I don’t say this blog is best…

There was a time when promoting your business meant saying out loud “We make the best stuff”. But who would trust you when your competitor also said the same thing?

Then there was “We are the best makers of stuff”. But who would trust you when your competitor also said the same thing? And isn’t vanity a sin?

Then you hired someone famous to say “These blokes make the best stuff”. But then people figured out that these famous chaps were paid to say this, and were lying.

Then you hired someone not so famous to say “These blokes make the best stuff”, so that they do not look like highly paid famous people, but genuine users of stuff. But then people figured out that no matter who is saying this, they are paid. And were lying.

Now you say “We don’t say we are the best makers of stuff. You (or ‘Our Users’) say.” Aaah the smugness! The subdued, almost veiled, confidence! The assumption that the receiver of the message is such an ass that he would not get that the message is just twisted around – and the money that would have been spent on getting someone to say it is also saved. And I see it everywhere… not the big makers of stuff, just the small shops who sell stuff.

How long do you think it will last?

Choice = Togetherness?

Tata Sky after its 1500 pricing advertisement has come up with a bubbly upbeat spot comparing two families. One stays together, does everything together and is very happy, while the other is not happy and not together. The head of the latter family peeps through a keyhole presumably on the door of the former, and finds the secret to their togetherness – Tata Sky. We are then treated to a series of shots showing the benefits of Tata Sky and that these benefits would keep our family together.

But wait a second… the features all point to one thing – the choice and variety Tata Sky offers – the games, the “mandir darshans”, the special sportscasts. Off the top of my head, if my TV offers all these, and members of my family have interest in these things, would they sit together to watch TV? Does the TV show each of these items to its respective fans+recipients? Or do we have to flip channels to switch to either of the content streams? The latter is no doubt the case, and in that case, I don’t think you’ll get a family which would sit together to watch TV, not atleast because of the variety that’s on tap.

Case in point – did families watch TV together when there was more variety on television or when there was less? Did different members of the family start getting different TV sets for their bedrooms when there were more channels or when there were fewer?

Does the Tata Sky ad then seem to hint at the right “benefit” arising from its variety?

Proud & Cute: Airtel on television this season

When you run out of ideas to get across your message, fall back on the most common tactic – use mushy emotions.

Two approaches to mushy emotions top the list – cuteness/relationships/family and pride/patriotism/togetherness.

Airtel has recently released two spots banking on these two.

The cute spot is very sweet. The kid is looking like an angel and you feel for her when she wants to “do drawing” with her father but her father initially expresses inability to do it. It drives the one position that almost all telecom players in India are trying very hard to own – best network. But as all mobile telephony users in the country know, none of them are in a position to honestly make that claim, and until any of them really delivers what they keep promising, these advertisements are not going to help their perceptions.

The pride spot has a message – that a Nokia phone is being bundled with an Airtel connection. But what has pride got to do with it? Why did they waste such a long ad with an expensive celebrity expressing feelings of pride and togetherness for a bundling message? Can anyone help me out on this one?

So what is Airtel’s agency actually adding to the advertisements, apart from execution? Apart from the breaking barriers kids playing football spot from a few months back, Airtel’s campaigns recently have been short of ideas. And even the breaking barriers idea was lifted from a New Zealand telecom company’s ad.

Idea has launched the recent guide at Taj Mahal advertisement, strengthening the “Idea” positioning it has (is it a real position in the market by the way?). Vodafone’s regular value-added-services and ‘magic box’ bundled phone ads keep hitting us regularly. Reliance Mobile is also consistently hitting us with its old but fresh and cinematically brilliant “total network” ads (though as I already mentioned, it is tough to justify claiming that position for anyone). Tata Teleservices’ new avatar Virgin is also starting up with its ATL efforts.

In this scenario, is Airtel not being complacent with its marketing above the line? What do you think?

The Tata Sky at 1500 Melodrama

Two friends chatting in a party, and their wives just disappear one by one. Sounds like a scene from a suspense thriller, right? Well, this story has got suspense, drama, humour and a very clear message for all of us. Surely it’s a superhit movie!

That’s how the new Tata Sky advertisement goes. While Dish TV is still using a celebrity to sell category benefits, Tata Sky has moved on to assuming that it is a well-known brand in an on-the-way-to-be-established category (correct on both counts), and instead focused on that P (out of the traditional four we know) which is probably the only reason the category isn’t taking off like it should, given the benefits it is providing – price.

