Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do Contrarian Brand - Images Work?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri Revisits The Montblanc Advertisement, Adds a few more of his Own, And Does a Reality-Check of This Unique form of Advertising – Using Contrarian Images TO Attract Attention while Attempting Brand-Building

Seen the limited-edition Mahatma Gandhi Montblanc Pen (ad) priced at Rs.1.1 million ($ 23,000; 14,400 pounds) with an 18-carat solid gold, rhodium-plated nib engraved with Gandhi’s image and a “saffron-coloured mandarin garnet” on the clip, unveiled on Gandhi’s birthday last year? Dilip R. Doshi, Chairman of Entrack, Montblanc’s distributor in India, said the pen embodied Gandhi’s timeless philosophy on non-violence and respect for all living creatures. “We are creating a thing of simplicity and beauty that will last for centuries,” he added. Iconic Beatle John Lennon and the father of American literature Mark Twain followed Bapu’s hallowed footsteps in the ad-trail. While the Gandhi edition elicited mixed reaction – “Wow, a $23,000 pen to honour someone who lived on rice and carrots” – and while the jury is not really out on that one, contrarian brand-images (those that perceptually seem contrarian, even unrelated to the brand in question) seem to be doing the rounds in no uncertain a manner. The Big B & Binani Cement. M. S. Dhoni & Amrapali. SRK & Nerolac Paints. Hema Malini and her two daughters with Kent Water Purifier... the list keeps growing.

The point is, do contrarian brand images offer anything special, value-add towards a more meaningful consumption of the communication? Do they provide a more exciting and memorable connect due to their un-conventional pitch and take? Gandhi and an uber-luxurious writing instrument... What’s the link? Paris-based communication consultant Pia Sen, sighs before registering her informed response. “Before the ignoramus types start with their predictable smart jibes and speeches about disconnect and demeaning Gandhi, it would be cool if they cosy up to the major luxury writing instrument-maker’s history of creating limited edition collection of eminent littérateurs, artists, celebrities, revolutionaries and thinkers of the past. It is the German giant’s style of celebrating both the product and the icon. Agreed, the image in terms of product and personality profile may not enjoy a seamless, natural fuse, but the intent is celebratory, an ode, homage and tribute to a legend – not a boring, dumb, politically-correct recitation of Montblanc’s product attributes! Loosen up guys; it’s the spirit not the letter that needs to be understood,” Sen tells 4Ps B&M.

Veteran ad person Nargis Wadia doesn’t agree. The founder of Interpub, a celebrated head-turner in her days believes that contrarian image communication, especially in the Montblanc case, is both bizarre and insulting to the spirit of a man who defined austerity and simplicity. “I wish they had married the essence of the product and the philosophy of the company – integrity, uncompromising pursuit of excellence, transparency, leadership trait – to the essence of the man. It would have bene then more credible. To me, it’s a mockery right now, insensitive and exploitative,” Wadia tells 4Ps B&M.

FCB Ulka’s Head Honcho (North) Arvind Wable isn’t so sure about contrarian-image branding. “This is tricky terrain and so I will hesitate to pass a sweeping remark,” he says. He believes sensitivity – emotional, political and cultural – needs to be understood and respected before pulling the trigger. “What works in one country may not work in another. However, since there has been no major uproar about these ads, I guess, it’s okay. Besides, [even in the Montblan case] it’s possible that the Montblanc guys wanted to generate a bit of buzz in the media and public domain and so unleashed these ads. Who knows? Remember, controversy is big in the public mindspace … and when the father of the nation is involved, man, it can be a freakout!,” says Wable, who believes that contrarian brand imaging is done because it’s a quick, lazy, short-cut to getting visibility without focus or direction. “The result is that the celeb is remembered – but the product promise or value proposition is forgotten, ignored, overlooked or unregistered … a cardinal sin!,” Wable adds in his commentary.

Ad tracker/Commentator Vikas Godbole can’t figure out what this fuss is all about! “Advertisers, marketers, brand-custodians and blue-chip organisations are not duffers, masochists or champion swimmers in the high tide of CSR to splurge big bucks while crafting a communicating strategy to connect with their select constituencies. Whether it’s the Gandhi-Montblanc, Big B-Binani, Dhoni-Amrapali or Hema-Kent ads, there must be a method in their (perceived) madness? It could be a conscious, attention-grabbing controversy – this subject has been going on forever, boss! Tell me something, if there was really such a huge disconnect between the brand and the brand ambassador, then why would there continue to be such an endless boom in this marriage of stars and FMCG shops?” says Godbole.

So, at the end of the day, as the wise one said, if the subject debated (reportedly) – received the blessings of Tushar Gandhi (the Mahatma’s vocal great grandson) who received a cheque of $146,000 (91,500 pounds) to build a shelter for rescued child labourers, then (at least in this case) the pen is indeed mightier than the sword!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Ban The 'R' Word !" Can Star-Power Change Public Mindset ?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri Examines The Clout of Stars in Issues that are Non-Starry

Very recently, an interesting thing happened. Action-star Akshay Kumar, a huge presence in B-town, blew the whistle on the ‘R’ word and said that he would go out of his way to plead, request, warn, threaten (with words!) people to not use the word ‘retard’, because it is humiliating, demoralising and insulting to the children of a lesser god. “I am sure Jennifer Aniston did not mean to use it – when she alluded to the term while describing herself in a recent interview – in a derogatory manner. But of course, on cue, it was blown out of proportion. It just shows how unaware we are and how frivolously we tend to use this word. One can never even begin to understand the depth of hurt it can cause and how demeaning it is to people disadvantaged and striving harder to live a life of decency and normalcy,” said Akshay Kumar then.

Coming from Khiladi No.1 (whose image of a rough-tough macho star or a smooth comic hero doesn’t quite fit the ‘causes and concern’ slot) the concern is as surprising as it is wonderful! Whether this is to reinforce his image as the face of Special Olympics – held for mentally challenged people – is not the issue. He needn’t have done it and he could have well gone about enjoying his exalted position. The fact that he chose to, is the point – and he appears dead serious. “The industry has been totally supportive. Be it Mr. Bachchan, Salman, Farah, Katrina – they’ve all pledged to show respect to those who have special needs,” he says. Great start; but does his speak matter? Does having AK as the spokesperson result in kids en masse promising to be less flippant, casual or bindaas about the ‘R’ word?

Which brings us to the real issue – is this championing of causes and concerns by glam celebs taken seriously by the constituency targeted, or even by the celebs themselves? Living in a shamelessly, blatant, consumer-driven, Friday-crazed, TRP-ridden, image-specific setting, are these great expansive acts simply brand-building gimmicks, or should we for once set aside cynicism and skepticism and remember that stars are human too with eyes to see and hearts to feel and give them the benefits of doubt? Should we really believe that Hollywood actress Charlize Theron, who reportedly has taken up the cause of African apes, will really pay her suffrage in malaria infested jungles to prove her point? Or should we simply roll over and guffaw away in sidesplitting laughter at this misplaced altruism?

Celeb-tracker Meenu Tandon believes that all this is nothing but dramabazi in action, a smart way of brand-building. “These mega-stars are masters in the art of marketing, both their films and themselves, as well as cleverly manipulating the media. What better way to position oneself as a caring, concerned and sensitive soul, protecting and championing the cause of the disenfranchised of the world than making a hue n’ cry about something that is certainly not all that critical! A star-crazed, sensation hungry media is always there at hand to do the rest,” Tandon tells 4Ps B&M. But film critic Rauf Ahmed begs to differ. He believes that a section of society continues to be too harsh and critical – come what may – at these guys as he tells 4Ps B&M, “Never mind everything else, shouldn’t any person’s individual act of courage, sensitivity and concern for a disadvantaged section of society, be recognised and lauded instead of being put under the scanner? I am convinced that frequently, the baby is being flung out with the bath-water! Admittedly, image-building exercises by stars do happen, but the fact is that fans aren’t fools to immediately fall for it. Grant them some intelligence please, and the stars some sensitivity!”

Hard core celeb watchers insist that this brand of celebrity diplomacy definitely works within established political frameworks to advocate, agitate, and even assist change. Also, it has been known to neutralise rumour, scandal and generally foster goodwill. Dozens of sports stars and celebrities remain classic examples. Social commentator Arvind Pathak agrees. While celebrity activism does indeed draw much-needed attention and funds to worthy causes, he believes that it also promotes a specific type of activism that is individualised, commodified and de-politicised. It is too soft, too pat and convenient. Send a text; bid on an item; appear on a public platform; call into a telethon... and you are done!

“It obscures the complexity of humanitarianism and development. It’s like ownership of brands that are dying or are under-siege... and championing them to look good and feel great,” says Pathak. Also, most of these issue are about, or the product of grinding poverty, social abuse relating to the doomed, disenfranchised of the world, whereas celebrities (ironically) are the visible, dazzling and glamorous embodiment of wealth, fame and success – aka U2’s Bono for Africa. This can make the relationship lopsided, unreal, agenda-driven and suspect.

So, coming back to the subject – can star-power alter public views, mindset or perspective; can it refresh parts of the mind and heart that conventional messaging simply cannot reach? While Aamir Khan – perhaps because of his persona – is taken seriously every time he lends his name to social causes, one can’t simply refuse to acknowledge the power that Salman Khan’s ‘being human’ tagline propagates. At the same time, while Celina Jaitley’s irascible presence on the pink platform might not have changed your outlook to the gay community, Amitabh Bachchan’s contribution to the national polio campaign, albeit only as a celebrity face and voice, would have surely. Clearly, the answer to our call totally depends on what is the issue, who is the star representing its public face, who is the targeted group and how it is being presented. This is an extremely tricky, dedicated and dangerous terrain because the value proportion from the celeb going out is going to be scrutinised against his star-persona, very closely. Ask yourself, would you have been flamed into action if any of these stars had supported a sterilization campaign? Touché!


