AdStand: Of Fairness and the Celebrity Code

This has been an interesting week. One celebrity took on his entire fraternity over a category they endorse, and Advertising Standards Council released a code of conduct for celebrities who endorse brands.  The trolling of one celebrity and the code of conduct coming in same week are disconnected events, but have set new roles of engagement for the brands.

 

The Abhay Deol Troll War

India has a major fascination for fair skin. At roughly 30 billion, Skin Fairness is possibly the largest category in India. The earliest brand in this category was Afghan Snow. Way back in 1950s they had Miss India’s endorsing the brand, though the brand directly didn’t say fairness cream, it alluded to making skin fair and giving it a ‘snow’ like feel. Surprisingly, The brand is still available on Amazon. Fair and Lovely slowly ambushed Afghan Snow by building a huge guilt trip in would be brides by stressing that fair skin gets better grooms. In 70s, that was a big appeal and slowly Fair and Lovely started to gain acceptance. Today across companies there are many celebrities who do endorse a ‘skin whitening’ cream for both men and women.

In 2014 the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has issued guidelines on the advertising of fairness and skin-lightening creams in an effort to curb the spread of misleading ideas and discrimination.

The new guidelines specified that advertising cannot communicate any discrimination based on skin colour nor can it use post-production visual effects to exaggerate product efficacy, amongst others.

In light of these guidelines the Abhay Deol attack on all his compatriots is a stunning attack. He has raised all the issues that the ASCI has laid down, because despite the guidelines, most brands do flout them and these are large brands that rule the category.

Beyond ASCI guidelines, Abhay Deol has raised the issue on the very existence of the category. His point that should the category even exist as fairness category is worth debating. Fairness is not a fair category, but can the category be really curbed? Thanks to years of cultural imperialism, it is fair skin that is a big definer of beauty in India. So much so that when one odd brand uses a ‘dusky’ model, it becomes big news. This is one war that will need more than a lone voice.

Will ASCI guidelines for Celebrities work?

The new ASCI guidelines that have been put down for celebrity endorsements are very tough.

First, who is a celebrity?

That is defined as someone who receives payment in lieu of appearing in advertising. The definition goes beyond entertainment and sports personalities, but does stop short of ‘influencers’ in social media, may be the code should get upgraded to include anyone who gets paid to propagate brand message.

The second part is what is expected of the celebrity. The Celebrities should do due diligence to ensure that all description, claims and comparisons made in the advertisements they appear in or endorse are capable of being objectively ascertained and capable of substantiation and should not mislead or appear deceptive.

This is far reaching. This means when a celebrity female star plays the role of mother in instant noodle commercial which claims that she feeds her children the noodles because it has nutritional benefits, then she has to believe that the claim is true. Till this point it is still doable. Brands do have tests and data that can be substantiated on many counts. But how will a male film star be convinced that use of a deodorant will have him inundated with female adulation? Or that a particular undergarment is so lucky that it will change his fortune, or that particular slippers’ straps are so strong that he can save girls falling off the cliff or that fairness creams open a world of opportunities, or the film star can jump off a cliff to grab a bottle of cola?

The previous guidelines that ASCI put down for fairness creams have not been followed in true spirit, will we in advertising really follow what we believe are the correct way of using a celebrity? And will we as people who create the appeal for brands extend it to influencers too?

May be we need more Abhay Deols.

Original published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/04/adstand-of-fairness-and-the-celebrity-code/

AdStand: All Fools Day

One thing that various brands have demonstrated in last one week is that advertising works. There is no other reason why across the world would have generated the kind of interest it did. For some the consumers could figure that it was a gag, but for many other brands the consumers were happy to go on a merry ride knowing that the campaigns have broken around 1stApril.

 

Devices generated interest

Ixigo came up with ixigo glass, a device that is a result of our ground-breaking research over the last three years in machine learning, augmented reality and predictive analysis. The Glass as a device was something that got internet buzzing in almost no time. ixigo promised the device to be free on pre-order, they also put a number to how many they will give out free. Its true that many people wanted the device, some got the sense that it was a prank, that number was way too small. ixigo did pull glass over many eyes, and did so without spending money. Head to https://www.ixigo.com/glass to join the post prank fun.

