Thursday, November 15, 2012




“Words are all I have to steal your heart away…” Thus went the lyrics of a romantic ditty that, even today, gets zillions of women go weak in the knees. Gifted writers are fully cognizant about the world in which words dwell. They recognize the fact these precious creatures have a life of their own and need to be passionately wooed to help their breed attain the magic and mystique that only their [wordsmiths and words] ‘combine’ can bring, to stir up emotions and feel buried deep in the human heart.

My kill-joy friend smirked and dismissed summarily this sublime line of thinking while brazenly holding forth on his own views. He believed that in these fast-moving, impatient, digitally-driven times, words are swiftly being replaced by memorable sounds. “So, why should a profession which aims to connect brands with end-consumers play footsie and shy away from something offering readymade customer bonding and not pull the trigger? What is so sacred about words anyway? Will it wake the dead? Sounds are the new short-hand of communication, and those who cosy up, recognize and master this form of bonding are the guys – and brands – that’ll rock! They don’t need to pay a trip to the hot seat and exchange pleasantries with a certain celeb baritone to pick up their crores. They’ll make it if their choice is ‘sound’. Literally! Much as I was sorely tempted to strangle my young irreverent friend and check out [in sadistic detail] the ‘sounds’ that would emanate from his throat, I had to agree – as a professional, communication practitioner – that he was not totally off his onion. Jhingalala, Toing, Ooolalalalaeo, Waku Doki and Wakow were indeed some sound-driven brand identities that had over the years made waves with their TG, offering large doses of entertainment value, novelty and effectiveness. Bus does the ad industry agree so? How did this issue resonate with the folks involved – the ad frat?

Josy Paul, Chairman & NCD of BBDO – of the gurkha topi fame – fires the first salvo. He believes that in these fast the furious clutter-driven times, “memorability powered with authenticity are key factors. Hence new, interesting, innovative, clutter-busting ways to accomplish this in an exciting, people-friendly manner is the challenge. All these ‘sound’ ads referred to, delivered brilliantly on that score. Why just the ad world? Go to Bollywood. Remember Yahoooo, Sukoo Sukoo or Oye Oye? Didn’t they grab popular imagination and even today retain high recall value?” However, Paul warns that there must be a legitimate brand-fit to add value and connect with the TG in a way that is spontaneous, fun and memorable. Otherwise, it can never work. N. Sridhar, NCD of Leo Burnett, begs to differ. “I think sounds like Wakow, even Waku Doki, are unlikely to go beyond the gimmick stage, because they appear to be created for novelty and nothing else. What on earth is Wakow and what does it mean? Waku Doki – Toyota – emanates from a totally Japanese narrative that means, heart pumping and adrenaline racing, but does the general public know this… or care about it?” He cities the brilliand cased of ‘Kataak’ – Hot Shot Cameras of the eighties – or ‘Wassup?’ – the Budweiser Beer signature, a smart-talk shot at the stylish GenY coloured section in USA, brilliantly, customer-focussed and driven. “At the end of the day, it’s a tricky route to traverse and one has to be totally sure and confident about the sund unleashed. It shouldn’t be all sound and fury, signifying nothing, to quote our friendly Bare of Avon!”

Pravin Singh Mann, Head of Creative, R. K. Swamy-BBDO Delhi, comes to the party with his own spin. He is of the opinion that it works only if the brands are “truly iconic and powered with real deep pockets”, otherwise it just can’t click. A little-known brand taking the ‘sound’ route with limited budget is bound to fall by the wayside because of lack of sustainability. In cases where sounds have mad an impact, all the ads – Tata Sky, Pepsi, CocaCola, Toyota –were and are monster brands with big budgets to go the distance and guarantee high visibility and frequency.

Words of gently dissent comes from Titus Upputuru, NCD, dentsu Marcom, too: “I am not sure if making words out of sounds and using them as slogans or signatures really yield benefits to brands. I think there is a risk in remembering the sound and forgetting the brand!” Bhavna Sood, Senior VP – Communications & PR, DS Group, adds an interesting rider. “In this era of FM Radio, sound can be an extremely effective hero in the ad space offering instant identity. Clutter-busting and novel, it can provide both surprise and delight as a superbly fresh, memorable brand differentiator.”

Veteran Communication Consultant Asha Sarin however concludes this debate firing on all cylinders. She believes that most of this category – especially in the Indian context – is highly over-rated and deserves to be safely relegated to the dustbin. Adds Sarin, “Except the Kingfisher Ooolalalalao and Toing of Amul Macho, most others are eminently forgettable and irrelevant, adding zero value! The corny Googly Woogly Woosh (of Pounds), Wakow (Vanilla Coke), Jhingalala (Tata Sky) and many such fun-filled remarks by brands may provide entertainment to a brain dead viewership, but what do they do for the brand?” Not much, we reckon. Do these ad gurus believe that their Jhingalalas and Googly Wooglys will tickle the black boxes of their TG and influence purchase intents? Clients may buy the idea, but on a clear day you can see forever, and that’s when bad news knocks!

Strong words. But to decide for or against these attention seeking and many-a-time attention winning sounds is a tough call. It’s indeed an exciting, path breaking route to take, but at the same time a genuinely risky one. The ‘sound’ aspect – unlike in Bollywood movies – must be both meaningful and memorable. In an information-overkill space, with ads blitzing our senses every with way we turn, clutter-busting, unique and special are the real hot buttons to press. And if sound can provide that lucky break, why not give it a shot? So, get ready for some jhingalala times ahead. [Or maybe plain toing situations!]


Friday, October 12, 2012




My life in Ad-ville has largely been inspired by three mentors – Kersey Katrak, Subhash Ghoshal and Frank Simoes. To the irrepressible and unputdownable Katrak, advertising was seduction; a backdrop where boring facts were made to pirouette as dazzling fiction to beguile both heart & head. To Ghoshal, it was a setting where serious academics and MBAs comfortably rubbed shoulders with grungry, edgy, eccentric creatives to produce advertising that worked in the mind and market place. To Simoes, it was style that startles even as it empowers with a gift of laughter and a definite sense that the world is mad! All three, however, were in total agreement over one fact: the need to have or develop a hobby or passion outside their work that was likely to provide fresh, insightful and interesting takes on what they brought to the table.

In year 2012, does this enlightened thought, wash? In an insanely competitive environment, where stress and tension rules, where accounts and people-grabbing is no big deal and means justify the end, can this indulgence really be entertained? For the few of this “engendered species” (on the other side), is it increasingly becoming a problem to ride on two boats, lead a double life with equal passion and purpose?

Double lives in Adland, however, are not entirely a new phenomenon. The great Satyajit Ray started his master-piece Pather Panchali while employed as an Art Director in the Kolkata-based D.J. Keymer, in the fifties. The doyen of film crities, the late Chidananda Das Gupta (also my dad-in-law, guys!) was involved in serious film writing all his life, despite his professional engagements as Servicing Head at D.J. Keymer and later Ad & PR Head of ITC, in the fifties and sixties. In Mumbai, Alyque Padamsee – Adland's Dorian Gray – continues doing his number as celeb director/actor on stage. Earlier, Gerson and Sylvie Dacunha, Kersey Katrak, Roger Pereira, Ronnie Screwvala, Bharat Dabholkar and Sumit Roy did the same, with Avijit Dutt following suit in Dealhi. Today the great Prasoon Joshi and Balki are red-hot in both Adbiz and B-town! So what's the score?

Appropriately the Big Daddy of this movement, Alyque Padamsee, is first off the block. “My life – as my first book indicated – has always pursued twin-passions – Theatre and Advertising. The first a hobby; the second, a profession that allowed me to earn a living and support my family. Over time one helped, collaborated and enriched the other. Theatre taught me teamwork and handling edgy, creative artistes, which was critical in advertising. Advertising enabled me to enter new product/brand experiences every day, as also taught me discipline and conciseness of thought. The mesmeric wilful suspension of disbelief that defines great theatre also influences great advertising, because ultimately, the world in indeed a stage, and we charismatic players,” he tells 4Ps B&M.

