Thursday, May 22, 2008

Celebrity Endorsements - The beginning of the end?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri traces the big bucks story and wonders whether the latest IMRB-IPAN report will disturb the honeymoon between celebs, advertisers and the consumers...

Okay, its been said a zillion times before but it warrants repetition, one more time, simply because the disease just wont go away! India has only two – sorry Politicians, you don’t count! – religions: Cricket and Bollywood. Come what may, they guarantee you excitement and eyeballs, like nothing else. Advertising, forever searching for devices and touchpoints (read: bakhras!) to engage in a meaningful and rewarding manner with its customers, naturally, zeroes into the juicy terrain of these two with breakneck speed, sometimes, not bothering to either look at the speedometer or the impending roadblocks!

Has the journey been smooth? A quick pan of today’s scenario.

Master Blaster and cricket’s hottest icon, Sachin Tendulkar, has always led the pack – in this area too. Apart from his earlier portfolio, he has of late, been signed on by Kishore Biyani’s Future Group as Brand Ambassador for its upcoming range of products, which include energy drinks, shakes, diet supplement powders, sports goods, cricket gear, bats, balls, vitamin-enriched natural juices, treadmills, exercise mats, cycles and eyewear. Pepsi too has signed him up to endorse a sports drink Gatorade. Aviva too has picked him up for a child plan, unit-linked plan. The comeback guy Saurav (Dada) Ganguly has been picked up by consumer electronic firm, TCL, German sports lifestyle brand PUMA and INX News, a new broadcast channel. Tennis star Bhupati has been signed up by ApolloTyres, while Barclays have frozen on Golfing ace Mikka Singh. (These however are exceptions).

Ah, coming to Bollywood, have the ad guys turned on the heat?! Gorgeous, new star scorching the headlines Deepika Padukone leads the youth brigade with Kingfisher (brand ambassador) and watch-maker Tissot, along with Levi Strauss.

Bipasha Basu continues to fly high on the road with Kinetic’s Sym Flyte, as also (for some inexplicable reason) real estate developer, Emgee! Elegant and classy Sushmita Sen – more seen in ads than movies, sadly – blitzes the adspace with Olay, Tag Heuer, Kiah Diamonds and Pantene. Kajol’s going strong with Perfetti’s Alpenliebe and some others. Cousin Rani Mukherjee – Bollywood’s popular Queen of Hearts – has Good Knight mosquito repellent, Titan Raga, Fanta, Dabur Vatika, Nestle Munch, & Aveo. Bubbly Preity Zinta has Rexona Roll-on deo, Godrej EON air conditioners, BSNL telecom and new airline GoAir. The fabulous Lara Dutta and cool Bobby Deol are the face of trendy fashion name Pantaloon.
 
In the men’s zone, superhero Hrithik Roshan remains hot as ever with Acer, John Players, Parle, Tata Sky, Sony Ericsson, Radico Khaitan… up next is the rockin’ Chhote Nawab, Saif Ali Khan with Taj Mahal tea, Royal Stag, Yamaha, Newport, Colgate, Lenovo, Aveo… Then there is Akki, with Grasim Suitings, Thums Up, Microsoft Xbox 360. And about the Big B and SRK, (bulging with endorsements), who doesn’t know?

All these glitzy and glamorous endorsements are, undoubtedly, wonderfully rewarding for the stars and hugely rewarding for the insatiable (can’t have enough!) star-hungry TV viewers. But, at the end of the day, does it do anything for the clients’ products advertised? Remember the (ageing) yesteryears dream girl Hema Malini hawking mineral water Kent RO and (would you believe it) – Bank of Rajasthan!

Where on earth is the remotest connect or credibility, for chrissake? Equally weird is hi-profile lyricist Javed Akhtar endorsing Jaypee Cement! Bips and real estate? The Big B and Navratna hair oil? Naseer Shah and Om Puri doing equally crazy stuff? Admittedly, for the star its mega-bucks in double-quick time (with Mallika Sherawat reportedly netting a staggering Rs.3.5 crore for an ad campaign!) but what about the poor sucker who doles out the dough?

No humming and hawing any more. The Jury is out. A new survey conducted jointly by IMRB & IPAN reveals some startling facts. Conducted with a sample size of over 2000 respondents, across 12 cities (small and big metros). 86% of those interviewed admitted that the ad that they most remembered had a celeb, but only 3% said it influenced their buying decision. The IMRB head-honchos seemed clear that “more than the celeb pull, factors like quality, price and experience ultimately drove consumers purchasing pattern.” Further, “only 22% of this sample believes that the celebs actually use the products endorsed. In the South, the figure is even lesser, 13%!”

So, should celebs be dumped? “Not really” believes IMRB’s Pal, “At a primary level celeb endorsements help to break the clutter but beyond that… it is doubtful whether they add any real value.” The bitter truth comes from the very survey itself.

The Big B & SRK have so many endorsements across product categories that 15 % of people have “wrong” brand recalls for the towering inferno and 9% for Badshah Khan. Can you blame them?

Remember there is absolutely nothing more dumb or grossly unprofessional than having your audience/customers remember the ad but forget the product!

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Snapshots! adland’s affair with the Indian woman...

