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… 


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