Jan 2, 2009

Mktg - Of brands & advertising 2008

Madhukar Sabnavis

In the five-episode Ponds ‘White Beauty’ campaign, two stars Neha Dhupia and Priyanka Chopra fight out a love triangle for the attention and love of another star, Saif Ali Khan.

In a series of ads promoting ‘value-added’ services for Airtel, Vidya Balan and Madhavan, two Bollywood stars, switch on their screen ‘couple’ chemistry to entice consumers to prefer Airtel.

In the’ voice sms’ commercial for Airtel, King Khan coaches Chote Nawab to say sorry with emotion to win back the heart of his girlfriend, Kareena Kapoor. There is a starlet as Kareena’s companion.

To launch Airtel DTH, seven stars come together to invite a busy executive home to enjoy the benefits of high-quality television viewing. Madhavan and Vidya Balan receive him at the airport, he bumps into Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir in his apartment block lift, he is welcomed home by Kareena Kapoor, he is surprised to see AR Rahman ready to perform for him, and finally, Saif Ali Khan offers him and his nuclear family the grand red sofa to sit on and enjoy the show.
Welcome to the world of multi-starrer advertising. Celebrity craze has been a part of advertising-dom for years, but 2008 saw brands upping the ante on stars to go bigger and larger in numbers. As every category bites the celebrity bug, using more than one celebrity emerges as a new phenomenon. It is interesting to see two mass brands do the same in one year, setting a new benchmark — or is it too early to say?

Talking of stars, Bollywood and cricket stars were part of creating India’s first global brand. They were integral to the biggest marketing initiative of the year—IPL. To take on a format which is nascent in cricket — T20 — and create a tournament based on domestic cities with mixed players from across the globe and pack over 50 matches in 44 days was daring. Full credit needs to be given to the brand creator, Lalit Modi, who backed it with all his might, and his instinct and faith got rewarded. The stadia were full, soaps and game shows on televisions were upstaged and the brand got extensive unpaid-for media coverage and lots of paid-for sponsors. The final proof of its success is that a national team refused a foreign tour to participate in next year’s edition, two cricketing nations are planning their own versions and England may co-host the second edition. The second tournament will throw its own challenges but it cannot be denied that India has created a global brand for the cricketing world to consume and emulate!

It’s the same boldness in thought and action that created a media brand in the general entertainment space — Colors. Being the nth channel to be launched, it’s always tough to be a follower. However, Rajesh Kamat and his team dared to break rules and do things differently to garner eyeballs. Khatron Ke Khiladi, a reality show with Akshay Kumar and his team of starlets, was aired on day one. And it was followed with Bigg Boss and Balika Vadhu, a new theme in soaps. Colors ends the year as the No 2 Channel just behind Star — a commendable achievement, given that INX Entertainment and NDTV Imagine couldn’t make a breakthrough despite the promoters’ great experience in television.

2008 saw a surfeit of interesting advertising in the ‘banking’ space. Union Bank of India’s ‘Your dreams are not only your own’ touches a real chord in a highly affiliative Indian society. Indian Overseas Bank’s ‘Partner in Growth’ campaign, using the click of a child’s fingers, is quite endearing. The IDBI campaign ‘Not only for the big boys’ is clutter-breaking and innovative. ING’s corporate communication has a wonderful jingle and highlights the cultural meaning of money, much as Tata Capital’s advertisement eulogises the value of money. It’s nice to see a ‘mind’ category like money handled with so much ‘heart’. At one level, each brand makes a different point. However, dig deeper beyond messaging and maybe bank ads are getting into a similar emotional space and consumers could start mistaking one for another. There is a strain of Bank of India’s ‘Rishton ki Jamapunji’ campaign in many of these works. At the product level, banks tend be the most commoditised category; there is a lurking danger that the advertising too could be getting commoditised.

If banks got attention through emotions, youth brands took ‘irreverence’ to a new level. Motoyuva opened the year with an ad that had a son impertinently plugging his ears while his father harangued him. It followed up with another where the student hoodwinks his teacher pretending to be studying while he is making on his Motoyuva a sketch of the gullible professor. Virgin Mobile had a girl implying she is swinging the ‘wrong’ way to get her parents to allow her to go to Goa with her friends. And in a second execution, a guy eases a mother off with his phone to ‘flirt’ with her daughter. Sprite, this summer, made ‘double dating’ look cool. These ads stirred controversy on whether they were promoting bad ‘social’ behaviour; however they definitely brought ‘the darker yet real side’ of youth out of closets and reflect a less prudish society. Interestingly, three hit Bollywood movies — Fashion, Dostana and Bachna Ae Haseeno — all had protagonists going off the ‘conventional good paths’ and had audiences accepting them for what they were.

Let me end with a Bollywood brand that did things differently this year— Ghajini. If viewed closely Ghajini is a ‘B-grade action revenge love story’ which audiences have seen many times over. However, it was brilliantly packaged and promoted by Aamir Khan, and that made it the biggest blockbuster of the year. What’s interesting about its promotion is that it used limited above-the-line promotion; and focused more on media relations and ground activation. Each channel got a unique angle of the brand story as programming — each driven by the brand ambassador. And on ground, it used innovative methods to create buzz — from Aamir Khan giving people a Ghajini cut to ushers in the ‘weird’ haircut to a mannequin in multiplex foyers for fans to photograph themselves with. As we move into 2009 which looks to be a tough and challenging year, there is a message in the Ghajini story — BTL could work harder than ATL.

Something worth thinking about.

The author is Country Head, Discovery and Planning, Ogilvy, India. Views expressed are personal

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