Friday, December 02, 2011




I laugh so that I may not weep, Boss.” Exclaimed my learned friend the other evening at a party. My quizzical expression inspired him to elaborate. “What’s with you ad guys, yaar? Why are you so parasitically-in most cases-in Bollywood’s vice-grip, Crazily anxious to only entertain your customers in the hope of making a sale? It’s so dumb, unimaginative and indicative of a total bankruptcy of ideas!” Before I could react, another friend (of the marketing kind) very sweetly chipped in “Yup, he’s spot-on! Entertain by all means but don’t let that Drive your ads for chrissake! You have an agenda, right-and it’s not entertaining but selling stuff, powering the purchase intent. If I want entertainment, I’ll see those mindless Rohit Shetty-Sajid Khan crap, not ads, okay? Get real and focused, guys!”

Having successfully ruined my mood, these two killjoys got busy having a blast! However, their words set me thinking and soon I got chatting with some players from Adland. Were these flamboyant accusations true?

First up was Creative Director (at JWT Delhi) Arnab Biswas who summarily dismissed these claims with the arrogance of a successful and hi-flying 30-year-old who’s worked with some of the best and biggest ad-shops, clients and brands. “Tell the bozos, that our job in these scary and competitive times is to – first – grab attention through surprise and delight… not bore the pants off the viewer with a zzzzzz… recitation of facts and figures ! It’s a fast-moving and promiscuous world and the Remote is a killer gadget. The challenge is to keep his/her hands off that deadly object! What better solution than sell through the entertainment route?” says Biswas. Agrees Kaushik Sen, Creative Director at Impact Marketing Services, at he tells 4Ps B&M, “All sane communication people know that the ‘Big E’ is the coolest hotline to a mass-connect. The great leveler that cuts across every social strata and literacy barrier. The age of being propah’ and politically correct is over. Films, songs, books, catchphrases, news, events, happenings… we are forever contexting and borrowing from real life, packaging them in an entertaining manner and letting them loose on our prospective consumers. It’s Exciting, fun…and it works. Trust me.”

Really? Questions blitzed the brain! Wasn’t entertainment meant to be a creative route, a means to an end, not the end itself? Are prizes, metals and gongs at hi-profile national and global ad events the cause of this distracting by-pass? Has today’s advertising become too self-absorbed, drawing too much attention on itself and too little in closing the deal? Has it become a hi-wire act with the glam, media-hyped creative biggies-not clients or market forces-playing judge, jury and star attraction? Has the ‘S’ word-sell-become too boring, passé, unfashionable and déclassé and hence the search for something new, shiny, sexy? I posed some of these queries to veteran Adman Nikhil Nehru (ex head-honcho, JWT North and McCann, North) a huge respected name across the 70s, 80s and 90s. He was cool, objective and brought both gravitas and a sober perspective to this issue. “Let’s face it. There has always been on section of ad guys- arty, over-smart, fake, desperately anxious to make an impression at any part-who made it their prime business to enthrall their clients thought entertainment. On cue, they prime business to enthrall their clients through entertainment. On cue, they got their wows and frequently the business. Problem is: what next? This is a short-team hit because it’s not driven by solid strategy. I’ve always believed that if the hero of your ad is not the product but the treatment (gimmick) you are in trouble, because you have no solid follow-up. Worse, you committed where the ad is remembered-but the product forgotten!” Nehru tells 4Ps B&M.

Bangalore-based Brand Consultant Atul lyer agrees. “The entertainment quotient works as a super-seller only if and when used in a brand-fit and appropriate manner. For example the charming squirrel-dance TVC for Kit-Kat was pure genius! Also, the Juhi Chawla driven over-the-top Kurkure TVCs are both hilarious and relevant to the product-nudge. These two are fine examples of how entertainment can enhance the brand equity and product appeal of the stuff advertised going beyond the obvious, to create and emotional synergy that ensures high awareness and memorability,” says lyer.

So whats our take-out? In a stress-driven world where entertainment is increasingly viewed as welcome therapy, where our movie-making technology is worth class, entertainment-as-a-selling route ironically can work as a double-edged sword. How? Why? It’s like this. Due to fabulous technology and brilliantly trained technician, stunningly crafted TVCs (as also press & Radio ads) are forever blitzing the target group with a high level of engagement, but-and this is critical-do they impact mindset, alter belied. Inspire change or motivate purchase-intent-instinct to-wards the product advertised? Does the gasp, delight, surprise and raves about how “kickass entertaining the ad is, boss!” translate to any kind-of-desire to buy? This is the real litmus test, Advertising is finally a commercial, marketing-driven, sale-inducing activity. Ha-ha is fine, but it is only a conduit to the central motive. Entertainment ke liye kuch bhi karega works in Bollywood, but in adville, do please look before you leap!


Friday, November 18, 2011




It started with a casual conversation regarding the forthcoming International Film Festival of India (IFFI) to be held in Goa, on the 23rd (November 2011). Created to showcase the best of engaging & interesting Indian – and global – cinema, film festivals have always attracted the true-blue cognoscenti and cinema buff on the discerning kind, desperate to sample a life beyond Bollywood! Where there are film fests, can film critics be far behind? In to-day's world – especially with Bollywood booming and blitzing all over the place in all-consuming fashion-can a real committed, dedicated film critic ever hope to survive? Should he, under the circumstances, review and re-invent his role to be part-marketer, part-interpreter?

Respected, veteran Film Critic Saibal Chatterjee is first off the block with a zinger. “I don't think it's a question any-more, but a solid factual statement!” he says. In fact, he is of the firm belief that this breed – film critics – is slowly getting marginalised and residing mostly in the world of blogs or little magazines. “What you got today are mostly reviewers who dole out opinions that are reader-friendly, touching the surface areas of the film in a glamorous way. It is completely in keeping with the mood of the times where cinema is perceived as a product to be consumed by the largest volume of consumer, possible. So, marketing branding, advertising and promotion skills take precedence over knowledge, scholarship or insight. Pitching it right to be dumbed-down readership is the name of the game. In this scheme of things, where does the poor film critic feature?!” Chatterjee tells 4Ps B&M.

Communication specialist Bikram Ohri begs to differ. He believes that we live in nano-second times where reverence and sanctity to anything out in the public do-main needs to be reviewed. “Boss, movies in India are entertainment products. Can we please stop worshipping them, wait breathlessly for that magical 'Eureka moment' and cut to the chase?! The critics mandate today is clear: Blend commentary in a cutting-edge way that entertains as it enlightens. Also, please go easy on the heavies! As the great Hollywood Director Billy Wilder once said If you are lookin' for art, hell, go buy a Picasso. If you're lookin' to have fun and be entertained, hey, welcome aboard!” says Ohri. Joining the party is a noted film critic who refuses to formally participate or divulge her name for professional reasons.” It's all very well to talk about art, sensibilities and values but with the corporates entering the scene with their deep pockets, the equation within the systems and industry has dramatically changed. Film criticism, an intrinsic part of this universe, has been impacted as well. There are no two ways about it,” she tells 4Ps B&M.

Film Critic Mayank Shekhar brings his own spin to the table. “Some very novel things have happened in the last few years in the industry that has certainly impacted the role of the film critic. For one, there is this new entity called Trade Analyst. It is a vague term but this person seems to grab a lot of space in the electronic and mass media. It presupposes some kind of academic/scholastic background but it really is about ringing up distributors from all centers to get box office collection! Does that answer the definition of a film critic? Then there is the smart, sharp and subtle co-opting of some members of the fourth estate by Bollywood to ensure popular reviews and feel-good notices in the media,” says Shekher. He explains that all this is a byproduct of the huge budgets powering big-ticket Bollywood projects. Therefore the marketing machinery has to go full steam to reach, persuade and seduce the audience into seeing the film. “However all is not lost, but yes, it is a tricky and challenging calling!” he adds.

