Friday, February 18, 2005

Advertising works but...

The Bad, the Ugly, the Good

The most popular way of building a brand - including youth brands - is conventional advertising. Does it work? Yes and no.

Yes - because although people in general (and young people in particular) believe that they are not 'really influenced' by advertising - which isn't true. Sure, we don't run out and buy stuff right away because we see it advertised and yes, we do consciously tune out a lot of it. But at an unconscious level every ad we see - in every medium we see it - leaves its mark.

There are broadly three kinds of advertising:
a) "I exist" advertising: This is the simplest form - a piece of communication which tells you x or y product is in the market and demonstrates what it can do for you. ie make your teeth whiter, hair shinier etc.

This is on the face of it 'boring' but it does work in the sense that it often induces trial within established product categories. For example, if I am a 'Pantene' user, and I am exposed to attractive ads for 'Garnier Fructis' I will most likely be willing to try the new brand.

But at the end of the day, 'I exist' advertising only appeals at a rational level. The use of brand colours, situations, models (and sometimes celebrities) can add a bit of differentiation.

But repeated hammering in of product benefits and pack shots rarely allows the communication to make a lasting and emotional impact.

b) "Irrelevant" advertising: Here, the agency tries hard to be entertaining, witty (the accepted formula to 'connect' with the youth) - but there is no connection whatsoever with the product.

There is a long, long list of such ads currently running on TV. It appears as if the copywriter had a series of humorous situations or 'skits' in his or head and when the need to make an ad comes up, these come in handy. A tenuous connection is established between the skit and the product and voila! Ad taiyyar hai.

Remember Chlormint? The only impact it made on young people was canteen conversation around the question -"Are those two guys in the ad gay?"

Another sad trend is how every Indian ad somehow wants to associate itself with the Great Indian Institution of Shaadi (marriage).

Nescafe's latest prospective bride meets prospective groom ad is a case in point. The agency needs to take note of the scathing feedback it's getting from the traditional Nescafe audience (the young and upwardly mobile).

A recent tagline which caught my attention was Sunsilk: "Life is what happens while you're making other plans". As I haven't actually seen the ad I shall refrain from comment except to say that phrase is definitely inspired by a stale internet forward!

c) Truly creative advertising: This is the kind which is relevant, memorable and at some level produces a warm, fuzzy feeling - a kind of unconscious alignment with the brand. These ads are creative - but never take the focus away from the product or message. Yet, they do not keep harping on functional benefits or keep flashing the brand logo.

The best recent example is the Hutch 'boy and dog' commercial. I think Pepsi's 'Dil maange more' (the heart wants more) campaign which ran for several years was also path breaking. The sentiment was something the youth of this country really identified with.

So much so that after a hard won battle to recapture a mountain peak during the 1999 Kargil war Captain Vikram Batra immortalised that phrase on national television.

Sadly, since then Pepsi has adopted a new catchphrase 'yeh pyaas hai badi' (this thirst is big) and although it means approximately the same thing, adding the product connected word 'thirst', in my opinion, destroys the magic.

Most of Nokia's advertising also leaps out of the clutter. It helps that they have a bunch of really innovative products to advertise :) Easier to be creative with a 7250 than a daily moisturiser.

But it's also a reflection of the company's clarity - every ad focuses on communicating just ONE message. Like, this is a colour phone, or this is a phone for fashionable people. The million other features be damned!

Every brand manager would like to see "truly creative' advertising for his brand but is usually unable to take the risk involved and hence settles for a) "I exist" or b) "Irrelevant advertising.

Between the two I'd say the straight forward "I exist" school of advertising at least accomplishes part of its job. That's any day preferable to the "irrelevant" school which in my opinion is simply money down the drain.

Clutching at straws
As a kind of desperate 'kuch to work karega' measure companies pin their hopes on celebrities. However, there is no succsessful example of an Indian celebrity whose endorsement has actually helped sell more of a product.

Reebok used rap stars in its advertising campaign and suddenly went from being a fuddy duddy brand to a cool one once again. Sania Mirza or Shahid Kapur or even the bigger stars can't produce that effect in India. And in any case, celebs invariably endorse several products at the same time and hence are not strongly associated with any one brand.

Conclusion: Great advertising does build youth brands but is rarely and inconsistently produced, especially in India. If you are clear that "youth" is the target segment think cutting edge, and not 'let me also appeal to mummy, daddy, munni, chunni and Ramu doodhwala" with the same ad.


  1. Hi,

    Your posts have been a gr8 read so far. Yeh dil maange more on advertising stuff!


  2. Hey.. how could U forgot the Airtel's "express yourself ad"... its surely one of the most creative ads in the recent past

  3. Anonymous7:28 PM

    Doubt very much you'll see this, but if you do:

    "Life is what happens while you're making other plans"

    John Lennon said that. Might also be a stale internet forward now. But it's provenance is a bit more respectable.


  4. echo anonymous

    doubtful you will see through this post

    for me the ad has always been the presence or an absence of a narrative ...

    people function by stories and tales and the success of an (in my p.o.v) depends on the narrative it builds

    take the slice that is one nice ad ....
    on the other hand blue star ad (going on now) i just got confused whether blue star can really create hot and cold regions in an office or it can eliminate that kind of a situation

    neways i am on a readathon of your posts so long
    nice post

  5. Ive just passed a 'I exist' kinda script today for lack of anything better.... After months of 'Irrelevant ones'.. i felt that this atleast partly does the job..

    Your article was bang on !

    In a hurry to air an Ad brand manager

  6. Anonymous12:16 PM

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