Thursday, November 23, 2006


Are we as a nation staggering under the weight of celebrity-fatigue... or, is adland’s rollicking and roaring affair with the Bollywood brigade a part and parcel of today’s star-mad lifescape? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates.

Recently, Madison Avenue suffered a seismic shock when reports of the hot n’ glam superstar, Catherine Zeta Jones’ endorsement contract with a mobile phone company not being renewed screamed across media!

Similar shock waves followed when hi-voltage Hollywood hotties Angelina Jolie and Sarah Jessica Parker’s promos for a top-of-the-line designer outfit garnered more barbed and catty criticism than customers. While Jolie earned a whopping $12 million (reportedly) from St. John Knits, the clients appeared totally turned-off at the attempts to ‘re-invent the brand’. As for Parker’s slow-burn for GAP, the target group were ‘plain annoyed’. Hi-profile Louis Vittori’s ‘return to models’ move after sampling the services of sizzlers like Jennifer Lopez and Uma Thurman adds further fuel to the fire, generating massive heat and dust, debate and discussion within and outside the ad frat, clearly indicating that all is not well with Madison Avenue and Hollywood... “It’s no longer a novelty; it’s more of a bore” and “these so-called icons are no longer held in such high esteem and regard anymore” are only two of the laconic broadsides hurled at this genre of advertising.

Back home, however, our celebs (read: Bollywood) continue to rock, forcing normal ‘models’ to roll in vague and back-of-beyond, moth-balled spaces! Think of any product line or category (household appliances, cell phones, colas, snack food, detergents, batteries, cars, fashion wear, watches; even paint and hair-oil, for chrissake!) and the star-thobda is bang-on, in place! Over-used, over-extended and frequently over-cooked, isn’t this mindless, rampaging celeb-advertising triggering celebrity-fatigue? “You betcha, brother” drawls Bangalore-based Adman, Cyrus Patel. “The volume and range of TVC’s that the Big B, (for example) alone endorses is staggering! Colas, batteries, hair-oil, paint, tonics, watches, detergents, cars, suitings, townships... where is the credibility, man? Confusion is confounded and the connect – in most cases – is zilch.” Sympathisers and fans of this genre, however, are quick to counter this accusation. They say that, unlike the West, abounding in a host of popular art-forms like music, dance, theatre and ballet, here only Cricket and Bollywood are religion, and work as guaranteed common denominators with an assured pan India connect. Also, they add, that everybody is referencing Bollywood because it’s the only in-built myth in the land that connects the state and family, rational and emotional, urban and rural, folk culture and mass culture... it places our contradictions in a well-choreographed, holistic, cinematic geography where everyone resides in a feel-good, happily-ever-after mode. Why knock it?

Fine, fine, fine say the critics, but wait a minute! If celebrity advertising is about dramatically enhancing the degree and level of connect and credibility between the consumer and the brand, shouldn’t there be (to begin with) a profile and persona compatibility between the product and star?! They point to the brilliant examples of Tiger Woods and Andre Agassi for Nike, Michael Schumacher for Ferrari, Pierce Brosnan (when he was playing 007) for BMW and Anthony Hopkins for Barclays, and now compare it to (among a zillion gems) TVCs showing Ghazal-singer Jagjit Singh hanging around in a Marc Sanitaryware land or Hema Malini championing the cause of Bank of Rajasthan and a mineral water brand...
Shouldn’t (they ask) the advertisers sue their brains for non-support?! At a time when even the biggest Bollywood star – loaded offerings crash and burn due to a lack of freshness, novelty and interest-value, how can clients be so dumb to presume that just getting a big star and marquee director – with zero insight, concept or storyline – will automatically ensure a million mesmerised eyeballs and top-of-the-line memorability that will be converted to a definite purchase-intent? Remember, the consumer is not a moron, she is your wife! Further, (they point) some of the most hi-profile brands – Surf, Lifebuoy, Raymond, Nokia, Hutch, Hero Honda, Pepsodent, Perfetti, Asian Paints, Bank of India, SBI – have never used celebs and yet managed to create outstanding advertising by simply leveraging the most exciting resource of all – everyday life.

In conclusion, the real reason is, gentle reader seems to lie in our ‘stars’! Beyond the very obvious reasons of a bankruptcy of ideas, creative laziness and the desire to do the instant kill, in terms of audience-connect, lies the (secret and unspoken) ‘high’ of actually rubbing shoulders with the divine, glamorous and sublime creatures who have always seduced your imagination and ignited your fantasy (be it the Big B or SRK, Aamir, Kareena or Rani, Preity, Sush or Bipasha, Saif, Ajay, Ash or Kajol) on a one-to-one basis... this unbelievable but real opportunity to connect and interact with the universally hymned and celebrated screen hunks and divas seems to invite a paralysis of the critical faculties of the smartest, brightest & sharpest of marketing mavericks.

Suddenly, their hard-nosed, professional driven-insight and focus appears to be mud, clouded by the mesmeric power of star-allure and aura! So what we get, ladies and gentlemen, is a surfeit of celeb-driven advertising – be it the re-mixed, beaten-to-pulp dialogues of Sholay or revisits to the Ajit-specific ‘Raabert’ wisecracks, even flashbacking to the Devdas-Paro cornballs, the Shahrukh–Amitabh verbal duels or (the latest) milking the Munna-Circuit lingo... or sometimes it’s just plain, riding on star aura, which (the local wit insists) manages to do only one thing certainly: Ensure that everyone (no matter how vaguely) remembers the ad while (almost definitely) forgetting the product!