Film Director (of films like Shabd and Teen Patti) Leena Yadav doesn't buy into this argument at all and offers her own take. “Today, most so-called critics have no opinions – but agendas! I believe every film has something worth while to offer – photography, editing, background music, lighting, dialogues, supporting cast – but these are hardly given any importance,” says Leena. Ms. Yadav admits that she has zero problems with dissent and would respect a critic – even if she didn't agree with him/her – for their fresh, out-of-the-box, unique perspective. “I find this totally missing she ads. What better person than the Dada of the Parallel Cinema, Shyam Benegal, to wrap up this debate with his evolved and informed opinion. “Saibal is right. By and large, we have nor real film critics but reviewers with differing degrees of competence, knowledge and ability. There are excellent reasons for it,” he tells 4Ps B&M. Bengal is convinced that unlike the west there is a complete lack of encouraging Film Studies and Cinema culture, manifest in the complete blanking out of any art form by the establishment, corporates or publication houses, except as gestures of tokenism. “What you get is smartly-packaged hype catering to an audience that is driven by gloss, glitz and glamour rather than erudition, knowledge or gravitas. Do these guys influence public opinion? One brand of critics – especially in the electronic media – seems to be with their brash, aggressive, fast-talking glibmanship. It's clearly a sign of the times. The era of an Iqbal Masood or Chidananda Das Gupta is clearly over,” says Benegal.

The late Chidananda Das Gupta, whose chronicling of films – especially the Ray classics – were both enriching and educative, described film criticism as a calling that should be “less judgemental, more interpretative.” The 'Big Mamma' of American Film Critics Pauline Kael went one step ahead and defined it with rare simplicity: “A good critic is that rare artist who has the ability to transmit his knowledge and enthusiasm of his art to others.” Do these endangered species feature in today's space where the mantra seems to be: Salesman Film Critic Haazir Ho?!!


Saturday, November 05, 2011




How much is too much and how far is going too far in needling the status quo regarding what is right and wrong in the world of advertising? Engaged in the business of educating, informing, persuading and selling goods and services in an intersting and consumer friendly manner, are some players “crossing the line” in their anxiety to attract attention of the wrong kind? Should “creative licence” be milked dry in a manner that encroaches and invades personal space and disturbs reputation, tantamount to mocking, riduculing, and even indulging in character assassination?

The facts. Micromax Mobile has come out with a TVC – Micromax Bai – which shows two young girls discovering how the first girl's boyfriend bought both of them new Micromax phones. The situation takes a flip when they discover that he has gifted a new Micromax phone to the Bai (the housemaid) as well – all to increase his chances of winning a Hayabussa motorbike, a special Diwali offering by Micromax! In the real world, screaming headlines of “Shiney doesn't buy the ad” greeted the Lowe-created TVC followed by the tainted actor serving the mobile company with a legal notice. Shiney is clearly not amused at his name being used, nor at the sly dig involving a housemaid. [For late entrants, the actor was sentences to seven years in jail for allegedly raping his maid, and later, released on bail. The maid has already retracted her accusatory statement]

While the agency chose to remain silent, viewers are categorically vocal! Noted ad guru and Chief Consultant of Planman Marcom Alyque Padamsee is first off the blocks, doing a thumbs-down for the ad created by his old agency. “Freedom of speech, expression and thought is fine and totally acceptable but not when it indulges in maligning well-known personalities. That's poor form!” Padamsee tells 4Ps B&M. Even the acclaimed and flamboyant champion of irreverence ad film-maker Prahlad Kakkar seems to do a freeze-frame when he says, “Smut is cool but never at the expense of housekeepers, women or public figures going through a downer.” He may have a point there.

But petite, Santiniketan-trained and Paris-based graphic designer Piya Sen takes a categorically opposite view and appears totally zapped. “Indian society continues to be paranoid and has this huge problem of being conveniently sanctimonious, and forever taking everything too seriously! Come on, it's just a light-hearted aside on an issue that's dead and buried. The man is out and living with his family. Why so desperately touchy? This hoo-haa has revived interest and attention of the public and on cue, a dumbed-down media has played it up big time to convert it to a headliner. I suspect no one would have connected it with the Bai controversy had not the actor got all heated up and taken legal action. I think in the year 2011, one has to be a little more chilled out about these things. Coming from this great financial super-power in the making, it's really weird!” she says.

Youngistaan too chips in, hot n'heavy. Young assistant film director Sneha Shreyasi completely vetoes the ad's approach. She insists that this is “not done because, firstly, these are watched with family and this kind of judge-wink jhatkas are in bad taste. Secondly, the adwallahs must think of Shiney's family members and their feelings before they create such ads!”

Veteran ad person Esha Guha disagrees. The Delhi-based director of Concept Advertising is of the opinion that a piece of communication that should have normally been taken with nothing more than a light-hearted “wink-nudge-chuckle” has taken on impossible dimensions. “Does one really expect advertising in the year 2011 – in a space celebrating Delhi Belly, Murder2, Love Sex Aur Dhoka and Ragini MMS, among other raunchy stuff – to be cute n' nice and play footsie with the viewers/audiences? Besides, what's this big premium on great, creative work that does not disturb the status quo but scores big? Sure the Fevicols and Zoozoos of the world must be recognised and appreciated but engaging advertising is also about provoking, titillating and taking 'panga' with the audience, making it special, different and clutter-busting in a competitive environment,” Esha tells 4Ps B&M.

Leo Burnett's NCD wraps up this debate in his own characteristic fashion. Pops Sridhar explains that this whole stance and pitch depends totally on how the brand would like to appear or the perception-positioning metre vis-a-vis its consumers. “There has always been the 'Rebel' brands – Virgin – Benetton – Tommy Hilfiger – FCUK- reflecting the personality of its product profile and appealing to that section that likes to live on the wild side! These are the 'Challenger' brands trying to seek attention and make a dent in the market, through querrilla tactics. It's not about morality but a connect with the times we live in. In an era when the 'F' word is more a form of diverse expression than abuse, this comes with the territory, boss!” he says.

But what got forgotten in the whole melee is the fact that the biggest advantage in this whole episode – irrespective of the sides you take – has been to both Micromax and Lowe. One of the most important factors that any agency or brand would hope for in any ad is the brand recall. What this god-gifted controversy has done for Micromax and Lowe has been to create astounding brand recall and free media space – as this editorial also proves. In other words, the controversy on one side, the fact is that the brilliant media hype completely takes Micromax to another level altogether. Take that for marketing.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Selling Spirituality


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri Investigates his new booming form of market-friendly, Designer Moksha

It is an astonishing paradox of human life with progress, sophistication, modernity and success comes depression, loneliness, alienation, and insecurity! Today in the year 2011, as we scan the lifescape inhabiting planet earth – with special reference to the advanced and developed western countries – we find startling horror stories of dysfunctional life amidst plenty. Amongst us in India there is no dearth of mimics and westapers passionately engaged in the business of living a ‘proxy’ life – a life invested with ‘imported’ thoughts, beliefs, products and processes. They believe it spells progress, being cool, smart, belonging to the swish Page 3 set and generally being perceived as aspirational role–models and preferred objects of desire.

Sadly, nothing is further from the truth! In the insane and direction - less pursuit of a mirage called “happiness”, the first casualty is peace of mind Why? Because nothing in this world comes for free and the first and the first would joys offered by the enticing packages called ‘Consumerism’ and ‘Globalisation’ come with a sinister price – tage! Suddenly, the sexy, 10-digit paycheck doesn’t look so great because the tension and pressure that accompanies it is scary. Family life, social life, cultural life, intellectual life….everything is sold at the altar of moving up in life. So, what next? What is the solution? Where is the salvation? Enter the marketers of spiritualism!

