Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dil maange more

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri ventures a close-up of the recent double-role being played out by an increasing number of gifted ad-film makers, balancing ad films with the biggest lure of ’em all – feature films!

In the beginning came the great god Ray – Satyajit to 7-stars morons! – who after doing time in the hi-profile D. J. Keymer in the fab ’50s (as a distinguished Art Director) left, for two reasons. One, as a passionate film aficionado (he started the iconic Calcutta Film Society with noted film critic Chidanand Dasgupta), he was getting increasingly drawn into the world of feature films. Two, he discovered that ‘hawking cigarettes, biscuits and tea, day in and day out isn’t really the best stimuli for creativity!’ Dry wit at its acerbic best from the master!

Over the years – Shyam Benegal, Muzaffar Ali, Robin Dharamraj, Zafar Hai, Chidanand Dasgupta, Harisadhan Dasgupta – there has been a decided shift-of-focus happening, with the to-day guys really turning on the heat. Shoojit Sarkar, a brilliant ad film maker, switched lanes a couple of years ago to give us Yahaan. Pradeep Sarkar, another renowned ad film maker and ad agency veteran took the leap with Parineeta and Laga… while Lowes hi-profile NCD Balki let loose Cheeni Kum with the customers begging for more. The brilliant Abhinay Deo – another outstanding ad film maker – threatens to join the club any moment. Some other eminent players in this ad films-to-feature game include Dipankar Banerjee (Khosla Ka Ghosla), John Mathew Matthan (Sarfarosh), Mahesh Mathai (Bhopal Express), Rakeysh Mehra (Rang De Basanti), Rajiv Menon (Sapnay), Ram Madhvani (Let’s Talk)…

What’s the problem? Why this ‘khujli’ to move towards the bigger format? Is the 30-seconder getting a bit too restrictive, limiting and tight? Over time, are these guys getting bored doing the same old stuff – after all how hot can your creativity get in this time frame? Having learnt the critical aspects of the art and craft of the discipline, are they now in the mood to embrace the real thing?

Abhinay Deo opens the batting with typical panache and starts scoring immediately. Contrary to popular belief, he does not believe that it is a “logical or automatic transition because both have their respective – special – areas of challenges and opportunities. For me, as a passionate film lover, they are both amazing avenues because they come under the common umbrella of film making.” However, he is quick to confess that the ad film-maker, sometimes, has an edge over the feature-wala because of the former’s constant, 24x7 drive towards creating, achieving and delivering a product that is fresh, unique and clutter-bustling.
“This makes innovation a part of our DNA. After all, selling products and services to a new-gen, promiscuous target-base in a way that delights and surprises, is no easy task. It demands speed with quality and provides us with a fantastic sense of perspective that certainly helps in the long run,” he explains.

Pradeep Sarkar who made his debut into the world of feature films at the “young” age of 48, has a different take. He believes that ad films and feature films are definitely inter-connected, in some fashion. Both have a product to sell and in both the disciplines, the aspect of “story-telling” is critical. Both are audio-visual mediums with their own compulsions.

Balki believes that the attraction for the big screen for most ad-film makers is natural because “once you’ve tasted blood, you want to go for the big one.” However, it’s not as easy as it sounds because from 30-60 seconds to holding audience attention for close to three hours can be very daunting.

A sharp media tracker who has seen this phenomenon grow over time believes that all these guys are suddenly and unnecessarily playing coy and cute. The real reason for this shift, he believes, is simple and two-fold. One, every creative animal, after a while, feels hemmed in by continuously doing stuff that has a limited creative bandwidth. The motivation and hunger – despite all the clichés about constantly re-inventing oneself blah blah – wears thin and soon technique rather than inspiration, take over. The solution is (literally) the big picture… a canvas he can truly take-off with. Secondly, hey c’mon guys, who doesn’t want to hit the big time, rub shoulders with glamorous stars, be perceived as a successful film maker, appreciated by the media, classes and masses instead of just cranking out (as Ray rightly said) stuff hawking tea, cigarettes and biscuits… and now colas and condoms!

Beyond the incestuous and industry-specific tamasha at Cannes and ABY’s, their product gets to be seen and loved by the most significant and desired target-audience they can dream of – the hydra-headed creature called the aam junta! That is the real high – and let no one kid themselves!


Thursday, December 06, 2007



What is Pester-Power? At its simplest it means kids – from age 3 to 18 – pestering (read: nagging, whining, badgering, irritating, harassing, annoying) the living hell out of their parents to buy advertised products! This terminology was born – where else but the capital of obscene conspicuous consumption – in the USA in the late 70’s when this phenomenon first raised its ominous head. Very soon it became an uncontrollable epidemic-like reality-turned-nightmare!

Truth is, kids (traditionally) have always nudged and pushed their parents to buy stuff, but never was it a hair-tearing, cardiac-arrest routine, right? This avtaar is a fairly new phenomenon and accurately reflects the changing contours of the child-parent relationship in a fast-altering sociological landscape. Today, thanks to an insatiable, all-pervasive consumer society, sharper kids, exposure to a 24x7 media onslaught, peer pressure, double-income families leading to more disposable income and finally the “guilt” factor, parents seem to be caving in to pester-power much more quickly. Marketers, (forever tracking which side the bread is buttered and how fast the cookie crumbles), have been quick to leap in and create a whole array of irresistible children-friendly wants and needs that get the kids really charged! Today’s kids want more and they want it now!

Fact not fiction. According to the recently released Disney’s Kidsense 2007 survey, 63% kids are discussing products that span not only conventional kiddie categories, but go across the spectrum. This means that they go beyond the traditional clothes, sweets, bicycles and toys range to embrace DVD players, cars, mobile phones… even holiday destinations! The interesting and revealing part is that many parents today actually turn to their children for information regarding hi-ticket, hi-end, techno stuff. So the age of the Alpha pup is here and kidfluence is getting bigger each day. Communication guru Santosh Desai, CEO, Future Brands believes that today more than ever before, “we are all children of the age of consumption. Kids are hotter and hipper with the new lingo jargons of this phenomenon than their elders and therefore more comfortable with it.” No wonder they are constantly tuned-in or logged on to the latest trends! In this new environ of KGOY (Kids Getting Older Younger), soft toys and board games are quickly dumped for ACs and iPods. In fact, apart from booze and condoms – insists the irrepressible Prahlad Kakkar – kids today have a say in pretty much all the purchases made at home. And boy, do they exercise it! Moon-Moon Dhar, a working mother with two kids (aged 12 & 6) has that glazed look when talking about Pester Power.
“Oh, Pester-Power has arrived in India and is a total reality! My six year old tells me that I should take Tata Sky and cable is crap! I have to spend close to two hundred bucks a strike to see Bhool Bhulaiya and not Laga Chunri Mein Daag because the kids say so. As for their own stuff – food, entertainment, clothes, toys – that’s a different (and scary) ball-game! He has his own birthday list, dictates the menu (“no samosas please. Kids hate it!”); and explains why two varieties of Pizza’s should be ordered (“there are vegetarians also and everybody doesn’t like chicken, mamma?”). Amit Sahai, Media Manager, Perfect 10 Advertising and father of a 12 year old son, categorically believes that everything is not negative about this phenomenon and it’s wrong to perceive it in that manner. “Today’s kids are smarter, savvier, powered with a stronger sense of curiosity, more exposed to the media (than us in our early years) and in every way more knowledgeable about some categories of products than us. So, if they advise – or demand – something, it might be a good idea to see it in that light instead of pester power!” Also, he believes the age of self-denial and simple living and high thinking is clearly over. Parents slog to give their kids the best. Also the parent-child equation has changed dramatically “to the extent that they go beyond information to becoming consultants in the final purchase pattern.” Sahai lays bare a very critical point. “If your child is a pampered, spoilt brat, whose fault is that? If your parenting is right then there is no fear of pester power. The decisions will be informed and mutually agreed upon. At the end of the day, if you give your kids the power of freedom, responsibility and accountability, it can work wonders.”

Designer Seema Sethi – with two daughters aged 14 & 8 – doesn’t waste any time agreeing to the trials and trauma let loose by Pester Power! She gives the example of her younger daughter dismissing locally made pencils (NATRAJ) to go for foreign makes because “they are really cool!” Also, she just had to see OSO (Om Shanti Om) ASAP, otherwise she would not be considered with it and trendy!” Journo Sapna Khanna agrees. “My seven year old daughter made me take a conducted tour of at least 3 shops before she condescended to approve of a dress! Madam certainly has definite opinions and I dare not go against it. It won’t work!” As for her 12 year old son, he is into hi-end techno stuff and luxury cares, “which frequently makes us very nervous, but in some ways forces us to work harder and raise the bar to fulfil their expectations.” However, both Seema and Sapna concede that when the crunch comes, they know where to draw the line. So, do the kids listen then? “They moan, groan, complain, sulk … but eventually get the message.”

So, eventually, what does Pester Power mean to you… an early loss of innocence or a leap of knowledge and awareness? Your call!


Thursday, November 22, 2007

“Why does Recruitment advertising suck?”

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri wonders why this “genre” regularly produces ad’s that stink!

