Ad today, Sad Tomorrow – A Brand Ambassador’s soon to be story!!!

Since the time, Sindhu won a Silver and Sakshi a Bronze for India at the Rio Olympics, their phones (probably endorsed by a Kareena or an Alia) I guess haven’t stopped ringing. Or perhaps their managers’. For, many brands are on their way to signing them as brand ambassadors. For now it’s O.K., for Sindhu or Sakshi to sign on the dotted line in these endorsement contracts and make hay while the medal shines. However not if the Government pushes forth the changes in the Consumer Protection bill which proposes jail term and fine for celebrities in case of misleading advertisements for products they endorse. The intention being to make celebrities also responsible for products they endorse apart from the manufacturers. “Consumers tend to get influenced by the promise made by the celebrities in ads” is the argument behind the proposed move.

As a marketing professional I have never been very excited about using celebrities in ads to push a product. In B-schools every year, one popular project students carry out with the blessings of their professors is to find out the effectiveness of celebrities in an ad campaign. That the study is done regularly conveys that the jury is still out on that. At a superficial level though, it is commonly accepted that use of a celebrity helps break the clutter and differentiate the ad. Though as per me, this is “laid back, lazy creativity” as there are indeed many other ways to break the clutter. Using celebrities is of course a low hanging fruit for those with big budgets and is often deployed as a creative strategy when one can afford. I just realized that this piece is not on whether to use celebrities or not in ads. We will keep that for another Sunday. But on the proposed changes in the law which could stop the party on its tracks for the so called Brand Ambassadors.

Going back in time, I think ads whether print or TV just had people featuring in them and were called as models. And then slowly the practice of plugging in celebrities like actors, sportspersons,… crept in as I mentioned, probably to make the communication stand out. I am not sure when this “celebrities modelling” for an ad morphed into “endorsing the product” and then as we see now becoming “brand Ambassadors” for the company.

She looks like Sonia Sahni to me.

As long as celebrities “featured” in ads for products I guess they were just plain actors parroting some lines. But when they started endorsing brands (making a killing in the process) – that’s when I guess they came into the ambit of influencing buyers’ decision and of course within the prying eyes of lawmakers. In my understanding there are 2 types of celebrity endorsements. First, where a celebrity is used to promote a product which is related to what he/she is doing and is a direct endorsement. For example – A Sachin or a Kapil Dev being used to promote ‘Boost’- an energy drink for children. When Kapil says – “Boost is the secret of MY energy” there is a clear communication to moms that “if you want your child to become like me, do consider giving Boost to your kid”.  Or when Katrina Kaif says – “if you want a smooth skin like mine, use Lux Soap”!

The second category is where brands just use a celebrity as a face in the ads and the products may not be related at all. For example – Amitabh Bachchan featuring in Binani Cement ads.

And probably there exists a third category – where the product is not related to the celebrity’s field of normal work but companies tap into the credibility of the star to push their wares. Though this is not common, we have started seeing this of late. For example, when Cadbury’s wanted to make a comeback after they got hit by the “worms inside chocolate” tornado, they dialed in Amitabh. Amitabh featured in the commercial as “himself”. See the ad here. As you can see in this TVC, he was clearly putting his personal credibility at stake to communicate to consumers that with the many steps taken by the company, “All is well” with the chocolates!

(I’m not considering the social awareness campaigns using celebrities for the moment)

In the whole business of celebrity endorsements, many questions do arise. Do the celebrities who extol the virtues of brands use the product/service themselves? Have they first checked if the claims they are making are true? In the case of endorsing for investment projects,.. do the celebrities vouch for the credibility of the promoters?

The thinking behind the proposed changes in the law seems to be after many instances of consumers landing in the pit after they invested their hard earned money in projects which also had big stars endorsing the same.  At the same time, there have been so many cases where consumers lost money in projects where stars were not at all involved!

It is difficult to believe that consumers are so gullible that they buy a product just because a star endorses it. This premise seriously underestimates the intelligence of a consumer. If just a star endorsement can make a product tick, all those mobile phones with celebrity brand ambassadors must be outselling the I-phone isn’t it???

But whatever it may be, punishing celebrities for wrong claims of a product because they feature in the ads seems a bit farfetched.  A consumer is expected to do his/her bit before deciding to buy a product/service. More so in the case of big investments. Putting the blame on a M.S.Dhoni just because a real estate project he endorsed didn’t see the light of the day is sheer escapism, I believe. I think we should consider celebrities featuring in ads as enhancing the entertainment quotient and nothing beyond that. At the same time as a socially conscious individual a celebrity should be careful in lending his/her name or face to a product which has inherent health concerns a la Gopichand who refused to feature in Cola ads in his prime time! And also do a bit more homework on the credibility of the brand/promoter before signing on the dotted line for the next 1 crore endorsement deal. Or else post the new law it will be “Ad today, Sad tomorrow”!!!