More of a tactic than a strategy surely. Instead of bundling a six-month maxi-subscription in an installation package which costs around three to four thousand rupees, Tata Sky has stripped down its offering to offer just the installation at an attractive price of Rs. 1499, plus whatever. Key point is, the advert attracts you quite well.

So what works?

  • Humour – the plight of the two husbands whose wives (and their respective Geeta Bhabhi and Seeta Bhabhi) have just vanished into thin air is hilarious.
  • Surprise
    • Let’s face it. Who would ever have dreamt that the oft-repeated filmy line of “tumhari kasamm” would indeed end up in its implied consequence, even in make belief?
    • “What? It’s not 1500? So why is the company placing this ad on air?”
  • Direct communication – to the point. The advert aims at making the audience aware that Tata Sky is now offering its base system at Rs. 1499 only, and it does just that – with aplomb.
  • The brand somewhere comes out to be painfully honest in here: “So what if the difference is just 1 rupee? It’s a lie alright.”

What might not work?

  • Price wars. Have never been good. We have no evidence they will be good in the future.
  • 1499 is the price of only the hardware. Software costs an extra 1000 rupees. And monthly charges are not included in this pricing. Consumers would not actually take nicely to this point. The lowered “entry barrier” might not really translate well into sales if we see that once the customer reaches the point of purchase, she feels cheated that a package of 2499+monthly charges has been sold to her as 1499 only.

What do you think?

The Good, The Bad and The Excellent: Recent Telecom Ads

Here I pick three new advertisements from the stables of three Indian telecom houses — Idea, Reliance and Vodafone.

The Good: Let’s start with Reliance, which I’ll call the good. It’s not actually an ad I’m talking about, it’s a campaign — to advertise Reliance’s new caller tune copy service. The advertisements show one person swinging to some popular song that is playing with colourful musical notes surrounding their head. Then the person tells you that this is their caller tune, and you can press * on your Reliance mobile phone to copy it to your number. Then some other person who is in the frame, but not facing the first one hears this, presses * on a virtual keyboard that pops up in front of them and gets the same colourful notes around their head, to denote that the caller tune has been copied. The service has been around for quite some time on some other operators, and if I’m not mistaken, Idea Cellular was the first one to come up with this service and an advertisement (probably made in a south Indian language and dubbed in Hindi/English later on?) to promote it.

The execution is well-done. The camerawork and the graphics etc. along with the choice of songs is good, and the ad grabs attention. The “Hi this is my caller tune…” approach has been consistent in Reliance’s communication regarding caller tunes now, with the first campaign with lots of spots featuring different celebrities.

Interestingly the spots also have a karaoke-style line on the screen while the character is speaking, with the familiar ball-bouncing to denote the word being spoken. This is quite an unnecessary frill in the overall well-done ad, and ironically, this is the one thing where they’ve goofed up. If you look carefully, the words appearing on screen are not the ones being spoken. Why would you have it then? Especially in karaoke-style?

The Bad: Then you have our new Vodafone “musical greeting” promotion. O&M has done some really good spots in the Vodafone VAS campaign, with the man waiting in the lift for his soulmate, the man stocking up on onions in a supermarket, and the cutest one so far – the girl chasing a goat for its milk. But I think they have gone a little too far with the “down to earth, real, slice of life” approach. Three girls, holding a guitar and some other instruments standing beneath a man’s window, singing “pehla nasha”, all out of tune, rhythm and in my opinion, the guitar is being insulted in being handled that way. The idea could have run if the execution was any good. But the execution has left the idea, which is a decent one by the way, struggling. Are the greetings that Vodafone is offering us as “musical” as these girls are? If they are, then thank you very much. I’ll prefer silence.

The Excellent: My favourite commercial from the recent days is the new Idea commercial. Abhishek Bachchan is playing a tourist guide in Agra, who tries to talk to a foreigner lady for selling his services, but she seems not to understand. He assumes there is a language problem so he hands her his card, and turns around. He turns around to see her friend come to her and talk to her in sign language — they were both deaf-mute. Just then he receives a text message from her that they need a guide. We then see Bachchan tell a group of tourists about the Taj Mahal, and along with that he texts the woman whatever he is telling the others. She replies with a text – ‘what an idea’.

Truly, what an idea! To position text-messaging as a communication tool for deaf-mute people and thus increase the user base of mobile phones is truly a marvellous idea. This one is a fitting sequel to the earlier Idea spot, with Abhishek Bachchan playing a village head who replaces the usage of names for people with their mobile numbers, thus solving the caste problem plaguing his village. The spot is executed well, and the actors have played their part well. Hats off to Lowe people for an excellent campaign and another excellent advertisement in that series.

