertainment channels.
They seem to be so much in sync with the overall GEC content on television, pandering to the plump belly of middle class India that has some of the gaudiest sense of tastelessness in the world. It’s not their fault. Just that our business seems to fuel, fan and inflame what needs to be corrected, curbed and fixed.
I think what’s happening on the World Cup is a great insight into what is going on in our business. We have the great Indian idiom now gathering more than 50 ridiculous shades of trash. I just hope we aren’t entirely responsible for the decay of grace, refinement, elegance and other slightly westernized virtues.
By Prathap Suthan
The author is managing partner & chief creative officer, Bang In The Middle