35-year-old Minnie Vyas dismisses this 'dramabazi' and brings in her own spin. Articulates the Creative Director of Quantum Communication, “Yeh sub tab chalta tha when the angrezi plays were a fashion statement – not now. Clients are looking for focused content, substance and creatives that are result-specific and make a definite dent on the bottomline. In this dog-eats-dog world, those arty and self-indulgent types have no place unless they leverage it to guarantee the required results. Dramashaama ghar mein karo...!” Strong words? The son and heir of the Dacunha (and Amul) legacy, Rahul, begs to differ. “For me, theatre has always helped my ad life – and vice versa. The passion overlaps. I try and miantain my desire to understand audiences while working in both these media. Would not be able to do one without the other,” says Decunha. Padamsee agres and states that if ever he were to emigrate from his beloved motherland “it would be if and when something like Zia-ul-Haq's infamous diktat of baning all artistic endeavours in Pakistan happens here!” Presently he is busy reviving the Arthur Miller classic, Death of a Salesman.

Young lyricist, composer and singer Abhijit (who, with his partner Ashutosh, has a band, Under the Influence) and also holds down a responsible job (Associate Creative Director, Ogilvy, Mumbai) is up next. He believes that it is clearly about time management. One need not disturb or hijack the other if the love and passion for both is equal. “For me, they are two different zones and music provides me huge enrichment because it is not client-driven, nor does it touch any areas dealing with conventional market-forces. It is totally individualistic and a subjective form of self-expression that is hugely inspirational and satisfying as it leaps from the heart seeking resonance in another,” says Abhijit. Ashish Narendra disagrees. The 45-year-old Creative Consulting believes “it's become a fashion and a fad for kids to sling along a guitar (with their laptops) to increase their hot quotient amongst peers. Sure, it gets attention, but excuse me, you are paid for your damn work, not gaana or nautanki, okay? How does it help?”

So were Katrak, Ghosh and Simoes wrong? If Alyque, Rahul, Abhijit – and especially Prasoon and Balki, as heavy-duty, respected, and successful Bollywood-driven creative professionals and achievers – are anything to go by, one can definitely double-life it successfully, cool n' easy. Only, a word of caution – like in a solid happy relationship or marriage – keep them apart!


Saturday, September 15, 2012




Friendship as a special, precious and unique bonding between people has been hymned and celebrated in popular culture – movies, songs, stories – from ages. However, as a canny marketing mover n’shaker … well, let me think about it! Sure there have been loads of ads touching this theme, but it is the recent bunch – Airtel, Vodaphone, Cadbury – that has got people talking. Overnight this amazing communion and bonding (with special focus on Youngistan) has zoomed centre-stage, winning friends and influencing people in a manner that would make Dale Carnegie beam till his face exploded! With Airtel’s iconic Hare ek friend, and now Jo mera hai leading the pack, with Vodafone and Cadbury ads following, this category of Relationship Marketing seeks to clearly (explore? exploit? leverage? front? use? capitalise? cash-in-on?) celebrate this human emotion to achieve a commercial purpose, right? Is it right? More importantly, is it working?

Veteran Ad person Ayesha Sehgal (earlier with Delhi-based Clarion) is first off the block and wastes no time in small talk. “At the risk of being a killjoy let me come straight to the point. Sure the Airtel ads are hugely popular – as are the others – but my belief is that it is because of the feel-good factor and brilliant execution, rather than any great, ground-breaking concept. They are all too simplistic, basic, naïve, lame, and even lazy! For me they typically amplify the seductive dangers of new-age film-making – superb casting, great direction, fab camera work, amazing lyrics and music … but is it saying anything special that would persuade me to be converted from charmed-audience to determined consumer? I don’t think so,” she tells 4Ps B&M.

Ace Ad filmmaker Ram Madhvani – who has incidentally supervised the terrific camera work in both the new Airtel ads – brings his evolved and mature take to the table. “While it’s a free country and opinions will happen when ads hit the public domain, some critical points really need to tbe considered,” says Madhvani. The veteran believes that the Airtel advertisement’s connect and focus – as per brief mandated – demanded a connect with its constituency. What better than popular culture, tapping youngistan and their lingo? Political Commentator Sudheendra Kulkarni aptly elaborates this point by saluting the youthful idealism of the mind-blowing lyrics … I-Me-Myself boring hai / Us and we interesting hai / Internet hai to friendship hai / Friendship hai to sharing hai/ Main aur tu se hum bane / Humse bane humsab / Sabse jude to zindagi / Hey Zindagi, wassup!

Ultimately, Madhvani believes, that some fundamental questions need to be asked … “Are you humming along? Does it make you smile and feel good every time you see these ads? Do you remember this words? Does it, in any way, inspire bonding? The objective was not to demonstrate our communication skills through heavy-handed esoteric experimentation and creative leaps but showcase the connectivity aspect, with warmth and memorability,” Madhvani tells 4Ps B&M.

Lloyd Mathias agrees, Founder-Director of GreenBean Ventures (and Former President & CMO, Tata Teleservices), he takes the case forward. “As a category-fit, the Airtel ads are bang-on because the telecom business is about connectivity. The brownie point, however, come from their superbly creative interpretation and rendition of friendship vis-à-vis youngistan! To Gen Y, friends do define their life and world, and playing out this feeling / experience in mad-cap, care-free ways is the name of this game. Friendship, as anchor, works brilliantly here,” he tells 4Ps B&M. However, Mathias warns that friendship as a team / platform must be carefully leveraged, otherwise it could well appear both corny and contrived.

ECD Bates (Mumbai) and film scriptwriter (Vicky Donor), Juhi Chaturvedi is up next. For her these work brilliantly solely on the brand-fit quotient. “Airtel, Cadbury, Vodafone and some others have smartly hit the emotional route via the friendship theme because, in terms of profile, it works best. It’s a great strategy. In all these cases, the magic of youth and bonding form the soul of their communication smartly tied with the product proposition ensuring a very successful and rewarding audience / consumer take-out,” says Juhi.Anjali Nayar agrees. The Chief Executive of M&C Saatchi (Delhi) just loves “the basic simplicity that drives these ads powered by warmth, spontaneity and honesty. In these complex and tension-filled times, the full-throated, open demonstration of friendship is a hugely re-assuring factor and does evoke memories of our youth and what bonding is all about.” The energy, charm and excitement that infuse these ads, along with the amazing, inspirational and focused lyrics, make it stand out, for Mrs. Nayar.

Veteran Ad-watcher Saurabh Vyas winds up the debate, raining on the parade and playing serious Devil’s Advocate. “We live in a time when style gobbles up substance, form rules over content and appearance is perceived as reality. In this dumbed-down environment where the Bollywood influence is all-pervasive and is constantly referred to – wrongly – as Indian Cinema and even otherwise sane people like Sudheendra Kulkarni (shockingly?) Compare Jo mera hai to the iconic Mile sur mera tumhara … what can I say? These and definitely finely crafted and engaging ads on the theme of friendship, but do they impact the product they are meant to promote … Or truly celebrate friendship, youngistan-style? They are far too superficial and populist like the Bollywood movies, cleverly designed to manipulate and patio the emotional, feel-good quotient of Gen Y – which they successfully seemed to have done. For me it’s certainly a hugely over-rated, over-hyped song and dance extravaganza signifying nothing … but in a space where the Rs. 100 crore club calls the shots and popularity has hi-jacked quality, minority voices hardly stand a chance …!!” says the acerbic critic. What’s your take, dear reader?


Monday, August 20, 2012




It, is arguably the longest running outdoor campaign in the world and – along with Air Indian’s Maharaja ads – the most eagerly awaited and consumed slices of communication, this side of the Suez! How did it all begin? Whose Big Idea was it? What made it catch fire and become the legend it has? What powered and inspired its continuing march into history? What magic makes this transition from imagination to sketchpad to billboards to a zillion hearts and minds, for 50 years, such a riveting and compelling journey?


Amul Butter had already been in the market for at least 10 years, positioned as “processed from the purest milk under the most hygienic condition by a dairy co-operative in Gujarat.” It was up against the much more popular Polson Butter. “The communication needed features to be converted to advantages, in look and spirit away from the lantern lecture to an indifferent audience,” recalls the founding father of this legendary campaign Sylvester [Sylvie] Dacunha, who headed the agency handling the account. To again with, it needed a snappy, cool yet simple and memorable slogan to define it. His brilliant (English Lecturer) wife Nisha suggested ‘Utterly Amul’ to which the creative Dacunha added in a flash ‘butterly’ – and bingo, a deathless slogan was born! While he was convinced of its connect with the public, his client wasn’t so sure, but it was a sign of the turst and confidence of their hedad honcho the visionary Dr. Varghese Kurien’s in Sylvie when he said “I think its utterly mad, but if you think it will work, go right ahead!”