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Hi-Profile Branding Gurus Hired For Mumbai & Kolkata . New-Age Response or PR Gone Mad ?!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri Attempts to Checkout Some Details of This Unique, First-Time Ever Exercise, With a little help from some Communication Practitioners

It is a well known fact that Public Relations (PR) is both invasive and pervasive. Its critics are quick to pounce on the term and unleash a veritable volley of not-so-complimentary adjectives – implied deceit, corruption, trickery, exhibitionism, specious pleading! These are accompanied by cynicism and disbelief. Like with anything, not all is wrong... or right! Sane exponents of this specialised – and ever-growing – discipline will warn you that before embarking on any PR activity, expectations for the results need to be well framed within measurable and realistic yardstick. Before pulling the trigger, the blueprint has to be fully planned and managed within a close knowledge of the operating environment and its likely future development. Great – Now let’s quickly cut to the chase.

First things first. If the main purpose of Public Relations is “to influence the behaviour of individual groups of people in relation to each other, through dialogue with all those audiences whose perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and opinions are critical to success,” then how does Acanchi, (a consultancy firm based in London, whose job is to deliver “tailored positioning solutions for countries, regions and cities; a pioneer in the field of developing holistic country positioning strategies”), hired to give the city of Mumbai a solid thumping make-over sound to you? And Saffron Brand Consultants’, (Brand Guru Wally Ollins, firm commissioned by the Bengal government to polish the state’s image), swing with you? No kidding, guys! Ratnakar Gaikwad, Metropolitan Commissioner of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is dead serious. “The Mumbai Metropolitan Region is not known to the outer world, especially foreign stakeholders. It has to be presented before the globe with all its rich, inherent characteristics for which the exercise of branding and positioning on the lines of cities like Singapore, Sydney and Dubai is required.”

On the Bengal front, CEO Avik Chattopadhyay admitted that the presentation that Ollins made was discussed with the Chief Minister, along with the “unique cultural pluralism of Bengal”. Ollins explained that “the idea was to help Bengal express itself better. There definitely needs to be a change in the way Bengal is perceived, both outside and within the state.”

Strategic, professionally-driven, solutions-friendly initiatives... or is PR being stretched to do an impossible, houdini act?

Interestingly, social commentator and communication pundit Santosh Desai – whom we expected to actually support PR – is first off the block straightaway expressing scepticism at PR initiatives in general. He has no problem with people leveraging the power of PR for makeovers, altering beliefs & powering reputations, but he feels that especially with the Mumbai context, the intended PR is mostly superficial. “To begin with, they can only be successful if you have the required knowledge & control over the specific image you want to change. Is this happening? Ask Mumbaikars and you will get the answers! Also, I feel this seems to reflect ego-boosting posturing and time hogging, totally ignoring the stark reality staring at them [the administration],” says Desai. In fact, he feels that if they are really serious about image, these guys should identify & address the zillion ills plaguing the city & crying for the attention before getting the PR machinery to hit over-drive. It appears that they are more interested in the sizzle not the steak, about what people should think and view about the cities. “Logo changes, Tee slogans, sexy catch lines... what an appalling waste of time & money... and so demeaning too! Remember the chest thumping Meri Dilli Meri Shaan slogan pasted all over Delhi? What happened? Get your act together first. The rest will follow,” says Desai.

Head-honcho of the Kolkata based Genesis Advertising, Ujjal Sinha is equally frazzled. While branding the Kolkata PR effort ‘cosmetic’, he is of the belief that the guys behind this genuinely seem to think that “desperate times need desperate measures,” which is way off-center. Also, what perplexes him is the implied concerns & preoccupations to impress, impact & inspire a consistency (elitist, outsiders) – who really don’t matter in crunch-time. “Look inside. Get your house in order. Then go in for powering brand and image equity,” says Sinha. Finally, what strikes him as biter irony (something that Bengal & Kolkata could well do without) is the fact that Bengal has invited the very same gentleman, Wally Ollins for an image correction who handled the image of the very same group whose operations contributed much to Bengal’s present image quotient – Tatas!

But this is not to say that the well has been poisoned. There are frenetic appeals to the positive too. Paris based Pia Sen considers all these anti-PR allegations pompous, conceited, sweeping & quite uninformed. “Hey listen! Both Acanchi and Wally Ollins are huge names in the city and nation branding spheres; so please respect their credentials. Fionna Gilmore, Founder & Chairman of Acanchi has worked in initiatives with authorities in Ireland, Britain, Wales and Hong Kong, among other places. And Ollins has image-navigated London, Poland, Portugal and Vietnam.” She believes that this is a very serious issue and surely the powers-that-are behind the commissioning of these endeavours are respected people with “knowledge, focus, intent and a clear blueprint about the desired road map.” She also believes that the problem with Corporate India is its cynicism. “They are probably taking the ‘tomorrow’s superpower’ tag too seriously. Chill”!

Neither Pops Sridhar nor Alyque Padamsee are prepared to do that. While the NCD of Leo Burnett Pops believes that the best means of growth comes from within, and being frivolous or superficial in the perception-reality game can spell doom and disaster, he points towards Malaysia as a glorious example of identity building. “They took time, understood and identified their intrinsic persona they wished to project when they broke away and slowly and steadily went into brilliant image building mode.” However, flamboyant, ageless Padamsee does not waste time & breath and says, “It’s lot of hogwash mixed with a good amount of whitewash! Don’t get me started on this one for Godsake”!

So, at the end of the day, what gives? Since there have been no great positives in either progress report, popular responses or media bytes, it’s quite clear that a better option for Mumbai and Kolkata would have been to either do the PR themselves or to at the most hire a local agency with a sound understanding... Or are we just envious, eh?


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sinful Indulgence or Simply Science?

Many complain that celebs in India Demand “Exorbitant Sums” As Endorsers. They say it is sinful. Empirical Evidence, However, Proves them wrong – The Critics have even failed to read the amounts specified on hefty cheques that Hollywood Stars earn for the same. lessons (At Least One) to learn from the Endorsement Drama

SRK, Big B, M.S. Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and every single Bollywood star (and now even Telly stars) or sportsperson worth anything with achievements under his/her belt, have leapt onto the ‘celeb endorsement’ bandwagon and are having a blast! Apparently, the Indian celebrity endorsement market last year itself crossed Rs.450 crores. While critics have cried hoarse over this development and have openly questioned the credibility and effectiveness of ‘bizarre’ coupling [say, a combo of M.S. Dhoni, Kailash Kher and Sushmita Sen endorsing real estate!], there are the intelligent stars who have a strong logic defending their case. One of them is King Khan, who attempts to explain the rationale as: “Let us get some facts straight. No one has forced these intelligent, qualified and hi-profile advertising professionals to hire our services to help sell their products, right? They are all seasoned communication experts, with total knowledge and awareness of both their consumers and brands. Surely, they must have seen something in us – as a powerful, seductive and persuasive link – which helps them bridge the communications gap in an effective and meaningful manner.”

Science, empirical evidence and research supports his argument. Robert Clark and Ignatius Hortsmann, in their notable research ‘Celebrity Endorsements’ statistically prove that “celebrities enhance product recall [and] consumer perception of product value.” More importantly, they write, “Consumers value more highly a product endorsed by a celebrity than one without a celebrity endorsement.” Wharton’s Eric Bradlow writes in his research ‘Advertise yourself’ that it is important “to reach out to people who are ‘influencers’. Everyone should have a list of 20 or 30 people who will act as their ambassadors.” Miciak and Stanlin’s research also shows that now, “Celebrity endorsements work so well that about 20% of all TV commercials [globally] feature a celebrity.” Surely, there are no free lunches anymore and every single advertiser takes this route after a lot of deliberation. And as far as the brand ambassadors are concerned, representing a brand is a straight barter deal, based on demand-and-supply, because in this age of commodification, everything comes with a price-tag.

However, conservative critics carp that our ‘A-listers’ merrily sell out to the highest bidder, which is not what you would expect out of a Sean Connery, an Al Pacino, a Jack Nicholson, a Meryll Streep or any one of weightage or worth. They have principles, values and professional focus – they insist so – and they wouldn’t dream of jumping on the ad-train, just for big bucks. They do not flamboyantly pose for a brand, irrespective of the fit. Sadly, the critics are mistaken here too. Horner, Proctor, Bonnie, Whiten and de Waal in a 2010 study proved that the key factor is prestige of the endorser (rather than, say, the fit). Of course, their research was done on chimps – to prove that even chimps get influenced by endorsements!

But it would be wrong to accuse just our own stars for walking away with big bucks for a pose. Hollywood too doesn’t come cheap for the advertisers, where exorbitant sums are charged whether or not there is an association of the celebrity with the brand/product. Here goes some of them... Leading the pack is the gorgeous Mrs. Michael Douglas – the Welsh beauty, Catherine Zeta Jones. Her alleged 11 million pounds contract with T-mobile, along with some other deals (including being the ‘face’ of a large cosmetic brand) is nothing short of being out of this world. The red-hot, always-in-the-news Angelina Jolie is up next. The hi-profile (Wanted) Tomb-Raider of a Brand Ambassador for causes and concerns for children of a lesser god, scooped up a cool 7 million pounds for her collaboration with luxury fashion label St. John. Before the birth of her twins, Pretty Woman Julia Roberts, was focused on her latest ‘production’, full-on. Afterwards, she consciously eased-off from the movie scene for a while to do the less strenuous and demanding ad-modeling. Her 5 million-plus dollars for Granfranco Terse was a case in point. The supernova Nicole Kidman isn’t far behind. She is said to have earned a whopping 7 million pounds for her appearance in one of Chanel’s ultra high-end perfume ad. Jessica Simpson with her tie-ups – Breath mints and adult acne products – attracted telephone number endorsement fee cheques too! Gwyneth Paltrow and Charlize Theron, complete the list. While it is rumoured that the former was paid a beautiful 3.4 million pounds for an Estee Lauder fragrance ad, the latter pocketed 3.4 million pounds to front an accessories brand. The lone guy in this female trip appropriately was super hunk Brad Pitt. His engagement with Heineken Beer fetched him a spirited 2.3 million pounds. And as this issue goes for print, the word is out that 42 year-old Julia Roberts has just clinched a staggering 50 million dollars deal for endorsing the cosmetic range of Lancome. Sports stars in the US earn a gross $1.1 billion on celebrity endorsements. These sums added together only make our own star endorsers look far too humble and not too expensive to have them stand next to your brand!