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri does a check out with a few celebs on this edgy image issue

First things first. Only guys in dire need of an instant brain transplant perceive advertising to be the unsoiled harbinger of truth or relentless brand ambassador of reality. Advertising is after all (first and last) a crucial marketing tool mandated to do a job as effectively as possible. Toward achieving this end (like Bollywood) magnifying, hyping, dramatising, exaggerating and colouring comes with the territory. “Agreed,” says the hugely respected Asia Pacific President of Leo Burnett, Michelle Kristula-Green, “but are we reading the writing on the wall correctly?” In a hard-hitting presentation made a while ago in Delhi, titled MIS UNDERSTOOD-WHY SHE’S NOT BUYING YOUR AD’S, she let fly some disturbing whoppers based on her findings on an extensive survey across Asian markets – China, Japan and India. Woman, she said, accused advertisers of portraying them in a man’s version of what they should be like. Further, she added, the basic communication slant was way off on five solid counts: money, sexuality, humour, emotion and authenticity. The survey also revealed that unlike the West, woman here weren’t comfortable with blatant portrayals of sex. It was more an internal paradigm shift where they’ve learnt to handle and appreciate sex appeal as part of their intrinsic feminity rather than an exhibitionistic, brazen and titillating man-baiting USP. Finally, in Asian society, “girls are taught to view emotions as their strength NOT weakness hence they seem to respond to a message that is authentic & real – warts and all – more positively than one that is beautifully packaged but phoney.”

How does this argument rock with our guys in celeb-ville?

Ad Film maker (and now celeb Feature Film director), Pradeep Sarkar refuses to bite. He believes that like in the movies, the shift toward realism has begun in the ad film scenario. “You will see a lesser degree of the superwoman, supermom and superwife persona today because the industry has started to recognise and respect the readers/viewers intelligence and thus offer slices of life in the communication that both entertain and connect. No wonder the new war-cry in today’s ad-scene is yaar, make it less addy! Meaning, don’t make it look like a typical ad; make it look real.”

High profile head honcho of PNC, Pritish Nandy however scoffs at any mention of advertising being associated with truth or reality. “To me, advertising is nothing more than a 30 second recreational capsule designed to provide a breather from the brutalities of India’s newscape. Into this, of course, is insidiously built-in the profit motive.” Warmed up, he offers his views on advertising’s depiction of woman. “It’s very interesting. They throw up two stereotypes, neither of which is anchored in reality! The first is the “firang” model, the sassy and sexy international (Kate Moss?) import who sashays across up-market glossies, Sunday supplements as also our TV screens. The creators of this persona believe that teaming with the brand owners, they can successfully hawk style, attitude and looks because, after all, what you see is where the action is! This leads to the conviction that consumers will surely buy into this image because in today’s globalised India, the Western look, style & pizazz is the flavour of the moment.” This tragi-comical colonisation of their mind, Nandy believes is, mercifully, not shared by the Indian consumer and reflects the ad fraternity’s total disconnect with reality. It brilliantly symbolises what today’s India is NOT!
 
“The second is the homegrown Kanta Bai / Lalitaji model. This representation attempts to propagate old-fashioned values of thrift and choices. The models also are (consciously) unglamourous, plain, non-threatening, cosy and cutesy hitting the security zone and evoking visions of the virginal, innocent, blissful past. Pity is, that it symbolises India of yesterday, not today! It is a corny and romanticised version that just doesn’t resonate with today’s life and times.” Where is, Nandy wonders, today’s real woman – of complexities and contradictions, magic and mystique – that any sensitive male sees everywhere, across a nation on the move? Gifted director Aparna Sen (36 Chowringhee Lane, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer, 15, Park Avenue) joins the fray. She believes that the Indian women is represented in a truly pathetic fashion, forever one-dimensional – North Indian, fair, urban – with occasional, unimaginative and degrading forays into tokenism. “How is it that beyond this cardboard, stereotypical cut-out, one hardly ever gets to connect with a real, believable, flesh & blood type! When was the last time one saw a woman from the South, East or North-East as ad models”? While Sen appreciates the crafting, technological highs and slick execution of these endeavours, she feels very strongly about the real Indian woman being hi-jacked by a predictable and soul-less stereotype, completely powered by a consumerist culture and vested interest.

Okay, so what gives? I believe advertising’s endeavour is to identify, dramatise, even magnify some “real” emerging trends. The actual portrayal is seldom clinically and cold-bloodedly accurate; it is more a mythologised version, but everything considered, one certainly gets to see a fascinating representation (across the spectrum) with the housewife playing a starring role! Suddenly, this harassed, sacrificial, 24X7 slogger, gatekeeper and provider of her family’s joy and well-being has morphed into a zestful and joyous participant as well. She seems to be able to say YES (rather then the earlier, automatic NO) with more √©lan than before. She seems to also enjoy a much greater sense of control along with the ability to be playful with her husband, rather than treat him as the authoritative, fearing, lord and master. She is no longer defined by the role she plays but slips in and out of her several roles – (daughter, wife, mother, daughter-in-law, working woman) with a greater degree of style, conviction and confidence. Overall, she seems to be much more together and aware of who she is, what she’s doing, where she is coming from and the effect she has… and she uses that more consciously than ever before. In fact, the most dramatic paradigm shift has been in this area – not the so-called westernised, hot-babe segment (“Am I looking good and smelling nice”) where the paranoid and insecure chic is constantly looking at every mirror available to check-out whether she measures upto the Gladrag’s Diva or Femina’s hot princess desperately waiting for approval and affirmation from the world.

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