Ad – man Gullu Sen – Founder of Delhi based agency From Here On Communications – comes up with an instant one-liner. “If you have a Sapnon Ka Saudagar, why can’t you have a guy hawking spirituality?! The con – game is the same, boss!” On a more serious note, Sen believes that in today’s troubled times where tension and pressures rule the roost, spirituality is in high demand low supply. “Hence, the smart, shrewd marketer who has his ear to the ground and is able to think on his feet, can do wonders – for his desperate clients and laughing wallet.” He cites the example of Aastha and a host of similar TV channels which enjoy a wide viewership cutting across all stratas of society.

Perizaad Zorabian, the gorgeous redhead scorching the Bollywood marquee and modelling scene, takes a more serious view. She believes that each and every human being has a spiritual side to him or her “but unfortunately, due to the pressures of everyday life, sometimes, they are forced to give it low pariority. Interestingly, in times of real stress, it is this spirituality that gives them the strength and sustenance to cope.” Although she lives an extremely busy life, Zorabian makes it a point to save some time each day for hersely “to catch up with her spiritual self that is a source of both enrichment and empowerment. “As for the spirituality – on – sale tack, the actress believes that something as sacred and precious as this should not be treated as a product or service to be hawked for consumption. “I find it a very sick line of thingking!”

Burly, bearded, iconoclast Ad-man Prahlad Kakkar is however totally comfortable with the idea of marketing spirituality. “Yaar, we live in sexy Kalyug times where everyone knows the price of everything but the value of nothing! Spirituality, therefore, for the stressful, materialistic, gimmee – gimmee community, is something they can easily connect with as a consumer,” he tells 4Ps B&M. Kakkar believes that the simple, innocent days of basic goodness that was the DNA of our forefathers, have long disappeared. They have been replaced by a turbulent and complex environment where basic values are frequently under siege. “Hence, a safety valve like spirituality is a super – seller – a presold, sellout!’

And now the latest – Spiritual Cruises! Spiritual icons like Baba Ramdev and Mridul Maharaj are said to be doing their number on luxury liners Heading overseas (South-East Asia and Europe) with an army of devotees in attendance! Theaters on board, which showcase raunchy entertainment at night, amazingly morph to sacred, incense sticks Samadhan by day, complete with chants! Hyderabad-based software company promoter Govind Kabra (who specialises in organismic these trips) admits that their popularity has grown with time. From 1,500 a few years ago the number has risen to a whooping 15,000 plus! Although the major chunk come from India, there is a growing NRI presence from places like US, UK, Italy, Belgium, Indonesia... Even special and customised requirements (midnight supper during Katha; masala tea; vegetarian food minus garlic, onion and ginger!) are fulfilled. And these trips cost approximately $150-200 per night. Jai Ho!

At the end of the day, I believe, it's like selling coal to Newcastle! C'mon guys, we are, historically and traditionally, a spiritual civilisation/nation with rituals and beliefs embedded in our psyche. Whether it's the sandhya-deep accompanied by conch-shells at dusk or the vision of what life is about – Karma, Maya – spirituality remains an intrinsic part of our being. Unfortunately, pathetic West-apers that we have become, we seem to be enthusiastically buying into their hard-selling spirituality to us in the form of a fashion thing; a with-it and under-cool solution to all worldly problems that blitzes our sense of peace and contentment. It's sold – and bought – (like in the West) as a quick-fix, a fevicol for the battered soul! Only re-affirming the savagely ironic fact that we live in an age of Vigyapan not Vigyan!


Saturday, October 08, 2011




The big, burly 'client', chewing his favourite brand of pan masala (with three rings on his right hand and four on his left, along with various coloured strings gracing his writs) dressed in a safari suit of dazzling maroon, seated on a massive, filmy, throne-like chair in a room filled with pictures of Gods, Goddesses, his late father, stared hard at the youmg, fresh-faced Account Executive from the agency they had hired. From time to time, the client sighed and nodded his head – left to right and back -indicating cosmic sorrow. Eventually, wisdom descended from those pan-masala-stained teeth. “Boss, kuch jama nahin! Kuch solid creative banao, jo hila de, ghanti baja de. Yeh sab to ghatiya, nonsense, rubbish, bakwas!!”. With these encouraging \gems, he flung the eight ads (which the agency had created in two hours, flat) towards the young man and began to speak again. “Beta, don't take it personally. I like you very much and love your English-speaking and gyan on advertising, lekin kya hai, bijness to bijness hota hai, hai naa? Your boss is my very good yaar from college days. Kammal ka tuning hai, to mana nahin kar sakta, hai naa? But you must brush up on creativity. Waise ek phone me ghumaoon to line lag jayegi Adwalon ki and you know it, lekin mind it, mein aisa nahin karna chahta hoon. Navar!” He paused for breath and an other intake of pan masala. “My 17-years-old daughter Dimple can do much better. Believe nahin karoge, by gaad, she's too creative! Angrezi poetry likhti hai, painting karti hai, aur kya GK hai, oye hoi! She only told me these designs are ghatiya, third class, not something that will hilao the junta!”

Totally shaken and bewildered at this bizarre onslaught, the young man – whose parents had invested their whole some income into making the lad what this world would call “cultured, educated, soft-spoken” - made the appropriate, polite sounds and left the office. On the way, stopping by for a 'cold drink', he reflected upon his life. Who were these strange clients – completely uninformed, coarse, totally disconnected with any thing to do with basics of good, effective advertising? Why was his agency boss always insisting on young, nubile, half naked girls to be splashed as the main focus of his ads even when all the client was selling were locks? Why did these creatures never exist six months ago in his high-profile Mumbai agency, where he trained and spent two glorious years? Why did he even shift?... The lad was now beginning to feel the stress and pressure of working in an environment that was a million light miles away from where he came... Back at the office, confusion became confounded? His boss – a proprietor who was all sugan n' spice just a few months back while begging him to join – blew his fuse! “Yaar, who told you to give him bhashan on what is good for his product? Is he a fool? Pata hai, he is one of my langoti yaars who has successfully run his Papa's business for over 20 years, making a huge profit. Also, by the way, he is the President of the Ad Club and active member of the PRSI and Press Club, samjhe?” And then, a sudden parallel track, What an excursion he organised to Amritsar and Wagah border, maja aa gaya... anyway, he called me and told me not to fire you. But yaar be dedicated to your work. What are you doing? Chal, chal get back...” This was the tipping point. It all spooled over in a millisecond – his fantastic two years at the professional agency, then the rust of blood to join this sole proprietorship of an ad agency for the so-called 'independence', and then the nightmare – bah! The young man had had it and finally exploded. “You got me here luring me with big bucks and great promises of freedom with responsibility. From an A-lister, all I've become is a Z-lister! My fault is that I didn't listen to my friends because I was dazzled by the 'seniority'. However, I've started regretting my shift more than anything I've ever done- you constantly refer to clients as Mai Baap and Bhagwan, you continuously instruct me to improve my 'setting-fitting'! What the hell are we here? Pimps? Ever-ready suppliers? Weren't we supposed to be communication consultants, solution providers?!? Or am I supposed to now always be a yes-jee, no-jee buffoon? You will never, ever understand professionalism because for you, billing is god, not quality... and that is injurious to my health?” Shocked silence followed on both sides. And then the lad blurted out, I am quitting here and no. Bye!” With that outburst that even surprised him, the young man stormed out of the office. Of course the boss was too shocked to react. No one in his 30-year stint of doing various businesses ever had had the guts to speak to him in this manner.

Readers, if you thought that you just read a fairly accurate [of course slightly doctored, for added effect] true-to-life account of the experience of a young, ambitious and enthusiastic advertising man, seduced by serious big bucks and the carrot of being allowed to effect changes when and where necessary within an agency that just refused to budge from its supplier-mode – well, you're absolutely right! This was there decaded ago, but this phenomenon is still alive and kicking, trust me! Why? The reason is simple. Like India and Bharat, there is a distinct divide between the top 20 A-listers and the ones below and although they are all – technically players of the same game, any resemblance to vision, values and modus operandi is a hysterical coincidence! When a young dude moves from a high-ticket agency to one that is hugely cash-rich, but with no name or status with people who matter, there is a 'Faustian Deal' at work. It is a conscious and tacit signing away of one's soul [read: professionalism] for filthy lucre, or in the words of our Pundits, “Mammon devouring the muse”! In these tough, competitive and inflationary times where prices soar everyday and increments happen just once year – if hyou're lucky! - the temptation to sell out is as strong as ever.