 

The second brand that had a revolutionary breakthrough device was Ola. They created a self driving automated wheels called #OlaWheels for short commute. While the video was cute it did not create the kind of buzz that ixigo created. May be the consumers did not find the device to be quirky enough

 

The third brand in the devices space was Tata Tiago, the small car had a really cute innovation, the Tiago Insta Edition, with windows that have an In-Built Instagram Filter Feature.Now, you don’t need to browse through filters from your Instagram account. The front windscreen was supposed to get paired with the phone and pictures shot through the phone can experience the instagram right on the windscree. Did people get pranked? Going by the buzz on social media, people were willing to open their purse and write the cheque.

 

And while on devices Honda Dream Laboratories introduced Honda cars with Emoji Horn! Created by Honda Dream Labs, the car comes with 7 different emoji sounds so that you could share the feeling with fellow drivers on the roads. The car or the driver could tell the others if they are happy or laughing or annoyed. This is one idea that can make Indian Roads fun, what if the cars automatically posted the emoji used in the social pages and built an emoji song for all Honda Drivers? Or may be this is what the Honda Dream Labs are working on for next All Fools Day

 

Condoms, Jeans and April Fool

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Durex cleverly bought its international Korean campaign for Durex Jeans to India and with the might of Ranveer Singh got the whole country buzzing. Was it an April Fool prank or just the launch of a new variant? While the brand says it’s a new Variant,  Spykar had a clever take on it. Spykar announced its entry into Condom market. The Condom-Jeans combo kept the audience engaged in the conversation. Durex started it, Spykar was clever.

 

Did Internet have a panic attack?

PornHub is a place where millions go to explore and learn about Human Anatomy. The lessons are highly engaging and makes PornHub a very popular classroom. On April 1st they decided to announce the participation of all their students on their social handles. I suspect millions must have choked on whatever they were drinking or eating and must have triggered a momentary panic attack. PornHub to my mind won the All Fools Day gag.

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Day Branding now has become a big fixture in marketing calendar, many brands now play very elaboratory made hoax.

If we engage with the brands knowing the dates, advertising is doing well.

Original Published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/04/ad-stand-all-fools-day/

Ad Stand: When brands tap into activism

We live in interesting times. These are times when the leadership of country has muddled messages but the business leadership is pushing for probity and transparency. We live in times when the leadership of country wants you to forget the real issues but brands are raising the issues that matter. We live in times where we vote because of the muddled unclear messages, but we buy the brands because they shine on a new path.

We live in times where business and advertising are pushing the correct thing and that too from unlikely brands.

Tata Tea: Alarm bajne se pehle

 

This could easily have been an ad from a political party, a party that questions norms and wants to create new rules. We live in times where if a political party had put this out as a message we would have laughed at it. These are good times where we as consumers are happy with a tea brand waking us up from our slumber. Tata Tea has been at the edge of activism and has always balanced the brand with evocative messages. This time they have pushed the envelope successfully to create a message that resonates with today’s times. I wish to see more, more than what the brand is doing in its website and social media pages. I am sure something is brewing

Mirinda: #ReleaseThePressure

 

For three minutes and a little over, this video is all about how a whole generation is lost to pressure of exams. How a whole generation is struggling to come to grips with a competitive world and how a whole generation has to get marks for parental love and approval. For a while I thought I was watching a promo for an upcoming film like Taare Zammen Par or 3 Idiots. To look back, there has been little institutional effort from the country to reduce pressure of performance on children. Whatever little has happened has been reversed and has been welcomed by parents. The brand too has been brave to not let any of the brand cues to be there in the video and leave the message as pure as it can be. May be it should have left the last frame too. The bottle cap with Release the Pressure written on it is incongruous to the whole video. Is it one off, or Mirinda will have a second one in the series? This is one brave experiment though coming from a brand that is often at receiving end of consumers for being junk and carrier of excessive sugar.

Tanishq Rivaah: Did it miss a trick?

