Thursday, December 17, 2009


Star-endorsements. Story-telling techniques. Look n’ feel. Histrionics … Has today’s Adland abdicated to a glam, cool and confident Bollywood? Has the Persuasion Industry gone ‘filmy’ and sold out? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates...

Once upon a time Advertising had an identity and life of its own. The business followed the tenets of scientific discipline, paying total respect to the ground-rules laid down by the powers-that-were. With the exception of LUX (The Beauty soap of film stars) hardly any film celeb or Bollywood flavour touched Ad-land. Across all categories, creativity expressed itself effectively without any help from B-town. None of the Gurus – Alyque Padamsee, Mohammed Khan, Kersi Katrak, Frank Simoes, Ivan Arthur, Sylvie D’cunha – even remotely flirted with the filmy stuff. Today the Adspace is almost defined by the Bollywood style of communication! How did that happen … and why? Does it represent stimulating value-addition, corruption or abdication from an industry, continuously lamenting on the paucity of good creative people who can engage and entertain even while they convert charmed viewers to interested buyers? Has Advertising become so star-struck that it has lost the ability to create exciting campaigns with the PRODUCT as star and slam home a super-hit?

Who better to kick off this debate than a hot-shot professional who successfully wears two hats (one in B-town and the other in Adville), Prasoon Joshi. “Two things. One, while Bollywood today is definitely the great leveler in terms of an indisputable connect with the masses – cutting across religion, language, cultures, caste, creed etc – one mustn’t forget that it’s really a throwback on our oral tradition which was anchored in magical story-telling. Two, the earlier rigid rules, set by an Anglo Saxon and elitist coterie that defined the times, are no longer relevant today with mini-metros unleashing big-time purchasing power. Chandigarh, Pune, Durgapur or Jaipur aren’t one-horse towns anymore. And if you want your product or services to blitz their radar, you could do much worse than ride the Bollywood gravy-train. How effectively you leverage their idiom and styling and blend it with the ‘brand-fit’ to seduce your customers to go for it, depends on your professional ability to understand the game … but Bollywood’s impact on the masses is undeniable.”

TAPROOTS’ Agnello Dias (whose LEAD INDIA & TEACH INDIA campaigns zonked the hell out of the Cannes bozos last year) brings his own perspective to the table. “It’s true. Five years ago, Advertising chose Bollywood to make its point. Today it’s vice-versa! I think it’s a marriage of convenience, in most cases. The faded, fading as well as hot n’ happening stars earn much more through endorsements in a year than in movies. And for lazy creative types, stars are a great device for star-struck advertisers. Aggie feels it represents a crippling breakdown of trust and faith between ad agencies and their clients vis-à-vis original ideas. Bollywood-specific reference points (someone like the Munnabhai character or the Aamir character in T2P) seem to connect easily and quickly and in a more seductive manner.

Moving on, Aggie feels very strongly about this new, fashionable disease called “Indian advertising” and slams it, big time. “Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi and gang meant well when they kicked off this movement, accomplished creative practitioners as they are. Unfortunately, they unleashed a Frankenstein. Today it’s perfectly okay to produce mediocre ads in Indian language (Hindi) but to be good in the Western context (English) is no big deal! Inverted snobbery is on an overdrive! Corny rhyming, popular Bollywood rip-offs, anything goes in the name of connecting with the heartland and this, to my mind, is the biggest cause of this mediocrity.” Aggie says that it’s reached such a point that young people coming from missionary schools and colleges often hide their background, lest they be passed-over for the Hindi-speaking small-town kids! Whatta life!”
Santosh Desai begs to differ. Social Commentator, ex Ad-man & CEO of the Future Group, he comes on strong with his very own take on the subject. “On the face of it, I would agree, but there is a larger context that needs to be looked at. A decade ago (or whatever the time that pre-dates this phenomenon) Bollywood was perceived as an entity that catered to the lowest common denominator and a constituency that the educated, English-speaking middle-class looked down upon. There was a definite elitist distancing of what moved India and Advertising operated, very much through the Class system. That thinking has been dumped in recent times (thank God!) and replaced by the belief that Advertising speaks to everybody and no one can take a judgmental view on its consumers. This has led to a loosening up, further re-enforced by the kind of people who have come into the industry in recent times. Most importantly, the market has legitimised the popular and this is manifested across the board … and what is more popular than Cricket and Bollywood?”

Desai – as opposed to Aggie – however roots strongly for the ‘Indian’ kind of advertising and confesses that he is highly suspicious about people who feel insecure about it. “It’s simple. You have no choice to be Indian because you speak to Indian people. If you have lost out in your ability to communicate to this constituency and start cribbing about it … it’s a case of sour grapes!

A pathetic persecution complex syndrome! While everyone writing in Hindi admittedly may not be a whiz, anyone doing stuff in English, similarly need not be a cult figure! Utter rubbish! Ultimately it’s not us versus them. It’s about questioning, probing and seeking new ways to evolve in a manner that is true to your calling as an effective communication practitioner …”

What’s your take, evolved reader? 


Thursday, December 03, 2009


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri spoke to a bunch of celebs who made sparks fly – before toasting to a ban of this absurd rule!

We live in strange and troubled times, brother …

We are allowed the manufacture and consumption of liquor – but, sorry – (hic) no advertising! Unlike the US of A where alcohol advertising has “regulatory bodies” that create standards for ethical advertising and where the concern is ‘where’ the ads are placed (mostly in media streams viewed by 70% of the audience over the drinking age) here it’s a blanket ban with no ifs, buts, why’s … When pressed, the general response (please don’t have a cardiac arrest, laughing!) is: it’s unconstitutional to propagate evil habits injurious to health and a bad influence to society. All the celebs interviewed – with the exception of the cool and gorgeously opinionated Pooja Bedi – were of the collective belief that this move was the biggest farce ever; a totally hollow, ludicrous, cosmetic and cockeyed, completely self-defeating in both intent and purpose. In today’s liberated and globalised times, with India celebrating economic prowess and quality of life at par with the West, this brain dead vetoing of publicity of a product category which is a way of life for India’s well-healed, sophisticated, aspirational constituency but freely allowing manufa

cture to scoop up titanic amounts of revenue for the exchequer, tantamounts to an epic hypocritical joke! Here’s what the heavy weights have to say …

Ad-Guru & Theatre Maestro Alyque Padamse is first off the block and takes off with all cylinders firing! “Either make Prohibition work or allow the advertising of liquor. The Government must stop this childish and absurd dilly-dallying and decide one way or the other. In today’s life and times, liquor is a part of young people’s lives and no social event is complete without it. How many kids have tea, coffee or cola’s after 8 pm? C’mon wake up and taste the … stuff! The same goes for Cigarettes. If the powers that are had any guts they would ban the manufacture of these products – not the advertising. Isn’t it amazing that they have messages like SMOKING KILLS on cigarette packs and yet these products roll out in billions of units everyday? But then Delhi is notorious for its double-think!” Film-maker Shyam Benegal agrees. “It’s so hypocritical and doesn’t make any sense at all! They don’t ban the name or the brand but just the idea it is liquor and do a quick surrogate advertising number – Kingfisher Mineral Water, Bagpiper Soda … whatever. And the argument that it will tempt the poor is silly because this segment does not connect with IMFL brands and hence advertising affecting them is a non-starter argument”. Actor & Anchor Kabir Bedi goes along this line of thinking, but with a tiny proviso. “I agree with Alyque & Shyam that while advertising should certainly be allowed, one should ensure that it shouldn’t be consciously created in a manner that it makes drinking a fashion statement or a glamorous recreation for the kids and have-nots. We know the power of clever advertising and the influence it can wield as a force of seduction. So, basically I am advocating Responsible Advertising”.

Film actor Jackie Shroff believes that there should be no ban on advertising of liquor as people are sensible enough to understand what is right and wrong. They know what is good or bad for their health and they should be allowed to use their head and heart to make the decision. Film star Sohail Khan agrees and adds that it is indeed extremely hypocritical of the government to ban liquor ads and yet allow their production. “If they are so concerned they should ban manufacture too”. However, he candidly admits that he would love to be a brand ambassador for a liquor brand if invited …

Hi-profile, iconoclast Prahlad Kakkar – as always – shoots from the hip. He laughs away the whole issue with “but booze advertising is hitting the TV all the time in surrogate avtaar!” He believes that one of the big problems is that it gives established brands a huge – and unfair – advantage over new brands. McDowell, Kingfisher, Officers Choice, in any other (soda, mineral water) form is instantly identified. Any dumbo knows what you are driving at … but the new ones get hit badly”. Kakkar believes that (like the West) the zillions accrued by the government in excise from booze sale could well be invested in good, effective communication towards educating the public – especially the kids – about drinking responsibly. “Look what an amazing job they did with tobacco! Today if you go there and start puffing away in someone’s house, you will be looked upon as an outcast! There are spaces reserved for smokers and public puffing is not considered sexy anymore”. However, he adds, that “when law-makers and the establishment are themselves hand-in-glove with the booze-makers in states where prohibition exists, what do you expect?” Free-spirited Pooja Bedi wraps up the debate in her own style, rooting for the ban, “I think the ban is fine because stuff like tobacco and alcohol are not known to work wonders for mind, body or soul! After all advertising is about making a product desirable, attractive and sexy to the consumer, pushing hard on the purchase intent, right? Sure it is not illegal like drugs but hey, it’s not exactly what the doc ordered for health. Sure, guys who want to drink will drink, but banning advertising will (in some small way) reduce the consumption among the vulnerable, impressionable types”.


