Learning from pop culture

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Published: March 17, 2015 12:18:20 AM

Grey New York president and worldwide CCO Tor Myhren believes digital space has changed everything and the industry needs to be part of what people are talking about to create famous and effective work

Harrowing” is what the Rolling Stone magazine had to say about the NLF’s domestic violence commercial. The No More campaign produced by Grey New York based on a real phone call which had a woman calling 911 on the pretext of ordering a pizza, showed no violence on screen and yet became the commercial that mattered the most during the 2015 Superbowl.

So what made the commercial most talked about? According to Tor Myhren, president and worldwide chief creative officer, Grey New York, it was because the ad mirrored the ills in the society in a realistic manner. “In the US, the number of such calls has increased and it just showed the reality without been gory,” says Myhren, who was in India last week. He emphasized that the advertising industry needs to be at the centre of popular culture rather than looking at it from afar. In the six years under Tor’s leadership, Grey’s flagship office has tripled in size, to over 1,000 employees. The E*Trade Baby, the Oprah car giveaway, DirecTV’s darkly comical Cable Effects campaign, and making Ellen DeGeneres a CoverGirl at age 50 are some examples of Tor’s culturally relevant work.

Grey has been taking inspiration from popular culture for its work in India also. It was the creative agency behind Gillette’s latest campaign in India, that revolved around the true passion of the country—cricket. That ad showcased how Mangesh Ganpath Rao Kadam, an ardent fan of cricket, has followed the game for more than 30 years, even though he lost his own vision while playing cricket. “With the World Cup going on what would have been better than to use cricket,” explains Myhren and adds, “Gone are the days when one viewed popular culture from outside, today the advertising industry needs to be at the centre of what people are talking about.”

The agency, which follows the ‘Famously Effective’ philosophy, believes that in today’s highly competitive scenario one needs to do work which is both famous and effective. “We believe that in today’s complicated market, one needs to go all the way for a brand,” says Suresh Nair, head of strategic planning, Grey Group.

The digital space has changed the way people viewed content. US magazine Paper used celebrity Kim Kardashian on the cover of its winter 2014 issue and made this ‘break the internet’ picture the most shared picture of 2014. And who can forget the Epic Split viral masterwork from Volvo Trucks and agency Forsman & Bodenforsad featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme which became the buzziest ad at Cannes 2014. “Take an actor who is past his prime, add a popular 90’s song and voila, you have the most talked about ad of the year. That’s clever advertising. Borrow from the pop culture and you can create your own pop culture,” says Myhren, talking about that ad.

Fame is an effective multiplier and that’s why the agency wants to create work that becomes famous and goes on to win because of that. Grey’s ‘Get rid of cable’ commercials for DirecTV have won 9 Gold, 9 Silver and 9 Bronze at Cannes Lions in the last four years for the agency. “The concept behind the ads is simple—cable sucks, get DirecTV. We want to push the envelope and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Myhren.

“In India, the fixation with celebrities is high. But one must remember that a celebrity will leave someday because someone will pay him/her higher. A celeb should be a driver, not a synonym for a brand,” says Myhren. A celebrity doesn’t guarantee success but for a campaign to work, the trust between the two parties (agency and client) is of utmost importance.

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