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”.