Thursday, November 19, 2009


New, insane endorsement-economics is blitzing B-town. Does it add up to make sense?! 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri tries to decode this new phenomenon...

Celeb Advertising & Brand Endorsements have always come with the territory in Adville – especially in the last decade and a half. The Big B, SRK and M. S. Dhoni have (for example) rewritten the rules game to showcase every conceivable FMCG product category, attracting fee-deals that could wake the dead … or finance a couple of five-year plans of newly, independent countries – which ever came first! Revered icons with proven track record, their insane package (swear advertisers) is in direct proportion to their astonishing connect with every section of a celeb-hungry nation and thumping brand-equity they invest in the products they endorse. Fair enough … although TAM surveys and reports continue to indicate that less than 10% of the consumer-base of these ads actually purchase the products these (or any) stars endorse. Despite this, the fever rages on…

If that is difficult to fathom for the sane and logical mind, imagine hearing about new stars nowhere near the power and glory of the older lot, with no great earth-shaking track-record, charisma or mass-appeal (‘theek-theek’ according to a young Bolly-junkie) demanding and scooping up crazy paychecks on the endorsement front. Ranbir Kapoor – with one spectacular dud and one decent hit – is said to be hitting the Rs.4 crore mark! Imran Khan, with one decent hit and two dabbas is reportedly asking Rs.3.5 crore per endorsement. (It’s another matter that no one is playing ball, as yet!) Deepika Padukone – possibly the most successful of the lot – is in the Rs.2 crore bracket with Genelia D’souza, a little behind with Rs.1.5 crore. Interestingly, all of them (except Imran) have tripled their endorsement fees in the last few months and – well – are getting takers! So, who’s lost it, guys – the Advertisers, these new kids or the celeb-hungry bozos dedicating their life and times to B-town moves?
“The Dodo Advertisers who believe that casting a celeb will instantly rock their product’s image and bottom lines!” That’s the iconoclastic Pritish Nandy, forever ready to tilt at windmills. While it is totally true that movie stars and cricketers are perceived as the nation’s most glamorous, popular and favourite role-models, Nandy believes that there are two bigger truths defining the space “both advertiser-driven. One is the desire to do a quick kill in terms of public attention without the appropriate consideration to the brand fit. Two, the hysterical anxiety to be seen with these stars to go up the social ladder among his peer group.” The best advertising (ZooZoo, HDFC, Vodafone) don’t need to pursue this track, says Nandy, and are none the poorer for it. Ogilvy’s resident dude Sumanto Chat comes in next. He believes that it has to do with the huge youth-connect that these star-kids enjoy in a space and categories that cater to youngistan. Then, of course, there is a celeb-struck nation and finally “a leg-up in image for the Advertiser and his company!

A Ranbir-Deepika jodi coming to launch his product and then gracing the dinner that follows could catapult him to Page 3 status and is likely to do wonders for the employee-morale present at the event”.

Ad-Guru Alyque Padamse too is convinced that it defines categorically the “thirst that both the Advertiser and general public have for celebhood with ad frat desperate to cash in on it”. However, he warns, that care should be taken to prioritise … otherwise Deepika outscoring the product endorsed in recall value, could be tragic news for the Advertiser! Leo Burnett’s Sainath brings his own spin to the debate. He believes ultimately it is about “effective clutter-busting. New-age India looks for and at new-age stars. There are two kinds of stars. The timeless variety – SRK, Big B, Sachin, Akshay – and the new kids. If the consumer is growing older, he will look for older icons; if he is getting younger, star-kids zoom centre-stage. In a young, resurgent India, this is completely appropriate. A sign of the times.” Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Media wraps up this debate with her insightful, knowledgeable and authoritative take. She reckons it has largely to do with the shortage of credible celebs available for endorsement. “SRK and the Big B have been done to death (Remember BINANI CEMENT & LINC PENS? Jeeezus!) – and there is a genuine dearth of sexy, young stars in an environment bursting at the seams with youth-driven products for a gigantic youth market. So I guess, for a quick-hit, grab the latest flavour of the day and go with the flow. The stars too know that this is a cool way to make quick mega-bucks, so strike when the iron is hot. Kal kisne dekha…!”

At the end of the day, certain path-breaking facts emerge. One (unlike earlier times), a star doesn’t have to slog for years and reach a status to gain credibility and pulling-power in the Ad-market. One big hit does it! Two, the publicity machinery has taken on critical dimensions, so media-driven hype (of any sort) for Bolly-stars is big stuff. Finally, Bollywood has discovered the importance of brand-building and with smart packaging go all out to create an image, aura and climate that sells … the result? Its rainin’ moolahs for the Bachhalog, guys!! 


Thursday, November 05, 2009


By all accounts, even in your year 2009, the answer appears to be a resounding YES! 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri wonders why

The Weaker sex! The Gentler sex! A community given to listen to their heart more than their head; driven by sentiment and emotion, instead of logic and analysis; excited by the colour pink or some floral motif to go for it without a second thought … these are some of the ‘perceived’ notions of marketers across the globe while targeting women. Which world are they living in? A recent US survey has indicated that women today drive the world economy! Globally, they are said to control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, a figure that could zoom north to touch $28 trillion by 2014! Also, their $13 trillion in yearly earnings could hit the $18 trillion mark in the same period. The survey further adds that, in sheer aggregate terms, women represent a growth curve bigger than India and China combined … Despite this, it states how dumbly – and chauvinistically – computer titan Dell wooed the female consumer by its soft-sell, make-it-pink drive. The communication went consciously ‘girly’ emphasising colours, accessories and tips for finding recipes and counting calories. The response was an unanimous and spontaneous protest against “talking down in condescending, dumb-down fashion” to a target group that deserved better … Immediately, damage control and correction course measures darted into action – but the point is: why was this potentially awkward positioning triggered, in the first place? The reason is simple. The phrase “It’s a man’s world” is so deeply ingrained in the male marketer’s psyche that they believe they can get away with any and every thing. Unfortunately, this thinking today must be dumped in the ‘fiction’ area; the truth lies elsewhere. It lies in the simple fact that today’s (male) marketers need to ‘learn’ how to sell to women.

In 2008, a hi-profile, professional consulting group did a comprehensive study of how women felt about their work, lives and how they were being served by businesses. The responses would wake the dead! Generally speaking, they felt hugely undeserved and despite their quantum leaps in the professional and social space, they felt undervalued in the market place and underestimated in the work place. Their multi-tasking is there for all to see, but few marketers have bothered to respond to manufacturing time-saving solutions for products and services specifically designed for them. For example, it is still so difficult to locate a pair of trousers get solid financial advice without feeling foolish, or patronised. Companies continue to offer them poorly conceived products and services and obsolete, irrelevant, outdated marketing narratives that promote gender bias and stereotypes. Examples? Cars are designed for speed not utility, which really matters to woman. Heard – or seen – an SUV built to accommodate a mom who needs to load her two kids into it? Then there was the recent ad for Bounty Paper towels where a husband and son stand, watching a spill cross the room, until mom comes charging and happily cleans up the mess!

While each person’s perspectives are different, there are four broad areas where any sane marketer and company would be well advised to look – and tap. They comprise food, fitness, beauty and apparel. Financial services and health care are also businesses worth zeroing-into. The challenge is to offer easier and more convenient ways to make purchases in an environment where – unlike Indian husbands, 71% of who pitch in on household chores – they get no support from their spouses.

It is believed that when the recession slowly moves out, women will occupy an even more important position in the economy. Then seat belts that cut into the neck, pedals that the woman driver can’t reach, badly designed seats, nothing for women who wear high heels when they drive; kitchen shelves so high that only men can reach them, low security inside apartments should be closely reviewed. Also, in this age of working women keeping long hours in unsafe metro cities, how about a phone that has alarm buttons, instead of the corny colour pink? Or a free beeper with every working moms phone so her kids could just beep and she could call back, pronto? These points apparently were mooted, but cell phone manufacturers found them unimportant and trivial and instead concentrated on pink/floral glitter phone!

It’s time companies and marketers wake up to this new reality, cast aside chauvinistic blinkers and convert these challenges into opportunities. There is a whole slew of commercial opportunities in women’s social concerns. Women seek to buy products & services that do good for the world and hence brands that resonate physical and emotional well being, provide care and education for the disfranchised of the world and encourage love and connection, will benefit. It’s time to recognise the power and equity of the women customers. They will no longer take crap, increasingly trash male-specific selling patterns, resist being stereotyped, segmented by age or income or worse – lumped together into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ woman club.

Beyond looking at them as ‘geographical market’, they should be viewed as intelligent, respected and cherished target groups, with their very own wants, needs, apprehensions, insecurities, dreams … and of course, [sometimes] deep pockets too! That would be the best way to gain breakout growth, loyalty and market share for a sublime and undervalued fraternity who occupy half the sky.