Slogan frozen, the ad next needed something more vital, critical and central – a presence, spokesman who would act as an appropriate counter-point to the popular Polson Butter Girl, portrayed as a sexy village belle, in tantalizing choli, all but covering her upper regions! “I sensed it had to be a child, impish and lovable” flashbacks Dacunha and explained this to his brilliant Visualiser-cum- Cartoonist Eustace Fernandes. “He came up with this utterly delectable polka-dotted, frocked moppet, with matching ribbons, smacking her lips, as if to say Utterly Butterly Delicious!” Naughty, cuddly, innocent, and amart, the duo sensed they had a winner! From their earliest advertisement “Give us this day our daily bread with Amul Butter” till today, cries of “how cute”, “how clever” and “how smart” have been flailing the air. What’s the real secret behind this four-letter word that continues to move from strength to strength seducing each generation with unfailing doses of surprise and delight?

In fact, a host of celebs enthusiastically raise their hands wishing to respond in Amul’s India, a compilation of essays by knon personalities including Amitabh Bachchan, Rajdeep Sardesai, Harsha Bhogle, Shyam Benegal, Shobhaa De, Alyque Padamsee and others. For instance, Big B believes “it is a departure from the straight, in-your-face pronouncements of products, offering a winning three-fold-edge over others – brand, humour and topicality.” Columnist Shobha De reckons that their “lovable, wonderful, non-intrusive style could never have been strategically planned. It was bound to have emerged, intuitively, in a blinding flash of inspiration.” While sexy Sania Mirza enjoys their relevance and “play on current events”, ex-Wall Rahul Dravid happily confessers that for him and his brother, they were a fun-part of their growing-up years in Bangalore. “Years later, to be featured, felt nice!” says Drivid. Cricket Commentator Harsha Bhogle is up next, perceiving these iconic ads as “charming chronicher of our times, not with the weightiness and gravitas of historians & academicians, but delightfully light-weight & tongue-in-cheek”, while veteran Ad-Pundit Alyque Padamsee reckons that they stole a march over those great Maharaja-led Air India ads because they were – and remains – more rooted and gloriously in-sync with the India story. “Also the ability to combine audacity with humour that is never loud, low-brow or insensitive, and always audience-friendly is remarkt-able,” says Padamsee.

Great – but times, they-are-a-changin’! As this template steps into its golden year, what are the new challenges that confront it? In the restless, promiscuous and impatient times that we live in, when nothing is sacred, everyone/everything is up for sale, and cynicism is the ruling mood, will the charm, gentleness and innocence that graced this brand-story be able to resonate with youngistan and today’s blasé junta? Rahul Dacunha – son and heir to the throne and present brand custodian – responds with elaninherited from his illustrious dad: “We are fully conscious of the transition and have made every effort to not be bogged down in a time-warp or nostaligia. In the nano-second times we live, change is the only constant and we have tried to tap into this through creative chutzpah, converting challenges into opportunities.” How?”By dividing India into five zones: Mumbai, East, South, the Hindi belt and Facebook because of its huge relevance and popularity with one kind of TG. Also because it has a life and personality of its own,” he answers. Every morning Rahul and his small, gifted team sit down to identify what is topical, relevant and lends itself to an audience-friendly send-up. These ads (mostly) are not pan-India in thrust because of region-specific reasons. What tickles, amuses or delights one region may be irrelevant to another. “Our strike-rate seems to be good by the response we receive. We strive to do our best, everyday, for three reasons. One, because of the unconditional faith, trust, confidence the client continues to repose on us. Two, the people’s expectations. Lastly, the deep awareness of living up and taking forward the great, iconic Amul brand-story that the name symbolises,” says Rahul.

Social & Media Commentator Santosh Desai aptly sums it up when he calls these billboards “moving timeline marking what we have considered significant at various points of time. It is also one of a country coming in touch with itself, even as it transforms beyond recognition. From a somewhat disconnected class liveing in a world of its own, we see a new narrative, distinctive language, its own set of heroes & issues... a running commentary on what it sees, feels and experiences as it accompanies us on this glorious ride.” Even priceless will be an understatement for these four letters (Amul), we would say!


Thursday, July 19, 2012




Living down a famous dad’s name is never easy in any calling. Advertising is no different. For years, I pasted on a fatuous and moronic smile every time my surname came into play, invariably leading to the inevitable “Oh, so you are Sanat Lahiri/Sanatda/Sanat Babu’s son? Naturally, advertising is in your blood!” Proud and happy as I was – and a bit embarrassed, awkward and inadequate too! – the truth can now be told since both my dad and the guy who turned me on to mosey across to Adville are up there, bogeying in the biggest Ad Congress of all!

No, advertising was not really in my blood; and no again, I did not come into advertising because of my famous [ex – Lintas, Dunlop, Tata, ICI. First Asian President of the IPRA, past President of PRSI & ABC, moving force behind Kolkata Ad Club, and Communication Consultant to the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia & Far East] dad. It was because of a maverick called Kersey Katrak, and an advertising agency called MCM (Mass communication and Marketing)!

It all began in college when, accidentally, a couple of ads slammed my retina. It was my first introduction to the supernova and his audacious take on advertising. Sharp, in-your-face and brazenly unapologetic, the ads challenged you to ignore them, as they teasingly went eyeball to eyeball with you! It really shook me up! Instantly – I was in my final year of English Honours at Kolkata’s St. Xavier’s College – I dumped all thoughts of journalism and zeroed in on knowing more about the freako who’d made the ads and his shop. I had discovered my Camelot!

My dad [while not doing a tango as he listened to my breathless whoopee about those advertisements and wild plans for the future] was supportive. I am forever grateful for that. Coming from a different space and conditioned to the politically correct and conventional stuff dished out by the likes of JWT, Ogilvy and Clarion [Bates] of those distant [60s & 70s] times, Katrak’s provocative and way-out stuff could well have freaked him out – but he appeared cool. It was my life and he was there to guide – not monitor – my moves, if and when called upon to do so. In the break that existed between exams and results, I did a quick orientation course at JWT to get an authentic reality-bite into the industry I was dying to join. After completing it – loved it – I immediately left for Mumbai… Operation MCM!

After Kolkata and JWT, Mumbai MCM at Colaba (Bakhtawar) and the super-hot dude who authored the show blew my young mind! The advertising agencies back home were nice n’ smart in an old fashioned, conventional way [“We’re here to do business, not entertain, deah boy!”] but what was this? The interiors were surreal and psychedelic! A pub, disco or an Adshop? I felt I was suddenly transported to Lucy-in-the-sky-with-diamonds land! Man, this truly was a life-after-death experience…! Just as I was recovering from this sublime and heady ambience, a tap on the shoulder got me face-to-face with the man himself…

Sporting Jeans, a cool Tee and comfy sandals, Kersey Katrak of the trimmed beard and glowing handsome face didn’t look a day older than 30, although he was reported to be in his mid-thirties. After warmly greeting me, ushering me to a small anteroom and ensuring that my Elvis-like trembling cooled off [was this for real?!] he did two things that made me love him – and the profession – for life. First he clicked a button that got the shades of the windows to part… in theatrical slo-mo… offering a spectacular view of the sea. While I started zombie-like at the impossibly amazing visual, he politely enquired whether I would like to join him in enjoying a Pink Gin or Gin n’ Tonic? Seeing my chloroformed look, he assured me that it wasn’t fatal, my dad would approve and most importantly, a great way to connect with creativity. “Leaning on the juices and wetting the old tonsils does wonders for anyone keen on waking the dead, son!” intoned the great one. [I was to understand the full import of this, with time.]