Advertising has been defined by the big daddies’ as salesmanship in print & the only business solely engaged in the business of ideas. New-age hi-flyers have added their numbers by labeling it (stylishly) as the persuasion industry and (cynically) as a conniving smooth, hydra-headed seductress obsessed in the manufacture of needs & creation of wants – mostly of an unnecessary nature! While a zillion other definitions can scream into focus, there is one simple definition agreed upon: Advertising is essentially about ideas, products or services to a pre-determined target base to attract/garner, a required, pre-determined result.

While huge strides have taken place in the creation, crafting and delivery modes straddling various categories & segments, why is it that similar progress has nowhere near touched the terrain of recruitment advertising? Why are most ads so achingly dull, boring and one-dimensional without the faintest trace of energy, excitement or engagement? Are they perceived as a get-it-over-and-done-with exercise, a mandatory statuary need-based function that does not need any imagination or creativity? Why does one get the feeling that most of these listless ads are done with clenched fists & gritted teeth by their creators who believe it’s “crap” that they are doing, away from the exciting, award-winning world of FMCGs?

Grey’s brand new NCD, Priti Nair, blasts off in style. “Time was when kids fresh into the copy arena, used to celebrate when they got a recruitment ad! They believed it represented a huge creative opportunity & pulled out the stops to make it rock. Why? Because, they feared, it could well be the only chance they got to showcase their potential as imaginative animals. In those days you really had to prove your worth & earn your spurs to catch the Creative Director’s eye…nothing came easy.” Today, Nair laments, times have changed. Everything is “democratised & everyone gets a chance to do everything.” There is no pecking order or heirachy any more. The result is the value & worth of opportunities is slowly disappearing; learning is no longer a big deal & now with technology, anyone can produce a decent ad quickly. The ideation process has really taken a big hit! “I also blame clients for the lack of importance they attach to this category of communication. Right from the brief downwards; the process is most shabby and un-focused. No wonder most ads look like cheap pamphlets distributed outside railway stations!”
Equs Red Cell’s Swapan Seth offers his own take. “In the entire scam scenario, recruitment advertising is a low-hanging fruit. How often can you get away with a smart visual & logo? Besides this category requires listing of jobs which is generally perceived as a data-processors job.” Seth believes that despite all the road blocks, recruitment advertising can be interesting & cites the example of the legendary Neil French’s stuff for the Ball partnership. “We did some good stuff for Equs Red Cell a few years ago too. They can be interesting provided one is interested & has interest in them.”

Mumbai’s creative queen Elsie Nanji is totally bewildered by the complete lack of freshness (dull as hell) in this segment. She confesses that she’s always loved doing recruitment ads & remembers the first one she did for Lakme over two decades ago. “They were swamped with applications, tore their hair while trying to deal with it & immediately signed us – a small fledging agency in those days – as one of their agencies. Soon we became their only agency & the relationship endures, strong as ever, even today. Same with another client, Water Kingdom, looking for life guards. We received heaps of awards, at home & abroad.” Nanji genuinely believes that companies are letting go of a great opportunity to “romance the brand” in a simple yet profound manner.

Sumanto Chattopadhya, O&M’s ECD (South Asia) with his rock-star looks concludes the debate in his own special way. He believes that when demand is greater than supply, all an ad needs to do is announce availability of whatever is being advertised. “No matter how tackily this is done, it will find target. So it is with jobs. People are so desperate to find them, they will devour them, no matter how badly they are done. Further the fact that there are dedicated recruitment pages & supplements completely decimates the initiative of imaginatively, interestingly crafting these ads. Pity, because these are ads that offer astonishing creative opportunities to go out-of-the-box & fly… Mohammed Khan’s 10th anniversary ad for Enterprise remains a masterpiece in this genre. It’s so sad that it’s an ‘endangered species’ today…”

At the end of the day, admittedly, there is no ideal recruitment ad, but it is astonishing that even top class advertising agencies – who fancy themselves to be professional custodians of the art of branding and masters of creativity that works in the market place – remain totally oblivious to the simple fact that this genre can offer huge brand equity to the product (organisation).

After all one is selling the companies corporate image to prospects with the sole intention of attracting the best talents. Doesn’t creativity and imagination – like in other categories – have a part to play? It must be remembered that in today’s image conscious world, vision, mission, strengths, achievements, environment and most importantly what it has to offer in terms of growth and development, is the key. A strategic fusion of how an exciting ad today can take the prospect to a rewarding tomorrow is what good recruitment advertising is all about. Finally, recruitment advertising should be understated (no tom-tomming & boasting, please!), warm and projecting a people friendly space allowing the respondent to feel good about the place… even before being a part of it! Ready for a change?


Thursday, October 25, 2007


wonders whether the “New Woman” is appropriately reflected in adland or...

Grey Worldwide’s NCD Priti Nair agrees. She believes there has been a dramatic shift from woman-as-doormat to woman-as-achiever. “There is more life, positivity, energy and drive in the way she is projected. The young modern mother is bright, active and peppy. She is pro-active, not re-active!” Swapan Seth of Equs Red Cell begs to differ. “I really don’t know from where all this is coming from! Today’s woman is most certainly being stifled and gagged in a world of stereotypes. At best the stuff mentioned are surface shifts providing glamorous distractions. Marketers seem to be continents away from confronting real – edgy, uneasy, controversial, troubled – social shifts. Where is the single, successful, strong, opinionated, unmarried 35-year old woman? Where is the positive, cheerful, smart, successful single mother whipping up a tasty meal for her excited small kids? That calls for a courageous client and braveheart agency!” Young and attractive executive of a high profile fashion house, Tania Haldar brings her own perspective to the table. “It’s a given that a pretty face with the right – ahem – equipment can sell almost anything! Savvy ad film-makers cash in on this regularly, using air brush techniques to wash away in essentials like a thick waistline or skin blemishes and before you know it, voila! You have the perfect babe selling you a host of products – perfumes, cosmetics, fairness creams, detergents, mobiles, shoes, home appliances, inner wear, washing machines, electronic goods, cars, holiday resorts – that works.” However, Haldar laments the fact that if and when serious, decision making and meaningful issues need to be forcefully publicised (Insurance, education, social issues like woman empowerment, girl child, adult literacy, HIV Aids) today’s woman, sadly, is nowhere to be found! Does that mean that she is perceived as someone incapable of influencing popular imagination when something solid needs to be ‘pushed’ (where are you, YAWN Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das) used only for frivolous consumer items? If that is so, how much justice is today’s Adville really doing to representation of today’s woman, which reaches consumers?

So what gives?

Being cautious, maintaining the status-quo, playing safe… willing to wound but afraid to strike… is that the real situation? It’s a tough call. At one level, there has certainly been a conscious effort to keep pace with the new woman. However (as Swapan perceptively points out) to go the road less travelled, be bold, audacious and break new ground by embracing uncomfortable (and unspoken) real life issues in terms of contemporary realities is – alas –something that is, almost, zilch.

Our guess is that it has to do with comfort levels, not wanting to rock the boat, being happy by making all the right noises at the right forums - and most importantly, yelling the famous lines is complacent self-defence: Why mend it if it ain’t broke, babe... right?


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Speak Memory!

takes you down a road-experience - that in today’s “instant -everything” world is often considered both unfashionable & irrelevant. Is it? You could be surprised...

Forget the entire crap box of (so called) irrefutable, incontrovertible, indubitable, indisputable & uncontestable definitions of advertising. Why? Because the best, most effective and memorable ads continue to thrive on surprise & delight. They trash formulae. Spit on rules. Piss on laws. History & experience – delivered in heavy/ham-handed fashion – can be an irritating road-block to creative ejaculation. It comes in the way of the Big O, guys!

Sweeping as it may sound, please feel free to contest this line of thinking. I can already hear muted murmurs … In a business whose prime task is to build meaningful relationships between brand & buyers – product & people – does experience count for zilch? It’s a tough call. On the one hand, it’s a fact that ad professionals are thoroughly knowledgeable about who wrote and art-directed iconic ads of the past – Rolls & VW ads in the 60s; Hamlet ads in the 70s; Apple ads in the 80s; Nike ads in the 90s… and so on. They pour over award annuals & creative magazines/journals and recall these great ads with wistful smiles & misty eyes. On the other, it’s precisely ‘this’ that constitutes the problem!

Let me explain. The unhappy factor in this (blissful) scheme of things is that too much hero-worshipping leads us to reside in a hall of mirrors … and you’ll agree, it’s near impossible to move ahead if you are constantly looking at the rear-view mirror! The act to do is – disengage yourself from history and the past because it creates a weird cage of conformity. Standing on the shoulders of giants is cool – only it gives you a false perspective. It also leads to the extremely dangerous disease – quite common in ad biz – self-referential work. It does nothing for the consumer because s/he views it as a corny/esoteric in-joke!

So, does being a veteran with years of experience count at all? Yes, but only if you are writing ads within the known, learnable forms of the craft. Fact is, dreaming up ideas is about being original – and it’s as tough, the first time, as now.
So, what gives?

Here, to seek answers, a fascinating anecdote of a dear friend comes to my mind. A well-heeled, urban, middle-class guy with a good degree, his first interview with a CEO of an ad agency was a five-star disaster! He was pointedly asked as to why a guy like him (with his comfortable, well-adjusted & urban background) was looking for a job in the business where quirky, on-the-edge & whacko guys belonged… creatures who’ve lived life a bit… not people who reside in a boring, sanitised world!