So at the end of the day, one thing is clear: Endorsements are neither sinful nor dumb, neither life-transforming or soul-uplifting. It completely depends on the marketing focus, consumer profile and prestige of the brand personality. Yes, finally, it is totally the advertiser’s call. The sharper the understanding of the mix, more effective and meaningful is the final synergy. Encouragement with a high-degree of intelligence is key. Rest is well with Indian celebs and the cheques they demand. If anyone has a complaint, there are close alternatives available – go fetch


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Let’s get love back!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the strange paucity of ‘Love-Ads’ currently and exhorts, subjectively of course, the pundits to – well – get love back!
The most revered, hymned and celebrated emotion in this world is alas, allocated [by the powers that are!] only one calendar day in the year: Valentine’s Day! And boy, is there an overdrive – across all markets – to hard-sell heart-sell! But look around and suddenly you’ll realise that there’s a strange paucity of ‘love communication’. In other words, ads today are harping about technological prowess, or pricing coups, or even off-the-zonker humour... where the hell did the cheesy love ads disappear to?

And that at a time when the nation is brimming with Don Juanistic fervour. Never in recorded history has there been such a titanic need, hunger and desire for love. Quickly translated, the market for love is… unimaginable! Hard-boiled cynics and myopic marketers may dismiss this line of thought but the savvy, intelligent, sensitive, emo-tracking communication dude gets the drift and taps, full-on, with thumper results! It’s not so hard to figure out why, really. Look around and you see this strange scene with human beings longing to invest in emotion, love, imagination and feelings, both in their life and work, but most of them have one major problem: They don’t have a clue! Declares Isha Khan, a Corporate Consultant, “They are caught flat-footed in the challenge of translating love into a palpable, tangible and credible action. Comprehensively and totally foxed at the task of dovetailing innovation speed and flexibility with the magic and mystique of bonding.” To grounded people (not totally consumed or corrupted by gross and crass materialism that surrounds us), the solution is simple: Get back to Basics. Junk those bulky reports. Dump those research studies. Give love a chance. Leverage this amazing emotion as a strategic device for an enduring emotional connect – with every member across your target group/constituency – and watch the bottomline soar!

Genuine, sensitive and smart communicators have always understood, recognised and leveraged this emotion intelligently to escape from the dreaded ‘commodity trap’ and place brands where they actually belong – at the emotional centric-stage. Confesses veteran behavioural scientist and communication-watcher Kishore Dave, “This is a hallowed space reserved for charismatic brands – Pepsi, Coke, Reebok, Nike, Apple, Fevicol, Vodafone, Airtel, Lux, Surf, HDFC, Samsung, Archies – which inspire a kind of passion and loyalty that are both off-limits and non-negotiable to the touts. Also, what better time than now – harsh, tough, cynical and complex – to bring back the past and get love back-on-track. Celebrate love as emotion, inspiration and motivation Number One! Reaffirm what smart ad guys and marketers have known all along... that in the endless battle lines between emotion and reason, the former leads to action; the latter, only to conclusion”.

Finally, if fun, sensuality, mystery and intimacy enthrall, engage, entertain, enrich and empower life, why should they be blinkered off from the communication thrust related to trade and commerce, business and industry? Aren’t they driven by people? Why not substitute the dumb, impersonal, corporatised passion-trimmed-into-efficiency mode with a strong, personal and emotional connect. Starbucks, Café Coffee Day, Barista and the new Bank (ICICI) ads seem to be doing it, brilliantly, all the time. Explains Creative Director Kaushik Sen, “They’ve understood that the rules of the game have changed. It’s no longer only about consumer contact programmes; it’s about hanging out and being involved. Not about taking notes – but taking the pulse. Also, they’ve recognised that the research guys, after researching the hell out of what they believe needs to be researched, have conveniently ignored the rest.” The truth is – everything of value cannot be probed, dissected, analysed, scanned and researched for the right answer. Why? Because then we are in danger (As one perceptive pundit brilliantly put it) of being exactly wrong instead of being approximately right. Of placing consumers at the base of the pyramid rather than the centre. Of mistaking the fingers on our hands for the beat of our hearts.

So what’s the take out? As an ad guru has pointed out with rare perception and sensitivity, we need to stop talking about love and emotion and set it to work; blend it to the rampaging, new age emotion economy. The entertainment industry is a brilliant setting. It appeals to our creative, unconscious and intuitive side – zones that operate beyond rationality and rules, celebrating story-telling mystery and metaphor.

So at the end of the day: Is love a mango? A four letter word? Or a many splendoured thing? The April rose that only grows in early spring? Nature’s way of giving a reason to living, the golden crown that makes a man a king? You decide, but yes... the jury is out and the popular consensus is that [everything considered], love is indeed the CEO that presides over all constituencies and target groups simply because it unfailingly conquers the most significant, critical, precious, sacrosanct and empowering territory of all, your heart! And it’s time we got love back into the ad-business!


Thursday, October 07, 2010


In this fascinating and rollicking first-person-account, the noted veteran ad-industry maverick, monojit lahiri, tracks the changing contours of India’s adscape over the last three and a half decades … and is convinced that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Phew! From “Thank God you’re not one of those small-town, vernac types, dear boy” to “Oye angrez, Hindi aati hai?”… we’ve indeed come a long way! But to begin at the beginning, it was a completely different planet, the India and Kolkata of the early seventies and a totally different adspace too. Fresh out of college (St. Xaviers, Kolkata, English Hons.) I had three choices staring at me, menacingly. Journalism, Academics, Advertising. The first was tempting because I loved and enjoyed writing and was a fairly regular contributor to (the now defunct) JS, as also some other colour supplements. The second was scary as hell… I couldn’t ever see myself doing an MA, going up to Oxford and returning to teach students – mostly bored as hell – the beauty, meaning and value of the English language! The third, advertising, was hands-down hot! It promised leveraging of language in an unusual setting and excitement, of an informal and unconventional nature, in the workplace. My (late) father, Sanat Lahiri, who was a huge name in the communication industry of those times, was delighted that I was coming into this line of work, but quite put off by the reason! However, entering the portals of the city’s – and India’s – largest agency JWT (then HTA) I remember feeling, by turn excited, nervous, apprehensive. The first two, because HTA, Kolkata was a prized branch with most of the hi-ticket (ITC, Brooke Bond, Union Carbide, HMV, Nestle, Metal Box, to name some) accounts in JWT’s bag, stupendous billing, solidly effective work and led by a truly iconic leader, Subhash Ghoshal. Apprehensive, because of my sudden feeling of paralysing inadequacy… Would I be able to bridge the impossibly bizarre gap between Shakespeare & Shelly, Dickens, Lamb & Shaw, Donne & Swinburne and somewhat un-literary lines like ‘just for fun’, ‘chew some gum’, chiclet?!

Looking back, those early days were tough, confusing and difficult. Advertising, writing was not about beautiful language but tapping, inventing and creating word-pictures that linked the brand to the consumer in an engaging and interesting way. Luckily, I soon got the hang of it and was thrilled when my hot-shot copy chief ‘okayed’ my first ad. “Yup, you’re getting the drift, lad. Good. Now, run down and get your masterpiece translated in Hindi, okay? There’s this shabby-looking, pan-chewing, pyjama-kurta clad character sitting at a desk next to the staircase. You can’t miss him, son, he’s one in a million!” Loud guffaw.

Cut to year 2009. I am into this big discussion of how creativity in advertising is shifting lanes with a brilliant and successful, hi-profile creative hot-shot. I am waxing eloquent to this person about this outstanding writer I knew of, creator of some brilliant campaigns, winner of ‘best copywriter of the year award’ a zillion times, when my friend gently interrupts and asks about his present status. I am about to say that he’s moved out of the big league with his art partner to start his own outfit and must be surely doing very well, when my friend, with a wicked smile, interjects, “The reason for his fadeout was simple. Bhaisaab ko Hindi nahi aati thi boss [He did not know Hindi]!” Laughter.

Prasoon Joshi, my pretty concise friend above, wasn’t being conceited, sarcastic or smart-backed. He was (in his own witty way) hitting the button, spot-on. I should know. Back then in the seventies, there definitely existed a huge colonial hangover which spawned an indisputable ‘caste system’. Multi-nationals boomed and defined the culture, environment and ambience of the times. English was the preferred and desired lingua-franca of adland and everything else was perceived as down-market and vernac(ular)! The ruling and dazzling ad stars of those days – Alyque Padamsee, Gerson Da Cunha, Sylvie Da Cinha, Kersey Katra, Mohammed Khan, Frank Simoes, Nargis Wadia… to name a few – fitted seamlessly into that rarified (elitist?) clique. Everybody else was… not quite there. Western music, English theatre, clubs, parties, avant garde cinema, poetry-reading sessions – it was pretty much like a private club where trespassers (at best) could be tolerated; though seldom accepted. It might come as a shock to today’s ad-progenies to know that even the likes of Piyush Pandey and Prasoon Joshi had to cool their heels for a considerable period of time before getting their due worth. Why? Simple. They just didn’t ‘belong’!

It was the 21` Idiot Box that really marked the first ground-breaking change in this structure, mind-set, pecking-order, hierarchy. (Admittedly, Lintas did have an excellent language copy section, but it was more of a sideshow because the times were English!) Suddenly, the way communication was conceived, presented and consumed underwent a seismic change. On cue, the ad world (forever watching and tracking) got ready to change gears, switch lanes and hit the gas pedal. They noticed the stirring and enthusiastic reception of an audience (read: potential consumer) base, well beyond the traditional, metro centres with interest. However, to connect with this constituency, one needed a different sensibility in terms of mindset, language, nuance, etc, a continent away from the urban, anglicized, suited-booted variety, residing at South Bombay, Chowringhee, Connaught Place… Could the ruling ‘saab-brigade’ be able to rise and accept the challenge? This is exactly where and when seeds sown by erstwhile, unsung and unremembered visionaries like Kamlesh Pandey and Suresh Mallik – among others – started to flower and bloom. While the ‘Koi Hai?’ school of advertising weren’t hurled into exile, Advantage Bharat came into being, threatening fresh momentum each day! This wasn’t a fad but dictated clearly by the new market forces that spawned a brand new consumer universe – confident, comfortable in their vernac skin and refusing to be bullied into being forced to worship everything angrez; cash-rich, ready to turn consumer but on their own terms and through communication, language, idiom & metaphors of their choice.

