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.


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