My friend was blown! He fled and rushed immediately into a staid & “correct” multi-national environment where (as of today) he is constantly zooming north. His interview really constitutes the crux of this debate. The best ads are echoes of long forgotten, inaudible whispers to the soul; about constant voyages of discovery while travelling through the dusty alcoves of memory; Hence, some of the most effective ads – are invariably products that come from the greatest lab on earth – life.

Okay, question time – Have you ever been confronted by cops? Have you been involved or caught up in a street brawl? Have you worked in any other business than advertising? Have you ever been fired from a job? Have you been really hungry? Have you had a close shave with death? Have you ever desperately wanted a job? Have you sometimes felt persecuted by the world? Have you ever suffered a heart-break? Have you doped? Have you got drunk? Have you had an extra-marital relationship? Have you stolen? Have you fought in a war? Have you been insanely in love??? If you can answer in a ‘Yes’ to even six of the above questions, then you have a good chance of getting into the loop. See, it’s simple. A person who has seen war first-hand or been drunk out of his skull or been insanely in love or experienced the agony & ecstasy of an extra-marital relationship or has had his heart broken or has been fired from a job or caught up in an ugly street fight – is bound to see the world differently than a guy who hasn’t. He has seen, experienced and lived through it. It’s real, not proxy...

In the end, it seems appropriate for any sensitive communication practitioner to declare – Every time you applaud an ad of mine, in reality, you are paying tribute to books I’ve read, the films I’ve seen, the music I’ve heard, the people & activities I’ve engaged with, the experiences I’ve gone through, the life I’ve lived…. There’s no man who is an island, and I am the sum total of all that I’ve seen, heard & felt….


Thursday, September 27, 2007

“Yes Boss”

presents facts that are stranger than fiction. Honest! Ready? Lets go….

The huge Boss-man, looking disturbingly similar to an over-fed frog, seated on a massive filmy throne-like chair in a room right out of a seventies Bollywood villains den, stared hard at the young, fresh-faced Account Executive. From time to time, he sighed and nodded his head, left to right, indicating cosmic sorrow. Eventually, wisdom descended from the lotus-lipped. “Yaar kuch jama nahin! Sab Ghatiya!”

With these deadly words, he flung the eight ads (that the agency had prepared in 2 hours flat) towards him and began again. “Look beta, don’t take it personally. I like you and you know that, hai na? We’ve been interacting for the last two months, kitna masaa se kyun? I know you guys can deliver the goods if you put your dil & jaan to it…So go back and do something really creative, jo dekhte hi ghanti bajne lagey!”

The young executive (cultured, educated, soft-spoken, professionally trained in one of Mumbai’s top ad agencies) attempted to say something, but was cut short immediately. “Bachcha, aage bhi kaha, anpadh aadmi hoon main. Yeh tumhara angrezi advertising bhashan kuch samajh nahi aata. Bas achcha nahin laga to achcha nahin laga! If you people can’t give me something really hat ke, tell the others in your group that I’ll call other agencies. Line lagi hai, beta, ek phone ghumaon to…”

The man paused for breath. “My 17 year old bitiya can do better! She’s studying Mass Comm and she only told me that those designs are third class!”

Shaken and crushed at this onslaught, the young man rose, made the appropriate, polite sounds and returned to the office. On the way he wondered who these clients were and how they never existed, two months ago, in his life at the Mumbai-based agency. He was really fed up! The move to Delhi was totally wrong and he regretted his resignation, despite huge warnings from his pals.

Back at the office, his boss, instead of consoling him, blew a fuse. “Who told you to lagao speeches and teach him advertising? Do you know… He’s owned & managed his organization successfully for 25 years?” That did it for the kid. He finally, exploded. “Look here, dumbo, I‘ve put up with your nonsense about us being a service industry, but the Boss is God for a little too long. Your stupid client produces cloth, not quality advertising, okay? But you won’t understand the difference because you, like him, are basically a halwai! A 24X7 order supply dalal! You don’t understand the first thing about quality professionalism or focus – it’s only billing at any cost! That doesn’t suit me because it’s injurious to my professional health! I am quitting with immediate effect! Goodbye!” With that he stormed out of the room. The agency head (lala?) was too stunned to speak. He quickly gulped down a glass of water & reached for his favourite fix–pan parag…

Ladies and gentleman you have just read a true-to-life incident gleaned from adland. The smart, young, ambitious and talented client servicing person lured away with big bucks and promises to introduce a new work ethic, was badly disillusioned. “Doesn’t professionalism count for anything?” he asked himself in frustration and despair…
Of course it does! Otherwise luminaries like Elsie Nanjee, Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi, Santosh Desai, Arun Nanda, George John, Pralhad Kakkar, Alyque Padamse, Ram Ray and Mohammed Khan couldn’t be around with their outstanding contribution to the communication business in taking it to another level… We would only be lumped with “the Chawdi Bazar School of Advertising” – a genre in which any resemblance to the real thing is a startling coincidence! A group which is constantly exploring lower depths of the “Ji Huzzori” & sycophancy culture, trashing all norms of professional ethics, decorum & capabilities at the altar of bottom-line. Quality, integrity, relevance, impact – “Woh kya hai? Oye, ‘phatphat’ release kar pappe, client ad ko pass kar diya!”

The truth of the matter is simple. True blue/professionalism is about vision & values and always emanates from the top. It is the leader who sets the tone, defines the blueprint, articulates the direction, focus & philosophy of the organizational growth path. If he is of the belief that quality and growth are perfectly compatible, more friends than foes, then he is likely to earn both, big bucks and big respect from all who matter – employees, clients, peers, stakeholders & consumers.

If, on the other hand, he treats advertising like any other business – which it isn’t – then (despite making money) he will be looked upon as an unprofessional, down-market pariah, a trader/supplier who accidentally gate-crashed into the sophisticated world of advertising instead of hawking commodities at Chandni Chowk!.

At the end of the day, any entrant passionate about embarking on this fascinating creative journey into a world that deals with the business of ideas, must be warned to say ‘NO’ to these deadly ‘YES’ Boss types and resist succumbing to mediocrity...

Or rest assured, all his life his ears will be ringing with deathless slogans like East or West, our wear – under is best!


Thursday, September 13, 2007


Pretentious, Expensive Dramabazi or Passionate Corporate Patriotism?

It’s quite amazing, really. Like love (which the world celebrates in hysterical fashion once a year because that’s the only day allocated to it), patriotism is also on the freak-out mode every August 15th. Never mind the rest of the year, on Independence Day, our great political leaders & champions of trade & commerce, business & industry pull out all stops to demonstrate their passionate patriotism in all their tri-coloured glory! Pledging the sun & moon or waxing eloquent, these eminent figures with their (mock?) heroics through speeches and ads really turn on the patriotic charm full steam. The creators of ads, of course, are a breed apart! Combining ghisa-pita clichés with contrived, corny attempts to forcefully connect the product/service with the spirit, tone & tenor of the day, they offer specimens that make any sane person gasp with different degrees of amusement, shock & horror!!

Two questions that immediately zoom-in demanding answers are… Firstly, how can (so called) professional communication practitioners actually dish out this brand of inane, mindless, boring, predictable and amateurish stuff light years away from anything engaging, enriching or imaginative? Two, instead of spending billions in terms of ad-spend to celebrate Independence Day (or is it handcuffed to mediocrity?), wouldn’t it be a better idea to channelise the funds towards powering a meaningful cause or addressing a critical concern relating to the disfranchised disadvantaged children of a lesser God? Who, for Christ’s sake sees, notices, reads or recalls these ads anyway except the ad agencies who create them & the clients who commission them?

There are differing voices. Once upon a time - say 15 years ago or so – Independence Day ads were largely dished out by the government or PSUs. Not any more. Private sector, today, has also jumped into the fray, pumping in big bucks to push patriotism powered product/service ads through the roof. Why? Do they really (professionally speaking) consider I-Day as an un-missable platform to connect brands with big bucks? Arvind Sharma (CEO, Leo Burnett) believes that there is more to it than meets the eye. “Basically, it should be viewed as a public manifestation of corporate India’s new-found pride and confidence of being Indian and to that extent, it appears both legitimate and appropriate to tap into their pursuit of bonding with the consumers.” He cites the example of the classic Cadbury ad unfurling the flag and some infrastructure ads as good “fits.” As for others, “It’s cashing in on the mood of the day irrespective of focus or perspective… nothing unusual in this genre.” Regarding the quality, he believes, it’s an individual call. Good agencies are likely to produce good work, while mediocre ones will produce what they produce “and that’s true across every genre across the board. Don’t blame the messenger. He’s just the piano player!”
Another school of thought puts it down to nothing more than “insecurity.” A decade and a half ago, hardly any communicator could ever dream of (seriously) creating and running an ad that would push a brand riding on Independence Day emotions. One guy started – maybe for novelty value. Other followed and suddenly it wasn’t about logic, selling or focus at a professional level. It wasn’t about what got you doing an ad for I-Day, but rather what you lost by not doing it, while the other guys did it! It was - and has become a kind of “herd mentality” movement, an ego issue, a keeping up with the whoever’s-of-the-world game! You are not perceived as a ‘politically correct’ organisation (pun intended), if you don’t run these ads!