Thursday, October 22, 2009


[4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the reason for the demise of Onida’s Devil, the latest in a list of disappearing mascots]

First things first. Why are mascots created? Be it the Energiser Bunny, the MGM Lion, the McDonald’s clown Ronald, the Merrill Lynch Bull, the Eveready Cat, Smokey the Bear, the Jolly Green Giant … don’t they still reverberate endearingly in public memory, projecting their own brand of charm? Smart, evolved and insightful marketers unleashed these characters with a clear focused agenda – create something memorable in tune with the architecture and value of the brand and project it in a warm, human way that will connect simply and easily with the prospective customer. Make the inanimate come alive in an entertaining and public-friendly way so that, soon, it acquires a life of its own. Leverage it creatively to fuel brand recall.

In recent times, however, this thinking has gone in for a re-think! Be it the adorable Murphy-baby, HMV dog, Asian Paints Gattu, they’ve all exited. Even the iconic Maharajah was handed his walking slick and hat (crown?) before the Air India biggies realised their blunder and brought him back. Thank God, the Amul mascot still cavorts around … As this goes into print, Onida’s ‘Devil’ has been put to sleep – the symbol that epitomised the brand and show-pieced several memorable ad campaigns. What’s behind these dramatic shifts? A hysterical anxiety to be perceived as modern, contemporary, tuned-in and global in today’s competitive and cluttered market? A pitch for relevance and the here n’ now, soft focusing mushy sentimentality and obsolescence? Global companies don’t seem to be in such a tearing hurry to bid their mascots goodbye … why us?

Sid Ray, Executive Director of Response (Kolkatta) fires the first salvo. While he completely goes along the way the KFC and McDonald’s mascots have been successfully retained (even when the look and feel of their focus has been Indianised) he reckons that the Devil is a different kettle of fish. “It is possible that the marketing team felt that with capital investment involved in an age of heavy-duty competition, techno-onslaught and product features playing a key role, the Devil and the slogan have been rendered obsolete. They don’t fit into the scheme of things”. Dipankar Mukherjee, VP – Marketing, Ideas (East) agrees. “Competition, technology but most importantly cost structures have, I guess, forced them to re-look and re-invent their focus. Mascots anyway are cute and stuff but at crunch-time, they are unlikely to influence the purchase intent. Other more compelling, market and consumer-driven aspects come into play”. However, both agree that often, new teams, have a tendency to sling out everything that the old team had brought to the table – just to signal their entry and prove a point!

Veteran Ad-Guru Alyque Padamsee is up next with all cylinders firing! He endorses the last point vehemently. “New agencies inducted, immediately get into the act and one of the first things they do is trash the stuff that the previous agency did”. He cites the case of the classic LIRIL campaign where the girl, waterfall and signature tune defined the brand. “Now we have it replaced by this re-play of an old Levers launch of 2000! And, does anyone really care about how many parts of the body … I mean, how ridiculous!” He reminds us that THE MARLBORO MAN remains intact and continues to rule. So does the MRF mascot and the UTTERLY BUTTERLY girl. “Clients must really be very careful before leaping into a zone of changing for the sake of changing”. Hi-Profile Artist Sanjay Bhattacharya is more direct. “I think it’s become a fashion today to demolish anything that is traditional in the name of being contemporary, relevant and consumer-driven. It’s total bullcrap and only reflects their inability to intelligently and creatively blend the time-tested brand value with new-age focus. There is nothing wrong with moving away but, my feeling is that it’s done mostly to be perceived as a product or corporation that is keeping with the times … how defensive, insecure and negative!” Ogilvy’s NCD Abhijit Avasthi winds up this debate with his very own evolved perspective. “For me, a mascot is a property that any brand would have created and built up. The issue is the level and depth of work invested into this mascot over time, to constantly maintain a meaningful connect and relevance with the targeted constituency. That is THE real key”. He feels that the Onida guys must have their reasons to do away with the devil. As for new teams and agencies demolishing all work of the old teams, he believes “only a silly, insecure and immature people would take that course. Smart teams would see the big picture before deciding on the way ahead”.


Thursday, October 08, 2009


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri probes one of the trickiest – and most controversial – zones of the Persuasion Industry, forever open to exciting debate and discussion!

The ‘Creative’ aspect (take, quotient, perspective, call it what you will) of Advertising, despite all the (pretentious? Fake? Learned?) jabberwocky and jargon-spewing of the self-appointed, new-age pundits, remains as vague, esoteric and subjective as hell, driven largely by individual sensibility and his/her view of the elusive connect between brand and consumer. What mustachioed hot-shot Piyush Pandey, for example, may consider chakaas, dada Balki may dismiss as bakwaas! What cool Aggie Dias may consider sublime, spoof-sharpie Ajay Gahelot may trash as ridiculous! It’s neither here nor there … but at the end of the day, surely some kind of criteria must be applied to judge whether the outpouring of (to quote the late brilliant Frank Simoes) – “the crazy, long-haired, unwashed, dangerous, unpredictable, freaky breed, often demonstrating a madness beyond the civilised pale” is able to successfully deliver the goods. To rock with judge n’ jury as well as consumers and marketscape.

Brazilian Marcio M. Moreira, the celebrated, award winning Vice Chairman of McCann-Erickson worldwide and a renowned specialist in cross-border creative development, offers all confused and interested communication practitioners, some simple, sane steps to differentiate between THAT’S NOT LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL, DUMMY & THAT’S ANOTHER TRAIN COMING!!

His opening salvo: To succeed as a Creative person you have to have the skills and sensitivity of the artist, (but wait) combined with the canny brains of a strategist! Strategy in adbiz however has a separate agenda; it is about understanding the consumer, marketplace, category you are competing with and finally what your brand stands for. Unfortunately many starry-eyed, creatives obsessed with clutter-busting-creativity (that looks and sounds sensational but means nothing) goof it big time and instead of awards and appreciation end up with egg on their face. Innovation is the name of the game – the gift of applying imagination to inventiveness, combining existing ideas, thoughts and images in a startlingly new way.

Moreira’s six-point programme to judge effective creatives, begin with: CAN THE IDEA BE PUT INTO WORDS? This is very important because, he feels, without, it runs a serious risk of being an executional solution rather than a creative one. Hence it’s critical that the idea is articulated into words to fully get the import of the idea. Fashion and Cosmetic advertising are great examples of ideas getting confused and blurred due to a total lack of a central idea. This makes it – because of the huge emphasis and reliance on externals like photography, models, make-up, colour, settings, et al – an executional exercise. L’OREAL is a superb example of breaking away from this mode to present a simple yet powerful central idea – YOU’RE WORTH IT.

IS THE BRAND OR PRODUCT CENTRAL TO THE IDEA? This is a disease all of us understand, all the way! Is this great ad that you are frothing over and going bananas … do you remember the product, the promise and proposition that is meant to communicate? Seven times out of ten, we remember the ad (“God, SRK looked so hot! And Kat, yaar she’s a real knockout!”) but, excuse me, what about the …?!
WHAT IS THE BREAKTHROUGH CONSUMER INSIGHT THAT CREATED THE IDEA? This is critical because ideas created in a blank space cannot ever hope to connect with consumer desires, feelings, wants, needs, expectations and the target group hence, will have zero interest in it. Meaningful consumer insights are the true catalysts because they articulate the relevance of the idea and hence need to be discovered, explored, mined… Remember consumers are an ever-evolving constituency and the task of the true-blue creative animal is to track and tap into it. Ultimately it is insights that provoke the creation of communication that helps make a brand the ‘preferred’ one.

IS IT ORIGINAL AND RELEVANT? For various reasons – mostly legitimate – unique, special, different and original voices are much-in-demand from the creative cats. It can make the critical difference and the cut required to provide a brand that magical cutting-edge quality. However originality for originality’s sake (“launching: the only Ice-Cream on earth with zebra stripes tasting of both vanilla and strawberry flavour!”) is a total no-no! When, for example, the United Colours of Benetton campaign first broke, it was truly mind-blowingly original both in terms of concept and pitch and totally relevant as both social commentary and cultural/intellectual stance Brand Benetton took in addressing people of different colours, race, religion, language and background. Unfortunately, the connect with their constituency started to get weaker with the brand opting for controversy and shock-tactics.

IS IT AN IDEA … OR MERE EXECUTION? The main problem with executional solution is that they speak the idiom of the profession, business and category NOT the brand! A brand is like an individual with its very own personality and means of expression, speaking its own language. That’s what makes it different. The other problem with executional solution is – like earlier stated – because it is not powered by a central idea, it relies on other things – music, photography, editing, images …and hence is not focused on product offering. These are mostly noticed in advertising that celebrates (blindly) trends.

DOES IT HAVE SCOPE? Does it have the potential of a Big idea? Does it go beyond a jhinchaak catchy slogans or a wise cracks that’s likely to go stale soon enough? Is it rooted in universality and does it resonate at a human level? Does it travel well, across disciplines/media streams to strike target? While this aspect is not applicable to every brand and client, it’s worth paying attention to.

Ultimately, solving problems in an innovative, interesting and engaging way that makes your constituency stop, listen and act … that’s real creativity. Unfortunately, (as the Dadas will tell you), it’s easier said than done! 


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is Love THE NEW CEO, In Recession-Driven Times?

Okay guys, chew on this. It is arguably, the single most powerful emotion on planet earth that has inspired dreamers, poets and lovers to scale new heights of creative self-expressions. Even in 2009, it continues to melt hearts, transform and enrich lives lending it more meaning and resonance. It comprises four simple alphabets that has the power to make your blood pound, pulse race, heart thud n’ gallop, head spin and reduce you to a light headed freako! Yet, this magical emotion is allocated officially just one day in a calendar year – 14th February, to celebrate its importance!!

