Adstand: The Pan Masala Wars


Sometime in 80s Indian TV saw a commercial featuring Ashok Kumar and Shammi Kapur having a conversation around guests, wedding, welcome and Pan Parag. “Baratiyon Ka Swagat Pan Parag Se Kariye” became more then just a TV commercial baseline.

It became the culture. The brand then signed up Jalal Aga (fresh from his exploits in Sholay) and Kalpana Iyer to further the brand story. World’s largest selling Pan Masala became the toast of town. These two were landmark commercials and in early days of TV advertising in India, they became the most celebrated ads on Indian TV. I think it was Everest that created the campaign and in the process created the category. Today Pan Parag is not the leading brand and has long back passed the crown to Rajanigandha and many more brands.


The category has always struggled with social acceptance

Pan Masala, like beer is a social category. It took wings because it allowed two strangers to bond over a can of Pan Masala, generated conversation and made friends. Yet the stigma of category that has its own health issues never left it. The category bought social acceptance by signing up celebrities and mounting commercials on grand scale. Ajay Devgan, Manoj Bajpayee, and Saif Ali Khan are not the only ones who have have endorsed a Pan Masala brand. Back in 80s, Vinod Khanna had endorsed Baba Zarda (a category that has since got banned from advertising). The commercial was set in a casino in Nepal, which in those days was a bog lifestyle symbol. Vinod Khanna possible set the tone for the category and celebrity became the part of brand strategy.


Yet, Celebrity can’t be the strategy

Every category creates its own symbology, Pan Masala too has created its own symbols. Alpha Males and a bit of Jingoism became the language of the category. Calssic Maledom (almost like liquor category) was wrapped around in cues of taste and high life. Taste remains the positioning platform for most brands of Pan Masala. The saffron rain of Vimal Pan Masala or the swish friends discovering the “better choice” of Manikchand are all about taste as the brand proposition, but hidden under the packaging of Alpha Male. Though off late Rajanigandha, the leading brand has focused more on success, much like alcohol brands had done in 80s.


Pierce Brosnan is neither good nor bad choice

Pan Bahar’s challenge was mounted using Pierce Brosnan. As the actor who once played James Bond, he is the perfect Alpha Male who the brand could have used. When you sign up an international celebrity for an inherently Indian product, the question of aptness will always remain. Does the core audience know of the actor? Does the core audience see the celeb as a source of extra value? Will the celeb help the consumers switch the brand choice? This is where the task of brand gets tougher. Signing up of celebrity merely is an indicator of resources available with the band and nothing more.


The idea or the lack of it

“Class never goes out of style” screamed the ad from every newspaper and outdoor and TVC. For once it looked as if the ex James Bond is referring to his own screen persona and may be why he should be the Bond again. This message was completely lost in the meltdown that the brand faced on social media. Yes the brand got attention, heaps of it, but the attention was signing up the celebrity and not for the message the brand wanted to convey. In the entire firestorm on social media was the TVC noticed? Was it discussed? Did it have an idea?

Was the brand able to mount a challenge to the other brands in the category? Was it seen as worthy challenger to the crown? Or was this the shooting star that every body looked and wondered and moved on?


Celebrities will always get you noticed. The saffron shower or the flying can of Pan Bahar will be remembered more because of large amount of media monies and not because of the brand idea.

Pan Masala is an interesting category, trapped in its own culture and lingo. It has over a period of time created a very similar imagery. That imagery can be broken and a interesting narrative can be created by demonstrated by Tansen, a small player in the category.


Its good to get a celebrity, but no celebrity can save the brand from lack of coherent creative strategy. Sometimes the celebrity can put the brand in a very hard spot for this very reason.

Original Published Here:

Adstand: FB Crisis, Contextual Ads, social cause as proposition.

Crisis in digital world

Facebook had a severe crisis, it’s 3sec view matrix was out in open and suddenly those 10 million view videos meant a much smaller viewership. It dents the wider belief that digital is a strong alternative to TV is under scanner. To top it Dentsu in Japan announced that they are investigating over reporting in billing on digital accounts. The third news that points to increased turbulence in digital advertising market is of Twitter being courted by potential buyers including the mighty Google.

I have always believed that digital media is important, but it is not a replacement for the traditional TV. While there is a possibility of sharper targeting on digital and greater contextual connection, the measurement is way to opaque. Lack of a third party measurement tools adds to the opaqueness of digital advertising. Digital is important, but you cannot wash away the intrusiveness and multiple exposure potential of traditional media, especially in country like India, where penetration and awareness matter most to marketers.