The industry’s response to this cataclysmic change was spearheaded by the erstwhile Servicing Executive and later ‘language’ Copy Chief (as the Hindi copywriters were dismissively and condescendingly referred to) of Ogilvy, Piyush Pandey. Promoted to CD and later NCD, Pandey with CEO Ranjan Kapur, soon formed a formidable duo that was to change the face of advertising in India. Kapur believes that it was his creative partner “who gave our national language the pride of place it deserves and forever banished the anglicized, South Bombay brand of effete advertising.” Along the way, he made two outstanding contributions – celebrated ‘emotion’ as the ‘real’ core of advertising and moved ‘language copy’ from eek to wow – from the backroom to the front office! A great, disciplined, caring, responsible and hands-on leader who mentored a galaxy of creative hotties burning up today’s adbiz – Sonal Dabral, Prasoon Joshi, Bobby Pawar, Pushpinder Singh, Josy Paul, Abhinay Deo, Sagar Mahabelashwar Kar, Kamal Basu, Mahesh Chauhan, Satbir Singh… the list is endless. Pandey was also largely instrumental in “nationalising’ Indian advertising. Paul believes he made it more personal and “replaced the voice of God with the sound of humanity.” Through a touch of alchemy he seemed to morph, convert and transform Hindi into a language that the Indian heart understood, loved and resonated with the best. Right from Chal Meri Luna, through to Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, Heere Ko Kya Pata Tumhara Umar Kya Hai, the Cadbury and Fevicol classics, Ogilvy’s mustachioed mavericks worked to seamlessly bind India to the best of the ad universe. Today, the war has already been won, or lost, depending on whose perspective you’re using to look – Hindi and Hinglish advertising reign supreme. Whether it’s the Humko Binnies Mangta to Yehi Hai Right Choice Baby, Thanda Mutlab Coca-Cola, Dil Mange More, Oye Bubbly, Teda Hai Per Mera Hai, Youngistan Ka Wow… the deluge rages on.

Beyond this shift from Sala Mein to Saab Ban Gaya to Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, there have been other startling changes too, the blazing and vibrant celebration of ‘Youngistan’ in ad land heading the list. In the seventies, it was unheard of to have anybody who didn’t have grey hair or proven calendar years of experience hit any designation of authority. In the 90s, Nirvik Singh headed the Kolkata branch of Grey at age 26. By age 33, he was CEO! Praveen Kenneth took over as CEO of Publicis India at 29. Mahesh Chauhan became the CEO of Everest at 35 while Raj Kurup became a superstar CD of Grey at 30. Arun Iyer, the 32 year old NCD of Lowe Lintas endorsed Subodh Menon, age 26 … Youngistan ka wow - and how! In a business where human insights and visceral connect rules, where the audacity of daring to adventure and explore new means, methods and technologies to communicate in an engaging and interesting manner to the chosen constituency is critical, dumb, and moth-balled rules don’t count and nor should (automatically) the zillion years’ experience. Performance is the key. Unburdened by baggage, never taking their eyes off the ball, the best of the new kids on the block are re-defining the rules of the game. More wind beneath their wings! The other fascinating difference is the recognition and celebration of creativity as the primal force in the advertising process. Fierce competition and brand-building has placed creativity as the single greatest differentiator in the consumer mindscape, making it both a job description and a goal. Beyond pretty pictures and clever phrasing, the best of today’s advertising repeatedly demonstrate the art of creating exciting, engaging and relatable advertising – irrespective of how dull and boring the product maybe – beyond its category riding on the BIG IDEA. In the last few years, Indian Advertising Inc.’s blazing performances at Cannes – the Oscars of the ad world – and the huge respect, applause, awards and accolade accorded to several of our gifted, ad luminaries bears fitting testimony to the fact that Indian advertising – and creativity – has indeed come of age.

What else? The mind blowing spread and reach of new age media avenues and technology to grab and zap consumers wherever they are, whatever sex age and background they be! The fantastic rise and rise of the smaller agencies, doing path-breaking work, earning respect and winning large accounts in competition with the giants. The wonderful infusion of brilliant talent from non-metro, small towns (placed 47th from left in the bad old days!) to offer and provide ‘mitti ki khushboo’ to products and services, alien to the urban sensibility, and of course the deadly ménage-e-trois between Bollywood, cricket & ad land.

How do I look back, as a communication practitioner on the tumultuous and eventful three and a half decade journey? Mostly, as an exciting, entertaining and enriching chronicle and commentary of the life and times we lived through. Was everything about yesteryear’s ad land boring, unprofessional and irrelevant – and everything today, spot-on, exciting and sexy? Not at all! Focus, content and treatment – the creative package – is defined by the trends, demands and compulsion of the time and environment we live in. Some of the work that stars like Frank Simoes, Kersey Katrak, Sylvie DaCohna and Alyque Padamsee, for example did, was truly brilliant and easily comparable to anything done today. On the other hand, a lot of today’s material, in the guise of great advertising, sucks! Value judgment is dangerous and likely to be inaccurate, subjective and unfair. Sure, there were – and will always be – the fakes, pretenders, clones, windbags, dwarfs desperately trying to play giant but that comes with the territory. However, I believe two aberrations need to be addressed, quickly. One, the mindless obsession to hit the “Hindi” track, come what may. The brilliant Agnello (Taproots) Dias offers an amused take. “This Hindi- mania has come to such a stage that new, young aspirants hesitate to forward their English-speaking (school, college, institute) credentials, lest they be ridiculed by the Hindi brigade with ‘Oye, angrez, hindi aati hai’?’..” While he acknowledges and admires the path-breaking contribution done by Messrs Piyush, Prasoon and gang, he wonders if they ever realised that they were unleashing a rampaging Frankenstein’s monster! Add to that the hysterical promotion and projection of ad celebs instead of brands and serious issues, involving the industry; and what you have is not a sign of the times ... it’s uninformed and lazy journalism.

At the end of the day, the basic tenets of great advertising will always endure an engaging, entertaining, enriching and empowering way to involve and connect the prospect to the brand; to perceive each finishing line as a fresh starting point... and the exponents of this elusive craft will always be individuals who have the sensitivity, feel and chutzpah to context life. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And so to, tomorrow...


Thursday, September 23, 2010


Smaller Agencies are cracking the glass ceiling and breaking through to grab A-list clients, earlier reserved for the biggies.
Even a decade ago, could you have ever imagined corporate giants like ITC, Godfrey Phillips, TOI, Audi, Diesel, Platinum, Emirates or Renault cosying-up with any agency that did not feature among the top 5 in adland? Would these organisations ever dream of risking going to a small shop, no matter how hot the buzz they generated? Well, times, they are a-changin’, because that’s exactly what seems to be happening. In recent times, whether it’s Strawberry Frogs (Emirates), Law & Kenneth (Renault), Creativeland Asia (Audi), Taproot (TOI), Shop (Godfrey Phillips), Happy (Diesel), Metal (Platinum)… small agencies are indeed making big waves. What’s up? Has there been a paradigm shift in the mindset of the Indian management big boys? Are they, now, prepared to put their money where their mouth is? Is risky, edgy work slowly finding favour in place of predictable, stodgy stuff? Does this move signal a return to basics?

Ogilvy’s NCD Abhijit Avasthi takes first strike. He believes that since advertising is an idea-driven business, clients will always be drawn to any agency – small or big – who can provide that. “It’s never a conscious decision regarding scale or size. It’s usually governed by three factors: Great ideas, ability to take it through – in terms of infrastructure and media-engagement to ensure effective delivery – and the capacity to afford the agency of his choice”. He is convinced that any agency that can think fresh and stay ahead of the game has no reason to feel threatened. Santosh Desai, Communication Guru & CEO, Future Group, has a different take. He believes that smaller agencies shouldn’t be perceived small only on the cinema of size or scale. “Their uniqueness lies in the fact that these shops are about creative ambience which is brilliantly appropriate in a time when the ad business is definitely moving ahead to be governed – more than ever before – by the creative product. Most larger legacy-agencies, unfortunately, continue to be deeply entrenched in a structure, hierarchy and traditional blue-print and cannot be as free-spirited, edgy, quirky, interesting and nimble-footed as the smaller shops. Clients too, often find it easier to engage with these entities because, apart from fresh ideas, they are always available for interaction, which helps effective and prompt delivery,” says Desai. Everything considered, he is delighted at this move and believe it is an idea whose time has come.

Arvind Sharma, head honcho of Leo Burnett is up next with his informed take on this contentious debate. He believes that this animal – small, edgy shops – has always been around and appeared seductive to one kind of client. Earlier there were the Enterprises & Contracts of the world. Even earlier, there was the mother of them all, MCM, headed by the late Kersey Katrak. “These shops are headed by creative entrepreneurs driven by different motivations. They break away from large agencies because they begin to find it too complex and restricting and want to fly. The blueprint can be perfect for one set of clients, but with larger clients demanding larger scale and width of services, can this work? Can they match up with the resources of larger agencies dedicated to continuously engage in exploring newer innovative avenues related to brands & ideas,” asks Sharma. TOI’s Director, Brand Management Rahul Kansal is more forthcoming. He is of the opinion that there has been a definite and dramatic paradigm shift in thinking from the client’s perspective. Earlier, the larger multi-nationals were more comfortable with the legacy-agencies because there was – they believed – compatibility in terms of an MBA connect and so forth. “Strategy and marketing consultancy ruled. Over time, clients got their act together, by learning and monitoring these areas themselves. They realised that ultimately the creative product was what they were looking at and sought out agencies that could provide that,” says Kansal. The movers n’ shakers of both Shop and Taproot (Birdy-Akhtar & Aggi-Paddy) were known to him, personally and professionally, so there was a huge comfort level. Cutting-edge quality with speed was easier to access with these guys because of the nature of these agencies and relationship. Arvind Wable, Chief of FCB Ulka, North doesn’t quite agree. He reckons that “these flirtations are not new and have existed all along. Most of them have not survived because in the bigger space, the boys have been separated from the men! When the clients are looking for communication engagement across all media parameter and avenues, we are talking resources and infrastructure along with management skills of a mega nature. Can they ever hope to match that? They are okay for one-off ad campaigns and lightweight stuff, but anything of scale, size and dimension mandated for the long haul … no chance!”

