Yes the public are idiots

I love Tata Sky. They keep making ads that I can keep writing about.

First they claimed to revolutionize home entertainment, never mind that what they are providing is just improved signal fidelity on what the local cable guy anyway has been providing us for decades now, with an ad depicting people throwing out every home entertainment device they had (including television sets??!!??). Then they thought that a man dressed in grass along with a Hrithik Roshan was a funny way to depict the public’s affinity with cricket. Then it was the cartoons trying to bundle a Tata Sky box with a television set in an unbreakable bond. Never mind that those who threw out their TVs after seeing the first spot are still wondering where the picture appears on the new Tata Sky box they bought. Then it was the education campaign with the little Einstein spots – which was cute and made a good connect. And somewhere in between were the nice, simple and classy endorsements by the likes of Boman Irani and Kiron Kher – remember them standing on a stage in front of curtains reading a feedback letter in a microphone? Then came the 1500 /1499 kasamm se ad, which was hilarious and made an instant connect.

I thought they were improving. Then suddenly, we hear a jingle – “inke saath rahne ka raaz…” in an ad targetting family with choice-led togetherness (!!??!!) And after boring us with that irritating ad in a variety of lengths, they are back with the education focus. After that lengthy intro, let me describe the ad to you.

A kid who is happy to see bubbles, a ferris wheel and to get quite a handful of lollipops comes to share his glee with his father. In each case, the father connects the kid’s activity with some facet of education – like “colors batao…”, “ginke batao…”, “shape batao…”. Every time the kid gets a little disappointed and sad, and finally breaks out into tears.

A voiceover tells us all that kids should have fun in order to learn. Ergo, we should all take a Tata Sky to let our kids learn while having fun.

But I thought learning how to count was more fun if I was counting real soap bubbles rather than counting with a badly-designed interface with numbers in comic sans! 🙂 And learning about shapes was more fun and done better with seeing shapes in real life. And that making the child learn in the real world is preferable to binding your child to the “idiot-box”.

And anyways, the child in the ad was not crying because he found this way of learning wrong, but because he did not want to learn while he was having fun. So what are the odds that he would like to “learn” with the television? The “solution” proposed by the ad is not really a solution, it just transfers the problem from outdoors to indoors.

Thanks to Tata Sky for reminding us that the public are idiots…

Is Originality Dead?

First we saw how Colgate is trying to position itself in a position that is already occupied by arch rival Oral-B. Then there was Havell’s, who copied the idea of doorbells delivering shocks from Anchor. Then it was Samsung Guru and Idea on the tourist-guide-meets-foreigner-tourist-and-communicates-with-the-mobile-phone- in-a-special-way concept.

And today I noticed something. Not only did Tata Motors launch a vehicle named “Magic” (remember that Airtel’s prepaid service has been called “Magic” ever since it acquired Spice’s networks), but take a look at their identity, and then see Airtel Magic’s identity.

MetLotus – are they getting it right?

I came across this Facebook ad today, and clicked on it. It was an Indian site, which is… I don’t know what. On reaching the site (www.metlotus.com), I see the following:

metlotus.com screenshot, click to enlarge

What’s wrong with this? A good design, nice layout, soothing colours, slick animations. But where is the information about the site or the company that it represents? There are the generic social networking promises flashing in neat animation clips, but apart from that? What is its USP, positioning, the hook that would make me want to click any of the links on this page?

When I clicked on ‘Take a Tour’ (which I did purely for the reason for writing this blog), I am presented with another slick flash site in a pop-up window, which has description on how to use this site. Apparently it is a social networking venture. But didn’t the Facebook ad mention something about widgets? I clicked on that link thinking this might be a site specializing in making widgets that we can use on other social networking sites.

Now if it is trying to be a popular social networking site, why is the interface so unusable (for lack of a better word), and not intuitive? How many of us had to go through a tutorial when we first started using Orkut, Facebook or MySpace? Why does a new site, which no one knows about, insist that users log in on the front page without showing any tangible benefit to signing up?

And because I’m a designer of sorts, I also have a problem with the way the consistency with the sans-serifs in the entire design system is not maintained – they’ve used Arial in Flash animations, where they don’t have to worry about embedding fonts! That’s sacrilege in graphic designer-speak 🙂

Leaving this last bit about font puritanism apart, how many times did my mind go “negative” while going through that site – can you count?

Please provide a what???

A Calcuttan missing his hometown opens up the website belonging to the most read newspaper in that town. Pleased with what he saw, he clicked on one of the sections of the e-paper. The site tells him that he needs to be registered in order to go deeper into the contents. No problem. He is ready to register. So he clicks on register and fills up a form. Presses Submit. And see what he gets:

Email ID? The form does not mention email ID anywhere, let alone ask for it. Oh, the error page tells him that the “Username” field should have been populated with his email ID.

Who would have thought? 🙂

If you were that person, would you fill up that form again and continue to use the website? I didn’t. Who knows what other ‘mistake’ I would be chided for next? Is the phone number field actually supposed to contain my height?

Is it so difficult for web designers and companies that hire them to make websites that are free of inconsistencies and are helpful instead of carrying the old ’80-90s attitude of “I made this thing and it works at my end. You need to learn how to make it work for you if you want to use it.”?

It is all adding up to the user experience and thus the brand in the end.

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?

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.

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”.