JWT NCD Josy Paul agrees. He believes that most of the stuff dished out on August 15th does zilch to make any sane/normal person puff out his chest with patriotic pride and it’s largely because it seems to have been done “either to mindlessly honour a time-tested tradition or saab ko khush karne ke liye! Unfortunately very little thought is invested in making it engaging, interesting, imaginative or fresh in thought or insight, towards blending a product promise with a patriotic spin. It can be a truly exciting challenge and a terrific opportunity to attempt clutter-busting stuff…”

Paul speaks of the time when he recently visited a plant in Roorkee during its inauguration and how, when the national anthem was played, his hair stood on end and he wept! “For me, that was hugely moving and meaningful, symbolising rootedness in the soil where I stood. I don’t get that same feeling for any of those ads nowadays.”

Badal Das, a Professor of Sociology, bemoans this 15th August aberration as “an amazing opportunity, lost.” He reckons that it is not everyday that the cut-throat world of business has an opportunity to actually exploit the emotional-patriotic space in a creative fashion without really focusing excessively on the sell factor… “a canvas which is invitingly open for exciting inventiveness with a captive audience – in patriotic mood and mode – ready to absorb the communication across media. After all it is a very special day and even the most hardened sceptic will be willing to relent in the face of the popular mood of the moment. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, what we are deluged with are variations of dull ads. Sad…”

While the jury is not fully out on this one, some take-outs are worth …taking out! The Rehman ad or the Hamara Bajaj ad or an India-Pakistan cricket match seems to achieve far more in terms of patriotism or soaring spirits than most of these ads put together. Why? Because, everything considered, these ads don’t seem to be able to add any value to the core content; all they seem to do is force-feed words and phrases that attempt to signify the spirit of the occasion. Result? They look and sound corny, boring, unimaginative, uninteresting, fake, propagating nothing more than hollow posturing…


Thursday, August 30, 2007


takes a ‘brief’ look at what’s causing the thunder, down under!

BANNED! Screamed headlines across media a while ago forcefully blanking out two male undergarment ads. The august body of I&B believed that the term thunder down under really took on scary dimensions and instructed them to stop the plunder (of innocent and bewildered minds) and immediately surrender! The two TV ads in question – Lux Cosy & Amul Macho – were seen as playing havoc with the joyous ‘family viewing time’ and pre-empting stunned, embarrassed silence and uncomfortable questions.

Okay, so what did these ads portray, anyway? The Amul Macho ad shows a newly-wed woman, moseying over to the village ghat and washing her husband’s undies. She begins in a coy, sensuous fashion and soon appears quite charged up while turning on the heat! Her energetic body language astounds her staid companions who look at this overt, exhibitionistic performance with shock and horror. ‘Crafted for fantasies’ says the slogan! In the Lux Cosy ad, a washerwoman calls at an apartment to pick up the laundry. A man wearing a towel answers the door. And accidentally his towel drops. Before he can register shock or embarrassment, the washerwoman’s eyes dart towards the undies, registering uncensored delight & approval in a flirtatious manner. The Moral Police, however, didn’t share in any way the washerwoman’s joy, were not remotely amused at this ‘slip-up’ and refused to dismiss the affair as ‘andar ki baat hai’.

They termed these ads “vulgar, indecent & suggestive” and sent out strong messages to the ad fraternity & channels to be careful and exercise restraint in the stuff beamed out, or else…

This isn’t the first time. Over a decade and a half ago, the Marc Robinson-Pooja Bedi Kamasutra ad with the tagline ‘For the Pleasure of Making Love’ had the powers-that-were in a tizzy. Subsequently the Arbaaz-Malaika coffee ads as well as the Milind Soman-Madhu Sapre TUFF ads created a crazy furore – as did the recent XXX flavoured condom ads. Neo Sports ads (tongue-in-cheek turned foot-in-mouth?) covering the recent ODI series in Feb’07 also came under fire and was termed ‘racist’ by the high priests.

Fact is obscenity, vulgarity, suggestiveness, insinuation, et al represent tricky areas for the simple reason that they are all relative, subjective and contextual. Fumes ad practitioner Atul Malhotra, “the problem with these guys is that they consider themselves self-appointed guardians of public morality without even trying to understand the reference to the context angle. Don’t these people see FTV, MTV, Hollywood or Bollywood movies?”

“Which planet do they inhabit, yaar? Is our tradition, culture and sabhyata so fragile that a couple of ads can threaten it? C’mon guys, wake up and taste the… lassi!” He says that you wanna ban stuff – ban gender bias & religious intolerance because they influence and poison the mind of people – not some corny undergarments ads, for chrissake! Preeti Paul, a media executive agrees with the basic premise of Malhotra’s argument but concedes that the Amul Macho ad did exceed the limit. “It’s definitely cheap & titillating and appears to have been created to shock & stimulate viewers.” Housewife Seema Suri agrees. “Which sicko pervert directed the actress and dreamed up the concept? I mean that suggestive look and body language, that glazed expression, it was so embarrassing! My mom-in-law just couldn’t figure out what that lady in the ad was doing and frequently asked me to explain… I am delighted ban ho gaya. Advertising should have some moral limits.”

Not everyone agrees with this take. Mitali Gupta, a journalist, believes too much is being made about “this silly ad! Hey, c’mon guys, its only a dumb TVC, okay? The ad guys took the titillation & naughty route to grab eyeballs and public attention, which I think was cool b’coz what the hell do you say about a jock, anyway? Chill, man!”

Creators of the ad believe that the uproar is happening only because it is truly a clutter-busting ad, standing out and making waves (in a dramatic and meaningful way) in a category that is truly tough to penetrate… Ooops, was it a faux pas? Didn’t mean it. We are outta here, guys. Its getting too hot!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Myth-exploding time, guys!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri takes you down an explosive track where revered, sacrosanct and holiest-of-the-holies laws, rules and practices go for a sublime toss!

Rules and laws. Commandments and diktats. Rails and fences… these continue to govern our lives, right? Ditto in Adville. “Problem with rules” rues the local wit “is their seemingly invincible rigidity. What must however always be kept in mind and acted upon is the simple fact that the moment these great laws lose their effectiveness, validity and winning streak and become a deterrent to creative development, they should be relegated to the trash bin! Shocked? Don’t be – because with this single move you liberate yourself from restrictions and boundaries and allow yourself to… fly! This is not to categorically debunk the entire concept of rules; they were created for certain reasons and surely had their uses…Today however, sane communication practitioners must be viewed in perspective and not something that is gospel truth and carved in stone!

Let’s do a quick ‘dekho’ of some popular, time-tested numbers that need to be handed the pink slip!


The great Rosser Reeves founded and authored this much revered UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION in an era when products “genuinely” had definite, tangible differences. Today (apart from the term being systematically raped due to abuse, misuse and over-use) it has lost much of its sting. Why? Because times have dramatically changed. Electronic firms share research. Large FMCG brands often come together to manufacture, in order to cut costs. Levels of excellence are cutting across the entire spectrum of products and services, almost eliminating the “difference” factor. Ad Guru John Hegarty believes that there has been a paradigm shift in that we are living in a whole new age – the age of the ESP, Emotional Selling Proposition!
“Here the perceived difference is all. Why do I wear a purple shirt instead of a white shirt? Sure, it’s only about colour, but hey, it makes me feel different!” Hagarty, extending this line of thinking, invites agencies to re-invent their focus in terms of profile and persona. “I believe they need to see themselves as a manufacturing company because they are really and truly a part of the manufacturing process – manufacturing ideas that make a difference between brands.” The result is empowerment. Customers actually feel more certain, assured, passionate and in love with the product. The “emotional difference” is indeed the real difference!


There was a time – far away and long ago – when rationality was equated with substance and a logical proposition invariably earned respect, credibility and positive customer response. Hate to rain on your parade, guys, but that’s all sepia-tinted history residing in an ocean of mothballs! Look around the ad-space and you’ll see tonnes of stuff that are totally irrational — and rocking! The Cola ads are excellent examples, as are Happy Dent, Alpenliebe, Mentos, Surf, Airtel, Hutch,, Pond’s, Cadbury, Fevicol…. Remember the iconic series on PORCHE? The ads were classic examples of zero-logic communication with send-up lines like ‘Too Fast. Doesn’t Blend.’ ‘People will talk... old cars go to yards, old Porche’s go to museums.’

Who can forget the other classic, VW, with the amazing line ‘It’s ugly but it works’. My personal favourite remains the stunningly evocative series for Norwegian cruise line, which seemed to amplify inaudible whispers of the soul with lines like…. ‘I will be naked more, I will memorise clouds. There is no law that says you cannot study a sunset… or make love at 4 pm on a Tuesday.’ To the purist (and kill joys) it may not be logical and rational but it remains intensely human. If we eavesdrop on peoples imagination and dreams and respond, chances are when they morph into customers they will return the compliment…


A globally respected ad guru dismisses this aspect with “It’s a lie that you must have a strap-line/slogan in your ad. These are mostly pathetic exercises in shallow wordplay or meaningless phrase.”

He goes on to cite popular examples – progress is our most important product. Tomorrow’s technology, today… and the most chilling cliché of them all, committed to the relentless pursuit of excellence!

Fact is these corny, pontifical, posturing, benign gyaan- driven lines necessary? The consumers don’t give a damn and even within the ad-frat few pay attention. Then why on Earth do they still exist? “Because” says Shantiniketan trained, New York based art director Piya Sen, “Some dumb luck boss-man decades ago got hysterically attached to the letter, not the spirit of how ads should be written and insisted that no ad go without it. The die was cast. The seed was sown.”

At the end of the day, with exceptions (Just Do It, Nike) slogan strap-lines are there to please clients or politically correct bosses. Nothing more. If an ad does what its meant to do — entertain, engage, enthral, enlighten, empower — it doesn’t need a strap-line. If it doesn’t, the greatest slogan can’t viagrise it.

Just Do it is breakthrough stuff only because it epitomises the attitude of people reading it, not the company. It’s not about making shoes for people who do it. See the difference? So next time you see an ad, don’t forget to zero-in on the strap-line… it’s likely to keep you in splits all day!


Thursday, July 19, 2007


Snowed under with ads hysterically sold on entertaining, 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri wonders whether there’s been a slight confusion in priorities!

Man, its one hulluva time in ad-land!

Today’s ads (especially TVCs) are mind-blowing… Splendid examples of riveting audience engagement, carefully crafted and designed to woo and impact a promiscuous (and forever) distracted viewer-base with the (ominious) ‘remote’ always at their fingertips. “Our job in these scary competitive times is simple: delight and surprise,” explains a Mumbai based hot-spot maverick (with his drooling, devoted acolytes, nodding energetic approval). “Not bore the pants off them with grim and boring product facts or figures. That will only inspire. zzzzzzz!” Adds another pony-tailed member of the ad-frat, “Times have changed. The world is on a perpetual and frenetic fast-forward. To catch the flirtatious eye of the prospective customer, one has to be unique, special and different. In this backdrop, ‘entertainment’ is the acknowledged hot-line, the great leveller… Films, songs, books, events, happenings, news – we borrow and spin-off from any and everything that promises visibility, noticability and stopper-value. At the end of the day, in this crazy clutter, grabbing and freezing eyeballs is the name of the game, baby-cake!”

Clap-Clap. Wonderful. Fabulous et al… but excuse me, isn’t advertising a means to an end… an end called ‘selling’? Are prizes, wah-wahs, medals and gongs more crucial than ‘sales’? Has advertising in the recent times, become too self-absorbed, drawing too much attention to itself and too little in closing the deal related to the purchase intent? Has advertising become a ‘high-wire’ act with the creative guys freaking out to impress other creative guys with the ‘Big O’ coming from ‘their’ recognition, applause and appreciation, ‘not’ of clients? Is the ‘S’ word, unfashionable, dumb and corny in a time where no one does anything as crass as selling; they do the sophisticated thing. Build brands! No one looks at the sales figures. They track scores! Has advertising become ‘the’ product itself with ABBYs, CAG, Goafest, Cannes, et al as the prime target of one and all?

Kolkata-based, veteran adman (and sometimes actor, he was Satyajit Ray’s hero in the second of the maestro’s city triology Seema Baddha?), Barun Chanda believes that this phenomenon in some fashion has always existed. “There have always been the arty or smart-arse types who make it their business to blow away their clients with showy and spectacular, but irrelevant concepts. They’ve, on cue, garnered the appropriate gasps and wows but hardly ever touched the crucial areas of selling! It’s not a crime but a ‘sin’! The agency should be sacked immediately,” Chanda says. However, Chanda believes that often the clients are to blame too, “Because the promise of glitzy awards amidst glamorous settings at home and abroad works as a seductive carrot for them.” To director sahiba Leena (Shabd) Yadav, “The entertainment quotient works as a super-seller. Used in appropriate manner – Happydent, Cadbury, Fevicol,, Airtel - they rock! They go beyond the cut and dry product features to create an emotional synergy and connect that ensures top-of-the-mind awareness.” However, she is quick to add that flippant and casual endeavours, hoping for short-cuts to accelerate consumer preference is doomed “because it neither entertains nor sells!”

Lowe’s Executive Creative Director, Preeti Nair Chax advances the case further. “We live in a deadly crowded ad-space with products and ads coming out of our ears! In this scenario, entertainment can offer a fabulous solution as a clutter-buster but ‘only’ if crafted with care and never losing sight of the product-is-the-hero angle,” she said. She cites the example of Fevicol, Miss Palampur, Surf, Greenply,, ICICI Prudential (among others) as interesting examples of leveraging the entertainment quotient in a positive manner. “However celebs (especially Bollywood) should be handled with great responsibility and special care because their red-hot personas as entertainers can easily demolish the very reason for them being present in the ad – to sell the product!”

To Parveen Chawla, a smart, young and sensitive Delhi-based ad person, it appears tragic that “entertainment suddenly is on a flier!” She believes it has something to do with the popular bimari of manoranjan inspiring Bollywood honchos like Sunjay Dutt and Sunny Deol growl lines like ‘Apun ke style ka mamla hain’, or ‘Ye andar ki baat hain’, lending to a whole new dimension to the term, ‘thunder down under’!

So, whats the take-out? While it is indeed a given that in today’s stress-ridden life, entertainment is increasingly perceived as a welcome therapy and our movie-making technology is world-class, the problem is (ironically) that this lethal mixture of cool creative focus and stunning new age technology provides for a riveting ad capsule that undoubtedly engages, entertains, (even enthrals) in fine style ‘but’ frequently at expense of the selling proposition. Result? We see scores of brilliantly crafted TVCs that delight and surprise – as the high priest’s decree – but do they really turn you on to buy? Do they, in any fashion, impact your mind-set, alter belief or inspire change in perception towards the product or service advertised? The honest answer (most of the time) has to be ‘no’. With exceptions, form and style (entertainment quotient) seem to enjoy a winning run over content and substance (selling proposition) leading to terrifying audience take-out: Remembering the ‘Ad’ or the ‘celebrity’ in it but forgetting the ‘product’! 


Thursday, July 05, 2007


Of Course-Yes-Definitely!

At a recent ad-show, my erudite friend was suddenly seized by the spirit of enquiry. With seriousness writ large on his face, he drew me aside, took a deep breath, cleared his throat and let fly…Why (he asked with scary passion) is creativity in the ad- business forever linked with the usual (Piyush, Prasoon, Balki, Chax, Pop, Angelo, Josy…) suspects? Don’t tell me (he continued incredulity colouring his tone), that nothing significant, interesting, engaging, creative, fresh or original has ever happened beyond their gaze… or no outstanding talent has ever emerged outside their mafia-dom? If it has (and surely it has!) - why has neither the work nor individuals ever been celebrated, written-up or publicized like the over-hyped Mumbai lot? Is it because of a lazy, un-interested, un-informed, star-struck and Mumbai –fixated media forever dazzled by the sizzle, not the steak? Is it because the truly creative minds-of the non-Mumbai kind–don’t really go grey pining for marquee-status, bright lights or frivolous Page 3 razzle dazzle, choosing instead to concentrate on their work, perfectly happy with the peer respect and recognition they receive? Is it because hype, hoopla and posturing is an intrinsic part and parcel of the glamorous Mumbai culture and the new age savvy, creative guys have learnt the art of leveraging it with consummate skills and panache?

Arindam Nandy, Senior Creative Director, Response (Kolkata) believes that the issue must not invite over-reaction and should be understood in the right context. “First things first. Anyone making a sweeping statement about Mumbai being the only hot-spot for advertising creativity needs to visit his friendly neighborhood shrink-fast! There definitely exsits loads of talent, unfortunately not matched with equal amount of opportunity to allow it to catch fire!” Nandy cites the example of his own city, a place (traditionally) bursting with creativity, ideas and imagination. Unfortunately, the business (mostly) are East-India-centric eliminating (immediately) any chance of national perspective or all-India footprint. This, despite the greatest innovative brilliance places the work in the “regional” category, diluting the “interest quotient” of the media. He rationalizes, “It’s pretty much like Bollywood and regional cinema. Until hot ‘n’ heavy national clients with big ad spends hit the scene, this marginalized and also-ran status will prevail. Sad but true.”
Delhi-based creative consultant Mayank Gaur however is in no mood to play footsie, be politically correct or play coy. He slams it with all cylinders firing! He begins his fusillade by quoting the legendary baseball’s stars deathless line “champions discuss baseball. Fools discuss statistics.” Warmed up, he lays it on the line, “This issue has to do with two major aspects. One Mumbai’s sickening self-congratulatory complacence leading to a kind of arrogance that makes them believe that the sun actually comes out of their a…e! Two, the pathetic dumbling down of a media completely sold out to the Page 3 culture.” Gaur wonders whether their so-called Mumbai stars have ever bothered to look beyond their water-tight, closely-guarded incestuous, in-ward looking and self absorbed universe to check out the kind of work in range and brilliance coming out of the other centres. He detests the fact that just because clients are small and regional as (opposed to national big-ticket) the advertising is dismissed as insignificant. But brilliant-work, he emphasizes, remains brilliant work, irrespective of national footprint or humongous ad spend. It’s the power of the idea and creative insight that matters or should matter, surely! “The litmus test is to achieve creative brilliance riding on modest resources. Live the ‘small is big’ idea. Anyone can score brownie points having stars and all the required infrastructure on your side. It’s the small, modest, unsung shops breaking through with great creativity that should be applauded.” Gaur concludes his little tsunami with “at a time when the best ideas often happens in the loo, this Mumbai-nonsense is truly idiotic and juvenile. Quickly pull the flush yaar!”

Swapan Seth, CEO of the Delhi-based Equus Red Cell brings his own spin to the debate. “I really don’t think the issue is whether Mumbai is the cathedral of creative or not. It is just that the industry is largely present there. As is the film industry.” He believes that media location also has a role to play and that Mumbai-based publications tend to talk more often to people in Mumbai, which he is quick to add is equally “understandable.” Seth also highlights that the personal aspect of people must also be borne in mind. “There are people like me who speak when spoken to and to the point. I think there is considerable talent here in Delhi. Even Kolkata. Or Bangalore. It’s just that Mumbai creative people are so in your face that you feel that they are all there is to creativity.”

To Anuja Chauhan it’s really a non-issue because she genuinely believes that “Mumbai IS where the action is and the Piyushes and Prasoons ARE THE KHANS of that universe!” The talented creative director of JWT Delhi – (responsible for most of those celebreated and higly visible PEPSI ads over the last decade) – agrees that there is good work happening in other centres “But Mumbai is like Hollywood or Bollywood, the real and perceived capital of glamour, mega stars, big bucks, big league players, hot n’ happening environment” and combined they produce a lethal and magical package that seduces both media and ever-curious public. Since that is the nature of the animal, is it any wonder that most creative guys of any worth gravitate towards that city? And the big boys of the Mumbai ad-world may rejoice. There may be many takers, but very few are plotting painstakingly to usurp their hot seats... oh but it will take a lot to battle the masala magic of Mumbai... 


Thursday, June 21, 2007


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri checks out this contentious issue...

The friendly neighbourhood cynic is unstoppable. It’s the return of the East India Company, folks! The multinational juggernaut blitzes ahead, full steam, with most (all?) of our hot-shot shops aligned, associated or in partnership with any one of the global (WPP, Dentsu, Publicis, Interpublic, Omnicom...) giants. In this backdrop, where do the ‘local’ pipsqueaks feature? Further, with globalisation a frightening reality, prompting even some die-hards, traditional, conservative sarkari PSUs to hit the ‘firang’ button, is it the beginning of the end for the desi players? Is it time for them to quickly pull back, see the big picture and re-invent themselves to this new-age environment with a work ethic designed to deliver real, palpable, tangible value... transition from a 24x7 glorified supplier mode to a solid, professionally-driven, service provider of result-oriented communication solution? Hey, this is really hot! Let’s see what the ad-frat has to say...

Rajiv Nayyar, CEO of the Delhi- based Perfect 10 advertising agency, is unfazed, but a trifle piqued. “I really don’t think it’s fair to label all non-multinational ad agencies as glorified suppliers! Fact is, we all operate in the service sector, right? Can any single multinational agency, anywhere in the world, touch their hearts and swear they have never ever conceded, given-in or compromised with a tough, rigid and impossible client when crunch time arrived? It is important to remember that advertising is, first and last, a business. Ego, aesthetics, personal belief, vision and everything else, takes a back seat.” Moving to the issue at hand, Nayyar confidently confesses that his agency has never really faced any heat because “We operate in two different spheres. Multinationals (mostly) are comfortable dealing with multinationals, but India is a vast and complex market and there is life beyond multinationals.” While he agrees in principle that these agencies definitely bring a very high level of sophisticated expertise to the table, the point is, most of it is usually not required for the Indian corporates. Besides, many times, this hi-funda mindset acts as a roadblock in probing and understanding real insights that could provide solutions, “As for Indian clients opting for global agencies, mostly, it’s to attain snob value... proudly tell their peers that they are aligned to a hot global name!”
Newfields Advertising’s Managing Director, Raman Gupta, takes the case forward. A second generation adman – the agency was started by his (late) father, fifty years ago – whose organisation deals only with PSUs and government agencies, he reinforces Nayyar’s argument in his own special way. “There was, and continues to exist, a sense of fear within some agencies regarding an imminent and inevitable takeover by the multinational agencies. I think it’s all bullshit!” Gupta goes on to explain the rationale behind his colourfully descriptive adjective. India is neither a small place nor a uniform, one-size-fits-all country. It is a vast and complex terrain where every region and state lives in its very own special universe. The primary task of a professional communicator is firstly to understand this basic premise and then sensitively decode the complex sub-text that defines the psychographics and demographics of this space. You don’t have to be either a PC Sarkar or Einstein to figure out that an Indian, rooted and home-grown agency is more likely to crack it than a hi-fi global name. Why? “Because without fuss or frippery, we get to the essence straightaway and come out with the desired solution.”

Gupta confides that many of his clients (tempted by others), did hire multinational agencies only to kick themselves later. “Their attitude and arrogance really shook them up!” At the end of the day, he believes, both can co-exist harmoniously because the “India” and “Bharat” divide is real and globalisation has only re-affirmed it in no uncertain terms. Lloyd Mathias, the affable and dynamic Marketing Director of Motorola is amused, “I think it is a huge misconception on the part of some Indian ad agencies to believe that multinational agencies are out of sync with the Indian reality. Apart from top-of-the-line global perspective, alignment and shared experience of similar forays played out in other countries, relating to the product advertised, they are fully capable of bringing outstanding insights to the table embracing local colours that make a difference.” He speaks with pride and confidence about his agency (Ogilvy’s) campaign for Motorola (the Abhisekh Bachchan TVC) and states that “it is a classic example of global perspective wedded to local roots.”

Cyrus Batliwala, Director, Corporate Comm. of a large multinational, joins the party with all cylinders firing, “Let’s cut out the crap and cut to the chase! Indian agencies neither have the attitude, aptitude, resources (people), infrastructure or dynamism to match their global counterparts. An Ogilvy, Lowe, Bates, JWT, McCann or Saatchi & Saatchi can never be compared to the local agencies because of the solid value-addition they bring to the table. Their entire focus is about delivering value that will make a difference. They bring knowledge, expertise, passion and purpose in a seamless fuse. The Indian agencies (in most cases) continue to live in a time-warp and play their pathetic yes-sir, no-sir games with their unprofessional clients, terrified of rocking the boat in case the account is lost.”

He adds that the funny part is that if you have courage and conviction backed by solid knowledge – the toughest clients anywhere, will always listen to you and respect your perspective.“ In most cases, these guys are not ad practitioners; they are halwais!!” he says and alleges that, for them, advertising is a dhanda, not a vocation, profession or calling that is engaged in marketing creativity to benefit the manufacturer, brand and the customer.

Rahul Jauhari, the Executive Director of Rediffusion DYR, concludes this debate on a saner and a more tranquil note, “It is a question of who does better work and comes up with brighter ideas. An MNC is essentially a bigger setup – more organised and with wider reach. A client who needs a bigger setup will prefer an MNC but the critical differentiator is quality of work.”

Eventually, it’s not so much about value judgement or which kind of agency is going to score more brownie points. It’s really about what each individual agency believes in, stands for and the direction they wish to pursue... After all, India Inc. is full of stories about the rise and rise of the desi entrepreneur, in the face of intense competition from their multinational brethren, right? What say Karsanbhai Patel of Nirma, the Dhoot family of Videocon and a dozen others? 


Thursday, June 07, 2007


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri casts a ritzy gaze on Advilles new bimari & wonders whether it’s yet another desperate jhatka to attract attention… or a well strategised & researched move to connect with the new age customer base, notorious for it’s distraction & brand promiscuosity

The setting is an air-conditioned compartment of a Mumbai bound Rajdhani. Three young college kids (Varsha, Vimi and Abhi), a newly married young couple (Mala and Arjun), a mid thirties serious-minded professor (Sadanand) and an old lady in her mid seventies (Nanima) fill the space. We open with the college kids – the girls.

Varsha: Yaar, saw the Ajay-Kajol Whirlpool ad? So cute na? They make such a cool, fundoo pair!

Vimi: Absolutely! I like the Saif-Soha one too. The chote nawab is so dhansu stylish. Andaaz hi kuch aur hai… and Soha is cho chweet. The brother-sister thing is really nice.

Prof: [drawn to the conversation because of his serious and academic alignment with Behavioural Science] Excuse me kids, but do you really believe that these glam Bollywood fundoo pairs with deadly chemistry and endearing interactions will be able to do what they are meant to – enhance brand awareness, motivate purchasing intent and finally help hike up sales? Will either of you – for example – actually buy a Whirlpool or the brand of paint these stars are endorsing? Be honest!

Varsha: [Surprised and irritated at this intrusion] Excuse me Sir, but who are you? An anti-ad activist?

Prof: [Embarrassed] I am so sorry… but being a professor of Behavioural Sciences, I couldn’t help but listen and react. Advertising really is nothing more than an aggressive bait, a dangerous phenomenon that in today’s consumerist society creates unnecessary needs and manufactures irrelevant wants. [Pauses] Think about it.