But then, what is the best choice? Should you choose to stay with the big budget Tier 1 kings or should you take the plunge and try out your deal with the devil? The choice is yours. If you chase money, your credentials become mud – but you may earn much in the short run if you hit it lucky, and who knows, even thrive. If you chase quality and excellence, chances are, good things will happen, if not soon enough, then surely in the longer run.

It is precisely here that the Big Iea is born! The one that tells you that advertising for me has never been about 'ad pass ho gaya' but about challenging the status quo, tilting at windmills, audaciously embracing both the sacrilegious and solemn, dazzling the eye, touching the heart, while reaching minds – and wallets! A pitched battle agains the maja nahi aaya vermin, marketng winbags, conceited rigid bureaucrats, research fascists, pompous, humourless, emotionless biggies slavishly wedded to “target consumers and demographic cross-sections” instead of you and I, him and her, they and them... But that's my personal fight, my individual war. It needn't be yours – or maybe it should be! Like I said, it's for you to decide.

So, for all kids wanting to sign up in this great creative calling, get your fundamentals right. Will it be magic or the honeytrap? If it's the former, the possibilities are endless for peer respect and a rewarding future. If it's quick bucks, be prepared 24*7 to hear deathless slogans like “East or West, our underwear steals the thunder and is the beast!!” [No, I'm not joking!]


Friday, September 23, 2011



The Big Idea has always meant different things to different people. In theory, it has been described as a “surprising solution to a marketing problem expressed in a memorable, verbal or graphic way.” It picks up power, force and momentum due to the chutzpah of its startling perspective that can alter a habit, opinion or a point of view. The big idea can originate from a variety of sources... arts, sports, politics, entertainment, popular culture, today's headlines... but the central point is its ability to communicate a clear and compelling message that enlightens and entertains even as it empowers!

What better example than the Durga Puja?!

Few events have served as a more colourful and powerful commentary on contemporary life and times reflecting popular culture in the public space, than the Pujas. At one level it represents the close bonding of the neighbourhood. At another, a wonderful expression reflecting aspirations through the prism of creative pandal decoration. In keeping with the consumerist times, however, has the Puja today become increasingly corporatised? In this setting, have brand marketers shrewdly started capitalising on religious sentiments to ensnare the Puja shopper?

Ujjal Singha – head honcho of the Kolkata-based ad agency Genesis – is spot-on with his take. “There has never been a bigger idea for mass-connect than the Pujas! It's the one time in the year when all Bengalis coime together in a spirit of joyous bonhomie celebration. The result is a gigantic captive audience, in a happy, feel-good frame of mind... carefree, loaded, adventurous, eager and willing to hit the impulse-purchase button!” says Sinha. He points to this matchless challenge-and-opportunity backdrop for all sharp brand custodians to unleash their big idea tapping into the mood and temper of this event, and turn on the receptive, bindaas audience base. Adds the smart adman, “the difference between this captive audience and others at railway stations, airports, sports stadia or concerts is essentially the state of mind. During those Puja Days, they are in a different zone.” By “different”, Sinha is referring to the fact that people have their guards down.

Executive Director of another Kolkata-based ad agency, Response, Sid Ray, adds his own spin to the table. “In the east, the trigger months kick off from July-Aug because of the oncoming festival season. The durables and FMCG companies pull out the stops to identify every possible avenue to push sales. With Pujas being a hi-throng and hi-spend space, all the tricks in the book are deployed to gain the winning edge over competition,” says Ray. From the consumer's perspective too, this is a freak out time. “Right from the Mahalaya – 10 days before the Pujas – till the immersion, the Puja scene is a thrilling blend of carnival, fashion show and food fest! The most significant factor of today's youngistan-driven Puja is that everybody wants to make a statement! So clothes and fashion leap centre-stage. Add to this a 2487 participation of media channels covering events like fashion shows, pandal decorations, entertainment, starry guests, awards for the best dressed couple etc. and you realise what a huge idea the Puja is!” adds Ray.

Purists and oldies are however shocked and disgusted at this blatant commercialisation of the Pujas. They believe that the fun-filled celebration of good times has been hi-jacked by corporations and brands distorting and monetising the spirit of this sacred occasion. Management consultant Abhinav Khanna begs to differ. “Let's face facts. The age of innocence is over and so are those simple, one-dimensional times. We live in a consumerist and consumption-specific age where any and everything – Pujas included – is consumed! It is also an age of fierce competition. In this setting, the sanctity and basic objective of any major event or happening is likely to be compromised on the altar of commercialisation... and it is here that the big idea will be challenged,” Khanna tells 4Ps B&M.

Khanna is right. Disposable incomes, aspirational levels along with a roaring double-income community has dramatically altered the consumption patterns and profile of the middle class. The simple living, in-denial mode and restraint, while considering a purchase of yester-years, has been slung out. It's consumption frenzy and at no time is this better manifested than the Pujas! Beyond consumer durables, fashion, clothes, new films, plays, music launches, Puja-specific annual publications (with hi-profile authors roped in to pen their special Puja contributions) exotic Puja menus, Puja-special trains... it's a virtual tsunami!

A massive arena. A vast target audience. A large team of players all set to flash their special products and services. Which chosen one can peep into the consumer;s soul and convert needs to wants in a manner that entertains and empowers? Well, don't care about the purists – sell on, and sell well.


Friday, September 09, 2011



“A surprising solution to a marketing problem ex-pressed in memorable verbal and/or graphic imagery” is how the Big Idea has been defined and understood. Management and communication gurus however have been quick to spot the learning from Anna Hazare's astonishing example of how a Big Idea can sweep the nation and mesmerise all right thinking people – especially the Indian diaspora – across the globe.

Interestingly, could anyone have ever imagined in his/her wildest dreams (even a year ago) that the next popular leader, who would storm popular imagination, would be far from a young enthusiastic, fresh faced, inspirational leader contemptuously flinging aside the cob-web-ridden ideologies representing the old guard to lead us to a dazzling, glittering, new technology-enabled future, but a largely unknown khadi clad 73 year old with a benign look going by the unlikely name of Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare? Hardly (if glib analysis were to be believed) a likely candidate for the ambassadorship of Brand India, Incredible India, India Shining?!!

Vijay Govindarajan (Prof. At Tuck School of Business at Darmouth College) believes that it is dangerous to embrace stereotypes or ride on cliches. “Companies, communities and countries can be inspired and empowered by the Big Idea. What better example than Kennedy's Man on the Moon or Gandhiji's non violence? Anna's common trait with the 'Father of the Nation appears to be his path breaking leadership skills which has pulled out middle class India from the cosy confines at their homes to hit the street and make it a true People movement,” says Govindarajan. He believes that it scores big on three points, “Re-enforcing the notion that democracy is alive, well and kicking' that the biggest enemy to economic growith is corruption; and that social justice is critical to a sustained 300m up.”

Leo Burnett's head honcho Arvind Sharma brings his own take to the table. He believes all great brands are great because they serve a human purpose and iconic communicators are those who connect the brand-values powerfully with the select target group. “Anna's Big Idea is not corruption – because that's nothing new. It's the amendments to Lokpal Bill – a strategic device to address this dreaded disease. Giving shape to a solution away from an amorphous context, in a tone & tenor everybody understands. No wonder his Big Idea is getting such big response,” says Sharma.