The context of communication

This week was the week of biggest spectacle that can exist on TV, the US Presidential Debate. This is a TV duel that the world (not just US) waits for. Brands do try to be contextual; Audi won this battle hands down.

The cleverly titled ad called Duel has two valets, one man and one woman on who will drive the Audi to the porch for the guests. In the turbo charged ad you can see the voting badges, a building called Presidential Tower (you know what they are hinting at) and a dirty duel to finish. The end line “choose your driver carefully” is cleverly crafted. If you haven’t seen the ad, do catch it here

Staying with context, there is another event that happened in India, where the brands did miss a chance of riding the immediacy created by the wider context. A young actors skin colour was made fun of in a TV comedy show. The actor did not take it lying down and took to social media about the deep prejudices that exist in our society and how the skin colour is the test of beauty. To be beautiful you have to be fair. This is a narrative that has been built by every fairness cream, powder, gel, serum and may be other formats I am not aware of. The post that the young actor put on her FB wall had terrific traction. Wide array of people sided with her and her point of view on how colour of skin is a prejudice and how that cannot lead to humor. Now there are brads that could have leveraged this incident. Dove, the brand that celebrates real beauty remained mute. Fair and Lovely could have had a point of view but they too remained silent. Here was an event that should have been commented upon by the beauty industry; somehow they allowed it to slip by.

The brand that did have a topical take on the festivities around is “Stay On” Capsules. Every once in a while advertising becomes the butt of jokes, Stay On will remain this for many years to come I suspect.


Brands for Good

The festive season is around, the unicorn ecom players have gone on sale, the newspapers have turned into leaflets for sale, but a few brands have take a completely different path.

eBay India’s #ThingsDontJudge campaign on face of it is a simple campaign telling the tale of what eBay sells, but hidden in the subtext are stories that are rarely told. The brand has quietly slipped in a man proposing to man, and made it look almost matter of fact. Yes there is a slow motion shot of man going down on knee and we get to see the ring, but in the overall story, it is one more episode. The comments on their social feed do make for fantastic reading.

LG has just unveiled the #MuteTheGrowl campaign urging people to not waste money, energy and deplete the resouces of mother earth

The site gives out data on how food wastage can change the future of many underfed, undernourished people in the world. In partnership with NGO Akshaya Patra this is a very nice initiative.

Hyundai too has released a campaign asking people to be good drivers. #BeTheBetterGuy campaign featuring Shahrukh Khan has a series of commercials, each asking people to give up a bad driving habit. Drink and drive, seatbelts, over speeding and using mobile while driving are issues that need to be addressed and Hyundai has done well.


The festive season is here and the season for big boost in advertising is here. Facebook is reported speaking with a media group to solve its 3 sec crisis. Brands will find a way to leverage the context to tell their story. The real joy will be with more brands be like eBay or Hyundai

Original published here:

Kyoorius Design Yatra and why what did I bring back

  1. After 10 years, you can reinvent a very successful conference.  New theme, new anchor and new energy; things that Kyoorius achieved with great aplomb.


2. Over a 1000 professionals and budding design professionals who attended the Yatra ensured that every speaker was in schedule. This is a massive achievement. Being on time is almost the culture for KDY.


3. The crowd was extremely well-dressed. It was great to see boys and girls dressed impeccably. One look at the crowd and you knew you are at a swish design conference.


4. From Tony Davidson of W+K to Michael Wolff, from Singgih Kartno to Yuko Shimuzu, they all stressed on how culture matters and how culture shaped their craft.


5. Collaboration is the new word I learnt. It was amazing how these gifted craftsmen and craftswomen collaborated with professionals of different skills to offer a better solution to their clients.


6. Design can be used for good. It can be used to raise funds, it can be used to fight a rare disease, it can be used to drive potential students to a university. Design can be used to raise public awareness about a complex disease like Cystic Fibrosis using an extremely sharp but simple insight. Therein lies the power of good design.


7. ‘The client is supreme’. There wasn’t one speaker who did not focus on this one aspect. There is a lesson that lies in this singular statement for all of us in the industry we work in.


8. Yuko Shumuzu left everyone with a simple advise, work for money, and if you do decide to work for free, then you work for yourself and not for a client. If there is no money in a project, then there is no reason to be left out.


9. The moment of the three-day conference was when three mothers took to stage to speak about their sons. The lessons from home and the influence of culture were there for all to see. This was a very cleverly planned session, made even more memorable by Vincent, the new MC.


