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, na├»ve 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…