Daag Acche Nahin Hain!

Just as I was checking my Twitter feed this Sunday morning, I saw the #Surfexcel trending. Initially I ignored attributing it to some sponsored marketing campaign. But when I saw a whole bunch of individuals from the Right to the Left tweeting on the same, I decided to check it out. There, I could see other hashtags calling for a boycott of Unilever products and so on. The reason for the furore being, this ad (watch here) which Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has made for Surf Excel for the upcoming Holi. I watched the ad and I thought it was a brilliant ad though the theme has got a bit repetitive particularly with HUL these days!

People calling for a boycott of Surf Excel and Unilever products though, had a different take. They questioned the need for the company to pick up on a Hindu festival (Holi) to push their product. Few also quizzed if Unilever would do an ad around any Muslim festival. There were also many other tweets with images of Muslim festivals photo shopped with Surf Excel and its now famous tag line – ‘Daag Acche Hain’!  Notwithstanding all this, the ad achieved the purpose of creating a buzz and finally going viral.

This comes closely in the heels of another ad from the same company created during the Kumbh Mela! This ad (Watch here) for their Brooke Bond Red label Tea literally kicked up a storm in the social media tea-cup! . Though extremely well made, it is clear from the ad that the product and its attributes were secondary while the primary objective was just to ride the buzz around the Kumbh. While the commercial went viral on many WhatsApp groups as a great ad, on Twitter though, folks derided the company HUL for hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus. The supers that appeared at the end of the ad said, “Kumbh Mela is the largest religious gathering in the world. At this holy gathering, many elderly are abandoned by their families”!

I am not sure what kind of research went behind, to make a statement like this.  Nevertheless, the ad, I repeat very well made and executed, came across as a botched attempt where just to bring in the “Kumbh” story, you build a very touchy and probably insensitive narrative. I would rather prefer the approach by Fevicol in a similar context for the Kumbh where, they weaved a positive story (watch the ad here) around the event while plugging the attributes of the product effectively.  In the Red label ad, the product got thrust upon in the story at the end. With the massive uproar about this ad in social media, I am told that the company decided to take down the same. However, it didn’t stop it from going viral on social media platforms where it got trolled heavily.

These days, companies when they brief the agency for their commercials, I think must be outlining their 1st objective as “It should go viral”! As I had written in my earlier posts, “Stir up to sell” is an old ploy in marketing and advertising.  Achieving the objective of getting ad go viral is of late falling into very predictable tropes like Hindu – Muslim unity sentiment, Indo – Pak emotion and so on.

The larger point I am trying to put forward though, is different.  Few days back, I received as a forward on WhatsApp a clip which, I then gathered was a trailer for an upcoming web series titled ‘Metro Park’. Watch it here. I watched it, had a hearty laugh and forwarded the same to few other WhatsApp groups as is the wont these days. Little did I realise that, even for what I perceived as a routine comedy clip, I would receive some critique questioning, if the makers would dare to make fun of any other religion’s practices in a similar way!

A few years back, the Surf Excel Ad and the Red Label Kumbh ad would have just got beamed across homes through your television sets and the agencies would have just walked away with awards galore. But today, there is no such getting away easily. Though personally I thought that the Surf Excel Holi Ad is a brilliant one which weaves in the product attributes into the Holi story, while at the same time talking of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood… the extreme reactions against the ad actually conveys something else. That of bringing to the fore the fault lines that exist/existed all along in our society.

First of all, the repeated emergence of these themes in ads is itself an aberration in my view. A Unilever company in another country say in the US or in Europe I feel, will not take pains to come up with an ad promoting Hindu-Muslim unity in the guise of promoting their product. After over 70 years of Independence and declaring ourselves as a secular nation, if we have to keep clutching at straws (read as films and TV Commercials) to promote self-belief as a secular nation, something has gone wrong somewhere. Secondly, the extreme reactions a TV commercial promoting harmony evokes among us, also is worrisome.  While social media playing the role of a watch dog is good, more often than not, it is barking up the wrong tree.

‘Daag Acche Hain’ (Stains are good) may be a good tag line for a detergent.  However, “Communal”, “Bigoted” as tags are stains. And as a country we could do without such stains. Kyunki woh Daag acche nahin hain!