Irony? Hypocrisy? Need a job?

Do the top Indian placement websites have a pact among themselves to not air their commercials when the other parties’ are on? For quite some time now Monster.com was advertising like crazy with its “caught in the wrong job” spot while Naukri.com was off-air. Now that Monster is not that visible on air, Naukri seems to have woken up.

Let’s keep the market dynamics aside for a moment to discuss another issue, shall we?

The Naukri.com spots, the most famous of which has been the ‘Hari Sadu’ one, where an employee spells out the name of his bad-tempered and abusive boss as “Hitler Arrogant Rascal Idiot”, all have one idea – that if you have lost your job, the place to go to is Naukri.com. Pretty strong idea I must say. Everyone who is working in a job either empathises or sympathises with the protagonist. The ad simply rocks, because it demonstrates a problem most of its target segment is troubled with – that of a bad boss. The commercial is indeed one of the most famous ones of these times, especially among office-goers. We have all played the ‘game’ of expanding the names of our respective bosses at some time or the other after this commercial started airing.

Now one of the reasons for changing or quitting every placement consultant out there will ask you to avoid mentioning is that you and your boss could not get along. It is a taboo to mention in an interview that you had a ‘bad boss’. Isn’t it ironic then that the most famous and talked about placement agency advertisement is centred around exactly this one issue? The sticky-ness of this ad bears testimony to the fact that this remains the leading reason for people to look for change from their current jobs, so why are we so wary to own up to it and say clearly to a prospective employer that “yes I quit because my previous immediate superior and I could not get along, and I hope that you and I will not go down that path”?

Sing-me-a-song

Can’t find a new idea? Write a song instead.

Is this the new mantra in the Indian advertising world?

Take the new LIC commercial – “ना चिंता ना फिकर ना है डर…”. What is the idea behind this commercial? What are they trying to tell us that they have not already told us in their scores of advertisements in the past? Any new product? Is the execution any fresh? And doesn’t the song seem like a bad rehash of an old Hindi film tune?

Do you remember an ad for a construction / construction equipment company from some time back – the song went “जो भी बनाते हैं हम…”? Sounded like an insipid composition from mid-90s Hindi movies.

And while we are at it, can you tell me what is the link between “Mind & body, heart & soul”, cricket, Shankar-Ehsan-Loy and Visa? Beats me.

But don’t take this as a blanket critique of music in advertisement. The song used in the first Lead India advertisement that spread on the internet as the “new national anthem” – with words like “बढ़ाओ हाथ के सूरज सुबह निकाला करे, हथेलियों में भरे धूप और उछाला करे” and a strong idea and execution, this ad is a sure winner.

And if you’re not particular about understanding the lyrics, there always is the astounding Nike street cricket commercial, and the Bajaj Pulsar 200cc launch bike stunt commercial, which if I’m not mistaken was shot in Morocco.

What set these three apart from the former three is the presence of an idea, and freshness in execution.

Just singing songs won’t get you a place in the customer’s mind.

Do you know your dentist’s brand preference?

Have you seen the Colgate toothbrush advertisement on television with dentists telling us that Colgate is the toothbrush most dentists use?

Now I couldn’t care less which toothbrush my or any other dentist uses. But there’s something wrong with this commercial. And looks like it’s everything.

Let’s begin with the strategy: what is the ad trying to position the product as? A toothbrush dentists use. But isn’t that already taken? Oral B already occupies the seat of “the toothbrush dentists use themselves” in our minds. So what is Colgate trying to achieve with this attempt at occupying this unavailable position? Beats me. Add to that the fact that the moment you decide to do a me-too campaign trying to position yourself in a spot your competitor already is occupying, it is to be taken for granted that the prospect would inevitably be comparing your communication with your competitor’s, and the odds are it would not be favourable towards you. You are, after all, copying your competitor’s idea.

Oral-B, in its ads, uses Rob the dentist, whose face is always hidden, to stand for all dentists that supposedly use Oral-B toothbrushes. Their commercials even state clearly that they can’t show the face of the ‘dentist’ because he is a real dentist (rather than a paid actor). This makes it believable. Sure on the cognitive level, the prospect would think that it is obviously staged since it is an advertisement. But on an affective level, the claim that it is a real dentist seems believable (Why else would they not show his face?)