Post script: Will be interesting to know in which category of celebrity endorsements does the Jio campaign featuring our PM fall into???😝😝😝

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Stir up to Sell – The New Mantra(d)!!!

 I don’t recall many ads in the recent past which have kicked off such a huge debate as the new Airtel ad which went on air last week.  If you are one to miss that, do watch it here.  Twitterati is divided in the middle as to if the ad is reinforcing male/female stereotypes or breaking. Or for that matter if the ad is trying hard to be feminist when it is not and so on. As is the wont these days, when social media buzzes on something, can the main stream media be left far behind?? I must have pored into atleast 10 columns trashing or eulogizing the ad.

This is one interesting debate on TV !!!

While the ad breaks new ground in showing a successful woman who is giving stern work instructions to her male subordinate in the 1st half, in the second half, the same lady is shown as a better half cooking dinner for her husband who is incidentally the same subordinate at office. The common critical take in the social media is questioning this apparent stereotyping of women – as submissive where the lady inspite of being a successful career woman has to don the dutiful wife role at home and cook food.  Coming on the heels of the now famous quote of Indra Nooyi that “Women can’t have it all” the response to this ad has been pretty predictable. Somehow the narrative of a successful career woman but cooking food for her partner at home has not been consumed well.

airtel ad

In all this debate on the ad what is being missed according to me is the strategy behind the narrative of the ad itself. Which is, to take a contrarian position, stir up a storm and be top of the mind for a good few days there by get more bang for the buck spent. And this trend in advertising has not started with this Airtel ad. This goes back quite a few years. In the past marketers were more circumspect in adopting this “Stirring up a storm” strategy to sell their products. So you saw this once in a while like the Liril waterfall ad of yore or the ad for Tuff Shoes where the models Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre were wearing just a snake and so on,..

But oflate, I guess marketers and their advertising counterparts have become more belligerent in adopting this strategy to hawk their wares and get their space under the Sun.  So we now get see more and more ads which go against established stereotypes.  As per me, in Indian advertising Balki of Lowe and his team has been one who have used this quite effectively and often. The Havells ads for fans usually go against the grain. Same for some of the “What an Idea, Sirji” commercials for Idea Cellular.  The Jaago Re campaign for Tata Tea also I would say fall in this category of ads.

Few months back, Tanishq the jewellery brand from Tata kicked off debate and interesting conversations in the media with their ad celebrating remarriage of a woman. Watch it here. Again clearly a story which charts new territory, (shows a dusky bride, bride walks along with a small girl to the mandap, the girl is her daughter, the groom carries the small girl along while doing the pheras,…)  sparks a huge debate and eventually garners a lot more interest for the brand. (Incidentally Lowe has been the agency behind all these campaigns!!!)

This recent ad for Brooke Bond Red label tea by Ogilvy India is another example of going against the tide to garner attention. The Hindu-Muslim plot (normally avoided in commercials) in the story is the new twist. There is always this threat of a strong over powering story shadowing the brand itself in ads. Like in this case while I remembered that it was a tea ad, had to drink few cups and wake myself up to recall the brand 😦 😦  This happens.

Recently, the series of ads for Kaun Banega Crorepati  (KBC) by Leo Burnett India have also been treading this path and have met with a lot of keen interest. The two spots I saw (see here and here) as part of the campaign shatter established stereotypes.  Not that great ads are required to evince interest in a successful show like KBC with Amitabh Bachchan as the anchor. But I guess they also have to sustain the interest after so many seasons.

Coming back to the Airtel Ad conceived by the agency Taproot India, my own view is that it is a sweet ad, executed very well. There is nothing in the ad which goes against woman as the social media debates make us to believe. As per me, there is nothing regressive in a woman cooking and as long as she wants to cook a nice meal and enjoys what she does (like it is shown in this TVC) to demonstrate her love to her hubby, there is nothing wrong.  Same is true if its vice versa – husband cooking at home.  I have to allude here to my earlier post – By hook or Cook!! here 🙂 🙂

So want your ads to work big time?  Take a contrarian position, stir up a storm and the idle armchair minds in the social media (me included) will debate and do the needful for you. As far your brand, with all the unpaid buzz around the ad, will laugh its way to the coffers.  That’s some home cooked food for thought 🙂 🙂 🙂

P.S: Now, only if Airtel can make their network as effective as their ads 😦 😦

“Ideas Mela” – What an Idea, Sirji!!! – Part 3

It may still be a long way to go to reach the iconic status of that ad line – “You have come a long way, baby!!!”  of Virginia Slims cigarette but this line – “What an Idea, Sirji??”  is for sure within India atleast getting there as one of the most memorable ad lines of our times.  And for the campaign itself the silver lining was the use of SMS poll among people by the Aam Admi Party (Now don’t ask me what’s this 🙂 🙂 ) to check if they should form the Government in Delhi or not. And not surprisingly Idea cellular re-ran their old TVC with a changed voice over – “Dilli mein Sarkar banana chahiye???”  Smart stuff.