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“Viral” fever and the Marketing “mauka”!!!

As India kicked off its campaign to defend the Cricket World Cup with a high-octane league match with its arch rival Pakistan, for Star Sports it was a perfect ‘mauka’(opportunity) to milk the moment. And how it did!!! With a very interesting commercial which is now part of marketing folklore showing a Pakistani fan eagerly waiting for the mauka to celebrate a Pakistani win in vain in the last 5 world cup encounters. The ad had all the ingredients to make it “viral worthy”. Soon the commercial indeed went viral and is even today much talked about. Newspapers wrote about the ad, online editions carried the link, In YouTube the ad got a few million hits, the ad got shared in social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp,… and also got written about in innumerable blogs,… No wonder the makers decided to spin the one ad to a ‘Mauka Mauka’ series as seen thro’ the eyes of the same Pak fan for all India matches so far. If you notice, while the 1st spot (the India-Pakistan) one was shown again and again, the subsequent ones were just aired few times just enough to carry the story further. Because by now the Mauka fever had become viral and you, me and all of us became Star Sports’ unpaid brand ambassadors by sharing the every new ‘Mauka’ spot as soon as it was aired!  And that is the point I am trying to drive in this post. For a marketer trying to promote his/her brand it makes sense to make the commercial “viral worthy”, sit back and relax as consumers multiply the reach of the brand.

Mauka

For small brands with limited budgets, this approach comes as a panacea to achieve high share of voice with low ad spends. And for big brands this gives the potential to get more bang for the buck! This (to make their ads viral worthy) seems to be a very simplistic and obvious solution in front of marketers. However a casual review of the TVCs which we see day in and day reveals that this approach may not be so obvious. In a typical day except for 1 or 2 TVCs which are viral worthy the others are mostly the usual drivel. For example, on the same day of the Ind-Pak match there was just another ad which was viral worthy. That was the one for Fevi kwik – again smartly playing with emotions coinciding with the Ind-Pak encounter while at the same time driving home the brand’s promise – ‘Todo nahi, Jodo’. Brilliant stuff.

So what makes an ad go viral?? My take:

And the best part is some of the good viral worthy ads spawn off spoofs (as seen in the Mauka series) and other versions (did you know a slow motion version of the Ind-Pak fevikwik ad was created and uploaded by somebody which is really funny) as well which keeps the brand top of the mind for extended periods!

For small/start up agencies/production houses one such viral campaign is enough to leap frog them to stardom. Who had heard the name – Bubblewrap Films before the Mauka, Mauka campaign?? Or for that matter who knew Vishal Malhotra the model who is the Pakistani fan in the campaign a month ago?? Now I do!!

In the pre social media/smart phone/internet days a good ad will be just talked about may be by a few people who are interested in the subject. In these times, they don’t get talked about but they get shared, and shared many times over across many platforms.

So a new brand, limited budget with mass offering??? A smart idea would be to spend time and resources to create an ad that is spot on viral worthy, have a few releases with the limited budget and then make sure to leak the links in all social media platforms. (Ironically, even a day after the Ind-Pak Fevi kwik ad was released, its link was not uploaded on YouTube!!!) And then follow it up with plugs in the media about germination of the Big Idea, making of the commercial,…,…

Just one note of caution. It’s not just ads which are viralling today. Songs, documentaries, jokes and so many sundry stuff. So, soon it will become a battle to win in the viral space as well.

And once I finish this post I am going to share this in different platforms not missing the ‘mauka‘ to viral this post!!! (And contributing to the viral velocity of the ads ofcourse!!!)

Postscript: It’s another matter that an Ind-Pak encounter that too in a World Cup doesn’t need promotion at all. But Star Sports had to promote it due its obligation/commitment to its sponsors, advertisers,.. I guess. Having said all this, I do feel that the Mauka, Mauka campaign is now getting a tad boring. What was natural in the 1st 2/3 spots seems artificial now and is losing steam!!! So there the other lesson – Even a What an Idea, Sirji when over flogged becomes – What a boring idea, Sirji!!!

One has now lost count of the ‘Mauka’ spoofs hitting YouTube every day now!!! And they seem better than the Star Sports version of the Mauka ads being released now 😦 😦