10. The brands use the wider design community for creating campaigns; I wonder why the mainline advertising agencies do not attend KDY in much larger numbers. There are lessons that mainline agencies have to learn from the wider design community and the brands’ desire to leverage design for communication solutions.

original published here:


Adstand: Adidas, Snapdeal, and the power of human potential

This week, three campaigns that celebrate the power of human potential, one in real inspirational sense, the second in pure commercial sense. One celebrates the power of human endurance, the urges the audience to enjoy life and unnox their potential. One works brilliantly, the other sounds like a dose of advertising. The two commercials have broken almost at the same time, may be that speaks a bit about the context of the times we are living in. Then there is a Tanishq commercial that too leverages this very context.


Adidas salutes the epitome of human determination

At the heart of the commercial is a simple tale; we make shoes that are odd. Two rights or two lefts for people who have lost one limb. The tale though is not told simply, its told with a huge dose of inspiration. The story of Major DP Singh, who is India’s first blade runner and who runs marathon is raises Goosebumps. The ad begins narrating the familiar thinking: if a man has lost his limb, may be its time to relook at life, may be cut back on physical activity. The narrative goes on to tell how Major Singh refused to be cowed down by being odd limbed and how he redefined his life. Adidas has woven a tale of grit and determination and human endurance in a very inspirational way. The narrative never becomes overtly commercial; the brand doesn’t become larger than the runner.

Adidas has done very well to showcase the power of human potential by saluting Major DP Singh.


Snapdeal’s Unbox Zindagi is trying too hard

This week Snapdeal unveiled its new identity, new brand positioning and new campaign. Splashed across all the front pages of newspapers we now know snap deal has turned into red box. This is an interesting evolution for a site that still in its name has the word ‘deal’. The brand has moved away from instant choices, attractive prices, and emotional anchors to someone who delivers a red box to your home. I am not sure if the transition from the place where you find the best for your life to the place that delivers is fundamentally evolution of promise, its more like sideways movement.

Then the brand goes on to build “ is a bold and modern symbol of India’s audacious aspiration that our brand seeks to enable. Our symbol is so much more than a box; it is a representation of untold potential and possibilities.”

In the desire to define a wider purpose for the brand, what we get is a load of advertising hyperbole. This advertising hyperbole has met with lukewarm response across the social network, and this s what makes the brand lesser about human potential and more about selling commercial dreams.

Snapdeal wants to become embedded in every Indian’s everyday life, something that cannot be achieve by saying it in an ad campaign, no matter how many celebrities it signs up to say so.


It is not easy for brands to tap into the wider human potential stories. The danger of becoming overtly commercial and losing the wider narrative is real. That is why gems like Adidas Odds move people and inspire them to push and make themselves better.

Original published here:

AdStand: The Newspaper advertising crisis

Can you quickly recall the ads you read in newspapers today morning? Ok can you trace back and recall what you read a week back? Is there a newspaper ad that made you stop at it last week and made you say: this is nice, or this is clever or this is too good?

There is a crisis that newspaper ads are struggling with. The one single reason why brands create advertising is memorability. If the advertising does not create memorability than it is an expensive indulgence that the brand can avoid.


Crisis of memorability

The three of the largest category that uses newspapers extensively are real estate, retail and ecommerce. May be the three categories are responsible for the crisis of memorability that newspaper advertising faces today. Real Estate advertising is transactional, the builders are not looking at long-term traction, they look at quick transaction. This makes the real estate newspaper advertising low on idea and high on details. The belief that prospective buyers are looking for details and the ad needs to say everything that can be said has turned real estate ads into catalogue listings. Ecommerce websites too look at newspaper advertising as catalogues to announce sale, there is rarely an attempt to build an idea in those ads. The entire retail sector has taken newspaper advertising back to the days of origination. In the earliest days newspaper ads were catalogue listing. Today, newspaper ads are back to being catalogue listing. There in lies the biggest crisis newspaper advertising faces today


Crisis of craft

Last week Snapdeal released expensive jackets across the country, announcing the new identity and its new consumer-facing proposition. Unbox Zindagi is an ambitious brand building exercise that the brand undertook. A key element of the campaign is an anthem that tells the story of the brand. Snapdeal turned the song into the body copy for the launch ads in newspaper. The Hindi lyrics if the sing were written in Roman script and became the body copy for the ad. The Roman Script Hindi was used in English newspaper ads that were released across the country, including in areas where Hindi is not the primary language. Brands invest in newspaper advertising to connect with its consumers, to tell the story of brand in the language if consumers. Snapdeal missed an opportunity to really connect and narrate the story of its brand. By being poor in craft the brand did not create the edge it could have by being true to craft. May be memorability of the individual newspaper ad was never considered and it was only used as a tactical weapon to make some noise.