Bharat Dabolkar disagrees. The theatre-actor ad-man explains that Anna's movement has nothing to do with either branding or the Big Idea. “Come on, both corruption and Lokpal Bill have been around for over four decades; so what? It is Anna's persona – simple, direct, uncomplicated sans glamour or personal vested interest, powered with passion and conviction from the heart that has fired popular imagination. It is not an image created or manufactured by a PR agency, but one that responded spontaneously to the most overriding concern of the day, in an identifiable way, cutting across all strata of society. That's all,” Dabolkar tells 4Ps B&M.

The last words come from renowned ad guru and Chief Consultant, Planman Marcom, Alyque Padamsee. “It's clearly the biggest idea since Gandhiji's movement relating to India's Independence! Anna Hazare has single-handedly converted cocktail party chatter as well as seminar and symposium jabber into an explosive deliverable by merely articulating a USP that was waiting to catch fire: Corruption,” Padamsee tells 4Ps B&M. In fact, let's also not underestimate the power of

television in providing hard close-ups of a reality show that was real! “The defining image of a 73 years old man fearlessly praying at Rajghat (evoking image of Mahatma himself) was brilliant, timely and emotive enough to touch a zillion hearts. Also, his magically reclaiming the pride and passion of the Gandhi topi – commonly perceived as corrupt posturing of politicians – and making it a dynamic statement of truth, is brand building at its best,” adds Padamsee.

Padamsee could well have a point. Behind the charged sentiment of an entire nation and groundswell of an astounding nature, hawk-eyed media strategists supported by solid intelligent, loyal and disciplined back-room boys, were at play. Be it Abhinandan Sekhri (a 35 yeas old former TV professional) or Shazia Ilmi (former Star News anchor) or any of the crack team of 25 youngsters from Delhi who handled the entire mammoth Ramlila show with clockwork precision, it was focussed teamwork in action, with a one point agenda: Project Anna Hazare as the New Mahatma! Team Anna's brilliant connect with eyeballs, the stuningly well-timed news breaks, sound bytes and press conferences could hardly be termed as a coincidence by media-watchers.

So is Brand Anna truly re-difining the Big Idea, as the marketing and cummunication fraternity insist – or is it merely a case of right person, right time, right place, right message with right tone of voice to a totally hundred percent ready, receptive, captive and right audience?

Over to you, dear readers..


Friday, August 12, 2011


4Ps B&M Monojit Lahiri Probes this Bizarre root to consumer connect!

Advertising has often been described as a calling that deals single-mindedly with the business of ideas... ideas that connect with their prime constituency and influence them to leap towards products or services advertised. In this exciting play, several routes, avenues, devices (humour, insecurity, charm, fear, pride, envy, snob-appeal, rebellion) have been successfully developed to seduce the prospective customer, but the one that has bewildered, shocked, intrigued, even provoked several zillion people is the use of “disruption” as bait – that is, in one straight shot, completely change or reinvent the positioning message of the product. Disrupt and destroy the images one might have built up over years – and the devil;s advocacy propagated that that was the way consumers would re-notice your brand. But can disarray, disorder or disruption, as I put it, ever be successful in wooing customers into an affirmative or approval mode? Isn't it unsettling and fundamentally frightening to even the marketing mavericks that a positioning statement that one would have built up after investing millions, even billions of dollars, is played around with to satisfy the test of theory? Can disruptive positioning really be a dynamic, yet positive force?

TBWA's moving spirit Jean-Marie Dru believed it could. The objective of this revolutionary approach (according to the great communication visionary) was: Re-frame the brand in a manner that is so startling that the market begins to look at it differently. De-familiarise or re-complexify it in a way that force consumers to see and notice brand characteristics that they had overlooked earlier. This leads to a fresh renewal of interest in the brand. And there are emphatic success stories to peddle too. Brilliant examples include McDonald's selling fast food to the “snooty” French. PlayStation selling computer games to adults. Most hilarious, the US buying Absolut Vodka thinking it is a Russian drink (it isn't; it's swedish)!

Some companies have made disruptive marketing a habit. Apple's disruptive positioning strategies slung out the time-tasted, sacrosanct notions which pronounced that communicating product features were the key to selling hi-tech products. Apple's maverick visionary leader, Steve Jobs believed that a brand was not solely about “bytes or boxes but values” and proceeded to provide the perfect example of an organisation that knew how to constantly reinvent itself by disrupting the status quo. The introduction of Macintosh is an outstanding model. Its premise rested on challenging the hallowed premise that “people should be computer literate”. Jobs' startling and revolutionary import was “computers should be people literate and designed to work the way people do!” What followed was pure, high decibel marriage of theatrics, showbiz and hard headed selling. For 60 second during the 1980 Super-Bowl (the mother of all major events in USA), he unleashed the (by now legendary) 1984 TV spot which promised everybody a brave new world, free from the de-humanising effects of computer technology.

They words were simple yet cataclysmic... “On January 24, 1984 Apple launches Macintosh. And you will see why 1984 won't be 1984,” (a chilling connect with George Orwell's ominous book). It was reported that the very next day, over 200,000 people stormed showrooms across the US and within six hours, sales reached over $3.5 million! A decade and a half later, Apple disrupted again with its landmark “Think Different” campaign featuring great creators of the 20th century who were/are not fond of rules and have had no respect for the status quo.

Apple, Jobs announced, was a company that made 'Tools for Creative Minds'. So if the consumer was convinced that Apple was an IT company, Jobs immediately entered the music industry with the iPod and iTunes. The moment one was convinced Apple was an IT and music company, Jobs positioned Apple as a cellular phone innovator. Today, Apple continues its path-breaking disruption mode with its could endeavours.

To celebrate disruptive marketing, creativity has to happen at strategic levels before real creative work begins. The “Big Idea” is the answer is to look to the outside world for cues, guidance, hints, tips, inspiration. Look to the world of history, science, business for ideas that drove dramatic changes in perception. Before Nicolaus Copernicus (for example) the heavens rotated around the earth. Before Louis Pasteur there were no germs and so no immunisation. Before Henry For automobile transportation was relatively expensive indulgence and the privilege of a select few. Disruption changed it all...
Copernicus and Pasteur are said to have had intuitive feeling about theories they went on to prove... and Ford had very definitive ideas about democratising automobile transportation.

Jean-Marie Dru generously offers a simple four-step guideline. One, identify the conventions and unquestioned assumptions that shape and form an organisation's blue print. Two, look at how the different facets of its activity fit together. Three, enter disruption – challenge these conventions to find flaws in its thinking. Four, identify a vision or a projection of the company that represents the future. This vision is much more that a proposition or positioning statement. It's a total culture – a destination again­st which all strategic and marketing decisions are/will be measured.

At the end of the day, disruptive positioning or disruptive marketing is neither a seismic shakeout, dramatically lobbed gimmick nor myopic anarchy. Of course, it works fantastically in industries where it might never have been possible to differentiate your product (carbonated drinks, cellular service providers, fuel) by providing a dynamically new way for the audience to recognize your product. But disruptive marketing also works pretty fantastically in understanding that no creative and unique positioning can remain creative and unique over the long term. One time or the other, the competition will catch up with your so called disruptive positioning – and that's the time you learn to disrupt again. Beyond a mere formal procedure or process, disruptive marketing is a strategically-directed shakeup, a perceptive way of both thinking and looking at that killer opportunity. It's about engaging with the world, with an open and curious mind accepting nothing on face value and taking on odds, fearlessly... The basic point about disruptive marketing is – Disrupt before the world disrupts you! Invent the future instead of being evicted by it.


Friday, July 29, 2011



Think advertising, and to the common man, some usual slogans and visuals leap into focus. Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye, Washing Powder Nirma, Dimag Ki Batti Jala De, Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hi, Chal Meri Luna, Khujli ka Happy Ending, Teda Hai Par Mera Hain … the list is endless. In recent times, however, three new categories have flung their hats into the ring and zoomed in, hot n' heavy: Healthcare, Real Estate and Education. Why? How? And to what effect?

