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...!