Last week was also an expensive indulgence from Louis Philippe Shirts across the country with a gatefold that opened into a look at how they have changed the shirt forever. The hyperbolic ad was more a self-indulgence from the brand and less of a promise to the consumer. Did the brand need really expensive real estate to tell the consumer that Louis Philippe shirts have changed forever? Incidentally of you do end up visiting the website of the brand, then none of the tonality of the press ad exists on the web. Is the brand then suffering from an identity crisis?
Crisis of context

Like Snapdeal, Uber too launched a new campaign to announce its new consumer promise. Uber is no longer everyone’s private driver, Uber makes you move forward. To launch the new campaign the brand has released large format expensive newspaper ads across the country looking for people who can be Uber drivers. The press campaign supplements the web campaign that is the story of Shankar the driver. The newspaper ad is the story of another driver whose daughter is a chess champions. The campaign works till this extent. Does the campaign though need English newspapers to advertise or should it move to language newspapers? For both: the relevance and reach language newspapers will deliver far better impact. By being in English newspaper has Uber has lost the wider narrative. Language newspapers do deliver better reach and equally good quality of audience to the advertiser. The potential Uber partners are more likely to read the language newspapers than the English ones.

Uber may have missed the context of audiences’ lives completely.


Does newspaper advertising need reinvention?

Newspaper advertising is expensive. Brands invest a large part of their marketing budget in newspapers to build immediacy in brand advertising. Enhanced transaction or greater traffic on site or greater number of calls on the toll free number cannot be the way to measure the impact of newspaper adverts. Memorability has to be the key. Especially now when we are burdened with information overload and have shorter attention span.

I have just picked four random examples from brands that have over invested in newspapers. For brands that are not over invested, memorability becomes even more important. That is the only currency hundreds of brands should live by. It’s time newspaper ads stepped out of the shadow of TV ads.

Original published here:





Brand Wagon: Sports is the new context

Every 4 years we as a country ask this question:

Why can’t we win medals in Olympics?

Why as country we do well only in cricket, is cricket the reason that we don’t do well in Olympics?

Why cant corporates put in money as they put in Cricket?

Eventually the clamour dies down and we carry on enjoying cricket and now a variety of sports that are beyond cricket. Hockey has seen a revival, Kabbadi is being watched, and Badminton gets people to stadiums, even Formula 1 got people excited and drove them to racetrack.

The fact is India loves sports more than cricket. Cricket drives people, and is the most popular sport. Cricketers are used by the brands because they are recognized. Constant TV coverage makes them well known and that makes it easy for brands to use them.

No corporate participation?

But the corporates and brands are investing in sportsperson beyond cricket, and that is a wonderful thing. Take Olympic Gold Quest, the not for profit organization that has been working with some of the most promising athletes of India, giving them support, training, nutrition and kits. PV Sindhu, the Rio Olympic Gold Medalist is a part of Olympic Gold Quest. OGQ is the power behind 5 Olympic Gold Medals, 2 Silver and 3 Bronze.

Jindals have invested big in sports with JSW Sports, this year at Rio they scored a Bronze with Sakshi Malik in wrestling.

There are more corporates including the biggest names like Tata are involved with athletes beyond cricket.

This is an interesting conundrum. The corporates have opened up their purse for athletes other than cricket. Indians, on occasions when the athletes have competed have cheered them, rooted for them, and made them a part of their lives. Yet the broader marketing communication has not seen too many non-cricket celebrities being used as face of brands.


Brands have not been indulgent

There has been an Abhinav Bindra that was signed on by Samsung after his Gold Medal in 2008. Saina Nehwal is the face of Savlon, Iodex and Fortune Cooking Oil, but this is where it stops. Un each of the three brands she is the super performing athlete and each ad makes a strong impact for the brand.

Why is it that the brands have shied away from using the non-cricket athletes as brand endorsers? The simplistic answer may lie in the fact that these players are still high performing athletes and are not stars that public wants to mimic. The other reason may be that these athletes are backed by organizations and brands that are not in consumer spaces. OGQ has no products to sell. Mittal Champions Trust had no battle of market share to fight, JSW Sports works towards making the corporate a better neighbour.

Its easy to rope in a film star

The mainstream brands in India are too focused on either the film stars or the cricket personalities. Even Nike, the partner of OGQ, when it did communication to celebrate the athletes of India, it used Dipika Padukone as the lead and not the 6 athletes who should have been the face of the brand. Celebrities are used by the brands to gain quick awareness, but Nike as a brand has been all about sports and the brand would have done better showcasing the women athletes and letting Dipika be a part of the mix.

