Thursday, May 25, 2006

"L" The ‘L’ WORD in Advertising – DOES IT WORK?

 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the intriguing “ying-yang” between the most heavenly emotion on earth and the persuasion industry... Welcome to some deliciously startling facts...

 Okay guys, chew on this: What is the single most powerful emotion on planet earth that has inspired dreamers, lovers and poets for centuries to touch new heights of self-expression & creativity?!

One magical word that continues even in the year 2006 to melt stone-hearts, transform & enrich lives, lending it more meaning & resonance! Really, and most honestly, the four simple, unpretentious & innocent alphabets that make your blood pound, pulse race, heart beat gallop, head spin & change your world into a paradise... officially allocated one day in a calendar year to celebrate this life-altering thing – Valentine’s Day! Yes.. It’s LOVE. And boy, is there a global overdrive (riot?) towards hard-selling heart-sell!!

“The concept of love is important because it is a fundamental and universal kind of emotion,” asserts Santosh Desai, President, McCann Erickson, “And still, in the SBI life insurance ad, the image of an old man presenting a diamond to his wife, is something that was unthinkable a few years back.” This irony takes on surreal & ironic dimensions when one observes that even as the Sensex zooms north, basic human values (emotion, compassion and hope) hurtle south, increasingly prompting inhabitants of this cold, impersonal and heartless world to desperately seek empathy through personal, human contact.

Result? Never in recorded history has there been such a huge, mega, gigantic need (market?) for love… Something that the smart, savvy & sensitive emo-track communication specialist, can & does tap into.

While the hard-boiled cynics may pooh-pooh the idea (“Love in a hard-nosed, competitive environment like business? Bah!”), the truth, as usual, lies elsewhere.

Look around and you are likely to see people consciously (or subliminally) longing to invest more in emotion, spirit, inspiration and feelings – in the way they conduct their life and business. But, they all have one major problem: They don’t seem to have a clue about how to translate love into palpable, tangible and credible action. How to dovetail innovation, speed and flexibility with the magic of bonding. How to convert traditional transactions into relationship-building.

Vociferously thunders Prahalad Kakkar, “Love is one of the most powerful catalysts to sell a an extent that today, even a city like Kanpur has hordes of youth celebrating St. Valentine’s Day!” The secret is simple – Get back to the basics. Give those bulky reports, statistics & research studies the heave-ho… & give love a chance. Leverage this extraordinary quotient as a strategic device for an enduring emotional connect – with business customers, partners, team, colleagues – & watch the bottom line surge skywards! Consider this. Love allows the smart communicator to escape from the dreaded ‘Commodity trap’ & evolve into something different by the simple act of placing brands where they should belong – at the emotional centre stage!

But there’s of course another issue. As human beings, we love to love. But in today’s harsh & cynical times, we constantly expect the worst, the dark, mean & selfish side of human nature to call the shots. We need to bring back the past, get love back on track & single-mindedly engage ‘both head & heart in the drive toward a happier tomorrow.’ Towards achieving this end, Love (as inspiration- emotion No.1?) can work as red hot Viagra! Today, only the blinkered (or those who consciously choose’ to remain blind) will miss out the writing on the wall. The paradigm shift has begun with love/emotion as an identified, critical decision-making component. The cool cats know the world of difference that exists between emotion & (yesterday’s superstar) reason. The former leads to action. The latter conclusions. Hence, more emotion translates to more ‘action-with the motion’ part socking it big time, as they would say!

Radharani Mitra, Executive Creative Director, Bates India, comments emphatically, “Look at the Saffola ad; it shows love as a responsible emotion, where the woman is concerned (about the family’s health).” Shifting the kaleidoscope a wee bit, we see the magical & multi-hued patterns of mystery, sensuality & intimacy designed as much to enthral, engage as empower. They are potent drives of everyday lives, aren’t they? Why should they but shut off from the world of business relationships? Fortunately, given the legacy, sensitive practitioners are placing mystery back to where it belonged & what we don’t know is beginning to be as critically important as what we do know.