Mala: [Excited] Arre professor sahib, you are talking total bakwas! [Prof looks at the slightly downmarket newly-wed girl, decked in all her bridal finery, shocked] Me, my husband and the entire parivar love these ads! They are so sweet and the couple’s jugalbandi – especially in the Ajay-Kajol ad is too much. Who wants to know about the boring, altu-phaltu product features? Aakhir fridge aur air-conditioner, fridge aur AC hi hai…kyon jee? [Dumb impressed husband nods vigorously]
Nanima: Yeh Kajol, Nutan ki niece hai na? [The kids nod; in vague fashion] Kya actress thi! Sujata, Seema, Bandini, Anari, Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Manzil, Paying Guest…Yeh chokri ads kyoon kar rahi hai…picture milta nahi kya?

Abhi: [Indulgently] Nanima, Kajol is very good and popular heroine. Bahut saare films mein kamaal ki acting kiya hai. Ads karti hain kyonki tagda paisa milta hai…Do crore ke upar!

Nanima: [stunned silence… followed by a hearty chuckle] Pagal ho kya? Do crore… yeh thanda machine ke gun gane ke liye uske patidev ke saath?!

Prof: Exactly! That’s the other point that needs to be looked into. Rs.2 crores for mouthing lines scripted by someone else, going through the paces directed by someone else…

Mala: [Visibly agitated] Oye prof sahib, shut up jee! Bas bole ja rahe ho, bole ja rahe ho…aur woh bhi sab bakwas! [Goes eyeball to eyeball with the prof] Aisa hai Sirjee, zindagi is not a classroom or conference table and human reaction cannot be put under a microscope. Pata hai why family ads are popular and they work…Kyunki we as a country and people are steeped in tradition and values where family is sacred… bahut mayane rakhta hai. Sirjee aap kitab chodhiye…bahar aaiye… zindagi dekhiye!

[The girls are hugely impressed by this speech and clap. The old lady is dozing. The prof. appears a trifle humiliated and shaken]

Abhi: [Politely] Please don’t mind her tone and aggressive stance… What she meant I think, was that people will always be drawn towards celebrities – more so if they are hot, glamorous and Bollywood – because movies to the average Indian is religion. So in that context if glam Bollywood couples [family or popular pairs] endorse products that project bonding family values and utility, the synergy is ideal.

Mala: Boss kya speech mara aapne! Kya angerzi boli! Maza hi aa gaya! Mere liye tu tum hi professor ho, yeh khadoos nahi!

Prof: [Agitated] What did she say? Did she abuse me?

Varsha and Vini: [Giggling] No, no, no prof… She said that she wished you would loosen up a little bit. Not be so academic and rigid. And go with the flow…

Prof: [visibly fatigued by the collective onslaught] I don’t know… I… er… don’t agree. I still believe that stars – couples, families whatever – distract more than help product sales simply because of the star mania in India. Did Amitabh and Abhishekh’s weird Versa ad help promote that dud car? Did the Feroz-Fardeen Khan horror ad for Pan-Bahar remotely impact the cash counter? Did Sharmila-Soha’s cutesy hair oil ad or Hema prancing with her daughters in the Kent RO Mineral Water ad rocket their demand in the market? Where is the idea that star status powers and promotes product values? Shouldn’t the focus be on the powerful and cutting edge differentiating factor rather than the star? Won’t there be a perpetual danger of people remembering the ad for the star value and forgetting the product altogether?

Abhi: Mala and the girls – along with a zillion people – are thrilled when stars feature in ads. The bottom line, as you have rightly pointed out (for the advertiser) is to promote and sell his product through entertainment. If star couples or families do the job, great. If not…

Nanima: [Suddenly awake and into the conversation] Ek baat batao… Kajol chori ko do crore milte to hamare Allahabad ke munna, uski biwi, ladka aur uski nayi bahu ko kitna milega?

[On hearing ‘bees crore” she is about to faint – but affects a startling recovery the moment someone mentions… Jalebi!]


Thursday, May 24, 2007

THE ABHI-ASH BASH... Krazy Kiya Re!!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri checks out the complete freak-out that accompanied the “wedding of the century.” What unleashed this unprecedented media frenzy... And was this madness called for? Read on...

It was truly the (Grand) mother of all events! From the time India’s most “eligible bachelor” turned his sexy gaze on the “most beautiful woman in the world” it’s been hype hoopla and hungama all the way. Today Abhishek Bachchan and Ash Rai – oops, Bachchan – are man and wife, but you seriously think you’ve heard the last of them? Visit your friendly neighbourhood shrink people, because you ain’t heard – or seen – nothin’ yet! Act II is about to begin with the feedbacks, reactions, observations, and most importantly, speculations! Can the gorgeous free-spirited super-star ever hope to fit into (allegedly) “Mama’s boys” life with confidence... into the (now-traditional, now new-age) Bachchan sansar with the required orthodox, low-key, persona desired? While marketers are busy toting up a figure to gauge the collective worth of the brand Bachchan – last estimated at Rs.7 billion – the moot question is: Has the media finally lost it, in its self-appointed role as stalker & paparazzi on an over-drive?

Lowe’s Priti Nair believes that the frenzy has as much to do with the over-hyped times we live in as the significance of the event itself. “It’s tragic to see the depth Breaking News has nosedived to. A while ago – I am not kidding – it proudly trumpetted the price of onions. Imagine!” All the sickening and boring details, flashed & printed ad nauseam, Nair believes, is the new disease – the celebration of trivia and it has as much to do with the dumbing down of the media as fierce competition blitzes the media space. This results in mass frenzy, making mountains of molehills and some really “creative” spins designed to grab eyeballs & get a leg-up in rat race.

One of the Mumbai’s most celebrated theatre directors (No, not the one ‘n’ only AP, for chrissake!) offers his take. “There can be no greater icon in the history of Bollywood than AB, right? When his son – today a rising star in his own right – decides to marry the most beautiful, glamorous and hot-ticket star in Bollywood, c’mon, it’s a pre-sold knock-out event! Naturally, the media would go ga-ga. Instead of a blanket ban (causing them to go ballistic), wouldn’t it have been so much better if they were allocated some time to shoot their pictures and clear out?” he reasons.

True! By excluding the media and using security to take care of the VIP guests – and inadvertently rough them up! – the Bachchans mucked it up. Interestingly, it was this very same Mr. Bachchan who, a few months ago, went to the media with a full page ad endorsing his son’s Guru to the skies. “Close friends and family are all very well as are cute speeches about the rationale that defined his actions in the media. I think selective memory and exploiting the media, when required, is also not a great act. I am very disappointed,” he adds.

Poonam Saxena – the Editor of Brunch – has difficulty breathing when the issue is brought up! When we eventually manage to tear her away from watching POGO Channel, she somewhat recovers and begins to talk. “Guys, we are all up to our ears with the AbhiAsh thing and have decided, in principle, to shove any news related to the golden couple in the deep freeze for at least a couple of months. Which is why, I am staying away from all news channels and concentrating on POGO! Bas, bahut ho gaya, yaar!”

Poonam – a hard-core showbiz journo of many years – admits that it’s big stuff, but genuinely feels that the channels and publications overestimated the news value of the event and went insane flashing it 24X7. “It’s like this. After a point, even the most curious and excited fan gets fed-up of seeing the same boring visuals, flashed repeatedly across all channels. Why this madness? I guess it has to do with the insecurity of channels... This is hot stuff and they don’t want to miss a beat, in case another channel gets that sudden, unexpected and winning dramatic visual of the Big B, Jaya or the newly-wedded couple that instantly allows them to surge ahead. Scary huh?”

So, at the end of the day, what gives? It’s a tricky question. Traditionally, worldwide, the celeb-media face-off has always been combustible, a love-hate relationship with each feeding off the other. Increasingly, the thin line between private (no entry) and public (welcome) are blurring with the media, insisting that the celebs owe them one. While the Bachchans maintain that they have every right to hold a “small private wedding” to which the media is not invited, critics aver that their pre-historic and regressive antics – temple-hopping, tree-wedding, astro-craze on one hand, and limited edition, starry designer functions with the newly-wedded couple rocking to the chartbusting Kajra-re on the other, makes a mockery of the whole thing. The simple truth is that celebrities are public property created, promoted, and in some fashion, owned by the media. Today, media has assumed the proportion of a Frankenstein and when towering mega-stars (who live in the public eye) suddenly decide to play coy and shut them off in an event that has swept most local, national and international news... Baby, you’re asking for trouble!


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Has Indian advertising truly arrived, globally?

Monojit Lahiri attempts a reality check...

In recent times, the media has gone gasp-pant-poof-yess at India’s ad presence (read Cannes) abroad! They speak breathlessly of the awards we scooped up, honours bestowed to our leading lights and status accorded to our work and industry at the “Oscars of the ad world.” They freak out on the ‘bhav’ given to our local dadas (Piyush Pandey and Prasoon Joshi) and boldly declare that internationally we are no longer perceived as pariahs, third world wannbees, seventy fourth from left, hysterically crazed to enter any which way into the magic list... But stars in our own right. A massive India presence (agency, clients, communication specialists and press) reflects the galloping enthusiasm and growing confidence of Brand India in the global scheme of things. No question about it – India has arrived with a bang in the ad world space!