Here Colgate falter. They show the faces of their dentists, smiling, holding the brush and talking to camera selling the product. Can medical professionals appear in paid communication endorsing products? I don’t think so. These are paid actors. And it is evident. We have seen these actors in other commercials. Yes sir, Colgate has come out as a liar, trying to pass off actors as dentists. What good would the certification from the dental association be if you are undermining your own credibility this way? Sure all ads use paid actors and we know that, and sure all oral care ads have shown actors dressed as dentists, but did those ‘dentists’ directly promote any brand (as opposed to just educating you about dental hygiene) on the basis that the community of dentists (which is real, rather than the fictional character the dentist in the ad is) prefer. That is a serious claim!

And in the end, what is happening to copywriters? Lines like “अगर स्वस्थ मुंह चाहिए तो कुछ और क्यूं?” (why anything else if you want a healthy mouth?) and “मैं कोलगेट की सलाह देता हूं क्योंकि यही इस्तेमाल करता हूं, और बाकी डेंटिस्ट्स भी इसी की सलाह देते हैं (I recommend Colgate because I use it, and rest of the dentists also recommend it) are only weakening an already doomed campaign.

I think the folks at Gillette should be celebrating the way Pepsi folks were celebrating way back at the launch of New Coke. To make the market leader forget their strategy and instead launch a me-too campaign based on your positioning is a compliment to the marketing department of your company. The Oral-B strategy is just right, now if only they stick to it and not let themselves squander based on “country-based research-based strategy”.

Classics Revisited: Tata Safari DiCOR

After reading the content of the last ad-dissection post someone on the same Orkut forum recounted a favourite ad of his – the Tata Safari DiCOR ad, the one we are familiar with as the “Reclaim your life” ad, and requested a writeup on that. Guess what? I also love that ad, and loved writing the following.

Company: Tata Motors
Brand/Product: Tata Safari DiCOR
Tagline: Reclaim your life
Storyboard link: courtesy agencyfaqs!

What is this advertisement selling, if it does not talk about the mileage, the grip on the road, the boot space, the leg room, the head room, the interiors, the paint, the look? It does not talk of the car at all. What is it trying to get at?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places esteem (not the car from the Maruti stable) at the fourth level, above physiological needs, safety and love/belonging and lower only to self-actualization. What needs does a car satisfy? There is a basic (call it physiological if you will) need, which Kotler calls “core benefit”, of transportation, and there is safety – you would prefer a car to a motorcycle to a bicycle because it is safer to the latter options. Lastly, there is one need that a car satisfies, more in the younger crowd, and that is esteem. A 14-year old is thrilled about getting to drive a car, and a 24-year old is thrilled about owning one. The world over, a car is one of the most treasured possessions of a man. Your car in a way defines you. Why else would wannabe playboys drive around in big shiny sportscars hoping to impress the women?

With the economy moving the way it is and with the average age of the first car buyer coming down (with the result that people are buying their first cars at 25 rather than 35, which was the norm 15 years ago), along with the fact that more and more younger professionals are getting their dream jobs with dream salaries, dream locations etc. (with the result that even the first car can be a B+ or C segment instead of the earlier 800/Alto/Santro class), it is a good idea for a SUV to focus on the young professionals as their consumer segment.

So what this ad does, is that it takes the aspirations of young and otherwise successful people, people whose parents would no doubt be proud of them, and shows that the ‘normal’ life is keeping them from pursuing what their heart desires. They would rather be doing something else.

Now what works here:

  1. The positioning – bang on. The car for the young successful professional who wants to be a maverick. With the new-style Safari, the designers at Tata successfully moved away from the boxy Bihar/Jharkhand-road chhaap Sumo image and delivered a sleek, sophisticated looking SUV.
  2. The immediate connect – if you are a young successful professional, you definitely have a wish to do something extraordinary with your life which you are unable to do right now because of the rat race you are stuck in. You have to identify with the faces in the ad.
  3. The tagline – reclaim your life. This urban life with the 9 to 5 job and pressures of the family etc. have taken away your life from you — the life that actually belongs to you, which you should be able to live your way. You should now get up and reclaim it for your sake. Notice the direct call to action – it’s not a ‘buy now’ or ‘hurry till stocks last’. It is so much of a non-hardsell line that it appeals to you much less like an ad but more like a caring friend or a movement that you’re part of (why am I reminded of Woodstock?).
  4. The production – there are two parts to the film: the first where the people talk about their unfulfilled dreams, and the second where the car is shown. First you feel connected to the people and as soon as you feel comfortable, a high-speed unstable film appears with a powerful SUV negotiating tough roads like you would like yourself to be doing right here right now. The director of the spot has done his job brilliantly in getting both parts of the film to talk properly to the target audience.