The Comeback Post, And Human Fodder for Advertising

For the last month or so, I have been in a true blue blogging funk. I can’t put my finger on the exact reason, but strangely I just didn’t feel upto posting. Partly I think its because I started blogging initially as a fun activity and now, especially with wordpress, I feel I am getting too much into this circus – blog stats, views, ratings, technorati etc etc. Ofcourse I know I can choose not to, and a lot of the time, I feel I’m much less bothered about it than others I know. Still. Somewhere the original reason for blogging seemed to be moving away. Then, the weather here and the cold and cough it brings along, makes me feel disinclined to do anything more than the bare minimum.

Until. One of my favourite bloggers, Megha, piped in and rapped me smartly. (Well, blogically). “Ok, we are way past the ‘few days’. Come back now”. Thats what she says. Its about time I guess. I hope everyone else missed me too 🙂

Now, lets get started. Has anyone seen the latest Airtel corporate ad? Whats with ad folks? I don’t know how anything about the human condition can become fodder for advertising. Sure, ads are meant to relate to our lives and touch a chord. But is it really justifiable to use what looks like a refugee camp to wring out tears from your audience? For those who haven’t seen the ad, its about two boys on opposite sides of barbed wire, getting together to kick a ball. More tears are wrung out by one litte boy actually getting snagged under the wire for moments. The moment I saw this ad, I thought, what the hell, next will they be showing us two Abu Ghraib prisoners talking to each other? (Communicating, you know, which is what Airtel is all about).

I know the ad is somewhere meant to show the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and blah blah. But it somehow just doesn’t come out that way. The feel good phrase at the end doesn’t help – everything will be fine as long as we talk to each other. (Something on those lines). It just feels like some fairly big problems in the world are being belittled with this trite solution. What do you think?

No more Glamourooms

Remember the old Parryware ads which talked about converting your bathrooms into ‘glamourooms’ using Parry’s bathroom fittings? The focus was all shiny surfaces and curved contours, with lowly commodes and wash basins, converted into objects of beauty. Glamourooms was a distinct phrase, something never done before.

More recently, sanitaryware ads in magazines (and sometimes on TV), have convinced me that it must be impossible to sell any bathroom fittings without the aid of scantily dressed women. You find them standing next to the objects themselves, sometimes featured much larger than the products being advertised. The products, and the brand names too, are now relegated to corners, the focus is all on the women. If the product claims glamour, then the model strikes up a suitably slinky, sexy pose. If the product claims an Italian finish, well, then the lady is togged up in some raggedly cut leather stuff, that is perhaps meant to conjure up Milan, but instead, looks more like Tarzan and Jane .

Marketers ofcourse don’t find anything distasteful in using women as a commodity to sell completely unrelated products. And they would argue perhaps, this is what sells. But has the creativity of marketers and advertisers run out to the extent that they can’t think of any other ideas to promote this category?

On practical grounds too, I am not sure that this idea sells anymore. Sure there may be an audience that likes to ogle these women. But when every ad in this category pretty much looks like another, where’s the differentiation? I bet if you asked a random group of consumers to associate leading brands with some attributes, they would be hard pressed to. Where’s the branding, I wonder?

Total Branding

In MBA school, one of the things you hear often about branding, is how it is not just restricted to any one aspect of a brand like advertising. Advertising could be the most obvious means of communication that a brand has with its consumers, but every other thing about a brand also tells consumers something. Like a pack which is poorly designed and difficult to use. Or availability in only certain stores. Or old, dusty packs lying in stores, nearing their expiry date. All these have a story to tell.

In reality ofcourse, it is difficult for a brand team to monitor every aspect. In many cases, brand and sales teams work parallely with little control or influence over each other, atleast in the short term. And in a large country like India, with individual states often needing their own campaigns and even localised promos for each town or city, branding rarely can be so cohesive.

One brand, however, which I’ve always appreciated for its inclusive approach is Marico’s Saffola. When they started out, they adopted a heart-disease-can-kill sort of stern positioning, which didn’t work. Gradually they moved on to a gentler approach focusing on how good health can improve your life tremendously, and Saffola as the custodian of health.

The good thing about Saffola is it doesn’t just stop with interesting ads or eye catching packaging. They have a fairly good website with some simple tools such as healthy recipes, BMI check, as well as a facility to call a dietician. And recently, I saw the latest ad which actually encourages people to go in for a medical check up to keep track of one’s heart condition and detect any irregularity at an early stage. I thought this was an excellent example of walking the talk, proving that the brand really cares, and doesn’t just say so.

Pepsi does an Uncle act

For those who haven’t seen the new Pepsi commercial yet, this post might go over your head. You could go here and check it out ofcourse. It has Shahrukh Khan and John Abraham which could be an incentive, atleast the latter. (No, I am not a Shahrukh fan).

Personally, I think Pepsi has sunk to a low. The commercial is just so boring! Shahrukh and John bantering together rather listlessly – nothing really witty or even funny, and then the highlight being that a teenage boy addresses Shahrukh as uncle. And why won’t Indian advertising ever let humor do its own work? No, they can’t possibly trust that the audience will get the joke, so they have to rub it in, with Shahrukh trying his usual hangdog expression and blabbering on about how bad he felt. Pathetic really.

The only good thing is the shot of the Pepsi MyCan new pack, which does look pretty sleek, and much hotter than anything else in the market.

While I am certainly biased, Aamir Khan’s ads in the same category seem so much better!