An outstanding example of companies that have created experiences out of these three enchanting attributes is Starbucks in USA & Barista, Cafe Coffee Day in India. They have decimated and demolished the impersonal, corporatised passion, trimmed into efficiency mode & replaced it with a strong, personal emotional correct. Their agenda is not about Consumer Contact Programmes – just hanging out. Not about taking sample notes, but taking the pulse.

Finally, the old, traditional & never-ending battle between head & heart, instinct & reason raises its head. Intuition, feelings versus scientific market research. It is a well established fact that in today’s techno- savvy world, the Wise Men have researched whatever there is to research & what they couldn’t has been (conveniently) ignored. The truth is that everything of value cannot be measured, leading a brilliant insightful captain of business to astutely observe: “We are in danger of valuing most highly those things that we can measure. As a result, ironically, we are in danger of being exactly wrong instead of approximately right!” The problem lies in the commodification of information, allowing it easy access to one & all.

In this faceless, one-size-fits-all, uniform, assembly-line environment, where lies the magic potent that will make a difference? That is a task research need to address. Should they continue to put consumers at the base of a very large pyramid rather than the centre? Shouldn’t the primal shift actually be towards counting the beats of your heart rather than the fingers on your hand?

From the well deserved record that a humongously huge majority of songs that have made it to the Billboard chart-toppers’ list in the past decade have had their compositions based on love; to a point where one moves ahead to understand what drives the emotion. Faith. Trust. Reliability. Loyalty. Bonding. Connect… Love is the CEO that presides over them all & the businesses, groups, constituencies & people who are driven by this unique, irreplaceable passion are the ones most likely to reside in the most precious, significant & sacrosanct place of all…the space between the heart.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

DeCOdiNG AdLaNDS FEmale GaZE....Stereotyped or NOT?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri fast forwards the spirit of enquiry...

Carnal in bed. Confident at the workplace. Chef in the kitchen. Caring with the kids. Compassionate with the aged. Cool at parties. Considerate with friends. Calm in adversity. Cheered by everyone (including his eccentric toothless aunt) and continuously celebrated by a zonked media… is the Indian woman really all that she is made out to be? Is the ad world’s hysterical wooing of this ‘just discovered’ breed – ripe with aspirations, powered with desire, confidence and means to walk the talk – really happening, or are the hidden persuaders playing out their well-practised and brilliantly choreographed routine of “creating” wants and “manufacturing” needs to a vulnerable constituency, forever longing to step out of the shadows and take their rightful place under the sun?!!

First things first. Only guys in dire need of an instant brain transplant perceive advertising to be the unsoiled harbinger of truth or relentless Brand Ambassador of reality. Advertising is after all (first and last) a crucial marketing tool mandated to do a job as effectively as possible. Toward achieving this end – like Bollywood – magnifying, hyping, dramatising, exaggerating and colouring comes with the territory. “Agreed,” says the hugely respected Asia Pacific President of Leo Burnett, Michelle Kristula-Green, “but are we reading the writing on the wall correctly?” In a hard-hitting presentation she made recently in Delhi titled ‘Mis understood – why she’s not buying your ads,’ she let fly some disturbing whoppers based on her findings on an extensive survey across Asian markets – China, Japan and India. Woman, she said, accused advertisers of portraying them in a man’s version of what they should be like. Further, the basic communication slant was way off on fire solid counts: money, sexuality, humour, emotion and authenticity. The survey also revealed that unlike the West, women here weren’t comfortable with blatant portrayals of sex. It was more an internal paradigm shift where they’ve learnt to handle and appreciate sex appeal as part of their intrinsic feminity rather than an exhibitionistic, brazen and titillating man-baiting USP. Finally, in Asian society, girls are taught to view emotions as their strength, not weakness, hence they seem to respond to a message that is authentic & real-warts and all – more positively than one that is beautifully packaged but phoney.