Ujjal Sinha, the dynamic CEO of the Kolkata-based Genesis Advertising, believes that this story really had its birth post '91, when big-time moollah hit Indian shores like never before. Land was always a coveted and profitable proposition and now the sharpies, leapt in. “In this new, shiny, consumer driven environment where consumption and living well are the new mantras and old-fashioned values like austerity, restraint and holding back junked into the bin, lifestyle equations went through a paradigm shift, In this scenario the focus on real estate, healthcare and education advertising was not about brand-building but churning out communication that doled out facts and figures with the sole design of selling at fast n' furious pace, because time is money. Despite indifferent standards of advertising, if these categories are getting away with it, it is because of the demand-supply equation. In a land of a billion people (getting more aspirational every second than ever before!) the desire to live well is reflected in their recognising the value of good, job specific education from a private institution, cosying up in a nice flat and understanding the huge difference in healthcare between a private and a government hospital. Unlike the more sophisticated and evolved FMCG sector, advertising here is not about creating that critical creative differential in a parity market to influence sale or brand-building exercise – but a means to an end,” Sinha tells 4Ps B&M .

Ranjan Bargotra, President, Delhi based Crayons Advertising, offers his own take. His Agency has a dedicated cell to service the healthcare sector and their considered, pro-active thrusts appropriately reflected in their Fortis ads – demonstrate their knowledge and commitment to this category. “It has to be seen in perspective. Once upon a time this terminology – healthcare – didn't exist … just doctors, medicines and recommended hospitals. It was a simple, innocent time, very homely and personalized (cutely appropriated in the Bollywood movies of the sixties and seventies with the demure heroines referring to the medico as Doctor-chacha!), with everything in place. Today, in this complex world, the transformation has been dramatic! For one, the cosy informality and modest fees are a thing of the past as healthcare has become a humorously expensive proposition. Hospital chains, hitting pan-India (following corporate footprints) are a reality offering quality healthcare at a cost. Competition too has blazed in, and with it branding. If the communication quotient, however, is not yet as sophisticated and advanced as, say the FMCG sector, there are reasons. For one, these are early days. Also this category (in comparison with FMCG) is very small and it's both unfair and inaccurate to bunch them together. Remember, its not an everyday consumable item, so both the compulsions and demands of the communication blueprint take on a different trajectory. Besides, strict rules and regulations guide healthcare communication, so caution is the key,” says Bargotra. However, Bargotra belives it's an exciting category that is slowly gathering momentum.

Lloyd Mathias, President, Corporate Monitoring, Tata Teleservices Ltd., agrees as he tells 4Ps B&M, “These really are early days and it's unfair to slam their communication efforts. My belief is that all three areas are poised for stupendous growth and therefore Ad Agencies have a responsibility and should make it their business to understand their special communication needs – very different from FMCG's and create material that will add value. It's not about spouting jargons but sitting with these guys figuring out what kind of communication is required to fulfil what kind of special demand and create the package in an effective manner. I think it's both a magnificent challenge and an outstanding opportunity.”

Kunal Banerjee (President, M35), an old hand in the marketing of real estate, is more circumspect. A hard-core communication professional who started out with Ogilvy in the Far East and later worked with several reputed Ad Agencies across three decades, believes that communication in this sector has not really made much progress, in terms of focus and maturity, that it needs to. “True, the boon is unprecedented as is the response from an aspirational middle class, but has communications really been a catalyst in this movement? Introspection and serious soul-searching is required, along with a drastic change in attitude, mindset and professionalism on the ground,” Banerjee tells 4Ps B&M. Banerjee believes that while the honeymoon lasts, everyone is happy, but once crunch time arrives – competition or slump advertising will be called upon to play a critical part. “That will be the litmus test. It might be a good idea to get started ASAP. After all, better safe than sorry has always been a win-win mantra!” he adds.

Thus, at the end of the day real estate, healthcare and education offer the true-blue practitioners both challenges and opportunities, because the canvas is huge, virgin, exciting and waiting to be put on a trapeze and slung into new heights of excellence.


Thursday, June 30, 2011



Once upon a time, children were bhagwan's den – little, cute and cuddly bundles of joy designed and created to provide parents and their immediate orbit, joy unlimited! Sweet & lovable, they were meant to be seen, not necessarily heard. Their lives were chalked out and monitored closely by their all-knowing parents and mostly circled around a simple, uncomplicated, predictable activity base. They were not meant to challenge status quo or step out of line. And their opinions, if any, were usually dismissed with bemused indulgence. Didn't Mama and Papa know what was best for their off springs? What would kids know anyway about life?

Effective the '90s, there has been a cataclysmic shift in this idyllic playpen. The bachcha has suddenly morphed into miniature adult and started making uncomfortable noises, which are taking on dangerous surround – sound dimensions! Statistics indicate that today, some 400 million kids (below the age of 15) are new-age India's most conspicuous consumers lapping up a range of products and services that include – not just Barbie dolls and toys – hi-end gadgets, phones, clothes... you name it! Powering an astounding Rs.4.5 trillion market, this gigantic constituency (who make up 20% of the world's youth space) is on a red-hot turbo-charge mode! But what happened to the world of sweet kids being led along the path of follower-ship? Is their world of bachchelog parties, ice-cream & colas, fancy birthday cakes & cute games over?

As the genius author and film-maker Woody Allen once said about startling generational changes that ambush the naïve, uninformed, blinkered and unguarded people, “While you were sleeping, lotsa things have changed, Pops!” And that is god's truth, with economic reforms being the single biggest catalyst. This dramatically altered the very contours of the way we live and interact with the world around us and willy-nilly, propelled child-into-client zone! Technology, here, has been the greatest driver. The Internet, TV and Mobile, for example, have transformed a hitherto simple, tunnel-viewed, limited-focus constituency into a sharp, clued-in, consumer-products-friendly group that constantly raises its hands to be counted and be vocal about brand knowledge and preferences based on facts!

The insightful marketing expert and social commentator Santosh Desai hits the nail on the head with his sharp observations. “Today's kids articulate desire more openly, candidly and innocently than any other segment because they are unburdened by personal memories of a scarcity-plagued yesterday. Hence, in the family unit they play a critical role as navigators through the shining, unfamiliar world of choice, newness and – most importantly – abundance. They are arbiters between the older generation and the new and give the rest of us a map on which to plot our new selves. Fluent in the language of technology and consumption, (the two biggest drivers of behaviour of today's India) they exude a worldliness that the older generation are unfamiliar with and find useful, It also helps that the parents of today are the first generation that sees self-conscious parenting as a job that needs to be accomplished,” Desia tells 4Ps B&M.

Social psychologist Ashish Nandy takes the case forward. “Desai is absolutely right! The profile of today's parents have drastically changed to allow this shift,” says Nandy. He elaborates, by explaining that unlike the previous generation's template of presumptive wisdom and effortless knowledge-of-the bones instinctive parenting, for this generation parenting is a very serious task; it needs to be constructed with care and precision. This means that a child's desire is heard with greater attention. Overall, the child is seen as a performer who needs investment, training and personalized attention. The easiest way to fill up the gap between parental ambition and performance is invariably through acts of consumption. “The child is constantly being equipped for the road ahead and the equipment takes a variety of forms,” adds Nandy.

Mumbai-based Meera Gupta, a veteran artist, however is unmoved and believes too much is being made of Pester Power, today's whiz kids and modern-day parenting. The mother of two grown-up kids aged 15 & 12, who comes from Ranchi says that “like our local hero M.S. Dhoni, I say, keep it simple and concentrate on the basics! Sociologists, Psychologists, Behavioral Scientists... kids, parenting and their interaction with the world has suddenly become a hysterical spectator sport! Why on earth is it so complex & complicated? Sure, today's world is different from the ones we grew up in, but any sensible, responsible, intelligent and evolved parent must know how to de-code it for the kids, in a way that is meaningful.” In other words, this big hoo-haa about children pestering their parents to buy stuff on influencing purchase patterns across categories is apparently hugely exaggerated! Admittedly, today's kids are much more clued-in about products and services, “but their making life hell for their parents through badgering or muscling in with opinions relating to brand preferences are, mostly media hype,” says Meera. Love them, trust them, mentor them intelligently and kids perhaps should turn the right path without developing complexes.