 

Tanishq comes from the same agency that created #AlarmBajneSePehle and that is the stark contrast. This is a very well-made commercial about the love that exists between fathers and daughters and how difficult it is for the fathers to see the chrysalis turn butterfly and now getting ready to spread wings. There are moments that will lead every father teary eyed, and may be every bride to be in same state. So where is the problem? Dowry and expensive jewellery at weddings is where the problem lies. While Tata Tea and Mirinda score, Tanishq gets beaten. The entire set-up is of traditional weddings with all brides bedecked in expensive jewellery. Is this where the brand missed a trick? What if the entire narrative was not just about indulgent, expensive weddings, but also about simple minimalistic ones? What if the brand actually took the hashtag of Mirinda, and did release some pressure. This is one activism that is badly needed in the country, may be this is where a jewellery brand needs to go.

In any other times, the Tanishq ad would not have faced this conundrum, but coming in a week where two brands broke the mould, this becomes striking.

These are interesting times, where emotions of love, affection, taste, and enjoyment can be fused with responsibility, goodness and made to work for the brand.

Maybe the world should be actually run by a few brands.

Original published here http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/02/ad-stand-when-brands-tap-into-activism/

AdStand: When brands break walls

We live in strange times. The times where the leader of the free world wants to build walls and the brands from the same free world break the walls down. The war between the political brinkmanship and brand statesmanship has never been so stark as it has been now.

Whoever thought that there would be a time when the leader of men will become jingoistic, small minded and tight fisted, and purveyors of transactions will become global, large hearted and celebrate the human diversity.

The chaos started with Donald Trump banning refugees from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering US, in a clear act of religious discrimination. The backlash against the executive order was massive from the public and from the establishment too. The courts stepped in and within 24 hours, the travel ban was put in limbo. The massive backlash from ordinary Americans and from citizens of almost every country gave brands the fuel needed to create messages of unity and celebrating diversity.

 

AirBnB released its ad on Superbowl to make a simple point: The world is more beautiful the more you accept. The entire copy of the ad — “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept” — is a powerful statement against what the political powers to be have made the country out to be. The #WeAccept campaign is an evolution from the film they released last November.

Coke dipped back into its archives to pull out an ad from 2014. America the Beautiful spot starts in English and then the verses keep flowing into multiple languages, including Hindi and Arabic and various others.

The ad from Coke was very polarising when it was aired last. The reactions this time too has been sharply divided for both the commercials. While many hated the commercials, many more loved not only the message but also the bravery of the brand to take sides and be more than just a brand, being politically correct with the timely message.

This is where both Coke and AirBnB score very big, they refuse to tow the middle of the road line and are aggressive in displaying their progressive (and some may even say correct) side in the current scenario.

Leo Burnett’s #ReverseForKindness is the most insightful piece that I have seen recently on the culture gap and human diversity. The simple act of writing English like Arabic, not left to right but right to left, creates a strong impact. The underlying message that the directional way of writing language does not change the way of expressing thoughts is very powerful. In these times where the leaders of nations are busy dividing people, this is a powerful message of unity.

These brand messages are the real positives in these troubled political times. In India, brands rarely display their political belief. They stick to the middle of the road acceptable protocol of messaging and almost never live on the edge. I am not expecting brands to jump into the fray and start to display their political leanings immediately, but being culturally sensitive and having a contra point of view is not always a bad thing for brands.

With a small dosage of hate come a large dollop of admiration and a long lasting memorability.

Add some admiration to it too.

Original published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/02/ad-stand-when-brands-break-walls/

AdStand: The Milk Sellers

Milk is integral to India, almost every urban home in India is a consumer of milk. The day starts in India with milk, from tea to coffee to a glass of milk. A whopping 10% of global milk production comes from India. Yet for all these years, milk has not seen many brands come in and build traction. We have seen distribution brands being built by cooperative dairies, but otherwise fresh packaged milk has remained a liquid commodity. This has started to change rapidly. In last few months there have been a slew of brands that have been launched in the market. Corporates like Coca Cola are trying their hand in milk market, though not in fresh packaged milk.

Amul has been the leading players in fresh milk. Amul has almost created the category in India. Amul then let many state level cooperatives launch their own brands. Mother Dairy, Verka, Vijaya, Nandini and Saras are the local state level brands that now play at the national level.