 In part 3 of this series –“Ideas Mela” – What an Idea, Sirji?? ,(you can read Part 1 and Part 2 here and here) I talk about few more campaigns which have used media differently and smartly to take their messages across to their target audience.

At the airports these days (Mumbai for sure) it is difficult to miss the branding presence of a new travel portal called Musafir.com with Sachin Tendulkar as its brand ambassador. Instead of plain vanilla panels and standees,.. Musafir has deployed quite a few Mobile charging terminals with their branding ofcourse in vantage points at the airport – a great way to connect with aspirational travelling public.

Musafir,Airport display,122013

On the 26th Dec, 2013, the Times of India newspaper became “Engines of India” thanks to the Half Flap innovation.  The ad for Honda City engines I think hit the bull’s eye with just that one release.

TOI ad,3,25122013

TOI ad,1,25122013

Talking of Times of India and innovation, the other good idea which comes to my mind is of Oral B Toothpaste. On the 6th of Jan, 2014, they reproduced the 1st page of yesteryear TOI paper of 6th Jan 1963 with a half page ad for Oral B toothpaste which said – “You wouldn’t want yesterday’s newspaper. Why would you want yesterday’s toothpaste???” taking a dig at their longstanding archrival Colgate!

gillette

Oflate, I have noticed that PVR Cinemas have become showcase for interesting creativity. In my last post I remember sharing an instance. They have interesting ways of plugging promos of upcoming movies in the movie hall. For example, as part of their package of commercials before the movie, they show clips on maintaining theatre etiquette,… (no cell phones, no smoking,..) I remember when I went to watch a movie in January the film Gunday was about to be released.  The pre-show clips were featuring the Gunday stars – Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor. This doubles up as social messaging as well as promos for the new movies.

But in terms of social messaging, this one by the Mumbai Municipal authorities I think tops the chart. In order to deter people from boarding and alighting from running trains, the authorities used artists dressed up as “Yamaraja” to communicate the perils of such stupid acts to commuters in Railway stations. I am not sure, how many days they did this. But the sheer PR mileage you extract of such ideas is enough to keep this on top of the mind for few days.

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Advertising in Cabs or Cabvertising is fusty stuff these days. We see this very commonly for many brands. But what Ambi Pur, a car freshener product did was interesting and is worth mentioning. Apart from using the car freshener in the cabs, which creates an interest among people, they also went one step ahead of selling the product if customer is interested at the end of the ride in the cab itself.  Brands these days are using the sort of time available during a car ride to sample their products as well as even sell like Ambi Pur did.

The recent Loksabha elections indicated that political advertising has come of age in India. With the use of different media and platforms, brands – parties in this case in particular the BJP took political advertising to a completely different level.  Sample this. On the day the BJP manifesto was released, I tweeted a message with #BJPManifesto and lo I get a direct message from Narendra Modi’s handle with a link to the party manifesto!!!  Also among various other media which the party used, I read about the party distributing large “branded” umbrellas to road side vendors,.. to beat the summer heat at Varanasi where Narendra Modi was contesting. That the umbrella is a metaphor for protection was not lost on people I would surmise.

BJP,Umbrella,election season,052014

Can you imagine a FMCG company running a radio station? Well that’s what Hindustan Unilever does in India. The country’s largest consumer goods maker has come up with a free radio-on-demand service to reach out to villagers in remote areas. And it seems its lone channel — Kan Khajura Tesan, or ‘centipede station’ — is already the largest radio station in Bihar in terms of subscribers. This is how it works. Any mobile phone user in Bihar can give a missed call to a specific number to immediately get a return call that will play Kan Khajura Tesan for 15 minutes. Besides a series of entertainment programmes, the channel of course plays advertisements of HUL brands. Apart from reaching the message across of its products, the company also gets to know who is listening which is the missing link in mass media advertising. Kan Khajura Tesan – I think this takes the cake for “What an Idea, Sirji??”

P.S : Talking of Ideas and their impact – One Spelling mistake in the title of the book made it an instant hit helping to sell millions of copies in just few days and the mistaken title was “An idea can change your wife”  🙂 🙂  – What a mistake, Sirji???