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!