The last words fittingly must come from Aggie & Paddy whose one-year old agency Taproots is considered the hottest shop in town! While Paddy believes that “there is enough place for everybody,” Aggie warns that jumping to conclusions is silly. “These are early days for some of us who have broken away to start our own agencies and consistency is what is required to actually address this question change,” says Paddy. While their rampage continues – the latest acquisition being National Geographic Channel and Blackrock, the largest mutual fund company in the world – his focus and wit remain intact. “If you can manage to stand up and be wanted among the Goliaths of adland, I guess it’s going okay!” says Paddy. As for the future, you guessed it… you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, baby!


Thursday, August 26, 2010


Are women despite their education, intelligence, purchasing-power and increasing space in the Corporate Pecking Order, still treated as second-class citizens and patronised by male marketers?

“Hello? Good morning Ma’am. I have some very exciting investment opportunities. Can I please talk to Mr. Anderson?” Clara Anderson, the wife, [incidentally] is an extremely successful and highly paid executive in a blue chip multi-national. She is 35 years old. Does she feel insulted, humiliated or piqued at being summarily dismissed only because she is a woman? Did the tele-marketing executive know that she earned more than her husband? That she had a solid bank balance, drove her own car, owned several credit cards, travelled abroad on work…? Of course not – but, everything said and done, this was a financial thing and men were best [and meant] to handle this stuff best, right? Women didn’t understand this. They were into sentiment and emotion and pink floral motifs, not logic, analysis or number crunching, right? This sweeping stereotyping continues despite some startling facts. A recent US Survey has indicated that women control $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, which could rocket to $28 trillion by 2014! Also their $13 trillion yearly earning could zoom to $18 trillion in the same period! The survey further adds that in sheer aggregate terms, women represent a growth-curve bigger than India or China. Still, in India too, a tunnel-view, patronising attitude persists towards women.

Social Scientist Ashwin Chaturvedi believes it has to do with male conditioning screaming “It’s a man’s world” in the brain! This is so deeply embedded in the male marketer’s mind that he can’t seem to let go. Unfortunately, the fact is, every single day is a lost opportunity for this stone-age marketer and he needs a quick, crash course in learning to sell to women; to keep his ears to the ground, observe, listen, ask questions, understand absorb, connect. A 2008 research study tracked how women felt about their work, lives, and most importantly how they were being served by business. Despite their new-found status and position in the professional and social space, they largely felt [everywhere on earth] undeserved, undervalued and underestimated. Their multi-tasking is well-known, but how many marketers have been smart or sensitive to offer them time-saving solutions specially designed for them? The report states that even today it’s real tough for a lady to locate a pair of trousers, buy a healthful meal, and receive focused, financial advice without feeling she is being patronised. Cars; sold for men. Houses; sold for families. TVs and electronic goods; ditto. And when would they be sold to women? Only when they’re pasted bright pink/yellow/purple in colour.

Women have noted this apathy and started to get pro-active. Female marketers are coming to the fore to effect excellent corrective measures in areas which are believed to be traditionally male-dominated … like Real Estate! And rocking the status quo, big time! Leveraging their female intuition brilliantly, surveys indicate that at least 62% of the women investors today are planning to expand their portfolio and over 30% admit that the credit crunch has had no impact on their portfolio plans. They are radically revamping the sector with increased professionalism, attention to detail and superior customer service which includes home and family – friendly incentives. This outstanding initiative, blending creativity with pragmatism has brought forth a Property Women’s Award “a forum which recognises the success of women who are creating opportunities and taking control,” says Melissa Porter who launched this award.

It’s time to forget “girly marketing” which is often defined as: anything that’s pink and assumes all women are devoted single-mindedly to shopping, dieting and having their nails done! Marketers do it because it’s voguish and familiar. According to Andrea Learned [hi-profile author & consultant who advises marketers to effectively reach women beyond gender advertising stereotypes], “Women’s standards in purchasing are higher than men, so in satisfying women’s requirements they will brilliantly serve both and dramatically improve the overall customer experience.” She further suggests three simple tips to the chauvinistic male marketer, “One, use storytelling. Women love narratives. Two, provide tools and service toanswer consumer’s questions and increase their comfort levels with the product. Three, form a Customer Advisory Board that includes women members.”

In conclusion, men might be from Mars and women might be from Venus – their drives and sensibilities are different – but it’s time to respect, recognise and acknowledge the power and equity of women customers. They have rightfully started trashing male-specific selling patterns and dumped the one-size-fits-all pitch, demanding attention that understands and responds to their very special wants, needs, desires, insecurities, aspirations, fears, dreams … Is it too much to ask for a fraternity that occupies half the sky?


Thursday, July 29, 2010


Bollywood-Stars’ Merchandise Fails to Ignite Sales! Reasons?
As everybody and their toothless aunts know, it doesn’t get hotter than Bollywood when it comes to connecting with the teeming masses in India. Movies, shows, endorsements... stars rock big! By the same token, shouldn’t co-branding or lending their name [or initials] to merchandise spell an automatic, super-duper sale? In the West, it sure does! Be it Paris Hilton, Tiger Woods, Britney Spears, Michael Jordan, Kate Winslet, J.Lo, Justin Timberlake, Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta Jones, they all burn the consumer radar.

Alas, here – despite the Bolly-crazed fans – the same doesn’t seem to find the resonance of the West. The sizzling sex-symbol of the seventies, Zeenat Aman was first off the block with a perfume named after her. Nightingale Lata Mangeshkar followed. The luminous beauty Madhuri Dixit joined the party too with a range of herbal hair and skin care products by Emami (under the brand Beauty Secrets by Madhuri). In more recent times, John Abraham’s The John Abraham Wrangler Clothing, a premium prêt denim line, took off, as did Shilpa Shetty’s S2, a new fragrance. “The fragrance pays homage to Shilpa’s Indian heritage and appeal to the European market,” explains the perfume creator, Mark Earnshaw. Reports indicated that in the West, the brand beat off stiff competition from such big stars like Paris Hilton, J.Lo and Sarah Jessica Parker to reach the number 3 spot in two weeks flat of its launch! Shilpa and Bipasha Basu also have workout videos now; and before we forget, even the Little Master Sachin Tendulkar co-created a toothpaste named Sach with the Future Group (with the tagline, ‘Ab din ki shurvat, Sach se!’).

The Big B and SRK have also done their number in this area. While Paris-based perfume major Lomani launched a perfume named after Amitabh Bachchan, a French company, Jeanne Arthes introduced a perfume, Tiger Eyes by SRK, and flooded lifestyle outlets and malls with it. “For his zillion fans, it is the romantic King Khan captured in a bottle,” says Director of Jeannes Arthes Board, Thibaud Perrin.

Has all of this, however, captured the popular imagination of the Indian consumer? Have the B-town worshippers been inspired, motivated, charged or excited to turn buyer and choose these specific brands as their ‘preferred’ ones because of loyalty?

Surveys and studies reveal that the Indian consumer definitely loves the Bolly-stars – then what comes when it’s about picking perfumes? Explains 19-year old Mumbai-based Maya Sen. “I wouldn’t dream of picking up any of the local perfumes! For me, I’d stick to my foreign brands, any day”. She is not alone. Vinod Behl agrees. The 25-year-old Bangalore based techie says, “The Big B, SRK and gang are cool stars. I love watching their moves & antics but buying their named brands is not for me! I’d happily stick to overseas brands, anytime.” Strangely, current research corroborates this think amongst the consumer class of today.

Harmeet Singh of Fragrance Lounge confesses that few people buy fragrances for the celeb factor. “It’s invariably Dior, Givenchy, Calvin Klein & Armani that are in high demand. Neither markets nor mindscapes are developed or sophisticated enough for the local fare,” says Macwinn Fernandes, spokesperson for the perfumes division of the multi-brand store, Shoppers Stop.

Why this West-is-best movement? Behavioural Scientist Anand Halve believes it is both about mental conditioning and track record. “From time immemorial, ‘foreign’ and ‘imported’ have been magical words, right? They have evoked images of quality and class in look, feel and delivery. Even today in most FMCGs, the stuff from abroad is ‘perceived’ to be superior, right? Can the best of whisky, wines or beer; apparel, footwear or perfumes, gadgets... whatever, match theirs? This is not to devalue our stuff, but it is truly an unequal battle. Besides, the core competence of celebrities – especially ours – is not attuned towards a practical brand-fit. Think about it: Lata and perfumes? Sachin and toothpaste?”

For decades, big iconic foreign names have dominated our minds when perfumes, bags, belts and female toiletries & accessories are discussed. These are revered global brands, hymned and celebrated from time immemorial. Compared to them, the B-town offerings are new, untried and untested, with only the celeb-name lending it some credibility. They could well be excellent, but to build brand confidence, credibility and equity in another sphere against world class brands like Dior or Givenchy, is going to be very difficult. In today’s world, a discerning consumer actually buys a highbrow branded product (a Louis Vuitton product, for example) because it actually lasts longer, looks better, and satisfies the utility factor to a much larger extent than other brands.

Bolly-brands have to realise that the Indian mind has to be first de-colonised and seduced with reasons that better be really convincing, both on the ground [Why should I buy it? How is it better than them?] and in the mind [what will it do to me, for me? How will it empower me?]. The day that happens, Shilpa Shetty will have scored a bull’s eye.

Until then, Bolly celebs with merchandise named after them... freeze! Clearly, it’s not an idea whose time has come!


Thursday, July 15, 2010


Love, love, love... Look around, and chances are you’ll find a marketer peddling love faster than you’d your own spectacles. Will we ever get over this infatuation with love?

The maximum number of songs are made on one topic – love – in the same way as the maximum number of advertisements are. Read one novel that does not entertain the philosophy of love (or its anti-thesis, hatred) and most probably you’d be reading your college course notes. Specialised ad agencies like Love Advertising (which handles ads for Papa John’s, Luby’s, USO and others), Love Creative (Nike, Microsoft, BBC...) are thriving on tom-tomming their niche specialization in creating ‘love’ ads. Novels like All’s Fair in Love and Advertising (Lenore Black), Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel (Jean Kilbourne) are thriving on the over-infatuation with love of the ad-world and of consumers too one might feel. ABC’s best known print ads (to promote their soaps) still are their decades old Love In The Afternoon ad series; Apple till date sells the Mac with the punch line Why You’ll Love The Mac! You might adore the concept or detest it, but that makes no difference to the fact that love drives much of the commercial communication material for marketers. Isn’t it time we got over this infatuation with ‘love’ and moved over to presenting hard facts about the product/service/offering? Well, the anti-thesis is, should we even try to?

