Thursday, March 13, 2008

What an idea, sirjee

Social messaging in advertising…

"4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines this new and exciting genre that’s grabbing eyeballs and attention and challenging the old order that defined advertising solely as a one dimensional, sell-sell-sell game!"

Advertising is the public face of marketing with an uncomplicated, one-point-agenda-to make products disappear from the shelves to the right hands and homes, with consistency and speed. Over time, areas like patriotism and social service have deployed advertising, but, at best, they were cute to watch tickling the feel-good glands… at worst, boring and preachy. Predictably these efforts came from the government quarters. Typically the issues tackled were ‘safe’ ones, never remotely touching sensitive themes like caste, religion or politics. As far as they were considered, these subjects were taboo and totally off-limits.

Much water has flown under the bridge since those politically correct and sanctimonious times with ‘Social Messaging’ coming centre-stage as a powerful, persuasive and significant agent of social change. Ravi Naware (chief executive, food division, ITC) lays it on the line when he says that way beyond the much touted CSR, “consumers today seem to be interested in more than just a great ad or quality product. They are interested in products that echo their own values.” Adds Ajit Varghese (MD, Max India, an ageny that works closely with Britannia), “We are witnessing a strong trend where brands are utilising issues that surrounds the consumer’s immediate environment and addressing them through mainstream ads.” Advertising, from time immemorial, has been consistently bad-mouthed by a section of society labeling them as shameless promoters of excess and useless mass consumerism. This has been fiercely defended by the ad fraternity citing examples where advertising has indeed attempted to be an agent of social change. As this issue goes into print, at least three ads of this ‘genre’ are presently occupying center-stage and inviting both attention and admiration.

The first - an Airtel ad - shows kids on either side of a barbed wire fence, jump the barrier to indulge in a game of football in no-man’s land. In an extraordinarily simple but powerful way, it works as a magnificent metaphor for communication as a solution to end all conflicts, wars and battles. Says Arvind Mohan ( Chief Strategist Officer, Rediff DY&R), “ We wanted to create branding that went way beyond the purchase intent and made people proud to be associated with the brand.” Adds Amatesh Rao (National business head, Rediff DY&R), “Admittedly commercials with social messages don’t immediately bring about change, but they reflect strongly the change that is happening in society… a change that may not be perceptible or articulated but definitely taking shape in collective fashion, in the sensibilities of new age youth in a resurgent India.” The Tata Tea ad comes next. The communication thought is truly clutter-busting, attempting to migrate tea from being a physical and emotional vitaliser to becoming a catalyst for social awakening. Percy Siganporia (MD, Tata Tea Ltd) quite categorically emphasises that the focus is to emotively connect the product with issues that drives the heart, mind and soul of India’s emerging social consciousness. Executive Creative Director Amer Jaleel of Lowe (the agency behind this ad) sensed the restlessness among today’s youth and extended the concept of “waking up with tea” in a stunning communication package that embraced social awakening, giving a whole new dimension to the term ‘Jago re’.

Lowe struck target again (group creative director Nikhil Rao, take a bow) with yet another brilliant, breakthrough concept that redefined the very meaning of Idea. Executive Chairman Balki was clear about the focus – how to position the brand as a better ‘Idea’ than anyone else and elevate it from transactional issues like price and value. Targeting politics as a platform and humorously – yet pointedly- dramatizing the social inadequacies that plague the nation, with a mobile number (not a name) as an identity tag, the Idea Cellular communication truly deserves the fulsome ‘What an Idea, Sirjee’, salute!

Amidst the accolade and approval that has greeted these ads, there have been dissenting voices too. Is this brand of advertising relevant to the basic job it’s meant to do? The popular consensus seems to be a resounding, yes. In today’s environment, marketing and branding are increasingly becoming real, rooted and relatable. Hence they have a legitimate and deserved space. Besides, these ads reflect that magical, seamless embrace with reality. Do today’s ‘I-Me-Myself’ generation really connect with the Jago Re or the Idea Cellular communication-without-barrier stuff, absorbed as they seem to be in living life, king-size?

Of course, they are! It’s a total myth that today’s youth only believes in celebrating life and are totally blind, uncaring and insensitive to the social inadequacies, causes and concerns. Never before has there been such passionate and dramatic demonstrations of rooting for justice (Jessica Lal case) or such immense acceptance for movies like Rang De Basanti. Sure, today’s youth enjoy life, but their hearts continue to be in the right place, solidly re-affirming the validity and relevance of social messaging in advertising! Truly a great idea, sirjee!


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