BMW signs up Sachin as the face of the brand, and then gifts the BMW to medal winners at Rio. Clearly in BMWs scheme of things Sachin is a better salesperson for a marquee car and that BMW is better off gaining some fame by just gifting the cars to the winners. What if BMW had signed up either of the three or all three as the faces that drive the brand in India?

Brands take easy way out

The Nike Da Ding is just a small part of the problem. Brands believe that the easiest way to gain a million plus views on a video is by using a celebrity. In India there are only two kind of celebrities: Film Actors and Cricket Players. Sachin sells BMW, Kareena sells Jaguar. May be both have limited impact on final purchase decision.

Sports Authorities need to look beyond

This year we had a film star and a cricketer as the brand ambassador for Rio Olympic. The public hue and cry and rejection of the two choices is a clear indicator that consumers want to look beyond the conventional stars. Its time the sports authorities broke the mould. Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Saina Nehwal, Vijender Singh, Yogeshwar Dutt, Karnam Malleshwari are perfectly capable of firing public imagination.

Its time we as the country started to celebrate our heroes. Its time our brands looked beyond the usual celebrities.

The consumers are ready, its time the brands shed their resistance.

Original Published Here:









AdStand: The Head of State as Brand Endorsers and why is it bad for India

August – September 2016 will be remembered as landmark year for brands in India. Two brands in space of less then 10 days managed to get the President and the Prime Minister of India as quasi brand endorsers. Something that had never happened in India, something that the brands may have debated but never dared to pull it off.

Bandhan Bank

On August 23, 2016, Bandhan Bank released an ad claiming that “The First Citizen of India will celebrate our first anniversary” along with the picture of President of India. For the newest bank of India, this seemed like terrific way to get into limelight. The President of India did address the first year anniversary celebrations of India’s newest bank in Kolkata.

Was the bank correct in using the Picture of President? For the core audience of Bandhan Bank, it could almost mean that they see the bank as Sarkari bank.

Then on September 1, 2016, Reliance Jio launched its nationwide 4G services with the picture of Prime Minister of India splashed across all the major newspapers of India. In a poorly crafted ad, with copy error, the country welcomed not only a new telecom service, but also possibly a new brand endorser. The PM was cleverly dressed in the same colours as brand logo.

Now that two brands have found a way, are more coming?


The use of President and Prime Minister for commercial purposes is generally not allowed. The Emblems And Names (Prevention Of Improper Use) Act, 1950 has specific guidelines that makes it almost impossible for private citizens and brands to use the two names for commercial purpose. However if the two brands have found a way of using them for commercial purpose are more brands queuing up to use them? A builder in Mumbai did use PM’s picture to launch housing scheme quoting PM’s Jan Awas Yojna, but had to pull the ad down, as he hadn’t taken permissions from PMO. While it doesn’t look like free for all, but there are chances that we may see more brands using the PM as brand endorser.


Is Government underplaying its own companies?

Both Bandhan and Jio are not owned by the Government of India. GOI owns multiple banks and also owns BSNL, India’s premier telephone company. By endorsing the private sector companies GOI, may be putting its own companies in a hard place. BSNL did respond to the launch of Jio swiftly, and what would have happened if the BSNL ads too had the picture of PM, or the Minister of Telecommunications?

Communication is a lot about symbols and the prime positions of the Government offices are extremely important symbols. By letting the competitors to use the symbols of governance, the Government is weakening its own self.

Despite all the weakness that comes from being Government owned, there are two strengths that come from being Sarkari: Trust and Honesty. These are two very difficult traits to build for a new brand. Has the Government made it easy for the two brands to build the two traits?


Why its bad for us, we the people

We, the citizens of India elect our representatives to be our voice in the parliament and do the right thing for us. By becoming endorsers of brands and business, the elected representatives are breaking the bond between them and their voters. Tomorrow, will the ordinary citizen of India believe that he/she is the king and the brand will listen to them and resolve the issue?

Will the poor performance of the brand not effect the standing of the endorser? Will a PM weakened by the brand he endorsed be a good thing for the nation?


These are new territories

I had never thought that there will be a day when a private sector company will us the PM or President as the endorser. I always believed that the Government run brands are hampered by their desire to use the picture of ruling class.

The tables have turned. The private sector brands are seeking the ruling class; the Sarkari brands are carving their way without the benefit of using PMs pictures.

There is no telling how the new reality will be? One thing though is sure, lot many more brands will line up at PMO seeking permission.

Hope the PMO is working towards launching an App for this. Get automatic approval and launch the campaign.

Original published here: