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?