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!