Corporate consultant Isha Khan comments, “Never in recorded history has there been such a titanic need, hunger and desire for love. Quickly translated, the market for love is… unimaginable! Look around and you see this strange scene with human beings longing to invest in emotion, love, imagination and feelings, both in their life and work, but most of them have one major problem: They don’t have a clue! They are caught flat-footed in the challenge of translating love into a palpable, tangible and credible action.” To grounded people (not totally consumed or corrupted by gross and crass materialism that surrounds us), the solution is simple: Get back to basics. Junk those bulky reports. Dump those research studies. Exploit love. Leverage this amazing dopamine as a strategic device for an enduring emotional connect – with every member across your target group/constituency – and watch the bottom line soar on the backs of addicts, love addicts!

One does accept that even genuine, sensitive and smart communicators have recognized and leveraged this emotion intelligently to escape from the dreaded ‘commodity trap’ and place brands where they actually belong – emotional centric-stage. Confesses veteran behavioural scientist and communication watcher Kishore Dave, “This is a hallowed space reserved for charismatic brands, which inspire a kind of passion and loyalty that are both off-limits and non-negotiable to the touts. Also, what better time than now – harsh, tough, cynical and complex – to bring back the past and get love back-on-track. Celebrate love as emotion, inspiration and motivation number one! Reaffirm what smart ad guys and marketers have known all along... that in the endless battle lines between emotion and reason, the former leads to action; the latter, only to conclusion”.

Starbucks, Cafe Coffee Day, Barista and the new Bank (ICICI) ads seem to be doing it, brilliantly, all the time. Explains Creative Director Kaushik Sen, “They’ve understood that the rules of the game have changed. It’s no longer only about consumer contact programmes; it’s about hanging out and being involved.”

The April rose that only grows in early spring, nature’s way of giving a reason to living, the golden crown that makes a man a king? You decide, but yes… the popular consensus is that everything considered, love is indeed the CEO that presides over all target groups simply because it unfailingly conquers the most significant, critical, precious sacrosanct and rewarding territory of all… your heart! Our call – just do it!


Thursday, July 01, 2010


Suddenly its ‘rush-hour’ for ads that are exhibitionistic, corny, pontifical, brain-dead, boring... Why such hara-kiri and determination to muck it up? Here’s a checkout!
It is a sad commentary of contemporary life that while communication continues to take quantum leaps towards building bridges (thanks to technological advancements), the barrier between individuals, at a human level, continues to widen, mocking the grand design. Sane and clued-in communicators keep trying to keep the equilibrium in balance, but mostly, it’s a losing battle. Why? Answers eminent social scientist Ashish Nandy, “The communication is sabotaged by the hysterical anxiety of some individuals, organisations and brand-custodians to be seen, heard and noticed at any cost! Sign of the times, I suppose”. Okay, ready to cut to the chase? All set to identify five simple identifiable common mistakes that invariably rain on the ad-parade? Here’s the list:


Whether it’s the iconic Big B endorsing Binani Cement, Hema Malini praising Kent Water Purifier, Dhoni championing the cause of Amrapali, advertisers have used celebrities with a certain logic in their mind. Unfortunately, this has also resulted in many others jumping onto celebrities without any real reason – be it new cell phone manufacturers using cricketers, or photographer Atul Kasbekar selling a car or even the erstwhile New Delhi traffic commissioner Kiran Bedi indicating Ariel is the best. Where’s the rhyme or reason? The whopper example was when brewery giant Anheuser-Busch used Eric Clapton (and one of his songs) for their ads, at a time when Eric Clapton was a self-confessed alcoholic spending time in a detox facility. Lesson 1: Don’t use celebrities just for the heck of it!


Once upon a time, there reigned the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) as invented by the great Rosser Reeves. It worked because some products were indeed blessed with unique and special attributes. Today, thanks to technology, most attributes are generic, duplicable and hence vulnerable, leading guru John Hegarty to say, “USP has given way to ESP, Emotional Selling Proposition. Why does one eat, buy, wear, listen, engage with particular brands, people, things? How does it make them feel special or different?” Sadly, of the zillion ads that blitz our eyes (detergents, skin-whiteners, toilet cleaners, toothpaste...), most appear totally interchangeable! Where’s that critical differentiation presented with colour and drama? Where’s the big idea? Why is your car better than the competitors’ cars? Simply because the bozzo in your ad has a taped grin on his face 24x7? Do you really expect consumers to fall head over heels for that?


It is true that we live in stress-driven times and escapist entertainment provides a great break, but it is hard to ignore the famous saying, “No one buys from clowns.” Unlike movies or entertainment avenues, advertising has a job to do – and a critical one at that – Sell! If the basic idea is going to be hijacked by humour or entertainment that is so overwhelming (in style or substance), it becomes black comedy and savagely self-cancelling! There has to be a definite, visible, comprehensible bridge that links the humour to the brand value designed to impact the consumer. As Ad and theatre veteran Bharat Dabolkar says, “Sense of tumour has replaced humour in many ads! The fit has to be seamless, not contrived and promoting the brand, not the joke or the individual.”


“Sure, sex is a traffic-stopper (Crash! Bang!) and sensationalism can get the eyes and mouth to widen like crazy. But at best, these unusual contortions can produce only a one-time sale and contribute zilch towards building brand-values or sustain long-term growth,” says Delhi-based ad veteran Esha Guha. She points out to the Amul Macho, Lux Cosy, flavoured condoms kind of ads and doesn’t know whether “to die laughing or puke all summer!” Like celeb and humour, this genre also demands a definite brand-fit. Outstanding examples are Axe, Tag, Old Spice – products that promote themselves as uncomplicated sexual attractant enhancers. Calvin Klein is another iconic example of successfully imbuing its brand identity with sexuality. Ditto, Victoria’s Secret. Blazing the titillation of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink kind invites attention, err, of the wrong kind. Nothing more.


No ideas? Hit the patriotism button, guys! Come Independence Day, Republic Day, the birth/death anniversary of any great national leader and suddenly the ad-frat freaks out to outdo each other in paying homage to great noble souls whose path/footsteps we are committed to follow. Corny, clichéd visuals accompanied by syrup-drenched text defines these ad aberrations. Does anybody read, notice, remember or care a fig about these zillion ads blitzing supplements? Not a hope in hell! Ad veteran Nargis Wadia points to the recent Gandhi-Mont Blanc ad and is shocked at the insensitivity and the bizarre connect! “For a man who defined simplicity, austerity and a saintly life, this projection was unbelievably weird! Attention at any cost? What’s the world coming to…”! Please, do ditch the patriotic button, if not for the sake of sensibilities, at least for the sake of the nation.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

ZOOZOOS Winners OR Losers?

The most talked about ad property in recent times has, surprisingly, attracted drastically mixed reactions in its second edition, which played out with full force in the recently concluded IPL. Who’s winning? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates

Recreation of real-life situations with rib-tickling and sassy humour through totally side-splitting comical commercials – and all through creatures that a couple of years back you wouldn’t have cared two hoots about! Whether you love them or hate them, you simply can’t ignore them. Zoozoos have in all their glory conquered their rightful land in the ad-empire! Those adorable, charming, alien creatures unleashed by Vodaphone last year, courtesy Ogilvy, who took the viewing public by storm through their sheer ingenuity, freshness, quirkiness and that rare specialty Ogilvy has mastered – a magical fusion of surprise and delight! Yes, we do adore the Zoozoos, but the point is – did the second Zoozoo ads installment inspire, attract or generate the same degree of joy, enthusiasm, wows and appreciation as the first … or was it a predictable and to an extent repetitive overkill – that was seen for the humour surely, but did not cut any deep creative ice with the consumers? The question – led by 29 TVCs that blitzed the IPL viewer across 45 days – surely doesn’t have a predictable answer, as we realised when we flipped through industry responses...

“Of course, it wasn’t the same and frequently got boring and brain dead as hell!” That is the surprising reply of Delhi-based DD director Ananya Banerjee. She confesses she loved last year’s package but this time “it was getting on my nerves! The frequency was maddening and god, some of them were downright dumb and corny!” But godfather Alyque Padamsee believes that anyone who fails to be charmed by these amazing creatures has no right to be “certified sane!” He confesses to be a total fan of the little fellas and congratulates Vodaphone, the agency and the film production company for pulling off such a fabulous effort. “I freeze the remote the moment the delightful Zoozoo ads hit the screen! For me, they have the same charm and endearing quality as the Fevicol ads. Are they boring because they play out the same theme? Not at all, and that’s because of the brilliant creative execution. I place them alongside the iconic Air India’s Maharaja, the Amul characters and Asian Paints Gattu. Kudos to the team!”

Dentsu’s creative hotshot Gullu Sen is nowhere near as enthusiastic. While he agrees that as a concept, Zoozoos has certainly been an outstanding, clutter-breaking effort, this current edition, rolling out a mind blowing 25 plus ads “demonstrate nothing more than bankruptcy of ideas! It is really milking an idea dry, making it look contrived, fatigued, corny …” Sen believes that it is all execution without any delivery. “Where are the packages that could make the communication result-driven?” he asks, “Vodaphone must be having real deep pockets to attempt to entertain one and all by hitting the recall rather than the ROI button!” Sagar Mahabaleshwar – former Ogilvy honcho who’s crossing over to Bates 21 – begs to differ. He thinks the world of these ads and believes it is yet another classic from Ogilvy’s stable of “breakthrough creatives.” He puts Sen’s thinking as a part of the “industry’s overall cynicism” and reminds people that sequels are very difficult to carry forward because comparisons will always be made relating to freshness, novelty and so, on and off with the original. That the Zoozoos still manage to create a buzz and enjoy startlingly high recall in a crowded space, reflects their innate, core strength. Media star Pritish Nandy agrees with this viewpoint. “Fresh, engaging, funny, charming, they offer a cool spin in its category to redefine solid creativity in advertising. If many of them are corny, it’s because they are catering to the lowest common denominator and need to be simple, basic and comprehensible in their basic execution, consciously avoiding sophistication or clever, visual layering. Full marks to them.”