Now there are a host of brands that are being launched, some are aimed at the small regional level, some at the national level. There are even tech start-ups that deliver fresh packaged milk to your doorstep. The start-up world has entered the world of gwalas.

The organic food culture has come to fresh packaged milk world in a big way.

There are many small dairies that are aggressively building local offers to supply fresh organic milk. Milcch in Gurgaon, Pride of Cows in Mumbai, Madras Milk in Chennai are all building traction for premium milk. These brands are also creating a new language for milk brands. There is the hyperbole of Madras Milk about being the new standard of milk, to confidence of Pride of Cows about being full of love to Milcch’s claim of being innocent. Farmers are leveraging technology and consumers are getting better choices.

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It’s not just that the action is seen in the niche organic or high quality milk market, the action in the mainstream milk market has also heated up.

Mother Dairy has been very active building both the delivery and fresh milk through a host of campaigns. The challenge to Mother Dairy is coming from aggressive brand like Kwality, which is investing heavily in brand building to gain consumer traction.

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Kwality has signed up a celebrity, known for fitness and is aggressively investing in advertising. As an erstwhile ice-cream player, the brand is not new to the dairy segment. There are two big symbols of milk communication, the milk moustache that Got Milk Campaign uses and the milk splash that is used by many brands. Kwality has used the wings that give Akshay extra power.

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Milk Life, a brand of USA, has been doing the same for many years, and the content it has on the site is extensive. Milk Life became the template for Coca Cola’s campaign for Fairlife Milk. They used milk as fashion statement for today’s models.

Not all appeals in milk advertising are positive. Gurgaon-based Milkor is using fear as appeal to sell milk. Milk is fed to snakes in India in search of blessing; to see milk take the shape of a snake is rather scary. In fear an appeal that can work for a niche unknown brand? Incidentally Milkor is world’s leading brand of Grenade Launchers.

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What is worth pondering over is the fact that despite such a large production base, India does not have a milk brand that is known in the world. We aren’t even known for our prowess in dairy.

Now if cow and buffalo milk is not for you, then there is camel milk available in India. No, not from a home-grown dairy, but from UAE. Check out  https://camelicious.in/

The milk wars may just be beginning, there are many more salvos to be fired. Remember Mahatma Gandhi was fond of goat milk.

Original published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/01/ad-stand-the-milk-sellers/

AdStand: Gandhi, Amazon and Commerce

 

This has been an interesting week with two controversies that broke out of nowhere. First involved Khadi, Gandhi and Modi. The second was about Amazon selling doormats and flip-flops with images if Indian flag and Gandhiji’s pictures, not in India though.

 

This week KVIC released calendar and diary, which had pictures of PM spinning the Charkha instead of Bapu. The picture of Bapu spinning Charkha is iconic and is almost a symbol of what the Father of Nation stood for. The outrage on social media was enormous. Reportedly even the PM was not impressed by what KVIC had done. One argument that was given out was that Modi is a bigger brand name then Gandhiji and has made a significant impact to the sale of Khadi in India.

The question then is this: is either the PM of the Father of the Nation a brand name? Brand names are transactional. There is always a give and take involved with them. Without the layer of commerce and transaction a brand is just a method of recognition.

For me both the icons belong to the whole country and have no connection with being a brand. They espouse a certain symbology that has wider meaning than narrow commercial interests. Khadi can do with both the icons coming together to create a narrative that is uniquely Indian. Remember an American Denim brand can take khadi and launch ultra expensive pair of trousers and meet with commercial success.

Khadi needs a consistent brand building effort; it is an icon of India’s cultural heritage. What it needs is more contemporary image, something that may not get crafted by merely replacing one icon with another without changing the symbology. May be there is a lot that PM can give to Khadi.

 

The second controversy was about Amazon Canada selling doormats with Indian Flag and then Amazon selling Flip-Flops with Gandhi’s image. Both created a flurry of activity on social media with the External Affairs Minister leading the attack on Amazon.

We can debate whether the attack was an over reaction, and whether the might of Government could have been used to exert pressure on Amazon to remove the offending products from sale. When it comes to commerce, louder the noise wider the impact.