Ad film maker and now celeb debutante in the Feature Film (Parineeta) arena, Pradeep Sarkar refuses to bite. He believes – like in the movies – the shift towards realism has begun in the Ad film scenario. No wonder the new war-cry in today’s Ad-scene is “yaar, make it less ad-dy!” Meaning, don’t make it look like a typical ad; make it look real.”
High profile head honcho of PNC, Pritish Nandy dismisses advertising as nothing more than a 30 second recreational capsule. Regarding depiction of women in ads, he believes “they throw up two stereotypes, neither of which is anchored in reality.” The first is the firang model, the sassy and sexy international (Kate Moss?) import who sashays across up-market glossies, Sunday supplements, as also our TV screens in the likes of the Raymond ad series. The creators of this persona believe that teaming with the brand owners, they can successfully hawk style, attitude and looks because after all, what you see is where the action is! This tragi-comical colonisation of their mind is, mercifully, not shared by the Indian consumer, and reflects their total disconnect with reality. It brilliantly symbolises what India is “NOT.” The second is the homegrown Kanta Bai / Lalitaji model. This representation attempts to propagate non-threatening, old-fashioned values of thrift and choices. “Pity is, that’s exactly what it symbolises: India of yesterday, not today! It is a corny, unreal and romanticised version that just doesn’t resonate with today’s life and times: where is the Real Woman – of complexities and contradictions, magic and mystique – that any sensitive male sees everywhere across a nation on the move?” Gifted director Aparna Sen (36 chowringhee Lane, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer, 15, Park Avenue) joins the fray. She believes that the Indian woman is represented in pathetic fashion, forever one-dimensional – North Indian, fair, urban – with occasional, degrading forays into tokenism. “How is it that beyond this cardboard cut-out, one hardly ever gets to connect with a real, believable, flesh & blood type! When was the last time one saw a woman from the South, East or North-East as ad models?” Enter adworld’s superstar, O&M’s mustachioed Piyush Pandey. “I have no problem with debates and discussions but the feminist and educationist take is difficult to swallow because it comes with an agenda. Advertising is not a pure art form, so truth and integrity – in that pristine fashion – doesn’t happen. The representation of women is totally dependant on what we are selling, where, to whom and in what way. This is not an art film for niche audiences where one can experiment or explore talents of unknown actresses, but a marketing activity with a sharp focus on creating communication that demands accountability.” India is not a country, it’s a universe! Hence, commucation is an unbelievably complex process. On the whole, I don’t think we need to feel guilty.”

Okay, so what gives? We believe advertising’s endeavour (in this sensitive area) is to identify, dramatise, even magnify some “real” emerging trends, traits and directions. The actual portrayal is seldom clinically accurate; it is more a mythologised version, but to the critical question whether it throws up some authentic trends, vis-a-vis the womanscape of today, the answer must be a resounding YES. One certainly gets to see a fascinating representation (across the spectrum) with the housewife playing a starring role! Suddenly, this harassed, sacrificial, 24X7 slogger, performer, gatekeeper and provider of her family’s joy and well-being has morphed into a zestful and joyous participant as well. She seems to be able to say YES (rather then the earlier NO) with more √©lan than before. She seems to also enjoy a much greater sense of control, along with the ability to be playful with her (earlier pativrata – obsessed?) husband, rather than treat him as the authoritative, fearing, lord and master. She is no longer defined by the role she plays, but slips in and out of her several roles – daughter, wife, mother, daughter-in-law – with a greater degree of style, conviction and consummate confidence. Overall, she seems to be much more aware of who she is, what she’s doing, the effect she has… and she uses that more consciously than ever before. In fact, ironically, the most dramatic paradigm shift has been in this area, not the so-called westernised, hot-babe segment.

The house-wife portrayed in ads appears much more confident, secure, positive and driven than the “am I looking good and smelling nice?” insecure chic, constantly dancing on her (self-created) hot tin roof!