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.