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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Thursday, February 11, 2010

CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS RE-VISITED!

Are celebs paid monster-bucks for their glamour, star attraction and red-hot performance curve in their area of showbiz, or snow-white morality and politically correct image in the public space? 

Suddenly, ‘High Performance: Delivered’ – the signature line of the globally renowned Accenture – has taken on weird dimensions, crazy spins and is providing spicy material for a blitz of wisecracks across the Chat Show domain in the US! Tiger Woods’ alleged colourful and action-packed whammo with a slew of attractive young ladies has landed him in the dog-house and ruined his erstwhile blissful family life. Enough has been written and lots more will be pounded out by the by the paparazzi, but the point of the debate is – why this madness, insanity and hi-decibel hue n’ cry about a hi-profile celebs’ infidelity? Does it make sense for Tiger’s sponsors to immediately dump him because of this recent scandal? Was he (in the first place) hired for his morality and pristine goody-two shoes image or spectacular performance on the golf-course and killer charisma as a sporting icon?

Vinita Nangia, Editor, Timelife, believes that this vicious, all-pervasive tirade and frenzied reaction to the ‘lovecheat’ is totally unwarranted. She appears convinced that this hysterical outburst is tinged with the ‘envy’ factor and is of the opinion that entertainers and sports people have a responsibility and commitment to only one area – their performance. Unlike politicians and public servants, they are not beholden to the masses to demonstrate moral fortitude! “Wouldn’t every man who is drunk on success and surrounded by swooning women begging to be propositioned, slip once in a while? Moral policing and witch-hunting can destroy his game forever and the loss will be entirely ours.” Theatre and adman Bharat Dabolkar agrees, “Brands signed Woods because of his prowess on the golf course. Sex scandals are not going to overnight screw his game or make him a bad sportsman for Chrissake! In the past, sports persons were dumped because of criminal and not moral lapses.”
 
Ad film-maker Prahlad Kakkar insists that “How hypocritical and corny can society get? I think most of the men could secretly wonder how better endowed the Golf Superstar is compared to them, to rattle-up such a fantastic score-card! I would advise Tiger to immediately relocate to France, the one place on earth where girlfriends and mistresses are perceived as trophies and winning advantages! Jacques Chirac at age 80, is still on the job [if reports are to be believed], so Tiger could be a God there!” Media Entrepreneur & Chairman of PNC, Pritish Nandy dismisses it disdainfully as he says, “It’s a reflection of the double-faced and hypocritical times we live in. We’ve had far more scandalous goings which have not been talked about.” Nandy points out that the Western Media – US especially – believes that celebrities should lead sanitised, squeaky-clean lives and be held up as models of virtue and values. “Do you know that reports and statistics have indicated that nine out of ten marriages collapse in the US because of infidelity? Which planet are they living in?!” questions Nandy.

Chicago-based ad-person Namita Sen, however, is hopping mad! “It’s a disgrace! Sure the sponsors pick up a celeb for skills he/she exhibits in his/her chosen field, but not at the expense of immoral and irresponsible behaviour! Once you are in the public domain, revered, idolised and hero-worshipped by your zillion-fans, you have a moral obligation to not ‘be seen’ doing anything that would tarnish this image. Agreed they are also human beings with their share of weaknesses, but for gawdssake, at least be discreet.” Mumbai-based housewife, Suman Mehra agrees, “It’s shocking! I loved Tiger Woods. He was cool, sexy and charismatic with a gorgeous wife and lovely kids. What a creep he turned out to be! He’s bad news as a brand ambassador. A brand is about reflecting core values.”

In the past, Salman Khan, Fardeen Khan, Kate Moss, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton (among a zillion others) have played with fire and emerged with different degrees of damage. Many have bounced back because the public has a short memory and the ever-hungry, promiscuous and sensation-seeking media quickly moves across to the next big stink. The buzz is that with wife Elin moving out, pressing for divorce and demanding half his incredible fortune, there could well be a ‘sympathy vote/shift’ towards Tiger. And then who knows, both the growl and the sponsors could well be back!

At the end of the day, we live in an age of gross opportunism where everything is up for sale. In the case of celeb-disgrace, it might do some good to remember the classic line: When giants fall, dwarfs walk tall. 

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