After a few sips of the magic brew and lots of help from the Guru, I let fly. I showed him some of my published poems and articles and gave him my expert opinion on advertising and my plans, once I entered the business. He listened with great interest to this greenhorn [whose tongue was loosened by a drop and friendly encouragement to keep going], sometimes inviting me to recite some of my favourite poems. He confessed he loved poetry too and even wrote some “in my lighter moments”. Suddenly, without and reference to context, he said “You’re on, buddy! Join us first of next month. You will have to relocate, struggle, stay away from family and girlfriend. You will receive a stipend but will have to be supported by your old man. Once we see that you are settled and flying, everything will fall in place. Just remember one thing. MCM is not and ad agency. It’s a temple and disco which worships and celebrates ideas that transform lives… good luck!” Exit Kersey Katrak. Enter the incredulous beginning of dream, floating on air all the way to my host’s residence at Bandra… and later, all the way back to Kolkata! For a variety of reasons, alas, MCM didn’t work out for me and I ended up joining JWT, Kolkata, where I was privileged to interact with and learn my craft from another great and towering icon, Subhas Ghosal… but hey, that’s a story for some other time. This one’s about Kersey, who is widely considered the father of creative advertising.

What was so special about the guy, who all his life was admired and envied in equal measure and who, all those years ago, blew my mind through that one life-transforming session? What was so inspirational about him that so strongly coloured my mind about this whole business of creativity in advertising and what a true-blue ad agency should really be … those three magical alphabets (MCM) that was to become the abracadabra of my life? Despite the fact that – tragically – I never had the opportunity of working with him, the aura, achievements and legend of Kersey Katrak in the early seventies were impossible to ignore.

Among the game-changers, was first his idea to create an ambiance first his idea to create an ambiance that attracted the best of quality and talent… send out vibes that pulled, magnet-like, anybody who dreamt – and dared – to be different. The vision to green-light an institution, movement and journey that ideation – without protection! (Imagine, Ravi Gupta, Arun Nanda, Mohmed Khan in Client Servicing and Arun Kolhatker, Kiran Nagerker, Panna Jain and Sudhershan Dheer – all working together under the same roof!). Also initiate, encourage and hand-hold darpoks within the client & agency fraternity to break the rules – both in style and substance – if they wanted to impact mind and market space in a boring, imitative and cluttered scenario. Much before Loyalty Programmes, Animated Heroes, lifestyle Advertising and Event Launches became fashionable buzzwords, Kersey and his team had been there and done that!

Fresh, startling provocative, reality-based advertising mandated to viagrize the dead back to life in never-before manner was the anthem. Charismatic, articulate, daring, flamboyant of style [He was the only ad agency CEO who zoomed around in a Merc and threw lavish parties that were coveted by the who’s who of high society!] and generous of spirit, Kersey Katrak was truly a man among men, whose legacy and vision was to influence the thinking and direction of such hot-shot, celeb agencies as Trikaya, Enterprise, and Rediffusion, to name just three.

Yup, KK was my rockstar, the sexy pied who got me – and many others – into the business and shaped the ad world’s earliest ideas of what advertising can do and should be, insisting as only he could, that people who truly love this business must remember never to be compromised; remember that they have not forfeited their right to dream or lost the ability to re-imagine and re-context the world as they believe it should be…
That was Kersey Katrak, the inspirational samurai, the glamorous gladiator forever seducing the edgy, freaky, quirky and courageous to abandon all Jurassic notions to take that much needed sabbatical from their dreary, boring safety-net-fitted life and finally that leap of faith and touch heights sublime… Kersey passed away in 2007.

When comes such another?


Sunday, June 17, 2012




It all started when a brilliant and celebrated and luminary very recently threw a poser my way – “What is you opinion of the Havells fans TVC starring Rajesh Khanna that is currently being aired?” I hesitated to answer. Having been an ad person for close to four decades and having expressed many of my opinions with the pen on films for an equally long length of time, I sure found the question tricky. Reason: answers to such questions are never one-liners. I knew it.

I must confess. I’ve had the good fortune of enjoying a ringside seat and tracking down the total RK phenomenon all the way. And I have never tired of telling people that there has never been a bigger superstar than Rjaesh Khanna in his heydays. No Dilip, Dev, Raj, Rajendra, Dharam, Shammi, Manoj – or even the Big B or Khans – could match the hysteria he generated in those pre-satallite, pre –zillion media channels and Facebook days. Sure, the Big B’s angry young man’s persona marked the beginning of RK’s end as the emperor of romance, but between 1968-1974, or so, Kaka was the undisputed emperor of Kingdom Bollywood and much beyond.

At one point I recall, this quasi-godly superstar had 2 silver and 2 golden jubilees running in Mumbai at the same time (don’t bother if you don’t understand what a silver or golden jubille means)! And then, as Bachchan’s star ascended the Bollywood sky with Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay, Khanna’s star tragically nosedived. Rajesh did make some feeble attempts to return – the most horrific ones being fanaa…let’s Fall in love in 2006 and Wafaa in 2008 with little-known heroines, both which mercifully for him didn’t take off – but his mannered, stylized acting was way out-of-sync with the new viewer. The factuality was that kaka had long back moved from sight to memory. In the Famous words of Avijit Ghosh, a veteran journalist, “With half of Rajesh’s acting ability, one-third his waistline and four times his discipline, Jeetendra swept the market down South for weepy socials and mindless entertainers!”

So how about the Havells fans’ TVC featuring Khanna? Lowe and boss man Balki’s team seem to have pulled a yesteryear celebrity out of mothballs perhaps basing their gut-feel on the fact that Khanna might be able to generate huge brand recall. Ponder on this issue for a moment. I recall Khann’s face pretty well – and my virtuous image at the start of this op-ed would be enough for you to guess my age and the age to which I belong. For argument’s sake, even you might recall Khanna; and I can bet my last remaining Edward shilling that you’ll surely be around 40 years of age, if not easily above. But ask a few respondents in the age groups 20-30, and you start realizing that not only do a significant majority of them have no idea of who in heavens is Rajesh Khanna (and that throws the recall issue out of the value chain), but also that there’s no way that they would be convinced to buy a fan because of him. The latter part of this argument applies to even the age groups that know the 70s king of cinematograph. Would you buy a product now because, um, Kaka says so?

Others too have echoed similar feelings. Creative hotshot Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar [NCD, Bates 141] finds the punning – Havells fans and RK’s fans – laboured. Mahabaleshwarkar is disappointed that the attempt comes from an outfit that created the wonderful ‘Fago re!’ and What an Idea Sirjee!’ campaigns.

While Pritish Nandy, media commentator and head of Pritish Nandy Communications, dismisses the TVC summarily as “a silly parody of the ex-superstar”, film scholar and historian Rauf Ahmed believes the ad-film was an interesting opportunity that got derailed by pitching it wrong. Nandan Dasgupta, a Delhi-based legal practitioner, refuses to be as charitable and believes that the ad is made in bad taste and blames one and all responsible for this “regressive commentary on the human condition.” Former ad-professional, author and columnist Bunny Suraiya is equally critical, “The act is similar to flogging a dead horse. Havells must have gotten him cheap.”

But then, there are others who feel that airing the TVC was worth the toil that went into making it. One cannot deny that it was imaginative and bold of Lowe to have identified a decades-old star who had slipped off the public radar. There is not denying that the attempt to spring a surprise on TV screens with RK, and hit the nostalgia button for his many fans – especially of the 50+ variety – was a conscious decision. Brave it was too for the creative heads to imagine that they could do well without the usual clan of actors who pose for hair oils and mango juices. Perhaps there was nothing in the script and dialogue to support and enhance the surprise element of RK, but him spouting unexpected CSR lines wouldn’t have made the case strong for Havells either.

Personally, I found a few clear blind spot in the ad. The Look that the Aradhana golden boy maintains is worrying [Is he suffering from something serious?]; further, shots of him surrounded with fans and a soundtrack loaded with tired clichés [Mujhse mera fans koi nahin chheen sakta] sound more like dirges of a sad era and are difficult to digest with a smile.

The creator of the TVC (Balki), admits that one requires tremendous confidence, sense of security and calm to undertake and execute a TVC of this type. He says that when Havells decided to resurrect the superstar, there were unhappy faces all around. He is however pleased with the reaction to the ad. “A majority loved it and the polarising views work like an event. Emotion runs high. Placing people and circumstances in public memory has been an achievement.” Well, let’s hope that happens. My critique editorial itself is advantage enough for Balki. And as far as Havells goes, tis the seasons for fans I say; not that I’m gaining too many.