Thursday, November 09, 2006

What s ‘creativity’ gotta do with advertising?

“Everything!” insist its ardent champions. “Sweet damn –all!” declare its fire –eating detractors. So what gives? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri endeavours to decode planet earth’s most misused “C” word and place it in its right perspective.

Mohammed Khan, the distinguished, classy and brilliant Chairman of Bates-Enterprise has a hilarious take on creativity, which (he swears) took place in Act one of his illustrious advertising career. “It was” says the flamboyant and engaging raconteur par excellence, “While I was doing a stint in provincial England, where (with my gifted and spaced-out art partner) I was busy honing my skills as a copy writer and simultaneously, energetically, celebrating the good life!”.

Khan paints the scene beautifully. “The sequence was unfailingly the same. Before an important client would toddle across to our agency, we would be forewarned and quickly, get set to do our number… me, atop the cupboard, sitting, closed eyes in the lotus position and repeatedly chanting OM... with my art buddy, standing on his head. At this point, our Boss-man would enter with the client and whisper in awe-stricken fashion… ‘Creative people…trained in London…thinking …shhhhh, let’s not disturb them’ before ushering them out. It seemed to have worked amazingly well back then in the innocent sixties…” Khan’s booming laughter, recollecting those zany moments, is infectious.

Does creativity-in year 2006-still mean doing freako stuff to impress your clients, or have we matured as an industry to decode this loosely-flung “C” Word, recognise it for what it’s worth and leverage it to value-add to the job at hand?

“While I am greatly tempted to say that we haven’t really made any revolutionary turnaround from Mohammed’s blissful era, I’ll quickly avoid a tsunami and cut to the chase!” Adlands enfant terrible Prahlad Kakkar warms up before laying it on the line. “Creativity is unquestionably the Big O that drives all exciting, memorable and effective advertising. No two ways about it buddy.” The reason, he explains, is because it’s the only sure-fire way of cutting through the ‘dreaded clutter’ of soulless crap. “Cutting edge creativity decimates, destroys and renders instantly forgettable all boring stuff through the sheer power, freshness and energy of its idea. It vagaries the zombied reader/ listener / viewer into action and threatens to convert him/her into an excited and responsive customer.” Kakkar confidently asserts that creativity “guarantees a bigger bang for smaller bucks. Even, the mammoth, strategy-driven, suit-centred JWT appears to have woken up to inject a new creative temper to its blueprint. This is bound to augur well considering their overall srength.”
Leo Burnett’s National Creative Director, Sridhar agrees. “Creativity is critical because it provides solutions to complex problems through fresh and meaningful insights that go to make a difference.” He is quick to point out that it should not be confused with high art and culture – the rarefied Shantiniketan types – but something that functions in the commercial area of the problem-solution (DHISHOOM-DHISHOOM, COLGATE?) process focusing on the ability to deliver an exciting, memorable and effective message fusing imagination with intellect that both powers and influences the purchasing intent.

Hi-profile script-writer, poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar brings his own amazing spin to the subject. “Let’s please not put a halo around the C word or moralise! To me, creativity is old bones with a new combination. Anything that is fresh, path-breaking and original is creative and most certainly need not be wedded only to the ghisa-pita perception of high art- poetry, music, painting, dance, sculpture etc. A housewife chained to household chores can be extraordinarily creative in the way she orchestrates her daily routine. Remember, creating chaos or joy is both part of the very same creative process. Ultimately, it’s the intent that makes it soar or sink”.

Vikas Godbole however, insists on pooh-poohing the ra-ra to play Killjoy and devil’s advocate with determined vigour. “I find this whole idea of creativity in advertising ridiculous, ludicrous, pretentious… generally hilarious! It’s a delusion of grandeur at its infantile best! It’s a comforting garb however for the clever-in-halves insecure types!” The consultant to several top-flight organisations explains. “Lets face it. Forget the jargon crap for a moment-isn’t advertising about hustling through emotional manipulation murdering the C word straight away? At best, one can call it terminal cleverness- that’s not creativity by a zillion miles! Where’s the path breaking idiom that is truly Indian rooted irrevocably in the Indian psyche to create communication that resonates with the Indian sensibility alone? Where’s the empowering insight to see the consumer as a human being first, in a specific social and cultural context, allowing for the entry to his deepest motivation graph? Finally where’s the magical connect between a brand and peoples lives to make a difference? This blind and fashionable Abbeys and Cannes driven advertising is not creativity but conformity…”

Phew! Time to blow the whistle, guys. If creativity is the ability to make connections between two or more seemingly unconnected ideas where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts… if the true creative animal is one who accepts no boundaries, (self created or imposed) & encourages cataclysmic evolutionary change only to swiftly demolish it for more exciting frontiers ahead; is certainly not a person in equilibrium but defiant ferment; loathes deadlines and passionately believes that the creative juices cannot be made to flow at will but only to the sound of distant and exotic drums… the advertising industry has enough candidates to qualify. So, on the one hand ,while fakes and phonies energetically play out the “ hey, I am creative” game, there are gods’s chosen few who exhibit examples of outstanding creativity that charm Cannes, client and consumers in one (magical) fell swoop… Now, go ahead and dispute that!