Ujjal Sinha, the feisty CEO of the Kolkata-based Genesis Advertising (with branches in Delhi and Mumbai) finds it difficult to keep a straight face for long, and soon gives up! “Hey c’mon guys, you can’t be serious! Despite our humongous size, we don’t come anywhere near Australia or even Brazil ! They scoop up at least ten times the amount of awards we do with much less song and dance!” Sinha believes all this hoo-ha is very much a part of our national character and points in the direction of our annual fling at the Oscars. “The crazy hype is strictly locally generated, invariably leading to the predictable phooossss!”. He admits that we have certainly made marginal waves – thanks largely to Piyush Pandey’s relentless efforts but we have miles to go. “At best we have scratched the surface. Do we have a Neil French or John Hagiarty amongst us? We certainly have the talent, drive and energy and seem to be moving in the right direction. However, these are early days. The trick is not to get carried away, but consolidate on our strengths till we arrive at a time when we are celebrated on our own terms.”
Sushil Pandit – CEO of the Delhi-based, The Hive – however, marches to a different beat. “I think Indian advertising is a world in itself and it needn’t bother or worry about the global picture. No other country can even hope to match it for complexity, challenges and opportunities it throws up. Languages, consumer segments, affordability, price points, passion, desire, wants, needs, aspirational quotients... We have all the ingredients to be unique and self sufficient in a holistic fashion.”

Pandit, now warmed up, turns up the heat when he says that he believes a time has come when, instead of the world judging Indian advertising, we should start judging them! “The quality of our stars showcasing international juries across hi-profile ad-forums appropriately reflects our status on the global stage. There is neither any reason to be defensive nor seek approval from the West!”

O&M’s Piyush Pandey appears less euphoric & more realistic. “Our advertising has certainly come of age when you compare it to the average quality of advertising on TV across the globe. Our stuff is certainly better & more interesting than most others. However, it is that top 5% where we have to break into.”

The mustachio dada believes that we are still evolving and we have some ground to cover. In the West, some commercials are made at a budget that would exceed the entire media budget of some of our biggest spenders! Our talent lies in maximising results from minimum resources – no mean feat. “Everything considered, our recent performances at global forums and meets, the spark and quality of ideas from our youngsters and general standard of work produced has certainly created a buzz and expectation internationally. We have made our entry and we need to translate that expectation delivers outstanding work on a regular basis – something I am confident we can do!”

Pops Sridhar of Leo Burnett agrees, “I have been fortunate to have witnessed the entire drama from Act one... the emergence and ascent of our home-grown talents, the fade out of the phirang hot-shots, integration of the two worlds and the growing confidence and stature of our very own ad scene at global forums. The transition and journey from a white man’s domain to the Made-in-India stamp has been very special, and today we have proved to the world that we are second to none. Every single American agency located in India is rocking without any expat presence, something that you cannot say about Korea, China or even Japan.”

Mohammed Khan, as always, tempers this debate with sophisticated wisdom. The fact that the country is making great progress and Indians are making a mark in every sphere globally, he believes, is something that no one can deny and is hugely praiseworthy. “However, to ride on that and conclude (insist?) that we have made big waves and become a force to reckon with, is utter rubbish! We have not. We are (at best) just about beginning to draw attention. The one making waves is Brazil, who ironically is not even an English-speaking country! They have a very special Brazilian way of creating ads that are wacky, sexy and extremely endearing, which seems to be a huge hit in the West, totally disproportionate to the tiny size of their country. More power to the elbow!” Khan believes that if people are waking and looking at us, it’s largely due to the fact that Indians are making solid waves across so many diverse disciplines, spheres and fields. Advertising is only one tiny speck... Agree? 


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is Great Copywriting DEAD?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri ponders over this critical issue, with a little help from some creative stars

Once upon a time advertising was a class act. Elegant and stylish, it brilliantly showcased classy writing. This means that the constituency who made waves were individuals who were engaged in a passionate love-affair with the English language; had a complete command as well as enjoyed the ability to manipulate, narrate, coax and woo words in a fashion that enticed and entertained as well as moved (both) emotions and merchandise in the desired manner. The WORD was God and devotees pulled out all stops to elevate it to sublime levels. Frank Simoes, Shiben Dutta, Sayeeda Imam, Mohammed Khan (whose iconic ad celebrating the 10th anniversary of his agency, Enterprise, remains a classic), Ivan Arthur, Chris Rozario, Alok Nanda, Freddy Birdy… they comprised a small cluster of artists whose work was held up as glowing examples of outstanding advertising.

So, whatever happened to that kind of soul-uplifting writing where words sang and soared in magical fashion? Has it been brutally replaced by crass, terse, staccato, smart-arse slogans in the throwaway populist, bindas hinglish? Is the rampaging TVC culture responsible for seducing people with its quick-fix, addictive, audio-visual masala, which does not demand any cultural foundation… or is it all really a sign of the times; a natural reaction in an environment where communication is the key, speed the mantra and brevity the mandate?

Young and talented Tania Chakrabarty (O&M, Kolkata) believes it is an appropriate reflection of the here and now. “Patience is in alarmingly short supply and this is largely responsible for the demise of the long copy ads,” she says. While at a personal level Chakarbarty laments the state of ad copywriting today, she recognises that if the consumer is not in the mood to read them, the advertiser is not in the mood to buy them. Period. For Chakrabarty, this genre of writing is akin to possessing a ‘Benz’… “Something that exists in splendid isolation in the garage, brought out only on rare and appropriate occasions. For everyday, the chalu stuff is there, na?”
“It is the age of SMS, visual communication and e-mail, baby!” That’s the iconoclast, media hot shot Pritish Nandy, who believes that the very fact that we are able to effectively communicate with each other in a language without grammar, punctuation or spellings as taught to us in school and college means that the conventional, Queen’s English has been given a warm send off… “and no one’s complaining!” he avers, adding that, “Find me one kid who reads Dickens, Thakeray, Hardy, Wilde or even Shakespeare and I’ll find you a pig that flies!” Nandy is of the opinion that the defining role of things familiar, has changed radically. Technology has unleashed a generation that demands instant gratification through instant solutions. “All this has played a crucial part in this new communication mode, with advertising leading from the front. Ad-guys are quick to seize the mood and moment and milk it to the full,” he reasons.

The great Mohammed Khan however lays the blame on other areas. “I think Cannes is the biggest reason for the recent fade-out of quality writing because the stuff they exhibit, showcase, applaud, celebrate and award are (mostly) visual-led. This leads kids to believe that words are irrelevant and should be kept to a bare minimum.” The thinking is further re-enforced by a genuine shift in the art-copy configuration with art coming centre- stage, “Unlike earlier times, today’s art directors are articulate, savvy and interactive. They are stars in their own right, no longer shy, withdrawn creatures who need to be protected, instead ready to claim their (long overdue?!) pound of flesh in public.” But, Khan is convinced that even in today’s crazy kiya re times, if a writer is truly gifted, he is capable of finding an audience, clientele and market. The problem is the deadly dearth of quality writers.

Creative Director Titus Upputuru brings his own spin to the table. A passionate lover of the language, this young, pro-active communicator has gone well beyond hollow drawing-room posturing into championing a movement – on the net- called ‘Save the World’. Here’s his take. “TV is not called an Idiot Box for nothing! However, today TVCs certainly seem to enjoy a winning presence in the mediascape. Interestingly, one small fact is overlooked. Before the TVC hits the screen, they are ideated and put down on paper in the shape of a script, remember?” Upputuru concedes that their manifestation in a primarily visual format (solely designed to sell through entertainment) within a very tight timeframe (30 secs/60 secs) demanding zero intelligence quotient and catering to broadbased populist taste make it the flavour of the day. He admits that creative guys today prefer doing TVCs rather than writing ads. Why? “Because our hottest creative stars are people who are more TV/film/visual-oriented than copy-driven. Also, the glamour and excitement attached to it is high!”

So has quality writing been flung out of the window or shoved onto the back-burner? Is the well-written, exquisitely crafted English language a thing of the past? Well, there can’t – shouldn’t – be any sweeping value judgments because language is a product of its environment and its evolution, flexibility and usage will depend on which way the wind is blowing.

Once upon a time advertising was not need-based and neither were clients nor products ad-dependant. In that arena, the sophisticated, public-school, well-read and well-spoken individuals called the shots. Language, finesse and nuance of expression were appreciated and rewarded. Today’s marketscape, with its disparate and segmented target group, does not require it. The profile, psychographics, demographics and demands of the new age consumer does not connect with yesterdays urban-centric, English-specific, one-size-fits-all capsule. These people may not be too fluent with the Queen’s English but they are aspirational, loaded and in a hurry to live the good life. More importantly, they want to be wooed in their own language! In this new scheme of things (barring a few high-end categories) where jaldi bol, mota bol, seedha bol is the ruling commandment and Hindi/Hinglish the preferred lingua franca, do the magical Mohammed, fabulous Freddy or awesome Alok have a ghost of a chance? You decide!