Friday, May 18, 2012



For some time now, concerned consumers and ad-watchers have been getting increasingly worried about the frat crossing boundaries and hitting erogenous zones erogenous zones where even angels (should, but no longer?) fear to tread! Holding up the Lux Cozy and Amul Macho ads as earlier examples apart from the tons of sexist deodorant ads and of course the scores of whitening creams, they continue to remain anxious, often protesting vehemently against the way the Persuasion Industry is trying to seduce the impressionable, unguarded and aspirational sections of our mahaan Bharat into promising them a more fulfilling, confident and rewarding life if they embrace the products advertised. In its effort to keep pace with India's ever changing profile and fashionable definition of an ancient civilisation, which is also a young and modern nation, are the ad guys getting a bit too carried away and overdoing it by adventurously crossing the Lakshman Rekha and touching areas best left untouched? Or are we, due to traditional conditioning, being a little too touchy and forgetting that this is year 2012, and the blitz and exposure of new-age media to a techno-savvy youngistan renders this a non-issue?

A new TVC along the skin-lightening-product segment for a product called Clean & Dry Intimate Wash even promises Indian women protection, freshness (and most importantly) fairness “down there”! The commercial shows a young couple relaxing in their house. The man is shown reading a newspaper while the attractive wife-or whoever! -pouts, unhappy at being ignored. Reason? Her dark-coloured privates! Providence steps in, in the form of Clean & Dry Intimate Wash, ostensibly whitening the parts that seemed to have earlier cast a shadow over the guy's inner view of the young lady and bingo, suddenly aal izz well! Pout disappears, break-up averted, newspaper flung aside to (undoubtedly) explore and enjoy some real whitening-strikes moments!

There're too many questions that hit one when such an advertising hits the ceiling. Where do we stand on such in-the-face ads? Isn't there an LoC that the product's positioning is crossing? But then, how is such a product expected to be launched or marketed? One possibly cannot expect a simple word-of-mouth campaign, can one? And if the product is legal, then why have any hassles on the marketing of such a product? Are we going through the same wave of astonishment that one saw years ago when condoms were marketed in a savvy manner by Kamasutra as opposed to the politically correct yet moribund manner in which Nirodh was advertised?

When invited to comment, political journalist Mahua Chatterjee admits she's temped “to laugh hysterically so that she may not weep!” She soon gets serious and unleashes a series of posers. “Who are these guys creating these ads or manufacturing these products? Clearly a lot of us are totally disconnected from their radar! Is this their professional version of marketing which decrees: Find a gap and fill it? In their drive to sell a product, is nothing sacred, safe or out of bounds? In the crazed rush to grab eyeballs, is titillation of any kind permissible? What about social responsibility, good taste, style & class?” questions Mahua. Then, tongue-in-cheek, the journo enquires why despite a zillion face-whitening products for men “nothing like Intimate Wash has been dedicated to their, er, penile space?”

Actress Moon Moon Sen, after a hearty laugh, offers discrete perspectives. “Sometimes, some ads – even if uncomfortable – are necessary. We live in a society where women (mothers & daughters) don't always know about a lot of stuff, and doctors or professionals who do, hesitate to communicate these facts, due to mental conditioning, rendering them taboo. Unfortunately, many of these are necessary for a woman's well-being. However, a vaginal whitening cream doesn't remotely come in that category and does strain the imagination! A douche or cream for infection is understandable but...”

While documentary filmmaker Ishani Dutta finds the 'intent' of the TVC “inappropriate and sexist”, 23-year-old copywriter Tanu Koundal can't stop laughing! “It's too funny... I know that India is very whiteness crazed and men prefer fair complexioned wives, but it's the face and body on display that is seen and reacted upon... not the private parts!” says Tanu. But the young lady also believes that this kind of advertising – edgy, weird and hitting no-man's- land – is a part and parcel of today's permissive, sexually-cool society where nothing is a big deal anymore. But isn't the product strengthening the unfortunate fairness orientation of Indians and fortifying racist paradigms?

The inimitable, original 'Kamasutra' hottie, Pooja Bedi adds up to the debate as only she can, saying, “People reacted strongly to botox in the beginning, remember? Now it's a rage! Whether you are colouring your hair black, spraying on golden tans or turning private parts white, is an individual choice. I don't know why fairness creams are okay for faces – but not down there! Waxing, laser, designer-trimmer is acceptable so why the fuss about a lightening cream, for god's sake? Why are we always so obsessively reactive regarding our pubic/pelvic area?”

Then is it just media (in their zeal to constantly penetrate and explore new areas of darkness and bring them to light!), including yours truly, who've overdone the issue once again? At a time when more critical issues like education, health care, sanitation, more employment opportunities for women and poverty elimination need to be addressed, should the issue of vaginal whitening need be given the scrutiny that we've all managed to give it?

Irrespective of what the answer to such a macro issue might be, what cannot be denied is that after some weeks of quite dismal and perseverance testing television campaigns, we've finally got one that has the wherewithal to initiate a national debate. Let's raise a toast to at least that, and to the fact that the future is going to see quite some more of such advertisements and quite some more debate. And you know where we'll be when that happens – right in the midst of the fray.


Friday, April 13, 2012




Let's face it. Bollywood is the land of dream merchants and who bigger than the Big B and King Khan! In recent times (beyond movies and product endorsements) these two superstars have been coaxed to take on new roles: Brand ambassadors of state (Gujarat) / City (Kolkata)! While this task is both daunting and challenging - to say the least - what drove the powers-that-are to make this amazingly daring move? Avid and informed B-Town and ad experts invite us to remember one simple fact: the overwhelming domination of film stars and cricketers in the public domain and media! Are all brand custodians and marketing heavyweights idiots or passinate philanthropists to offer them telephone number, pay cheques to endorse their stuff, they ask. Surely, somewhere, in some way, there has been an impact and mass connect, of a rewarding nature?

Veteran communication consultant Gullu Sen initiates the debate with "how successful this connect is or will be, in terms of the conversion ratio, will depend on the quality of the ad, but the fact that the ad will be noticed and be a clutter buster, is undeniable. Why? Because in a star-obsessed country people will definitely watch any communication with a star as compared to an everyday Joe (Faggu) or plain Jane (Fanaki)! That's for sure!" Crayons' Client Servicing Director Sanjay Chauhan agrees with a slight reservation. He remains both amused and confused at the levels of desperation of many brand and marketing gurus who really should know better. "Shouldn't there be a connect between endorser and product that appears credible, exciting and positive to the TG," he asks. Besiders, isn't there any palpable or tangible difference between hawking hair oil and confectionery, cement, cars, and... a city or region?

"Not required," retorts respected and renowned adman-writer Kamlesh Pandey. He believes that while never in the history of showbiz has star-power been so overwhelming, "effective results can only come when there is an appropriate brand fit. Shakti Kapoor may not be the ideal role model to sell a state, but the aam admi will certainly be attentive, interested and open to what an Amitabh Bachchan or Aamir Khan have to say, as both, the recent Gujarat campaign and Atithi Devo Bhavo have demonstrated."

The Gujarat case study with the Big B is interesting. Till 2010, Modi's Gujarat - say experts - was a classic example of "how to dissuade tourists from coming!" Right from perception to image perfection, everything about the state was a mess. Enter the Shahenshah, and bingo in record time, he did to the state what (in his heydays) he did to the film industry and his fans ... dyamically redefined the meaning, in scope and scale, of groundswell and footfalls! His pathbreaking Khushboo Gujarat Ki campaign (brilliantly & evocatively scripted and shot, gloriusly narrated) showcases the many-splendoured state with appropriate style & panache. In fact, the campaign has placed a new and strange problem at the doorstep of the Gujarat Tourism HQ : How to deal with the sudden tsunami of tourists flooding the state?!