There are some lessons that Amazon can learn from Facebook which has a fairly stringent community guidelines about the kind of stuff that can be posted. Many of these are automated and FB bars using from posting stuff.

There are countries that have no qualms when the national icons are used for commerce, like USA allows the graphics of its flag to be used commercially, but we in India don’t. In the hyper connected world Amazon has no option but to live by the rules that have been set by various countries. Using global icons like Gandhi for commerce also falls in the same category, especially when the product becomes offensive.

 

Using icons of national importance for commerce is always a tough thing to do. Culturally India keeps commerce and national icons fairly insulated from each other. When Khadi uses Gandhi’s images it uses the images to build on the rich heritage of Indian and values India stands for. The imagery is of defiance, determination, and walking on a self-created path. We don’t use the national symbols fir commerce for we keep them at a higher pedestal than mere transactions.

These are lessons that are not easy to learn for those who are not seeped into India.

Let the PM endorse Khadi, but let him do it in newer more contemporary ways. Let him show the new path of discovery and determination.

Original Published here: http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/01/ad-stand-gandhi-amazon-and-commerce/

AdStand: The Gender Balance In Advertising

 

On the New Year eve, the act that happened in Bangalore shocked the nation. There were men caught on camera groping women and misbehaving. The reaction from political class was on expected lines, blaming the western culture and the usual unseen monsters. The outrage this time was serious and intense, this forced the CM of Karnataka to acknowledge the problem and apologise.

This one incident forced me to think why we in advertising cannot change the narrative. There are some outlier brands that are talking of gender sensitivity, but most brands are about playing the dominant societal codes in their communication. Brands often do not reflect the progressive mindset, they reflect the dominant ones, and this helps them be seen positively by the mainstream consumers.

The question then to debate is this: what happens if the brands decide to relook at most of the dominant codes they push in advertising. What happens if the brands actually push the new gender sensibilities? Maybe the brands can become the drivers of new sensibilities. If the advertising campaigns can drive the new sensibilities, the consumers will connect in stronger, engaging ways.

The first thing that needs to change is the way mothers are portrayed. The mothers are always the nurturer, the provider of food, the ones who take care of hair, teach beauty tips to daughters, get evaluated for making fluffy chapattis and see love soar because they can make tea. Change this scenario. Let mothers only be seen with sons. The conversation between mother and sons is about being responsible, about being responsive, about knowing how house is run, discovering that there are no demons in kitchen. The conversation can go beyond mother and son to between mother-son-daughter. This is the conversation where the son actually listens to life’s truth as told by sister. There is a huge change in perspective that advertising can drive. From noodles to atta to tea to milk additives, mothers can drive a change that needs to be driven.

The second thing that needs to change is the entire alpha male portrayal. Why should men be in control in categories like automobiles and deodorants?

A deodorant is the category where man gets to choose girl or girls depending on his sex appeal that is enhanced exponentially. The narrative can change. If deodorants is about sexual attraction than the attraction can be crafted in reverse. The choice moves from men to women, who chose based on factors far more than pure machismo. If the category is built on sexual attraction, then the category can build narratives that are driven from women’s point of view. Male superiority works for the alpha male, but also becomes the wrong narrative for the wider society. This is true even more of automobile category. Here the male becomes attractive thanks to a set of two or more wheels. It’s easy to move the needle and make women attractive thanks to two or more wheels. There are many more things that can change in this category, all with the underlying theme of male superiority.

Financial category has always portrayed father in control, and often the context is of father and family with son playing a prominent role. This is a category where the predominant roles of males need to be tempered and balanced to create a far more balanced narrative. This has implications beyond gender balance, more so because the category has poor penetration among women.

The issue of subservience of women in society is deep rooted. These are realities that find their way into advertising and through ads into popular culture without trying too hard. The spiral continues, the perceptions get hardened and pop culture moves in certain direction, doesn’t evolve to a new look. With the deep-rooted biases against women now being played out in open in the biggest of cities in India, we need systemic intervention to change.

Advertising has the power to drive change, advertising can create new reality. Its time that we collectively stepped up and make this small change in narrative. The change cannot be driven by an odd outlier brand.

Original published here http://bestmediainfo.com/2017/01/ad-stand-the-gender-balance-in-advertising/