While the jury is not fully out, the general take-out appears positive. In a cluttered, competitive market space where Value Added Service is the big mantra, to be fresh, unique, different and memorable can be an overwhelming challenge. That Vodaphone & Ogilvy have been able to achieve this in an environment bursting with a galaxy of ludicrous, lazy, brain-dead celebrity-driven advertising, is truly commendable.


Thursday, May 06, 2010


Has today’s advertising kept pace with scores of Indian women emerging from the shadows to seek their rightful place in society? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri presents various views

Resurgent India! India shining! Woman power unleashed! Superwomen in the corridors of power! Evolved, educated, accomplished, articulate and confident, this new woman is a blazing reality in today’s India! After decades of prejudice inflicted by tradition and a male-dominated society, women – at least a significant minority – seem to be coming into their own. And magazines, publications, special supplements, debates, discussions and seminars, they all seem to be fixated on energetically championing the female cause now!

But has Indian advertising – which has made huge waves globally in all major platforms, forums and meets – for its turn been able to sensitively, fairly and realistically track, reflect, mirror or portray this seismic change? Has Indian advertising been able to capture the nuances of this fascinating creature successfully straddling several universes with all the complexity, confidence and contradictions at her disposal? Or is the re-enforcing of stereotypes with corny and predictable makeovers simply cosmetic tokenism?

It is interesting to note what Michele Kristula-Green (the revered Asia-Pacific President of Leo Burnett) articulated at a recent presentation that she made on this subject, where she accused advertisers of constantly portraying women “in the man’s version of what they should be.” The ad biz guys, a recent study says, seem to be way-off on at least five crucial parameters – money, sexuality, humour, emotion and authenticity. The study also revealed that unlike the West, women in the Asian society are not comfortable with blatant portrayals of sex, because for them it is a part of their intrinsic femininity – and not something to be exhibited in a titillating, man-baiting way. Finally – and this is critical – the study says that in Asian societies, girls are taught to view emotions as a strength not a weakness; and hence their responses to messages and communication are far different from what is shown in today’s well-packaged yet logically worthless advertisements!

We asked a few evolved, intelligent women and their reactions were both interesting. And startling!

Journalist Mahua Chatterjee fires the first salvo. She believes that despite all the blah-blah and ra-ra in the media, women like her were still an aberration, an exception. “However, our tribe is on the ascent and definitely a quantum leap from our mother’s generation. Advertising’s essential agenda is engaging, convincing and catering to its target group, which for most part, is still steeped in tradition. So, you get what you get. Sure, there are exceptions – like the insurance ad where the granny cosies up with her husband and later, gets blackmailed repeatedly by her chaalu grandson – which is wonderful, but alas, nowhere enough. We could do with a lot more courageous, adventurous, risk-free and exciting advertising that reflects today’s woman with both drama and chutzpah. Can the ad guys do it?”

Film-maker Aparna Sen – whose latest movie The Japanese Wife released to rave reviews – while talking to us, conveys her huge disappointment. While she salutes the crafting and slickness (of advertisements), she is convinced that most of these efforts are blatantly one-dimensional. “North Indian, fair, urban, advertising seems to be fixated on this stereotype! How and why is there practically no sign of the southern, eastern or north-eastern woman? Don’t they exist? If at all they feature, it’s either in caricature form or tokenism! Such a pity.” Kolkata-based media personality Rita Bhimani disagrees and reckons that change indeed is in the air. “Sure, there will always be stereotyping, catering and pandering to connect with the masses, but within categories – cosmetics, healthcare, bikes and automobiles – there has been a lot of quirky, funny and interesting ads portraying today’s woman with large quotients of fun, energy and enterprise.”

Masscom expert Tiyasha Ray begs to differ. “Most of the stuff that pans out is totally regressive and out-of-sync with the here and now! I guess it has to do with ‘Adville’ not mustering up the required guts and ability to effect a breakthrough and content to bogey along a familiar comfort zone as also women themselves being quite content to be seen in that light. Generations of conditioning have programmed them to think in a certain way. Today, they believe that perhaps, this is the way we need to be perceived and what’s all this feminist hoo-haa about?”

Ray, however, admits that she personally is prepared to go into this battle, anytime, any day! Theatre luminary Lushin Dubey switches lanes to offer a completely new perspective. “More than advertising projecting the ‘New Woman’, the New Woman seems to be totally seduced by advertising! She appears to totally believe, even celebrate the image that she sees... and this is both distressing and dangerous because it sends out the wrong signals. It implies that TV is this big hospital-cum-beauty parlour-cum-gym, where all shapes and sizes are photo-shopped and air-brushed to perfection! Scary...”

The last words must come from Omkar Sane, author (Welcome To Advertising. Now Get Lost!) and ad-tracker. “Actually, it’s because of the tainted windows, AC cabins and the advertising code for women established during the dark ages!” He points out that in the area of finance or healthcare, it is always the man who understands, applies and takes credit for the action while the woman sits and smiles. “Gul Panag didn’t talk too much in the Tata Sky ads, did she? It was Aamir who apparently knew everything and played a starring role.” Sane laments the fact that advertising “seems to wait for society to change and then show its spurs; while society, for its turn, hopes like hell that advertising will lead the way and effect the much-needed change.” Neither does that; and all one ends up doing is... changing the damn channel!

Well, if you belong to the club that thinks Julius ‘advertising’ Caesar is a brute, then friends, Indians, ladies, unite...


Thursday, April 22, 2010


In the hysterical anxiety to engage and entertain an impatient and promiscuous youth-oriented target base, is advertising forgetting its basic agenda – of informing, convincing and selling? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates

In the Hollywood of the late fifties and early sixties, anxiety, confusion and hysteria had set in due to movies not being able to engage the viewer in a way they were expected to. The reason? Television had entered the scene and the earlier ‘captive’ audience suddenly had a compelling choice not to watch the stuff they didn’t choose to. So what did Hollywood do? The secret, trick, knack, art – call it what you will – that the big daddies of movies used was to understand the strength of their medium and then strike at the core philosophy. Instead of trying to improve the substance of movies to compete with the meaningful serials coming on television, they upped the ante by ballooning the budget, scale and spectacle of movies in a way that the twenty-one inch idiot box could never hope to match! In other words, rather than giving more arty movies (meant for the ‘intelligent’ viewer), movie houses went for the larger-than-life metaphor, showcasing surrealistic scenes that could only be, if at all, imagined. And it worked liked nobody’s business! It seemed that the world was made up of more people wanting dunce, yet spectacular screen entertainment, than meaningful ‘stuff’, a reality that exists till today.

The question is, is today’s advertising scene echoing a déjà vu? Due to the changing scenario, is the ad fraternity mistaking (perhaps correctly so) style for substance, form for content? Are frivolity and entertainment the new games in town? Is engagement – at any cost – the prime motive, totally obliterating the basic agenda of advertising which supposedly was to inform, persuade and sell? Look at the latest ads around you – from that car ad showcasing a smiling celebrity in the throes of pleasure, to that cell phone service manufacturer imploring you to jump on the next tiger you see on the road to of course ‘save the tiger’, the intent is clearly to catch the viewer’s attention, than to educate him about the exact qualities of the product. What gives? Is the ad-world finally over the edge?

Priti Nair, Managing Partner BBH, in fact disagrees, “Even a couple of years ago, there were many more creatively adventurous ads. Today, maybe a fall-out of the recession, a lot less risk-taking ads are seen. Most stuff is focused, direct… boring. I think we need to push the envelope a lot more.” Lloyd Mathias, President and Chief Marketing Officer, TataTel, brings his own spin to the table, “Like any other social medium, advertising reflects the mood of the times. The simplistic inform-persuade-sell mode worked beautifully for a long time but once communication became sophisticated, technology entered, there was a paradigm shift. Multi-tasking became the order the day. It is not uncommon to see today’s kids on the mobile while hitting the net, right? So in this age of Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, advertising content has to keep pace. It can’t be as direct, naïve and simplistic as it once was. The new-age consumer would dismiss it, straightaway.” Besides, adds Mathias, for hard-core information and details about products and services that are in the hi-ticket category, the net provides it all; one doesn’t have to depend on advertising. “The job [of advertising] today is to primarily push the brand in an endearing fashion that triggers the recall factor.”

Abir Chakravarti, VP Bates, believes that the rules of the game have changed, “The famous AIDA principle – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action – works only in parts, with most of the focus on the first two. In today’s proliferating brands and media avenue universe, the function of advertising has dramatically altered. Unprecedented brand promiscuity among the youth has demanded an unprecedented focus on grabbing their attention. Also, for the entire AIDA principle to work, a 360 degree spin is required. We live in different times and advertising is trying to keep pace. Sure, there are plenty of occasions when guys and brands go over the top. That’s an irresponsible cavalier approach and totally uncalled for!” And Ujjal Sinha, CEO of the Kolkata-based Genesis Advertising, has the last word. He believes that by and large, today’s ad guys have lost the plot. “In their anxiety to go global, they seem to be aping the West. There is a definite sense of insecurity powered by the mistaken belief that the more bizarre, big budget and spectacular the ad, the more it will resonate with the public. It’s a giant leap in the wrong direction…” Now that is another story altogether. 


Thursday, April 08, 2010


We revisit the rhetorical question and jump across to a few women for their responses on why hasn’t the equality query been solved, despite eons of man-woman existence

Relax-feminists, libbers, bra-burners and the army of smart and successful women who are burning the top slot of their respective ‘spaces’ with mind-blowing work and professionalism! The article is not to question or challenge their proven commitment, focus, ability or capability in the area of performance or achievement… but to examine why (despite their proven track-record) the ‘big one’ eludes them. We asked a few people and the feedback was as entertaining as enlightening...

Poonam Singh, a young MBA aspirant believes that women have it in them to be “inspirational leaders because they use the Transformational style as opposed to men’s Transactional style. They are willing to listen, empathise and understand a colleague/subordinate’s problem.” However, Singh believes women have one “serious chink in their armour” – the aspect of emotionality. Unlike men who are focused, one-dimensional, business-like and hard-core pragmatic, women can [and often do] goof up in taking important decisions driven by the heart, not head.