Pandey insiste "credibility" is the key and is bewildered at the choice of SRK as brand ambassador for Kolkata. "He is undoubtedly a huge star but socially, culturally and politically, he is clueless about that city! I can understand if it was Delhi - his home - but Kolkata?" questions Pandey. He believes that his selection - apart from star power - was obviously due to his ownership of IPL team, Kolkata Knight Riders, " but is that any reason? Wouldn't Saurav Ganguly, Prosenjit Chatterjee, even Mithun Chakraborty be a better choice?" He wonders if any right thinking Kolkatan would ever take SRK's brand ambassador role seriously. Ex-Lintas head and renowned environment activist Gersonda Cunha doesn't consider endorse-ments a big deal "because we did it over 50 years ago with Lux!" However, like Chauhan and Pandey he has a problem when the matching is bizarre. "This leads to both distraction and confusion because the attendion is being seduced by things not connected with its intrinsic brand value." Further, if the endorser is also into multiple endorsements, "state" of mind can suffer grave injury! Theatre actress Lushin Dubey wraps up this debate with a totally different perspective. "Among the evolved, educated and sophisticated intelligentsia, neither Amitabh, nor SRK or Preity Zinta (brand ambassador of Himachal Pradesh), Celina Jaitley (face of Egypt tourism), or Salman Khan's dallying with tourism in Cuba, will cut much ice. If they visit these places these stars are promoting, it certainly will not be for them, but because they have their own reasons: However, for large segments of the uneducated, impressionable and culturally underprivileged, for whom stars are Gods and their pronouncements, gospel truths, these campaigns could well work."

So, at the end of day, the conclusion is simple: Stars dazzle, but when they make trips away from the sky, they better be sure that the glow sends the right signals to the right star struck fan, to create the right impact, or else....


Friday, March 09, 2012




"Jab tak balla chalta hai, thaat hain. Jab balla nahin chalega tho..." a pause accompanied by an expression of bewilderm9ent, helplessness, and resignation on the (seemingly confident) World Cup hero's face continues to haunt and leave a chilling, poignant impact on zillions of fans and viewers of this TVC. Where does the ad end... and stark reality begin? Is the line between reel and real suddenly blurring? Many Yuvi fans and TVC watchers are quick to point out that this ad has been “suitably pruned and frequency upped” to strategically cash-in, full-on, on the present state of the cancer-stricken sports star. This has led to some debate in the public domain with some flagging the TVC as an insensitive act representing commercialism, with the demand/request that the growth of this kind of brand positioning could be discouraged. The advocates of this TVC however wonder what the fuss is all about! They are of the opinion that instead of getting all emotional and sentimental, a little objectivity and maturity trying to understand the brand's point of view would help. They insist that the so-called offending TVC is only initiating, involving and reminding viewers to be prepared for the worst at all times and the very fact that the protagonist – a cool dude and hi-flyer – is going through a rough patch, out of the blue, only makes the point stronger. The message sent out is brief, direct and sharp for everyone: Life can be uncertain. Hence life insurance. More so for a majority of Indians who remain uninsured purely due to sloth.

Which point of view works? Which doesn't? Soma Chakravarty, Senior PR Manager at India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) leads the pack with all cylinders firing. She accuses the advertiser of being shockingly insensitive and cynical. “Where is the heart and human feelings? I am amazed at their take on the very concept of communication; gives the profession a bad name!” Says Soma. Judhajit Sengupta, VP of the Kolkata-based Megaminds Communications, agrees and adds his bit: “To begin with, the intent is suspect and so is the timing! Don't these guys remember or respect basic commandments of responsible communication... that we are first human beings, then consumers? As a communication practitioner I am appalled at the lack of corporate conscience and defense of an ad that hurts any right thinking person's sensibilities. How low can one stoop to conquer?” Is this the general viewpoint?

Not quite, as one realizes quickly. Cut to the supporters, and the other viewpoint becomes clearer. Leading this team is a sharp, clear-eyed, intelligent corporate communication professional from NTPC, who brings a fascination aspect to this debate. “Let's face it, we live in a world where reality television rules, right? Remember Sacch Ka Saamna? It was disturbing and cathartic, but it was life in the raw. Without make-up, which – like the surgeon's knife – cuts as it cures, right? The Birla Sunlife Insurance TVC with Yuvi should be seen in that light and not as something that is either exploring or invading anyone's private space... and please easy on the hysteria and rona dhona! We are always so, unnecessarily, over-the-top with emotions, It's just an ad, guys!”

While Brijesh Kapil, VP, Ranbaxy – Global Consumer Healthcare, confesses he “wouldn't really air the TVC” and the CMO of Tata Teleservices Lloyd Mathias, while saluting the crafting and execution of the ad, admits that he has issues with the “timing”, Anil Nair, President, Law & Kenneth India, remains cool about its form, content, intent and airtime. “It's true to life, talks of uncertainty and unpredictability. It's spot on!” Nair tells 4Ps B&M.

Interesting is actually the viewpoint of the Chief Marketing Officer (Financial Services) of the Aditya Birla Group, Ajay Kakar. When asked whether he would withdraw the ad after Yuvi's illness, he flatly refused and commented, “No! Why? A day after the commercial went on air, Yuvi tweeted that he was looking forward to the ad and wants to return to his old form. In fact, when the ad was shot last September, Yuvi's mom was also present and was happy to see a brand presenting the story of her son.” The star cricketer also seemed happy (and relieved) to be in Boston, where unwarranted sentimental tsunamis are thankfully missing!

Media analysts come in to explain why we in India, act the way we do, with ailing stars. It begins, they insist, with our terrible “bedside manners” when it comes to any major illness. The C-word, of course, is commonly perceived as a death warrant and invariably sends us headlong into paroxysms of commiseration with sympathy, tons of spiritual wisdom and crazy cures that worked for 'Minoo Aunty's' husband's cousin! Bollywood too has consistently done its number (complete with mandolin, violins in background) to perpetuate this feeling of quiet terror! Ever since Rajesh Khanna mouthed those deadliest line – Zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath mein hai jahanpana, jise ne aap badal sakte hai na mein – in the evergreen 70s classic Anand, with Kal Ho Na Ho, Aashayein and We are Family following the 3-Handkerchief route, the big-C continues to be looked upon as a green card to the next world! The message is clear : You get Cancer. You Die! From Steve Jobs to the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Emperor of all Maladies, cancer has only grown in its infamy.

Happily, if bulletins, press releases and updates of Yuvi are to be believed, life has no intentions of imitation the movies and the ailing star seems to be definitely recovering well. So, despite the entire gamut of emotions that zipped across the hearts and minds of zillions of viewers of the TVC and his fans, this version has a happy ending and is actually playing on a small screen, near you! Then why not view this ad as simply being consistent with the message that life, at whatever juncture, is unpredictable and insurance is a great way to assist your family in tiding over a mishap.

This brings into play some new paradigms of communication. One, that marketing messages are more visceral and participatory than before, with companies, brand roles and people lives more exposed, discussed and challenged than in earlier times. Also, today's consumers are frequently called upon to play a critical role in conveying the brand promise, In fact, engagement, excitement, and edginess are the winning new age troika that powers empowerment of both the viewer and message! At the end of the day, if the TVC was really as irresponsibly insensitive as its detractors claim it to be, wouldn't Yuvi's mom or for that matter Yuvi himself be the first one to blow the whistle?

In other words, boots to the debate, here's wishing Yuvi a superfast recovery and an as quick return to action.


Friday, February 24, 2012




We live in strange and funny times, quipped the local wit and for once, I agree with the majority. In a fiercely competitive, market driven and bottomline obsessed world where brand-consciousness takes on hysterical dimension, it would seem that the entire process of identifying, zeroing-in and signing brand ambassadors would be totally driven by the performance in the field, right? After all, their red hot popularity and connect with their fans-especially in the area of showbiz and sport – is normally based on that and brand managers are quick to pounce on these hi-achievers ride on their fame/stardom with communication narratives (across diverse media avenues) that produce seductive synergy to inform, educate, persuade and sell their wares to the public, right? Err … not really … and not always!

When in Hollywood, a celebrity like Lindsay Lohan – notorious for grabbing headlines of the wrong kind and constantly oscillating between jail and rehab centres – is said to have scored a cool $4 million fee for her association with brand Playboy and designer collection named 2169, one could always argue that Lilo is obviously a great pop star and film actress too.