While hard-boiled cynics are cool with this line of thinking, “love is an indulgence and luxury in these competitive and recession-driven times;” the truth clearly lies elsewhere. Never are you likely to see more people (consciously or subliminally) longing to invest in more emotions, spirits, inspirations and feelings in the way they conduct their business and life than today. Unfortunately, they have one major problem – they are totally clueless how to go about it. How to dovetail magic with logic? How to convert traditional transactions into relationship-building? How to translate heart to hard-sell?

It’s not that difficult, really, say for sensitive and smart marketers. But for this, let’s get back to basics first. Chuck those corny, bulky reports, statistics and research studies into the trash can and give love a chance! Learn to leverage this divine quotient as strategic devices for an enduring emotional connect with customers, business partners, colleagues, team-members, and watch your bottomline fly upwards.

If you don’t believe it, then consider this, you paranoid, skeptical, nervous, pin-striped frat! It is a proven fact that love allows even a smart and sharp communicator to escape from the dreaded ‘commodity trap’ and evolve into something different by the simple act of placing brands where they should belong – emotional centre-stage. This is a sacred space reserved for such charismatic brands (a la Pepsi, Coke, Apple, Reebok, Nike, Hutch, HDFC, Airtel, Archies, Lux, Surf, Asian Paints, et al), which inspire fierce passion, loyalty and are off-limit and non-negotiable to the dangler of carrots. Another thing is that a sharp, new-age communicator knows that the paradigm shift has begun in the right earnest with love (read emotion) as a critical decision-making component, chucking reasons to the back-burner. The first leads to action. The next leads to conclusion and no prizes for guessing, which side is winning!
Fortunately, the sensible and sensitive practitioners are placing mystery and mystique back to where it belonged. Vibrant examples of this are Starbucks, Barista and Café Coffee Day. They have slung out the impersonal, corporatised passion-trimmed-into-efficiency model and replaced it with a strong, personal and emotional connect. The agenda is no longer about consumer contact, but hanging out; no longer about taking notes, but taking the pulse! The recent Airtel series (Love mein koi cutback nahi hona chahiye) along with Tata Sky and a few others reflect this aspect dramatically.

In this never-ending battle between head and heart, it has been noted that the so-called wise men have researched whatever there is to research and what they couldn’t, they safely ignored. The truth is that everything of value cannot be measured, leading the brilliant Ashish Nandy to say, “We are in grave danger of valuing most highly things we can measure. As a result, we are in danger of being totally wrong instead of approximately right!” This is a task researchers need to address sooner than later. Shouldn’t the shift be more towards counting the beats of your heart, rather than fingers on your hand? Faith, Trust, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Bonding… Love, as never before is unquestionably the towering CEO that presides over them all. And the sooner the dumb corporate world recognises it, the better!


Thursday, July 30, 2009


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines this new phenomenon, loaded with contradictions

Grab this. On the one hand, today more than ever, we reside in a global planet. On the other, the cute something-for-everybody and one-size-fits-all solution is simplistic, naïve and hopelessly obsolete in year 2009, right? No man is an island, is another view countered immediately, substantiated by the fact that man is ultimately the product of his roots and environment and therefore his version/vision of life is bound to be influenced and informed by it. God, so what gives? Is a global campaign – attempting to speak in one language across countries and people in a charming, persuasive and effective manner – a load of bullcrap? Or is it eminently possible if the basic lingua-franca of cutting-edge advertising (clarity, simplicity and imagination) creatively leveraged?

Ad Guru John Hegarty sets the ball rolling by rooting strongly for it and offers solid arguments. “If Hollywood, music and Picasso manages to do it, why can’t advertising? Aren’t we supposed to be specialists in a business mandated to bring brands and people together? Physical borders are man-made. The skill of truly great advertising practitioners is to generate ideas that are border-less. The real communicator looks at areas that unite – not divide – people,” he says. He admits that there will always be (political, ethnic, religious) differences between people, but when it comes to consumer behaviour and responses to brand messages and what they want out of it, amazingly, the similarities are stronger than people care to believe…! Another Dada Simon Sherwood endorses this view full-on and says that “unfortunately agency networks, mostly, are structured in ways that lend credence to the fact that different markets are different from each other. This creates confusion in both perspective and focus.”
Do our Ad guys agree? Sanjay Nayak, the Delhi-based President of McCann, believes this is a debate that will continue forever. “It’s like this. If basic human needs – food, shelter, incomes, relationships – are addressed in an imaginative way, then there is little scope for confusion and conflict.

However, there are products and services which, despite a strong central idea at the core, need execution that embraces local sensibilities. Glocal would be a more appropriate approach, I think.” Priti Nair, the dusky Managing Partner at BBH, agrees. “Think Global – Act Local remains my signature mantra! No matter how ball-bustin’ the creative idea is, unless it is coloured, infused and dipped in local nuances, it’s unlikely to rock! Take the classic case of DAAG ACCHE HAI. The basic brief DIRT IS GOOD – which came from the West – had a completely different connotation and one we couldn’t possibly plug in a country where mothers go bonkers cleaning their kids’ clothes. We had to fuse charm with logic and sell the idea that if the cause is good, dirt is okay.” Santosh Padhi – Paddy to the Adbiz – is up next with his take. He believes it all depends on the category. “If it’s something like Jeans and the target is youth, then global is definitely possible because of basic shared concerns. Youth everywhere, share the same anxieties about growing up, relationship with parents, conflict with school, establishment and authority, love, future… if one can strike at these strands, then chances are, they will succeed. However, as Priti pointed out, in most cases, local renditions are a necessity because it’s this local flavour and insights that are the main connectors.” Agnello Dias (Head honcho of TAPROOTS along with Paddy) reckons that if a campaign manages to address its constituency, across the board, effectively, nothing like it. It saves everybody from the trauma of cross-over and big buck expenditure… and that’s the main reason for the existence of a global campaign. One doesn’t have to, repeatedly, do localised versions, in every port of call. “Unfortunately, most people go about it the wrong way. It can never be done by design. One has to see how it holds up against different cultures and accordingly adapt – or if necessary – do fresh work that embraces the local milieu. Nike is an outstanding idea of cutting-through work that resonates, globally, without problems because it (consistently) simply, imaginatively and powerfully celebrates their iconic JUST DO IT spirit for different markets in a manner that is understood locally. It is global brand-building at its best,” avers Dias.

At the end of the day, universal truths remain universal truths. If conventions exist everywhere, so does creativity and the challenge is to recognise, understand and endeavour to connect with the growing plethora of opportunities in a shrinking world. Ultimately, the final truth that defines human communication remains writ in stone… If you really want to talk to millions of people, learn how to talk effectively to one. The rest will come naturally. 


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lights! Camera! Action! Now Danny Boyles strike adville?!

Suddenly a slew of phirang ad film-makers are invading our ad space! Why? Aren’t we good enough? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates...

Okay for starters, dig a load of these names, guys… Mathias Hoene. John Lennard. Adam Strange. Farouk Aljoffy. John Gwyther. Tarsem Singh. Familiar? Making sense? Clueless, right? But not to our Adville hot-shots who have invited them to do their sexy number on some of our hottest brands – Lakme, Nokia , Bajaj DTS-i, Thums Up – and boy, are they rocking it! Obviously this has evoked shock, anger, disappointment and bewilderment among many in the industry with questions like “Not another Danny Boyle routine, for chrissake!” and “Why get in these phirangs when we are perfectly capable of delivering the goods?”

Cut to some notable industry biggies for their learned observations. Sushil Pandit, The Hives head honcho, refuses to get into persecution complex mode and believes that in globalised times when networks expand, both in name and stake, this kind of cross-over collaboration is a given. “Further, with India being such a new and exciting destination, sharp, creative minds will itch to come in and grab a piece of the action.” Leo Burnett’s NCD Pops Sridhar takes the case further. In a day and age when the role of advertising is so critical to a brand’s equity, when stakes are zooming north every second in a fiercely competitive market, creative minds capable of effecting cutting-edge breakthroughs are the real heroes. “Unfortunately, like in Bollywood, there are more brands than stars, hence one has to look outside. No one dare risk mediocrity with big-ticket brands,” says Pops. Besides, foreign directors bring amazing and unique value-addition to the table, he insists, pointing to Tarsem Singh’s fabulous Bajaj DTS-i TVC as a classic example. Ogilvy’s Louella Rebello (flashing woman power) endorses this view with all cylinders firing. Her collaboration with New Zealander Adam Strange (Tata Safari – What will you remember?) was magical. “He invested rare sensitivity to the frames evoking a mood and mystique that was as enchanting and engaging as engrossing”. Also (tongue deeply embedded in cheek) she confesses that, mercifully, “they are totally nakhra-free!”

Lowe Lintas’ ECD, Nikhil Rao, however, doesn’t seem to share this collective euphoria. “All the phirang names mentioned have done both good and crappy work, so it’s not necessarily their unique, special or outstanding talent that has got them here. It has more to do with a fresh and new perspective and take that they bring to the table. That’s it.” Ace ad-film maker Abhinay Deo goes one step ahead in exploding this myth and believes that most people – who should know better – are really losing it! “Let’s get some facts straight. Not all international directors bring anything special to the table. In fact, most of them don’t! Where they score is – exposure. They bring a different perspective which gives it a global feel,” he says. Deo believes that maybe one out of ten imported directors is truly outstanding. The others get by because of hype and – hold your breath – colour of skin! “Even after 62 years of independence, despite all the progress and economic boom we keep raving about, the mind – in some manner – remains colonised. The white skin –shocking but true – still seems to enjoy solid clout!”
Ram Madhavani differs vociferously. The brilliant film-maker states his case in cool and categorical fashion. “I have representation in London, USA and France. I have done a TVC for a French production house for a French client - a lottery. I shot in Buenos Aires for that! I get scripts quite regularly from USA and UK and of late, Japan as well. That’s the way the new world operates.” Madhavani believes that ultimately its about whoever is right for the job. “It has nothing to do with geographical borders or colonised minds. We are both entrepreneurs and artists and to say we can’t operate effectively out of our country is to be really dumb. The parochial view of India being only for Indians, France only for French and so on is obsolete in today’s globalised world. I think we should have much more of this cross over collaboration. There is great learning, information and experience-exchange that is truly enriching.” McCann’s Big Boss Prasoon Joshi – stylishly and successfully straddling both the Bollywood space and Adville – provides a fitting conclusion to this debate. “There are things these guys definitely bring to the table – Hi-tech, special effects, energy, enthusiasm, perspective and very competitive prices. However, should a brand need an emotional spin, obviously our guys, with rooted Indian sensibilities, are matchless. Also, India is a huge market where TVCs – unlike the West with a zillion optional media streams – are still hot and in demand. This is tempting for those guys. Also, traditionally our country has always welcomed foreigners. Mehman Nawazi is a part of our national DNA, boss! Finally, we live in an age of confluence not conflict. Jaane Bhi Do, Yaaron…”

Any famous last words? Yup. Along with love and death, recession seems to be a real, sexy leveler!! 


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Does A Spoof Work Effectively in Ad-Land?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri does a check-out...

If the buzz is to be believed then the SLUMDOG anthem JAI HO has almost replaced the revered JAY HE in popular mindscape! The Congress Dudes, in a cool, communication – savvy move, bought the rights of this ritzy number, did a cool re-mix to suit its “pitch” agenda, put it on a trapeze and swung it towards the youth-specific universe (comprising an estimated 10 crore new, first-time voters, with a sizeable YOUNGISTAN component) hoping it would rock their vote in election 2009. The BJP wasted no time in turning the chart-buster into a parody (spoof?) entitled BHAY HO and unleashed it to an amused (but clearly not motivated or inspired enough) public! In recent times, remember Pepsi’s YOUNGISTAN spoofing Akki’s Thums Up TVC, where he lands up in hospital with a broken leg? And what about Sprite’s dig at YOUNGISTAN with KABRISTAN? Horlicks’ daring and direct rip-off on Complan and Set Wet Zataks, spoof on AXE deos… and of course Cyrus Brocha’s hugely entertaining programme, of last month, on CNN IBN called THE ELECTION THAT ISN’T where he speaks nervously of the new phenomenon that’s stolen the thunder from IPL, the CPL – CHAPPAL PREMIERE LEAGUE!! The latest is the KINGFISHER dig at INDIGO.

Crazy, funny and irreverent as it is, has spoof – as strategy or tactic – really kicked off? Has it demonstrated (proven) clutter-busting, brand-switch qualities that go way beyond the “popular entertainment” format? In short, does spoof work as an effective weapon, instrument or device for the Brand, Manufacturer or Consumer?
Leo Burnet’s Creative Chief Pops Sridhar is first off the block. “It’s like life. When a younger brother cracks a cheeky broadside against the older one, there is a gasp of surprise… and delight! It’s the typical underdog syndrome. However, if the opposite happens, it’s generally considered unfair, a battle of unequals and in bad taste. Which is why Pepsi can forever take a dig at Coke, but never vice-versa, because Coke is the bigger established brand and doesn’t deem it appropriate, dignified, fit (or necessary) to respond in a similar vein. Set Wet Zataks rip-off on AXE similarly, is not unexpected because it’s both small and unknown and spoof is a great way to zoom into popular mindspace; but Horlicks’ hit on Complan demonstrated both bad taste and insecurity considering it’s the bigger brand.” At the end of the day, Sridhar believes it’s really the Brand Managers and Marketing Chiefs getting their jollies at the crack they had at their competitor’s expense rather than creating a serious dent. “Barring a very few exceptions, it remains a spectator sport and is nowhere near a marketing weapon.” Redifussion Y&R’S NCD Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar adds his spin to it. He believes that “the context is important and this device has to be factored in only after very serious thinking.” He cautions against the use of spoof in recession-driven times, considering it too much of a self-indulgence and luxury. “It can never work long-term and is best seen as a fun thing. Like a chutkule. Generate a smile and move on.” (Rather interesting comments coming from an agency that very recently unleashed an outdoor campaign for its client Kingfisher, having a not-so-veiled dig at Indigo!]

Response’s Sid Ray (Kolkata) brings a fresh take. He believes that spoofs by their very nature are short-term strikes, “a kind of hit, provoke surprise and shock, offer delight and laughter and move on! It’s a tactical move to elicit instant or quick response and I think all sane communicators are aware of this.” Dentsu’s ECD Titus Upputturu reckons it “gets the eyeballs, visibility, buzz, even notoriety, for it to capture the popular mindscape and pre-empt heavy duty word-of-mouth publicity BUT in terms of all this translating to sales… I am not so sure. As an ROI vehicle, I guess it doesn’t sweep the polls.”

The last words have to come from Ogilvy’s Delhi-based ECD Ajay Gehlot, who is the mastermind behind SPRITE’s endless saga of really, smart and witty spoofs! “I would rather call it Posturing-bashing or Pretension-busting! C’mon guys, a carbonated drink is a carbonated drink, okay, it’s not life-defining or soul-enriching for chrissake, so let’s cut out the crap and cut to the chase! Hence SEEDHI BAAT, NO BAKWAS. It’s a direct, no-frills and sharply-targeted positioning strategy we have consciously pursued all along and by all reports and findings, we are spot-on!”

Everything considered, some facts need to be quickly remembered while playing this game. Spoof is PANGA and therefore, as a genre, lends itself best ONLY to FUN product/service categories. Also, personality of the brand-fit is critical before leaping into this space. Products driven by vision or values should be avoided like … Swine flu! The ads should be genuinely funny and aimed at iconic brands, preferably with topicality spicing it up. That way, you hit target, guarantee brand recall … and the best … cash in profitably (even short-term) riding on someone else’s popularity… 


Thursday, June 18, 2009


[Is Rahul Gandhi India’s hottest brand, post elections? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri attempts a checkout]

In the beginning came the outpouring … (The heir to the throne. Politics’ new Prince Charming. The Dimpled darling.) Then came the (tsunami?) gush from the fairer sex … (Mr. Most Eligible; Classy. Cultured. Intelligent; Stable, good looking, sincere; A Guy you can confidently take home to mom; Hot n’charming; Cool, new-age and savvy; Humble, understated) Suddenly Rahul Gandhi is the new Rock-star, youth-icon that Youngistan is rooting for! What makes Brand Rahul sizzle? More importantly, is he really a brand?

The irrepressible Alyque Padamsee fires the first salvo … and does so with typical flourish. “Rahul Gandhi is most certainly a brand! He represents youth, dynamism and new-age thinking, as is manifest in the way he leverages technology to connect with the masses. I don’t know why people are so cynical or against branding human beings … We live in a market-driven age and each one of us, in our own way, is a brand. JWT’s Creative Director Sonia Bhatnagar, (who worked closely on the Congress campaign), shares the veteran’s enthusiastic belief and reckons that the dimpled darling’s charisma, transparency, sincerity, down-to-earth demeanour and relentless focus on galvanising youth to help the disfranchised, needy and backward rural community in Uttar Pradesh swung it in his favour. “Add to that his cool, good looks and confidence, along with his inspirational leadership qualities – and you got a hip, hot n’ happening brand on the block!”
Hive’s Sushil Pandit – a veteran in engaging with political advertising – presents a perspective reflecting gravitas and sober logic. “First things first. Rahul is really more of a sub-brand. The mother brand is the Nehru-Gandhi name, but having said that, I think this euphoria has to do with the fact that this quiet, low-profile young man has actually been able to turnaround a floundering party and scored in the most critical arena of all – Uttar Pradesh!” Pandit believes that this is a classic case of attributing to the brand, qualities it does NOT stand for! “For example he is most certainly not a visionary yet. Young, innocent, charming, fresh … certainly. However, does he have the ability to see, understand, engage with and solve the vast, complex problems that plague this huge, diverse country of ours? Remains to be seen.” Unlike Padamsee and Bhatnagar, Pandit is uncomfortable about branding politicians … “For me branding inanimate objects make sense but human beings change, evolve … I think it has to do with marketing gimmickry in a world that is fast becoming a market place …” Future Brands’ Santosh Desai wraps up the debate, in style. “The phenomenon is fascinating because just a few months ago he was seen as politically naïve, belonging to an elite family and totally disconnected, from grassroot Indian reality. Suddenly, he is not only the STAR politician but also Mr. Eligible, the man who saw tomorrow, youth icon, an agent of change … the works!” Desai believes that this overpowering, multi-dimensional projection has something to do with youthfulness, being a surrogate for telegenic and the compulsive need to consume Rahul Gandhi in a particular way. “It is amazing that his astonishing victory in Uttar Pradesh seems to have been hi-jacked in the public eye by just two simple characteristics: youth and success. Everything else is a spin-off from these two traits.” Desai believes that it is unfortunate that things worth celebrating – placing the long-term above the short-term and endeavouring to institutionalise some processes – (both, more old-fashioned than youth-driven moves) are being perceived as new-age initiatives! Regarding BRAND RAHUL, Desai believes that a brand is about identifying and resonating with an ideological core, with a set of predictable actions. “For me, so far Rahul Gandhi is nowhere near a brand because there is no clear sense of what he is all about. He is emerging. What he really stands for and represents – Brand values – may come soon. Unfortunately the word is bandied about by one n’ all and has become cool n’ fashionable to flaunt and coming to mean anything or anyone that is popular.” So from Brand Obama and SRK to Brand Kamasutra and Amul Macho to Brand Pepsi, Coke, Sprite, Thums-up and Mountain Dew to Brand Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat and India … and now Brand Manmohan and Rahul, anything goes! 


Thursday, June 04, 2009


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates this new phenomenon that is gaining frightening and hysterical dimensions in the ritzy, glitzy and glamorous metros of a nation that continues to look west for self esteem!

It is an astonishing paradox of human life that, with progress, sophistication, modernity and success comes depression, loneliness, alienation and insecurity! Today in year 2009, as we scan the lifescape inhabiting planet earth – with special reference to the so- called advanced and developed western countries – we find startling horror stories of dysfunctional life amidst plenty. Why? Because nothing in this world comes for free and the first world joys offered by the enticing packages called Consumerism and Globalisation come with a sinister price-tag! Family life, social life, cultural life, intellectual life … everything is sold at the altar of moving up in life. So, what’s next? What is the solution? Where is the salvation? Enter the marketers of Spiritualism…!

Declares today’s hot young, controversial film- maker (Dev D, Gulal) Anurag Kashyup, “If you have a Sapnon Ka Saudagar, why can’t you have a guy hawking spirituality?! The con-game is the same, boss!” On a more serious note, Kashyup believes that in today’s troubled and recession-hit times where tension and pressures rule the roost, spirituality is in high demand and low supply. “Hence, the smart, shrewd marketer who has his ear to the ground and is able to think on his feet, can do wonders – for his desperate clients and laughing wallet.” He cites the example of Astha and a host of similar TV channels which enjoy a wide viewership cutting across all stratas of society. He also points to the success of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, Robin Sharma’s The Monk who sold his Ferrari and most of Deepak Chopra’s best sellers. Sister Yogini of the Brahmakumaris (a spiritual movement like The Art of Living, The oneness university, Isha Yoga) looks at it differently. She admits that a lot of seekers come to them because they are freaked out by life’s pressures and desperately desire peace and happiness. “Our movement is not necessarily about renouncing the world but offering peace and progress within the confines of daily life.” Adds Avanti Birla, high profile businesswoman, “Spirituality for me is as much about fulfilling my responsibilities at a personal level as it is about connecting with it in a societal way.” To Parmeshwar Godrej, Mumbai society’s celebrated diva and social activist, “The real path is about self-discovery.” While she agrees that there is a trendy, hybrid spirituality being marketed, she believes that people are evolving all the time and their personal sense of spirituality doesn’t necessarily depend on what’s written in the instruction manual.

The irrepressible Prahalad Kakkar in typical forthright fashion, provides a cool conclusion. “It’s like selling coals to Newcastle! C’mon guys, we are, historically and traditionally, a spiritual nation with rituals and beliefs embedded in our psyche. Whether it’s the sandhya-deep accompanied by conch-shells at dusk or the vision of what life is about – Karma, Maya – spirituality remains an intrinsic part of our being. Unfortunately, pathetic West-apers that we have become, we seem to be enthusiastically buying - into their hard-selling spirituality to us in the form of a fashion thing; a with-it and uber-cool solution to all worldly problems that blitzes our sense of peace and contentment. Its sold – and bought – (like in the West) as a quick-fix, a fevicol for the battered soul, imagine! But then, at the end of the day I guess it makes sense to remember that we live in an age of Vigyapan not Vigyan, brother… So just about anything goes!”


Thursday, May 07, 2009


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri almost reaches for the smelling salts while attempting to decode this new, never-before connect between two completely different entities – Adland & PSUs!

Advertising and Public Sector Units (PSUs) have always been the perfectly unmatched jodi! Jargon-flashing and deeply entrenched in the business of brand-building, strategising, brainstorming and generally leveraging creativity as that critical catalyst that makes a difference, hot-shot ad agencies have always perceived the PSU universe as deadly dull, boring, format-specific (5 pics of politicians, a corny headline, some facts and figures… ugh!) and stayed away. Where was that opportunity to fly with an idea that was truly creative and transformational? Where was that need to use cutting-edge communication to entertain, enlighten and empower? It was all so one-dimensional, tame and listless… So, suddenly (in the last couple of years) why this change of heart for ad agencies? Why this sudden, collective dash to empanel themselves with PSUs? Have PSUs become communication savvy overnight? Have ad agencies realised that acting snooty and arrogant is their loss? What?

Chetan Varma of PowerGrid Corporation of India Ltd. analyses the situation and says, “I think we reside in two different worlds and if this fact is not understood and their normal FMCG perspectives are applied, it would spell disaster. That’s what it was with our earlier agency.” He adds that the present one has demonstrated a genuine desire to understand their culture and communication needs and therefore, is in a better position to deliver. He also believes that the Top 20 agencies should look at PSU advertising both as a challenge and an opportunity, only then would they be able to adapt and perform. But regarding adland’s sudden move to PSU zone, Varma admits that it has to do with change in the PSU mindset. “We are into reality checks too and competition is making us look at communication as a critical ally.

NTPC’s T. S. Rajpoot also agrees, “It’s true. Our empanelment process is on and we find quite a few top agencies, who wouldn’t condescend to even look our way earlier, pitching energetically. How times change!” Apart from changed mindsets, both Varma and Rajput are of the opinion that the R-word has played the biggest part. All the bravado, posturing and big talks is fine but at the end of the day, when funds take a hit, its wake-up-and-taste-the-coffee time! “Our portfolios may not be as sexy as the FMCG lot, payments (sometimes) maybe delayed too, but they will definitely be paid. No ad agency has ever not got its fees from PSUs.”
Ad consultant, Jo Sachdev, however, brushes these off with all the arrogance that his 28 years allow. “All this is hogwash! If the biggies are evincing interest, its not because the PSUs have suddenly seen the light and turned professional. It’s because many agencies have taken a bad hit in terms of ad-budget cuts or lost money with clients and therefore realised its better to be safe than sorry – and great adrenaline-pumping work be shoved in the freezer, temporarily!” Sachdev openly challenges the PSU guys to throw up even six really good campaigns in recent times. “Apart from the odd SAIL & Air India ads, nothing truly fantastic comes to mind. This is all delusion of grandeur!”

The BHEL Corporate Communication team begs to differ. While they agree that earlier communication may not have enjoyed great professional attention, the early nineties – opening of the economy – marked a turning point! “All sensible PSUs saw the writing on the wall and made genuine efforts to re-invent themselves in terms of corporate persona because they categorically understood that in the age of competition, image did matter.” This impacted the way they looked at communication and their interaction with their vendors. Today the finest corporate film makers and exhibition specialists are keen to work with BHEL because they believe that they are very particular about quality. However, the BHEL group argue that “the biggest reason could be the slowdown. Safe, reliable and sure-shot payment of bills can be the most reassuring of all attributes in today’s scary wish-list of the recession-hit ad land. No two-ways, there!”

ITPO’s Soma Chakravarty agrees. “PSUs have covered a lot of distance in the last few years and have consciously striven to be in the zone. At ITPO, the entire team remains focused and committed to connect only with ad agencies who understand our basic vision and mission and execute the given task with quality and speed.” While she agrees that there are limitations, she believes that everything can be surmounted if professionalism plays a starring role.

At the end of the day, it’s not so complicated. Some of the biggest names in the PSU universe have indeed over time made effort to professionalise, if they wanted their vendors to respect them. The larger, FMCG-driven agencies (for their turn), have also pulled back to have a fresh look at the big picture and figured that broadbasing their bandwidth to connect meaningfully with this lot would be profitable. Also, the smarter shops realised that instead of mocking them or pulling them down, trying to understand the PSU’s special and different brand of communication needs and delivering the goods, might be a better idea.

And sure, the slowdown really helped this cosying up. Is marriage on the cards? Wait n’ watch... Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost! 


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Does Creativity have an Expiry Date?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri quizzes a cross section of people from the ad and film world...

“Come, grow old with me. For the best is yet to be,” spouted dada Shakespeare. Quirky, edgy genius Woody Allen marched to a different beat. “When I told my 15-year- old kid some years ago that I planned to visit the museums in Rome, she said, make sure you keep movin’ pops … or they might mistake you for an exhibit!!” So what is old (read: anything over 40) age: Blunder years? In a country where 44% of the population is said to be under 25, is old more cold than gold? Extending the logic, is ‘creativity’ then, most definitely, given an expiry date? Has grey-haired eminence and wealth of experience, been suddenly (and dramatically) shoved into the dustbin, considered irrelevant and useless? Does all this get even more magnified in a here n’ now profession like advertising where new-age fads and trends, powered by nano-second technology, demand being in-the-loop all the time to seduce the impatient, promiscuous and impulsive youth market?