Strong words, but is it that simple in a space increasingly blitzed by information over-kill riding on mouth-watering seductive, media avenues and technology? Ad veteran Esha Guha believes that Meera is just spectacularly lucky, brilliant – or being too naive and simplistic. “Sure, there are exceptions, but even if you forget the media hype, studies, reports and surveys, a look at the world around us is proof enough. Today's kids are different , influenced as they are by the environment. They do have their own ways to get what they want and their knowledge-base on technology-driven products are far superior to their parents, which often acts as a clear advantages. As for love, trust and all that... the battle with technology will be a tough one!” Esha tells 4Ps B&M.

Brand Specialist Anmol Dhar offers his own expert take. “Marketers have closely seen this paradigm shift both in the profiling of new-age parents and kids and continue to be hugely excited by it! With the emergence of this new phenomenon, KGOY – Kids Growing Older Younger – the market for entrepreneurs just got larger. From kids wear to fashion, toys to beauty care, a clutch of brands are consciously targeted towards the 0-15 age group. We live, clearly, in an age of brands and perception is the new reality,” says Dhar. Advertisers, hawk-like haven't missed a beat. Noticing the rise n' rise of the universe, children are featured prominently across areas as diverse (and unthinkable) as financial planning and insurance, acting not as dumb and obedient recipients of adult-gyaan but know-alls teaching the oldies a trick or two!

So, at the end of the day, this is indeed a turbulent transition and maybe an objective review is in order. Should more time be spent with your digital child, so that along with his cyber muscle, creativity and imagination are also addressed? Should one be more judicious about basic decisions like whether your child really needs a phone at age 8? Finally, introspect. Are we giving and expecting too much in this new-age parent-child jugalbandi? Were our parents ever expected to play the combined role of father, guardian, tutor, moral police, friend, guide, mentor, cheer-leader in this deadly game of reward and expectation?


Thursday, June 16, 2011



On one hand, the popular war cry amongst marketers world over has been – sex sells! On the other, morality remains a tricky issue, and the reasons are simple. What is immoral to one, can be a hilarious howler to another! The issue gets more complex when one recognises that we live in several Indians simultaneously, where thinking, mindset, environment, family background & values, education levels, circumstances, peer groups/pressure & stage of evolution as a person, influence one's take on morality. It is clearly not value judgement but the big picture – which is about recognising, understanding & then interpreting any specific issue – is the prime focus. Same with the notion of morality. However, some basic norms (insist pundits) must be adhered to and this patthar-ki-lakeer zone, must never be tampered with by the consumerists; must never be compromised, commercialised, trivialised or absued. Like what is happening in the outrageous Deo-TV ad space, for example? According to the powers-that-are, these ads provoke libidous male instincts, arouse women's sexuality, show women & men to view each other with lust, and also motivate women to undress as an after effect of the sexy deo in an inappropriate, obscene & cheap manner!


Before playing Judge n' Jury, or frothing at the mouth, let's take a ppep at some of these ads in question. Let's start with a Wold Stone TVC. It's a typical Bengali Pooja Pandal scene. An attractive young hunk passes a sultry, dusky bong-belle on her way to the diety. Suddenly, she's struck by his deadly deo, swoons, swirls around to lock eyes with the guy. A passionate (un-holy?) quick ie follows, after which (suitably ful-filled) the young lady, in a super stup out, moves away. The tagline reads: Wild By Nature! Another one shows a young, lovely girl innocently playing bBlind Man's Bluff, with a bunch of happy, excited kids. Suddenly a young lady is instantly zonked, forgets the kids. Suddenly a young dude, wearing another deadly deo, accidentally opens the door. The young lady is instantly zonked, forgets the kids & the game, and not so blindly follows the guy to his room. The tagline reads: It Happens!

The popular Axe deodorant ads, where women keep collapsing while confronted with the seductive spray, are too well known to warrant repetition but the one that seems to have got the mickey of the politically correct purists is the one that has the bhabhi go weak kneed while sowing a button on her bewildered, deo-sprayed devar's shirt getting into some rather un-bhabhi like body language! The tagline reads: Just Zatak Her! The list is endless, with seduction as the main driving force. Question is – are these ads really the dangerous weapons of destruction, created to poison & corrupt innocent, impressionable minds, denigrate & commodify male & female bodies as objects of desire... or are they just quirky, edgy, naughty, fun snapshots of the times we live, created to entertain, surprise & delight in a provocative manner to a new-age viewership totally comfortable in their skin?

Theatre Person and Branding Specialist Sumit Roy is up next and believes that if it's legal and follows the guidelines, it's okay. “Regarding laws & diktats, that's the easiest thing to do because to protest or politicise an issue seems to be the flavour of the day,” adds Roy. Ad Filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar agrees as he tells 4Ps B&M, “Suddenly, everyone, everywhere appears to have got this new lovely toy to take panga with anyone or anything they need to get even! It's mostly too silly or trivial to even discuss. Same with bans. But yes, I have to agree that some deo ads indeed push the ticket a little too hard.”

Entertain, surprise and delight? These are not typically ads, and are closer to porn.” This outraged salvo comes from Delhi-based housewife Kusum Malhotra. The 35-year-old mother of two kids is shocked & angry at what goes in the name of manoranjan. Mumbai-based MNC executive Coyel Ghosh however can't stop laughing, “One has to chill! Its's the year 2011 and not actually 1947. Where does this 'scandalised' lot live – in caves, jungles, another planet? And where is their sense of humour? These ads are just light-hearted, clutter busting, and totally over-the-top, for effect! Why take it so seriously and make it a moral isise?” Coyel tells 4Ps B&M.

Veteran ad-watcher Arvind Godbole attempts to bring order out of chaos. “It's bewildering! On One hand you have people wishing to sue companies! On the other hand, there is this huge over-reaction from the purists. If Sheila Ki Jawani, Dum Maro Dum, Munni Badnam Hui, Jalebi Bai and zillions of item songs are titillatingly celebrated on the silver screens every other week with nodoby offering a word in protest, then why this sudden grab for the chastity belt?” asks Godbole.

As always, it's a tough nut to crack because morality is finally a subjective issue. Allan Collaco, Secretary of ASCI, has referred to at least seven ads – including Axe & Set Wet Zatack – under the scanner for improper portrayal of women. “The Consumer Complaint Council will decide on the action to be taken soon,” says Collaco. This magazine ran an incisive story on ASCI and how it was going over the top and beyond even its allowed legal norms in attempting to control certain ads.

Truly, there's much that the Indian government needs to regulate – from insider trading to unfettered private equity participation, from corruption to black money... It's quite obvious that attempts to regulate fair weather advertisements should have perhaps not even been taken up. India, clearly, doesn't need regulation like this – that too by self-appointed moralists!