Another student, Eshani Jha stands the stated weakness on its head and emphasises, “It is this very emotional quotient that makes her a better leader.” At the end of the day, she defends, it’s ‘people’ whom you lead – not computers, machinery, buildings, glass, concrete or stone – and therefore the inspirational leader is one who invests as much of the ‘heart’ as the ‘head’. Media House executive (a working mother in her early thirties) Mridula Sahay approaches the issue with her cautious maturity befitting the station in life. “I would hesitate to jump to conclusions or unleash opinions without pulling back and seeing the big picture.” She believes that ‘leadership’ is something that is inborn and (like in men) you either have this trait or don’t. It is seldom acquired. “If this issue [vis-à-vis women] is raised today it is because lesser women are there holding down leadership-status appointments, than men. The reason is basically historical. Women are perceived as the home-makers, while men are the providers, going out, doing jobs of work and earning a living. This places the two in different domains. Leadership – obviously – is more relevant and legitimate in the work place and therefore it has (traditionally) been linked to men. Today, with more women breaking the glass ceiling to invade the once ‘Men Only’-space, questions like these will invariably arise. This represents a tacit recognition of women’s presence in the higher echelons of business and industry and augurs well for our future.”

The critical question is: If leadership is about management, supervision, control and guidance in an authoritative mode, women are born leaders because they deploy and leverage these traits, successfully, everyday! But then, why is there still a huge coterie that still does not perceive women as true ‘leaders’? “Rampant gender-bias, and sex discrimination,” says Priya, a New York based IT employee for a multinational. “But there’s also the fear of experimenting at the top – women, by genetic makeup, cannot withstand the stress and work overload that men can. Therefore, shareholders feel extremely afraid to test out something totally new,” she adds.

Fittingly the last words are provided by an iconic woman who brilliantly fills several spaces with magical effectiveness, Aparna Sen. “Firstly, we need to understand the meaning of the word effective. Popular (male) belief will equate it with success, related to result, performance and achievement. For me, the word resonates with a different glow… It translates into the desire and ability to understand, mould, form, shape and inspire ordinary people to extraordinary heights. It takes into account everyday women who languish in the shadows, an unsung and unheralded community, because they are not high-profile corporate divas like the Indra Nooyis, Sulajja Firodia Motwanis, Vinita Balis, Shobhana Bhartias, Naina Lal Kidwais or Kiran Mazumdar Shaws. For me they are more effective because minus the massive infrastructure or resources of the workplace, these sublime creatures keep doing their stuff everyday, rising above a million problems, fighting against all odds, to emerge victorious.”

Woman, your time to lead will come; but not now... not soon...


Thursday, March 25, 2010


The road to good, engaging and effective advertising is often a bumpy one. Why? Our consulting editor attempts to unravel some of them.

Adland, to some of its practitioners, is a territory that is hallowed, sacred and powered by yellow, moth-eaten, stone-age clichéd laws. They are meant to be irrefutable and writ in stone. It’s time we look at six of these commandments – before burying them with an RIP epitaph! Ready? Let’s go...

Research Overkill: Some advertisers use research based on the rather pompous premise that what people say they do is what they’ll do! The history of advertising is choc-a-bloc with profitable ideas that died needlessly due to this premise, based on mindless scorekeeping – an overuse of research. Somewhere, research became the amazing art and science of turning potent magic to potent waste! The famous Anita Roddick of Body Shop once said research was “like looking at the rear view mirror of a fast-moving car.” We say, research and destroy!

OBJECTIVITY: Some other advertisers are constantly obsessed with finding the ‘logically and objectively right answers’, instead of the emotionally appropriate responses. No prizes for guessing what the result is… The simple fact is they are scared of risk, don’t trust their instincts and believe that the letter is more important than the spirit. Economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky proved a few years back that consumers don’t think objectively (and they won the Nobel Prize for that). Then why should you?

Familiarity: Breeds contempt, inertia and clichés… and yet, clients continue to wail, “Give me something like…,” right? Brands were invented to achieve differentiation and what was effective then, is mud when repeated. When was the last time you heard a politician articulate truth with power and fearless passion? Or when you read a letter from your bank that got your eyes to glaze over? Got a talk from your boss that empowered you to focus on commitment to excellence rather than bottomlines? Innovate in advertising regularly (not in brands; that doesn’t help apparently); change the design, or the layout, or the colours, whatever! Let the customer not get familiar with the ad!

Cynicism: Like love and magic, you have to believe in advertising, rather than assume that the quality of the product would be enough to sell it. If advertising doesn’t make the waves it should, it’s because instead of going about discovering the richness (or infidelities) of human insight, marketers spend their lives and big bucks “ticking all boxes” and following “the checklist!” This results in lookalike, superficial, uninspired advertising. When faith colours profession, commodity turns into brands showcasing the essential values of the intangibles – passion, sensuality, story.

Interference: Wasn’t it the great pope of advertising, David Ogilvy, who said that one should stop barking when they have a dog? Sure, it’s a ‘collaborative’ activity, but nothing can be worse than decisions made by committees and through consensus! Like the moviebiz, advertising is a nervous industry and therefore checks and balances and risk-proof safety nets come into play like crazy; but in this crazy paranoia, reenforced by the new buzz word ‘relationship-bonding’, well-meaning clients (and superiors) peck to death great ideas of a creative whizkid, whose concepts are screaming to be approved! The secret is to let people get on with their jobs. Recognise, motivate, inspire, suggest, but never interfere. Sadly, as the late H. G. Wells once wrote, with chilling truth, “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft!”

Gloss, Polish, Fake: While advertising is indeed the art of dramatising the truth, hyping reality and slicking up the mundane, it often goes over the top and becomes “cheesy! To any half-way sensitive, sane and informed human being, there is terrific irony at play here. As the world gets more new-age, there is an increased yearning for old-fashioned values, like authenticity, slow food, reading groups, organic vegetables, concerns over issues like climate control, preservation of tigers, et al. Unless you reach out and touch, no one will reach out and touch your brand. Nobody trusts voices that posit to be all things to all people. Why should Brands behave differently?


Thursday, March 11, 2010


In the stressful times we live in, laughter – well packaged – can be a huge high and the ultimate bridge between a brand and its consumer

Once upon a time, the staid, starched and propah’ Ad-Gurus believed that advertising was deadly serious business and people don’t buy from clowns! But over the last decade, this thinking has been buried amidst wild laughter with humour taking on a superstar’s role! Why? Because humour and fun have become the breath of life in a lot of the advertising we see and advertainment is pretty much the new lingua franca in the communication delivery mode. Why? “Because humour disarms and makes one more accepting of certain thoughts and images that could be hard to take in a serious discourse,” says adman George Louis. He has constantly hit out at “scientific fools, marketing windbags stiffass bureaucrats, research fascists and pompous biggies” because he believes a lack of humanity (read: humour) kills great communication. People don’t respond as target consumers or demographic cross-sections. They respond as ‘him’ or ‘her’. You and me.

Louis says he finds a huge ra-ra constituency totally rooting for the Ha-Ha factor to attract, interest, provoke, desire and trigger the purchase intent in the consumer universe targeted. Ad film-maker Prahlad Kakkar, who began his foray into ad films by providing (at that time) a total break from conventional reason with audacious tongue-in–cheek, whacko stuff [It’s different, Boss!] believes humour is a great leveler because it breaks down barriers and distances in one fell swoop. Prasoon Joshi (whose Thanda Matlab & Happydent white ads plug humour with all cylinders firing) defines humour as a social lubricant that’s easy to catch and hang on to because it’s the most basic emotion. It comes easier than sorrow or grief. Successful recent TVCs that have hit the humour button include Centre Shock, Zoozoo, Fevicol,, Fastrack among others.

People around the world often find “compression” a good way of getting the point across in an effective manner. Arnold Schwarzenegger was once famously described as a guy “looking like a bunch of walnuts wrapped in a condom!” The writer confessed that he wasn’t consciously trying to be funny – only endeavouring enough to convey something in the least number of words. If compression leads to humour, then humour lead to a smile. Legend has it that a Chinese hospital reported a dramatic drop in the number of complaints after instructing their staff to show at least eight teeth while smiling at patients!

On a serious note, the reason why humour is so powerful in advertising is really very basic: it’s a bridge that links the brand to the consumer, because laughter is still the shortest distance between two people… and a smile, really, is that amazing meeting of minds. It signifies a positive and physical feedback from your audience. Wit invites participation. Humour ensures higher recall and memorability, and triggers word-of-mouth communication as no other mode can. Incidentally the best jokes aren’t based on imagination, but on observation of real people. See how they speak, gesture, react, joke, even kiss, and oh, how they never look at each other in a lift. Anything’s really funny as long as you know how to use the situation!

Everything considered, humour makes people more conducive towards the brand, socking it a solid “feel-good” factor, presenting super-high comfort levels… all of which makes it easy to connect with the brand in an effortless sort of way. It has been noticed that beyond any sales tool, humour invokes a special kind of collective intimacy that is hard to match. Remember, logic can make you think a product is a sensible choice, but only humour can make you lean towards it, invite participation that triggers a joyous recall. Fish swim. Snakes bite. Pandas eat bamboo. But hey, only humans laugh! Laughter is the common currency that humans use to make life rock, and advertising – for its turn – is perpetually pressing the H-button to persuade people in believing that their products and services make for a better life… So the alliance of the two is really a match made in heaven!

In a tense and pressure-ridden world that we inhabit, humour in advertising is getting to be increasingly an intrinsic part of the process largely because advertising as a form and the way it is consumed has radically changed. Says Santosh Desai, “It is undoubtedly an unwelcome and intrusive medium but what has happened in the last few decades is that we have consciously trained people to become consumers and see the world largely from a consumption filter. The strike-rate overall has been pretty good. In earlier times, the 8-reasons-why-you-should-buy-this, delivered in BBC-style English, worked. Today, it doesn’t. People are not looking for gyan but fun, entertainment, a laugh. No heavies.” This has led to substance and content being forced to take on and entertainment spin… Why go far? Isn’t news (presented and packaged – in both print and television – in a stylish, glossy and eye-catching manner) entertainment? Woo, romance, seduce, dazzle, threaten, warn, beg, plead, tease – but for heavens – entertain! If you want to grab attention or eyeballs, what better way than tickling the funny bone?

Today, in a world brutalised by pain, poverty and human suffering, stress, pressure and anxieties, the creator of funnies are the new superstars, because all said & done, even the most hardened sceptic & cynic will agree that, at the end of the day, humour is way better than tumour!