“Absolutely boss! I think – with some exceptions – most of the plus 40-types in the adbiz must be handed out VRS slips! Or moved out from the main frame and given stuff they can handle. The change, across the spectrum, is too fast for them to keep pace. The very concept of creativity is being re-defined everyday.” That was 28-year old Atul Bishnoi, CD of a Mumbai based ad agency. The grand old [evergreen?] man of adville laughs away these broadsides with characteristic flamboyance. Retorts Alyque Padamse, “Before uttering another word, I’d like to invite Bishnoi to sit on my lap and finish his orange juice, milk, Complan, Bournvita, Horlicks or whatever it is that he has!” Ego intact, he proceeds to offer his educated take. He believes that “creativity addressing human needs can never be dated” and remains skeptical about agencies suddenly moving to youth-mode because of the buzz. “That is insecurity and a complete lack of smart thinking. As long as your ideas are young and fresh, you rock. Age is only a number. My advice to the paranoid oldies: Don’t retire – re-tyre!”
Ogilvy’s hot-shot spoof champ (of Sprite fame) Ajay Gehlaut steps on the gas, straightaway. “It’s sad, but true that awe, respect and reverence for the grey-haired brigade is a thing of the past. In today’s world, speed with quality is the name of the game and youth appear to be hotter players in this space.” He points to a galaxy of young NCD’s, CD’s, even CEO’s (Prasoon Joshi) warming the hot-seat – something unthinkable two decades ago. “In this digital age, five years is considered decent experience. In the gaming scene, you have whiz kids at age 16! Its freaky, man! Information not wisdom is the new mantra.” Shyam Benegal, the iconic film-maker – who started out as a copywriter! – brings his brilliantly evolved spin to the table. “While all this energetic, excited, hi-octane stuff is true, one must realise that it is restricted only to the ad scene, which is only one narrow aspect of the creativity base/universe.” Benegal says that it is not a new thing at all. In earlier times too, youngsters defined the adbiz “and either you were kicked upstairs – or kicked out!” However, today out-of-the box and freak-out stuff seem to be the hot tickets and clearly the younger lot is much better at it than the oldies. Why? “Because as you grow older, maturity arrives and with it a sense of perspective, rationale and analysis – none of which really contributes to the free-for-all creativity demanded from today’s adland.” Structure, discipline, training have all evaporated into thin air. A very special, hallucinatory kind of mood and colour seems to be the flavour of the day, a willful suspension of disbelief stretched to the ultimate limit.” Chetan Verma, Corporate Communication Chief, PowerGrid, brings his informed views to the table. “I definitely think creativity comes with an expiry date and the reasons are simple. Never before has almost any product/service category enjoyed such huge youth-specific target groups and in this environment, thinking young [hence] is a must. Also, adaptability, flexibility and thinking-on-your-feet to hit the ground running are attributes that lend themselves much more to the younger lot than oldies. In a nano-second, consumer-driven world where tastes, beliefs, wants, needs and desires change at an alarming speed – frequent based on impulsiveness – no prizes for guessing which constituency can best track it - and crack it! Admittedly, there are spaces and segments that engage the older lot, but [everything considered] creativity and youngsters are indeed made-for-each-other.” Interestingly, the two kids who come on next, to wrap up the debate, beg to differ! Spiky, the hip-hop Creative Consultant at Leo Burnett, Mumbai, believes that age has nothing to do with creativity and cites the examples of M.F. Hussain, Piyush Pandey, Pops and Mohammed Khan, who remain icons. “Fads, fashions and trends admittedly are stuff beyond their bandwidth but there is an entire universe that need their specialised attention, skill and finesse. I think experience and maturity provides invaluable value-addition.” Shubhra Tandon, the young and attractive servicing dynamo – DraftFCB Ulka, Delhi – agrees totally. “I think, too much hoo-haa is made of this under-25 war-cry. Sure, its true, but c’mon yaar, there is life beyond the FMCG world!” A sharp head on young shoulders, Tandon believes that at the end of the day, advertising is neither about scoring brownie points, jargon-flashing nor a cold recitation of facts and figures. “Its about establishing a connect with life (and people) based on experience and human insight that are likely to touch, move (and therefore) convince more people to come around to their way of thinking”. A smart agency, she believes is one that has a blend of both. “Remember confluence – not conflict – is the most desired viagra in these recession-hit times!” 


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Has Youthquake struck Ad-Endorsement-Land?

Is ‘young’ the undisputed flavour of the day? Are yesterday’s sweethearts suddenly, dreaded victims of the don’t-call-us-we’ll call-you disease? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri surveys the scene...

 Recently, a screaming headline in a tabloid grabbed my attention. Out of work Sush loses ad deal to petite Asin. A gorgeous, glamorous, sophisticated diva like Sushmita Sen, given the heave-ho (for a product she’s been associated with for years – Pantene) and replaced by young, pretty [but nowhere as charismatic or enjoying pan-India popularity with the upmarket crowd] South Indian actress Asin, of Ghajini fame! Why, even the great King Khan – whose other name seemed to have been ‘Pepsi Khan’ – is, reportedly, dropped from Team Pepsi in their latest outing. Ditto for yesterday’s queens Ash Rai Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta, say adbiz and Bollywood insiders. On the cricket front too, similar tremors have been felt. Yesterday’s icons Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, V.V.S. Laxman, even the sensational Sachin Tendulkar, have suffered anything between a meltdown to a slowdown. It’s the T-20 kids – Dhoni, Yuvraj, Ishant, Raina, Zaheer and gang – that are zooming centre-stage and replacing them in the endorsement sweepstakes. In Bollywood, new dazzlers rocking it include Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Asin, Genelia, Jiah Khan, Katrina Kaif, Imran Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Kangana Ranaut, Deepika Padkone, even Farhan Akhtar! With half of our one billion population said to be under the age group of 25, marketers are indeed getting hot n’ heavy in the business of torpedoing this target base, all the way!

Is it working… and what drives it? Who better to kick-off this debate with the very person who founded and coined the ground-breaking term youngistan – which for Washington Post defines young India as also TV channels and political parties identifying the new India – Soumitra Karnik, Creative Head of JWT’s Pepsi team who says, “Much as I am tempted to say that I suddenly dreamt it all up one stormy night – like fake directors or smart plagiarists! – I didn’t! Its just that, while reading up something, the words ‘Young’ and ‘Hindustan’ struck me as interesting cues for coining something new, fresh, simple along street-speak lines that would resonate with the target base. That’s how it was really born. If it captured popular imagination instantly, I guess its largely because it was red-hot topical, had the required bindaas tone to it and reflected the mood, colour and voice of today’s most important segment-youth.” Karnik doesn’t munch his words and packs in a solid punch when he says that today’s marketers live in the here n’ now and grab only what they believe will rock their product. “They are pretty much like fair-weather friends – and why not? They have a job to do. If its not working, then its goodbye time! The new kids on the block, both in the Cricket and Bollywood arena, reflect this reality in dramatic fashion, right? The age of loyalty is over, boss. It is the age of Return on Investment (ROI)!”
Industry-watcher Ashish Kukreja however, chooses to rain on Karnik’s parade. He reckons all this is “a bimari and fad grabbing the new-age marketers, looking for a quick kill. It has no logic, focus or perspective. Its just a brainless follow-the-herd mentality. Where is the brand-fit? Does a Yusuf Pathan or Praveen Kumar go with the profile of a Pepsi?” Dentsu’s Gullu Sen believes that Kukreja must have both his head and eyes examined immediately because he seems to be living in another planet! “Soumitra is spot-on! Youth is definitely in and the role-models for big buck celeb deals are selected completely on the basis of who’s the flavour of the day. No question about that! It has to do with that segment the product is targeting and with the kids’ universe getting more impatient, adventurous and promiscuous towards brand usage than ever, shifts in role-models take on critical dimensions,” avers Sen. And L. K. Advani’s recent visuals of pumping iron to attract the young voter, is further indication of the might of youth power, right?!

At the end of the day, other aspects come into play too. For one, there is a definite fatigue-factor when one single celeb endorses a brand forever, especially in today’s impatient, novelty-driven times. Two, age does matter. Three, success is the key (Dhoni’s dynamic leadership and subsequent success strike-rate has, allegedly, got him endorsement to this staggering amount of Rs.300 crore!). You can’t have a poor run of scores – either in cricket or Bollywood – and expect the sponsors to keep pampering and batting for you! Nestle dropped Rani for South Indian actress, Trisha, who also – ironically – replaced Preity in the Scooty Pep Ads. The once-bubbly Zinta [now seen more in IPL do’s than the screen!] was also relieved of her endorsement with Perk, Lyril, BSNL and Santro. However, all is not lost for the likes of Ash – who was recently replaced by Katrina in the Nakshatra Diamond endorsement deal – and gang. The power of two (thanks to the humongous and insane curiosity, influence and impact that both Bollywood and cricket attract, ably-supported by a zillion mags, publications, tabloids, TV channels and Internet sites blitzing gossip, scandals, rumors, juicy, naughty and startling news bytes 24X7) is gaining huge momentum and so the John-Bips, Saif-Kareena, Ajay-Kajol, Ranbir-Deepika and Ash-Abhi combo can keep earning those big bucks – before another recession arrives, that is!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

New-Age Ads Irresponsible Or Reality-Driven?!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the face-off that continues to plague adville and attempts to play ‘referee’!