The Dilemma of How much service to Offer

Yesterday, I travelled by the Shatabdi train from Chennai to Bangalore, which set me thinking on the appropriate components of a service – In any good or service being offered to a customer, there will be multiple components, not all of which are perhaps necessary. The consumer may not value these equally. Some are hygiene (basics/musts), some are truly relevant, some differentiate the brand from others, some don’t make a difference whether they exist or not – and some, they actually pull the brand down. The last one can be a challenge for any business – knowing what to leave out.

Now, in the case of the Shatabdi, the fact that it covers the journey within 5 hours as opposed to the 7 hours that other trains take is truly differentiating. Even if you compare it to flying, with the security checks, waiting time etc, a flight ends up taking 2 hours, and the Shatabdi costs half the price of the cheapest flight. So yes, there is a worthwhile benefit there. The fairly comfortable seats, now thats become a basic for me – something I demand when I pay 700 bucks for a train ticket. The food – well its so average that it doesn’t make a difference to me, but yes, it could perhaps be another basic factor.

But the one thing that actually made my journey yesterday thoroughly unpleasant, was the fact that the train had curtains on all its windows – dirty, dusty curtains at that. I got the window seat and spent a good part of the journey coughing away, until I took some medication.

Two things. Firstly, I am not sure why an AC train needs curtains. Surely one of the pleasures of the Indian train journey is being able to look outside and see things pass by. Little villages, green fields, cattle, small towns, people going to work. This is part of what makes the journey fun. And the AC has closed glass windows which in any case shut out the dust and heat. So first thing, this feature is perhaps superfluous. Secondly, why offer a feature that a business cannot maintain? Don’t promise something which you can’t do well or do consistently. So the railways has decided to put in curtains on the Shatabdi windows, because it is a “premium” train and they think curtains make it look fancy. But, unless they can be maintained in good order, its just annoying to passengers.

Like I said, sometimes, its better to leave out some things. Less can be better?

Celebrity Branding

Any readers over the age of 25, will remember the kind of fan following that Aamir Khan created, when Qayamat se Qayamat Tak was released, way back in 1989. (Or 90?) Well, I was one of those teeny bopper fans then and continue to be an ardent Aamir fan today, notwithstanding a few horrible movies like Mela and Fanaa. Whats interesting about Aamir though, is that not only does he choose his movies (usually) with a lot of care, but even the brands that use him in their advertising and promotion, seem to invest a lot of effort – in ensuring that he is used well to showcase some feature of the brand, or add value through his acting , rather than just another celeb ad designed to attract wandering eyeballs.

One brand that has been using Aamir very well for some time now, is Titan. When Aamir appears in these ads, its usually with a well-woven storyline, not just as “Hey, look, Aamir Khan” which is pretty much what some celeb ads do. (Rani Mukherjee for some chappal? Kareena Kapoor for some hair oil? Remember these?) The recent Titan Edge campaign then, is no exception, though its a little subtle. By which I mean I had to see it twice before I understood it, since it goes a little fast.

The basic story is that Aamir straps on his Edge to see crowds appearing, and is bewildered to notice that these crowds vanish as soon as the watch is out of sight. Until ofcourse he makes the connection that it is the watch that is drawing the masses. There is a sort of ironical humour here, for a viewer who knows how big a star Aamir is in reality, while in the ad, the watch draws the crowd. The idea is not entirely new, if you recall Abhishek Bachchan’s Motorola ads. But this one is done much more quietly, with Aamir’s face and the on-off appearance of the crowd saying everything.

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Another ad on air right now, with Aamir acting in it, is the Toyota Innova ‘Many Roles One Car’ campaign. I am not sure what the objective of the campaign really was, but it does get across the message that the Innova is not necessarily a car for a large family only, but for the active/talented individual who dons many hats. Perhaps the idea was to make the vehicle more attractive to nuclear families who may be considering the Innova mainly as a large family car.

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Ofcourse the earlier Innova ads showed precisely the opposite, where we had 6 or 8 different Aamirs in various guises sitting inside! I wouldn’t say this particular ad is exactly fantastic, but it has a nice feel to it visually, and again, capitalises on Aamir’s image as an actor who has done many different roles. That sort of goes well with the ‘Many Roles’ tag for the car, which a more popular, but limited actor like Shahrukh probably couldn’t really do.

Any other such actors where you feel the ads have worked beautifully using them? Or not?

(All pics courtesy Agencyfaqs)

How fast do you want your mail?

I am a little surprised by this new free mail service that has started advertising quite heavily these days – Zapak Mail. (See the ad story here and here.)I think I’ve seen a few other variants as well, the basic premise being, zapakmail is fast and simple.

Now Zapakmail is one of the last entrants in this crowded market, with the global biggies Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail, as well as the Indian guys, Rediff, Indiatimes all well established. So why exactly should one go in for zapak mail? (Besides the weird name, if such things appeal to you)

Its free, just like any of the others. But, oh, its simple as well! And – don’t forget this, fast! The website promises “Experience fast search, send and receive mails on any connection”. I searched for any sort of information on this, but couldn’t really find out how this works. What exactly enables Zapak to beat a poor internet connection and still be fast enough? The site doesn’t say. For me, I would rather have an automatic save feature like google’s which ensures that my long mail doesn’t get lost in the event of a sudden power failure.

It also promises though that “Anyone can use it, just – Log in, Compose and Send!”. Wonder what was so tough about other services.

However the sheer noise that the brand is making must be having some effect, I suppose. Otherwise, how else can one account for a supposed record they have achieved – 1,15,263 users signing up in a day!