But then, what better example for our benefit than the uber-glam, dishy, sexy, young Russian tennis star who created such a huge “racket” in her heydays in most of the A-Circuit, glam tennis courts with her … looks and body language … and oh, game too! The name is Anna Kournikova! Did you know that the Russian babe's only actual achievement was her reaching the semis of the 1997 Wimbledon where she lost to Martina Hingis, and that she didn't registered even a single major WTA tour win ever to her name? Now compare this very ordinary scorecard with her earnings in endorsements. The former tennis player over time has been associated with several iconic brands such as Omega, Swatch, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Adidas, BlackBerry, Berlei … among others. Stats indicate that in the year 1999, she scooped up a cool $11 million from endorsements alone! ESPN Sports reporter Darren Rovell stated that the blonde bombshell consistently made over $10 million per year, right through her playing career, She retired in 2007, but if you compare those mega bucks in terms of time value … wow!

Next up is Afro-American Motocross driver, James Stewart. Reports indicate that he has consistently skipped more races than participated in, and since 2008 has competed in only one “complete” season without injury! He won a championship only in year 2009. Yet, this injury-prone bloke seems to have attracted a bunch of high-profile brands to race ahead with a portfolio that includes dazzlers like Nike, Yamaha, Red Bull, and pick up a cool endorsement package of $10 million! Avid Stewart watchers opine that “it is his injuries and the way & style with which he gets them” that provides him the marketable aura & charisma!

Closer home, we have our very own sports celebrity – desperately attempting a comeback – Sania Mirza! With a highest ever WTA singles rank of 27 (in 2007) the Hyderabadi hurricane, who swept popular imagination across the world early in her career, and then post marriage went through a dip in form and performance across tournaments, has enjoyed the patronage of signature brands like Sprite, Cadbury, Tata Indicom, Adidas, Atlas Cycles, TVS Scooty, Tata Tea, Hyundai Getz among others. Today, some may have dropped out but many have stayed on. In Bollywood too, not so successful stars like Riya Sen, Celina Jaitely, and Neil Nitin Mukesh are raking in big moolah.

What's going on? How come even non-performers are being celebrated and signed up for big bucks? Ad filmmaker and media commentator, the irrepressible Prahlad Kakkar answers head-on firing on all cylinders, “Sure, achievements and performance are important but sex appeal and glam quotient often can (and do) overwhelm that. Anna Kournikova is a typical case. Her 'Object of Desire' element flattens out anything else! Same with Chris Evert. Her cute, pretty, sweet face and personality got her many more endorsements than the performance driven, more successful Martina Navratilova. Remember, lust as a brand shine, aces every performance, achievement or scorecard on the earth, trust me!” Even communication guru Alyque Padamasee puts it down to charisma. “It is something impossible to define or explain but easy to recognise. Don Bradman had it. John F. Kennedy had it. Bill Clinton has it. Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe had it. “It's something that cannot be acquired or bought off the shelf; you have it or you don't,” says Padamsee. However, in the sports area, the veteran adman believes that it is more performance-led and you are as hot as your deeds. Showbiz by definition lends itself to charisma which is why many of the other Bollywood (Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Madhubala) and Hollywood (Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Frank sinatra) icons are remembered long after they are gone. Do you know that many of these legends earn more royalty after their death than when they lived?

Then what really matters more? Performance or looks? Well, being a good on-field performer gets people to notice you, but if you want those high mega-buck ad endorsements to come your way, you better be good looking – one reason why, in the world of celebrity endorsements, the outstanding hockey legend Dhanraj Pillai stands no competition in front of Saina Nehwal.


Friday, February 10, 2012



A while ago, amidst suitable media glare and fanfare, Coke along with a cluster of corporate global heavies – signed an agreement to categorically not initiate, indulge, involve or participate in any activity that consciously targets kids under a certain age. “We have a global responsible Marketing Policy that covers all our beverages, and we do not market any products directly to children under 12,” says The Coca Cola Company.

They (rightly) reckoned that directly marketing Cola products to children could send out wrong signals – as the general inference is that sugary and carbonated drinks lead to not only obesity and bone loss, but a host of other health issues. In children, the effects are worse and longer lasting. While all right-thinking, concerned parents and elders applauded this fine, worthy CSR move (“Hey, the guys have a conscience, after all!), one fine morning came along a spanking new ad of Coke (“Ummeedon Wali Dhoop, Sunshine Wali Aasha...”), which had a most hummable tune and cinematography worth its weight in gold. Shockingly, almost throughout the advertisement, children were featured singing the song some looking quite apparently below the age of 12. Worse, the ad ends with a statement,” Millions share a Coca Cola everyday.” This magazine had instantly picked up the issue in the last fortnight and pointed out the clear fly-by given to the much touted voluntary decision of Coke to not market to children.

To its fair credit, the TVC is charmingly conceived, executed and packaged, totally children-friendly, superbily written – by McCann's gifted multifaceted head honcho Prasoon Joshi and reinforced with an eye opening series of facts juxtaposed smartly to entertain and enlighten in one fell swoop. In fact, Ummeedon Wali Dhoop, Sunshine Wali Asha, today, is a hugely loved and popular anthem with kids, everywhere, because of its simplicity, charm and inspirational tone. So, what's the problem?

That's exactly the problem, per se. The more children that like the ad, the more the probability of them falling for the cleverly positioned ruse. Was this an inadvertent mistake on the part of Coke (featuring children, that is) or is this a supremely shrewd advertising campaign meant to raise hackeles? Veteran Ad person Esha Guha is the first to fling her glove into the arena and declare war! “Prasoon is a terrific writter... You give him a brief and he'll give you a song! However, this entire TVC would've been great had not the 'millions share a Coca Cola everyday' come in as last line – which, to me, is a sneaky way to leveraging product placement! It's a piece of brilliantly crafted cameouflage, very creatively distracting to represent, in wonderfully inspirational and uplifting manner, hope, sunshine, optimism – the works.” Dentsu's NCD Soumitra Karnik – ex-JWT, creative head who master-minded several award-winning campaigns, including the memorable Youngistaan – is not so sure and believes that it is a conflick of letter versus spirit. “Agreed, in theory it may have strayed a bit, but overall the TVC offers a brilliantly, optimistic, warm and feel-good vibe with great lyrics and most significantly, sung by children in joyous collectivity. Kids are our greatest change-agents and their bright shining faces, energetically singing those exalted lines, for me, scores over a technical flaw,” says Karnik. He (all set to change Dentsu into a solidly creative agency) believes that compared to the mess around (scams, end of world in 2012, drubbing at Australia) this TVC represents a welcome change. So, he's willing to “let this one pass!”

Post-grad student Shrishti Jha agrees. She feels that most people are unlikely to view this TVC in a “negative and narrow-minded way” and will view it for the joyous ambience it creates, “The lyrics are outstanding and so is the over all presentation! Where does the camouflage and surrogate factor come in? It's neither a product hard-sell at all, nor does it nudge you to lean on the Coke Corp image. Like Hum Mein Hai Hero, Ummeedon Wali Dhoop charges you up in a charming, vigorous and vibrant way infusing positive emotions in your being. I love it. So do my friends.Forget the killjoys...!” Paris-based and Santiniketan-trained graphic artist Pia Sen, is up next. The pretty and petite 32-year old (who visits India regularly is fully clued-into this issue) comments, “The TVC is crafted in a deceptively innocent manner that gives this impression of upliftment and optimism, very successfully. Intelligently choreographed, it brings the millions share... line to form a telling conclusion about the product as a feel-good, bonding product. [Yet], for me, somewhere, it is unethical and goes against the spirit of the signed document . Like in life, intangibles and grey areas are always the trickiest.”

Mitali Lahiri, Senior Writer of the Kolkata-based Ad Agency Magnum Intergrafix, is not amused. “It's obviously done in a clever, slick way to make friends and influence people! The chocolaty topping is suitably sensitive with radiant children looking forward to a cheerful, sunshine planet... a world that hits more on love than hate... sharing, caring, trees, mats and fairy tales in place. So far, so good – but hey, how does Coca Cola feature in all of this, guys? For a while this TVC works like a happy drug and just as you are about to succumb, Coke enters to claim millions who love Coca Cola, opens happiness! But is Gen-Next supposed to share happiness with less calcium in their bones, broken bones, unhealthy disposition?!”

The gurus of advertising have repeatedly said that underpromise, overdeliver. At least don't promise what you can't deliver. Given the killing effects of competition, is Coca Cola slowly but surely revoking the voluntary decision they had taken on a global scale? I don't have the answer to that. All I can tell is that I love the song, but won't let my kids have the drink. Over to you, gentle reader...!