 Whether advertising drives reality or reflects it remains a ball-breaker, hot-potato and one of life’s enduring and unsolved mysteries. Ad-bashers vociferously insist that the adfrat – like Bollywood – continue to get away with blue murder, invariably falling back on that old, moth-balled ghisa-pita line – “Why blame us? We are only reflecting the times…” – each time an ad of dangerously dubious nature screams into focus. The ad guys beg this lot to shake off their Rip Van Winkle robe, wake up and look around. In a globalised, youth-driven world, firmly in the embrace of new-age attitudes and aspirations, this brand of stone-age thinking, they believe, is both regressive and ridiculous.

Okay, so what gives? Is ethics in advertising really an obsolete word in the age of Britney Spears and Rakhi Sawant... or despite all the new-age blah-blah, do basic human values remain unchanged and a hit in that direction spells doom… or are both sides just over-reacting to this issue and in the process, missing out on the much-needed perspective, focus and main plot?

Eminent media commentator and author, Uma Vasudev fires the first salvo. The veteran writer believes that in these irreverent and youth-driven times “it is a fashionable thing – by shallow, self-proclaimed intellectuals and liberated spirits hysterically anxious to get their posturing right by sounding young – to trash anything that is solid, wholesome, traditional or conventional.” While she heartily agrees that some people tend to get too touchy and hyper to some ads [Sprite, MotoYuva, Axe, Virgin Mobile, Colgate], she suggests that some kind of moral policing must happen. “Remember, one man’s humour can be another’s tumour!”

Ex-Motorola and presently Tata Telecom’s Lloyd Mathias – whose (earlier) MotoYuva TVCs feature strongly in this debate – reacts in his usual, laid-back fashion. “See, advertising is about dramatising, blowing-up and exaggerating slice-of-life moments to make them interesting, appealing and engaging to the readers/viewers, while triggering the purchase intent. This has to be done keeping the sensibilities of the target group in mind. A total connect with them is a given.” Mathias points to the ad where the father raves and rants at his son’s shabby room and sloppy everything, while the kid, with earplugs, rhythmically nods to the song he hears on his audio. “It’s a hugely today’s situation and totally identifiable by most parents of teenagers and also the kids themselves. The ad emerged from human insight and was a light-hearted social commentary on the parent-child scenario of the day. It is not and was never meant to promote parental defiance or disrespect. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on everyday, real-life face-offs between baap-beta!” Same is the case with all the cheeky MotoYuva ads blitzing the ad space, he insists.
Leo Burnett’s Pops Sridhar agrees. He believes it’s a “generational thing” and strongly requests the kill-joy brigade not to drag morality, values and integrity into it. As Mathias pointed out, advertising hypes life to make it look sexy for the viewer – but it’s almost always rooted in fact and truth. Be it Ogilvy’s Mentos ad, or Perfetti [Papa at a party. Papa in the office. Papa at home] ad, Bates’ Virgin Mobile ad, Ogilvy’s MotoYuva ads – it’s a throw-back on the times we live in. “Relationships, codes of conduct and ways of expression have undergone a sea-change. It’s a cooler, more informal and chilling time. The old authoritarian dad-kids relationship, in urban India is a thing of the past. They are more buddies and engaged in closer, warmer bonding. Kids are cheekier and adults are cooler. That’s the truth and that’s what these ads show, say and express,” avers Pops. Mridu Manjrekar, however, is neither amused nor impressed. “These ad-wallahs are master spin-doctors, ready with glib explanations that appear both truthful and convincing, but scratch the surface and its bullcrap!” The school teacher and mother of two teenage kids, “sees this brand of advertising as insidious and dangerous.” Couched in entertainment, it hits the target spot-on and instantly – at a subliminal level – creates mischief through propagating wrong values. [Its no sin to bullshit parents; cheat girlfriends; mock teachers! Nothing is sacred, precious or non-negotiable. Nothing is a big deal. Its ‘just- chill-yaar’ time.] Scary!

At the end of the day, one thing needs to be recognised and realised in a cool and objective manner. Barring some overtly vulgar ads, most of the stuff discussed is not really offensive, either in terms of morals or values. Remember, the rigid good and bad, moral and immoral, done and not done zones don’t exist anymore. It’s an age of confluence, not conflict. To be cheeky or naughty is ‘not’ perceived as a cardinal sin, which calls for capital punishment! Humour [audacious or irreverent] is cool. As for influencing and corrupting kids, 10 is the new 15! Good, sensible parenting is the answer. Besides, don’t forget that if you give kids wings, they’ll surely develop roots…


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Celeb Brand Ambassadors? Not Again….. Puhleeeeeze!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the validity and effectiveness of the glam, celeb brigade, doing their number as BA in the critical Social Sector space. Are they effective?

“Behen Lagta Kya?”
“Nahin, Mehman Lagta …”

Dialogues from the latest pot-boiler coming out of tinsel town? Naah, lines from a new TVC scripted by Prasoon Joshi, directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and – most importantly – delivered [with trademarks, mannerisms and punch] by Bollywood’s Little Big Man, Aamir Khan! For guys who came in late, no, Aamir hasn’t switched lanes but playing out his new role as brand ambassador for Incredible India’s Atithi Devo Bhavah [Guest is God] campaign. In recent times – and especially post-TZP – the thinking star has been popularly perceived as a caring, sensitive, responsible and socially aware individual who, with his iconic presence can make a difference in altering beliefs, attitudes and mindset relating to causes and concerns, in the public domain. Be that as it may, do celeb brand ambassadors, [as a rule] help further the cause they push? Are they really effective, credible and represent the mission played out … or is it [like the corny and frivolous celeb endorsement circus] more TRP-driven, more entertaining than purposeful? In short, when celebs support causes – who benefits?

Lets for a moment, look westwards. How about starting with the hottest of the hot, Angelina Jolie! Forever inspiring stories like ‘Brangelina Fever Grips London’ or ‘Why Armed Guards Stormed Their Bedroom’, Jolie has been a Goodwill Ambassador with the United Nations for ages. She always pays her way and her work with the refugee commission is simply amazing. On international issues, she is said to have more clout than many UN diplomats! “I see Angelina as the perfect humanitarian advocate. She brings an immense amount of international focus, but she never seeks to use it for her own benefit. On the contrary she transfers the spotlight directly to civic society advocates and makes them more powerful, effective and result-driven”. That was Gavin Simpson, a key member of the activist group – Witness, who worked closely with Jolie during her visit to the West African country, Sierra Leone. Other notables from Hollywood include Audrey Hepburn [UN] Danny Kaye [UNICEF] Humphrey Bogart, Bono, Sean Penn and a host of others.
What about the celebrity activism, vis-à-vis brand ambassador scene in India? Well, there’s the famous Big B for Polio, Koena Mitra for children’s orphanages, Shilpa Shetty for animal rights, Preity Zinta, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, along with a host of others... Point is – are they credible? Film-maker Muzaffar Ali believes it all really depends on the “sensibilities connect.” If that synergy is missing, it is at best, tokenism; at work, mockery. He cites the case of Big B’s stint as BA of Uttar Pradesh. Did it work? “Here was a superstar, living and working out of Mumbai, suddenly waxing poetic about UP. How on earth could it ever strike target?” Regarding Aamir, there is credibility, (he believes), due to the image and sensibilities connect. “The man, his persona and the cause he is espousing fuse. Conviction and track record is the key. No star or celeb can act out this role. They can’t fake it.”

Film-maker Rituparno Ghosh agrees. “For example I can’t think of a better BA for promoting the Hindi language than the Big B. The fit is perfect. Yes, the profiles have to jell.”

Future Group’s CEO Santosh Desai looks at it differently. “Let’s not get cute, coy and pretend. Most social sector advertising is largely cosmetic and tokenism and there is no real, focused effort to make a change.” Desai then goes on to really slam the current Aamir Khan TVC doing the circuit. “I think it is a terrible ad, with this didactic lecture… it’s really and truly an embarrassingly bad ad! I am surprised because Aamir normally doesn’t do corny ads, stuff where hectoring and heavy-duty messaging is on the cards.” Desai then goes on to explain what he believes is the ‘politics’ behind Public Service Advertising. “There is this popular belief that since it is an important cause, important people must say something about it, denounce it or at least play some role in it. They fall back on the tired cliché of ‘when celebs talk, people listen’. They may listen but do they hear, react and act as told to?” The other problem, Desai says, relates to the fact that these biggies are doing it for ‘free’. In short, the aura, hungama, myth and buzz around it frequently overtake the action, totally defeating the purpose.

At the end of the day, one thing is clear: Celebrities – unquestionably – open doors and to deny their clout in the popular culture space is to be dumb, myopic, cynical or plain, in-denial mode. They definitely bring a very special buzz to the cause they espouse and if they are the right person – respected, committed, informed and involved – they have no substitute. Incidentally (if you observed) the operative words are ‘if’ and ‘right’!!