Thursday, February 25, 2010

PATRIOTISM AS PROP

Do the dozens of ads, religiously flooding the publications every Republic and Independence Day, make any sense or carry any weight? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri spoke to some evolved souls to seek answers

Come Republic Day, or Independence Day, or the birth or death anniversaries of Gandhi or Nehru – and a zillion ads, with differing degrees of engagement, conviction or focus, blitz our publications. Why? What is their basic agenda or objective? Do they achieve ‘it’? Aren’t they wasting the tax-payers’ money? Does anybody care to see them? In short, who is doing what for whom?

Leo Burnett’s hi-profile National Creative Director (NCD), Pops Sridhar is first off the block. He summarily dismisses most of these ads as “sheer tokenism, sycophancy and outstanding examples of how not to project landmark events of national importance!” However, he believes, that these affairs – for the evolved and sensitive communication practitioner – present amazing opportunities to showcase the nation’s new-found pride and confidence as being up there with the best. Celebrate their sense of self-reliance, their glowing image in the League of Nations as a vibrant democracy making huge strides, deleting forever their erstwhile complex of the white man or their goods and services. “I am not sure this has been done with any consistency. Connecting the core values of a product or service with the nation’s vision and values can be a fascinating and exciting challenge, if leveraged intelligently. However, there should be a brand-fit – like the patriotic ‘I don’t want to go abroad’ Hero Honda TVC or Hamara Bajaj, Mile Sur... TVCs – otherwise, it will appear corny, clich├ęd and contrived like most ads of this genre.”

Political commentator and media personality Paranjoy Guhathakurta adds his spin to the debate. He agrees that there is definitely mega-posturing and wearing-patriotism-on-my-sleeves factor on an over-drive “as clearly manifest in these rather embarrassingly inane ads. They can only be matched by the hysterical brand of patriotism emerging from the NRI fraternity. Distance – for them – lends enchantment, I guess! However, despite this lapse and the fact that a disturbing divide and disparity continues to define our amazingly complex land, we continue to remain a solid democracy and zap the world! This needs to be recognised, understood and celebrated. Seen in that light, these ads are doing their job for whatever they are worth. They may not be the most creative, imaginative and professional examples of advertising excellence, but the intent is honourable and well-meaning.”

Cigar czar Chetan Seth offers a light touch. He compares this exercise to “event management” and believes that “it provides the government agencies and public sector undertaking furms a great, legitimate outlet to spend big bucks, paying homage to whatever is the flavour of the day! In the normal course, not being an FMCG or ad-driven product or service, the Sarkari guys have no need to advertise. These events provide rare and eagerly awaited opportunities and they freak out... In the process, a great time is had by all!”

Lloyd Mathias, the savvy CMO of Tata Teleservices Ltd has his own professional take. “It’s true that come these days, lots of brands seem to leap onto the nationalistic bandwagon, flashing empty patriotic slogans and the tri-colour to display solidarity with the spirit of the day. Most times, (like the hordes of PSU ads) it’s done without imagination, creativity or focus.” However, Mathias believes, if a brand anchors it and establishes a relevant and powerful connect with patriotism – like the fabulous Pepsi Freedom ads in 1997 commemorating India’s 50th year of Independence – then it could result in powerful and memorable communication. Otherwise, mostly, it’s lazy marketing and a sheer waste of money.

Veteran Nargis Wadia (founder and Chairperson of Interpub, whose gorgeous presence rocked the sixties and seventies!) believes, “Context is the key. The Gandhi-fronted Montblanc ads are silly and amateurish attempts at leveraging patriotism in advertising. The challenge is to identify and establish, in a creative and memorable manner, products, causes or concerns with a suitable brand-fit”. The last words appropriately must come from a bright mass communication student, Anupama Sharma. Bringing all her youthful optimism into play, she opines, “These ads may not be great examples of creative excellence, but who cares? Life is about passion and emotion and these occasions allow us to express them with patriotism full-on! Do birthdays, anniversaries and special days happen every day? Don’t we celebrate them with feeling? We are an expressive, over-the-top people. Why should our flavour of patriotism differ? We are like that only, yaar!”

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