Friday, January 27, 2012




It's really quite interesting … and not at the same time. Every year, each time a birth or death anniversary comes around, the nation suddenly goes freeze frame on all scams and consumerist distractions, and slips into the (studied?) sombre, restrained, sober patriotic mood defining the moment! PSUs and corporations (forever on-the-make) quickly leap on to this bandwagon with ads eulogizing the theme of the day and connecting it – with different degrees of credibility and success – to their organisation's brand values and vision. Question is: Is this for real? Genuine pieces of communication celebrating the spirit of a momentous day with galvanizing, insightful, uplifting & creative evocation of words and visuals that touch a chord... or merely hollow posturing, doing the done-thing for the sake of political correctness?

It's plain, unadulterated waste!” 20-years-old Akhilesh Varma comes on strong, firing on all cylinders convinced that this “humbug has just got to stop!”The Pune-based MBA student's take is simple. The intent is all wrong. “Do these PSUs and corporations really understand, care and feel the importance of this day? For them it's a platform to advertise/publicise the connect between the occasion and their organisational product/brand, values any-which-way, and this is clearly evident from the amateurish, predictable, boring sycophantic prose and corny visuals presented. Who commissions them, who creates them, who looks at them, reads them and remembers them must remain a closely guarded secret between them... And does anyone give a damn about these ads the next day when they grace the-dustbing?!” says Varma.

Celebrated dancer and passionate champion of Indian art, culture and tradition, Sonal Mansingh however refuses to be cynical or irreverent and brings her own spin to the table. In fact, she raises a counter-question. “Why do we remember or commemorate birth/death anniversaries of our parents, grand parents and loved ones? Do we remember them, everyday? Why do we celebrate festivals relating to Lord Rama, Krishna, Ganesha and the entire pantheon? Are they on our radar, all the time? No... but there are two simple reasons. One, because it is a part and parcel our rich, cultural heritage and ethos... something that is an intrinsic part of our DNA. It comes naturally to us, Indian's More importantly, in an increasingly Google-driven and technology-led time with consumerism's signature tune of I-me-myself blasting away, these ads epitomize the values and vision of our great departed leaders, what they lived... and died for. They serve as role models and inspirational benchmarks so critical in today's materialistic and confused times. It tells us that human values of love, courage, truth and pluralism make for a rewarding life. I believe they should be viewed positively and there is much to be learnt from these ads,” Sonal tells 4Ps B&M. Filmmaker Muzaffar Ali agrees. While he concedes – being an ex ad-man himself!- that many of these species may not quite make the cut as torchbearers of great advertising “the heart is in the right place and the intent is spot-on. That matters most. What's wrong in using these events to showcase our amazing composite culture and all that a true great Republic and Democracy symbolizes? I know patriotism may not be as cool as Kolaveri D, but to mock and riducule these ads is poor form.”

Neither veteran advertising professional Tara Sinha nor Ogilvy's Executive Creative Director Sumanto Chatterjee unfortunately are on the same page – or book – with the arty twosome. While Tara believes “it is a colossal waste of taxpayers' money and reams of newsprint with zero returns,” Sumanto admits, “it is silly posturing and shadow boxing with communication capsules that strain, mostly unseccessfully, to achieve a cosmetic connect between the organisation/brand and the event of the day. Totally unconvincing and irrelevant, they usually end up devaluing the entire meaning of the occasion.” Both believe that it would be far more effective if the money spent could be used for people specific, community-related programmes addressing key causes and concerns to better their quality of life and god knows, there are scores of them! “Event management not brain dead advertising is the need of the hour,” says Tara.

So what gives? While it is unfair to totally dismiss all ads and communication appearing on these days as garbage, a serious rethink and review by the powers that are is definitely in order. After all, surely these ads have an agenda beyond blindly following herd-mentality, as suggested by their acerbic critics? Mile Sur Mera Tumhara... Hamara Bajaj, Pepse's amazing freedom ads commemorating India's 50th year of Independence are some outstanding examples of how to achieve a memorable brand-fit that that enhances brand equity of the product while not devaluing the essence of the occasion. The critical task is to convert this challenge into an opportunity that resonates with the reader in an engaging way. After all, don't special days warrant special ads?

Can they do it? Will they do it? Let's wait and watch...


Saturday, January 14, 2012




It was at the recently concluded Ad-Asia – played out with suitable fanfare in Delhi – that somebody brought this topic up. “Boss, for me, this tamasha seems pretty much like an Old Boys Club with lots of 'Hey Hi, and wow, lovely meeting up again and My God, where on earth did you disappear?' and stuff! Save some (in fact a very few) sessions, it's a long, boring, hyped event created by hype-valas, begging the question: who's doing what for whom?”

Startled at this somewhat irreverent and unusual outburst connected with an eagerly-awaited and publicized meet, I immediately button-holed a few articulate members of this community for their side of the story. The fall-out was rather interesting … Kolkata-based Ujjal Sinha fired the first salvo, in style. The MD of Ad Agency Genesis cut to the chase in a flash. “It's like this. The original idea of these global fests usually refer to a meaningful exchange of ideas, thoughts and concepts about an ever-altering communication landscape, where the very lingua franca of the brand-consumer conversation is changing every day. However, on the ground, is this very elevating and inspirational idea being played out? The reality is that these meets, first and foremost, appear to be a fabulous platform for networking – a meeting ground with the movers 'n shakers, hi-flyers and big boys of the Ad biz. The focus, basically, by the powers-that-are seem to concentrate on how to outshine and out-dazzle the previous editions of these meets by adding more big name luminaries, glamour, props, whatever. It's more a carnival than an engaging, interesting and serious meet where communication professionals (across all segments and countries) meet to debate, discuss and showcase their wares in a spirit that celebrates the best of communication, both as a global bond and an agent of change,” Sinha tells 4Ps B&M.

Red Lions' Creative Head, Elsie Nanji, is much kinder and more circumspect. She believes that it's largely about “who you are, where you are coming from and what's your agenda”. However, her links with these global fests have been largely restricted to her being a member of the jury – the latest being SPIKES at Singapore “So I can't really comment like the others, but I do definitely believe there are a lot of pluses if you care to look for them. What are you looking for remains the key question. And hey, don't run down networking. In today's global village, where confluence – not conflict – is the mantra, it's no longer a dirty word!” says Elsie.

Another respected creative veteran, Ivan Arthur, joins the party, with his very own spin. “It is interesting that today – unlike earlier times – local relevance translates immediately to global relevance. From Sensex and flying slippers in Parliament to your nephew's marriage in Canada, your home is no longer your castle with tall walls and no windows. Advertising has always been a world with large, open windows to let in the winds of inspiration and change. Today, when global affiliations are the order of the day, international Ad conferences are very much a part of being the professional socialite you are expected to be!” says the ex-NCD of JWT across the seventies, eighties and nineties. While Indian advertising has become truly Indian, Arthur adds, “it has, paradoxicallly, turned more global, with both our work and professionals celebrated at the highest levels abroad, gracing eminent juries and panels, winning laurels galore, perceived as a solid creative force to reckon with. Finally, these global meets in India are like a bulb glowing on the world advertising map, embracing three great commandments writ in stone: Visibility. Integration. Relevance.”

Kolkata-based Sid Roy – Executive Director of Response – winds up the debate, with his perspective. “Many of them have been sent there as part of a reward/appreciation gesture from their agencies for the good work they've done through the year. Others, because the bosses believe the exposure would be useful for the expansion of their knowledge base. So what happens? The kids are usually awe-struck by the glamour (Cannes) of the show, the shoulder rubbing with the who's who of the Ad world and the freak-out parties! They end up usually having a blast – nothing more! The more serious among them, dedicated and determined to use the fabulous, inspirational take-out at home, find it impossible to get a receptive client They are reportedly told (mocked?) that these firang ideas are great for the west and Ad conclaves/award shows not sell our products to Indian consummers. Mota Bolo, Seedha Bolo, Jaldi Bolo aur Tashan, Nautanki and Vilayati drama avoid kar, beta!!” says Roy.

So, at the end of the day, what gives? I guess it's a tough call and like Elsie says, it's largely about the focus, agenda and realities that accompany you to these global meets.

What's your take in this debate, dear reader...?