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!


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