Thursday, June 02, 2011


Early this year a report, “The Brand Trust Report, India Study, 2011” was published by Trust Research Advisory (TRA), a leading research organization dedicated to understanding and simplifying concepts related to 'Trust' Based on responses collected from approximately 2,300 participants spread across 9 metros mini-metros of India, the results showcased the level of trust every individual has in these brands. “As many as 61 individual components were identified by TRA which were then grouped into 10 composite descriptions like competence, sincerity, respect, empathy, enthusiasm, responsibility, et al” TRA's CEO N. Chandramouli tells 4Ps BM. After all, 'Brand Trust' is defined as the soul of the primary bond of engagement. However, “over time, the more evident connotations of trust like pedigree, size, performance, et al, have changed and the subtle forces are beginning to extert their influence on Brand Trust,” adds Chandramouli

Well, the results too are astounding! It's dramatically clear (through the study) that consumerism rules and what India trusts most, amazingly, are brands they use extensively or are totally familiar with. So, Nokia, TATA, Sony, Samsung & LG tops the list (and in that order). Even superstars Sachin Tendulkar (52nd rank) and Aamir Khan (242nd rank) feature and... er... are way ahead of an old toothless gentleman by the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi! So, 2011 'Brand Gandhi' is slung out by not only Finish phone makers and Korean consumer electronics major, but also sports and film celebs! Is it that brand Gandhi is finally losing out to Nokias, Lgs and Samsungs of the world?

To answer this, Shyam Benegal is first of the block. He laughts loud and long and is convinced that what the TRA guys need is not a sane response but the number of some very dependable shrinks! “To begin with the comparison is ridiculous. A brand reflects commodification and deals squarely with the equations with the marketable product and its consumers in the backdrop of market forces. Gandhi is hardly some one who can be promoted, positioned or marketed along those parameters because he didn't represent any monetary value. What he stood for (and died for) can hardly be compared with what Nokia, Airtel, Sachin or Aamir stand for. He will always remain a symbol of something much larger – human values that enriched and empowered for all time,” Benegal tells 4Ps B&M. Social commentator Santosh Desia too agrees as he says, “I think these surveys can never be taken seriously. To compare to apostle of nonviolence with Nokia and Amir is bizarre and totally trivialises the whole issue beyond measure. It suggests that any and everything can be branded and they must be judged on the parameter stated. To me it appears nothing more than a populist time-pass venture which no serious or sane person would look at twice!”

Theatre personality & Ad-man Bharat Dabholkar is convinced that it represents a giant step … in the wrong direction! “Does it make sense to compare timeless icons with brands? One is an everyday consumable item, which is constantly being appropriated to appease a hysterically voyeuristic audience base. It obviously taps into people who are more curious and knowledgeable about SRK & Katrina Kaif than Nehru & Gandhi. For them, Gandhi is … Ben Kingsley!” says Dabholkar.

Columnist and writer Anil Dharker however disagrees. He believes that in this information-overkill age, where self-absorptions rules & attention-span threshold is shrinking by the second, where out of sight is out of mind, this is bound to happen. “I believe it's less about reverence and more about an immediate connect. Also it's unfair to go misty eyed about the past and pronounce value judgment because back then there was no insane media-glare and the slow pace allowed for repose, respect and nostalgia. Today in these savage heretoday-gonetoday times, unless anything or anyone is marketed aggressively, it disappears.. and that includes Gandhi. It is clearly a sign of the times and there is no reason to get hyper or overreact. The survey had an agenda. Gandhi fitted in the slot. Period,” Dharker tells 4Ps B&M.

Political journo Paranjoy Guha Thakurta wraps up this debate with a telling take: “To place Gandhi alongside Nokia and Samsung speaks more about the people behind the survey, the agenda & context and the sample-base profile than Brand Gandhi. Besides, to compare a revered and globally respected figure with inanimate objects is something too ridiculous to even discuss. If these are the results emanating from, say-elitist, metro/urban types, that what can one expect from masses!”

Over to you, dear readers...


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Recruitment Marketing - Adland's Stepchild ?

Recruitment Marketing has always been Critical and All-Pervasive, Across Dedicated Supplements and Special Pages in Major Publications. however, it has never Seemed to Enjoy a Fraction of Respect, Glamour or Importance Provided to other Categories. Why? Our Consulting Editor Spews Fire :-)

It was the recent Remmy (Recruitment Marketing) Awards that prompted this piece. To most communication professionals, this is a category that certainly exists, but is seldom noticed or talked about. As an acerbic ad-tracker puts it “It is advertising of a very special kind, but for some inexplicable reason, never accorded the attention, respect, importance or inputs forever reserved for FMCGs or the new glam categories – Retail, Real Estate, Healthcare, Education – on the block.” Sad, because there is a lot one can do, but a lethal combination of ignorance, tunnel-viewed mindset and blind obsession with the stereotypical hi-profile products and services have kept the category at the fringe. Goafest and Abbys are hot ‘n’ happening, but how many have heard (or care) about Remmys?

Film, theatre & ad-maverick Bharat Dabholkar is first off the block and agrees to the fact as he tells 4Ps B&M, “I have always been intrigued by this complete lack of interest, initiative or imagination (from a totally creative-driven calling like Advertising) relating to this genre. Do the clients believe that by infusing creativity – engagement, art, emotion – wrong signals will be sent out, making the communication frivolous and eroding the seriousness of the intent? Rubbish!” Dabholkar reminds the killjoy that they forget is that the target group (potential candidates and employees) are first human beings with all the natural emotional responses to any piece of communication in place. They’d be only be too happy to connect with anything that provides the surprise-and-delight factor as value-addition to the main focus. “The everyday, boring, stereotypical recruitment ads are not based on truth, facts or survey results, I can bet,” Dabholkar insists.

Siddharth Ray, Executive Director of Kolkata-based Response, takes the case forward. “We live in an age of branding: brand architecture, brand image, corporate image... in this scenario, I can’t think of a more effective communication tool than this category to project a solid corporate image for organisations,” says Ray. He regrets the dismissal of recruitment advertising by the adfrat who insist on consistently re-affirming the stereotype. “I think in most cases, the advertisers must take the rap, because it is clearly their call. If they have no faith, belief, understanding, insight or knowledge in factoring-in their profile in an interesting, exciting or persuasive manner, how on earth can they ever expect to attract the brightest & bright talent?” adds Ray. Reason: Unlike earlier times, the profile of both the candidate and companies have undergone a dramatic change. Today’s brand-conscious, sharp, savy & confident MBA and IITian – with soaring ambitions and wide choices – is definitely looking for top-class corporate credentials. In that context, this genre is a huge, untapped goldmine ignored due to mindset, ignorance or disbelieving that this is a lesser or unfashionable form of Corporation-Employer-Employee connect.

Veteran Praful Daftari dismisses Ray’s argument with his very own take. An ex-communication consultant with PSUs, he lays on the line, “Let’s get some facts straight. In this Bingo-Pepsi-Coke-Cadbury-Mcdonald’s driven adspace, people are used to a kind of FMCG advertising that is totally entertainment-based. Recruitment advertising is very serious business with neither the time, space, scope nor requirement for anything frivolous. It has a job to do and does it in a direct uncomplicated focussed business-like manner.” Daftari believes that this hue ‘n’ cry has basically arisen because of “this new disease called creativity!”

Leo Burnett’s India supremo Arvind Sharma offers a dispassionate and objective view. “Recruitment advertising, by nature, is direct and does not require great chunks of creativity & brainstorming. However, when there is a competitive scenario or a me-too situation, out-of-the-box thinking is called for and this is when the challenge & opportunity combination comes into play. So basically it is about what is the message, who are you addressing, what is the tone of voice and what is the desired result. So, different strokes for different folks, I guess,” Sharma tells 4Ps B&M.

The last words are provided by Ujjal Sinha, CEO of Kolkata-based Genesis Advertising. He offers an interesting perspective tracing the changing face of recruitment advertising. “It has always been the advertiser’s call. In the good old days, recruitment ads came into the Tender Notice category. Both did what they were meant to. With the advent of digital and skyrocketing publication rates, both zoomed to the net. Unfortunately, recruitment ads never readily took off in that space, like tender notices. Today, in a world of fierce competition, where talent shortage is chronic, advertisers have no choice but resort back to mainline publications-but with a difference: instruct their Ad agencies to do cutting edge stuff. Think of these exercises as FMCG products and power them with the same amount of creativity, imagination and seduction,” says Sinha. Well, change certainly is in the air, for the ones who have chosen to reinvent this genre of communication!