AdStand: 2016 The Year of Do Good

This is the last AdStand of 2016, and this has been a roller coaster year. The year started with promise of being an extremely good year for advertising. Ecom wars truly came to India. Flipkart and Amazon fought pitched battle, Myntra gobbled up Jabong, more fashion startups got launched. The classified listing sites continued to push new messages. The year ended in a whimper with money going out of circulation. Demonetization was more than a bump, it was like a pause. What happened as fashion though were brands latching on to socially relevant messages in a big way.


Ariel Share the Load campaign is now part of advertising folklore. The Dad’s take on how he should have taught his son about sharing the load of household work was crafted very well and the message delivered with impact. Ariel has done campaigns earlier with similar messages, specially the one where the husband does laundry for his wife (kuch paane ke liye kuch dhona padta hai) but somehow the brands moved away from husband wife bonding and stayed in the functional washing cleanest zone. This campaign seems to have sparked a whole trend of brands creating more purposeful communication that go beyond mere functional messages. Not all were winners though.

Earlier this year Bournvita’s #ExamKiTayyari hit all the right notes in marks obsessed exam totting country. For a brand that was about excellence in studies too (Tan Ki Shakti, Man Ki Shakti) this was a remarkable departure. For a brand to use the School Principal as the protagonist and debunk the culture of marks is breaking many molds. This was even more path breaking then Ariel’s Share the Load campaign. The million plus views on YT alone tell you that the world sat up and clapped at the ad. For a brand built on loads of scientific babel about ADA and Vitamins, this is a welcome departure. Bournvita has a winner.

Hero Motors did a salute the soldiers’ ad immediately after the POK strike was built on the emotion of the moment. The ad is about a biker helping a soldier catch the bus by racing ahead of bus and stopping it. At almost 2 million views the ad was liked for the context it leveraged. This could have been a much better crafted ad. While the ad leveraged the mood of the nation and had a relevant social message, its script was flawed and could have been far more realistic. For brands to be riding the wave of purposeful messages, it is necessary to go beyond symbolism to create the relevant connect with the brand.

By the end of the year Amazon  released an ad that was dripping with goodness and was sugary sweet in its execution. While the message was socially relevant with the right insight, its execution was way too filmy, or way to TV Serialish to be impactful. This is often the issue with messages that need to be socially relevant, they need to go execute the message with certain class and intrigue. Amazon’s own Priest and Imam ad

rises many notches up in both craft and messaging. They broke through the goodness trap by building anticipation and heightening drama.


While there are brands that used large socially relevant messages, some did ride on to the wider societal issues, without being only about goodness in brand messaging.

Nescafe in India did a second commercial after the famous standup comic featuring an out of work cartoonist. They tapped into the wider issue of diminishing readership of newspaper and the cartoonist becoming an Internet sensation. Kohinoor Rice created a story about an Indian Boy and Pakistani Girl who do not agree upon anything. The differences in both countries are played out in the stereotypical way, and predictably they agree that Kohinoor is the best rice. The commercial refuses to rise above the ordinary narrative, despite having an international set up and aimed at global audiences.

In staying with socially relevant messages Tea-A-Me did the Tea for Trump  stunt by sending Donald Trump, the presidential candidate 4 years worth of Green Tea supply for him to drink green tea and soak in the goodness. Tea-A-Me is an unknown tea brand and despite the stunt has remained an unknown tea brand. The stunt though will be remembered for sometime, more so because Trump won the elections


In creating the messages that latch on to social goodness, brands need to start from the wider societal issue but then craft the appeal that makes it own able by the brand. This is a fairly challenging task and often the cause becomes bigger then the brand. Brands need to be intrusive in messaging, and by just remaining focused more on goodness, they can lose the ability to create the impact. For brands to truly leverage the goodness quotient, they need to do more then just create broadcast message.

This is not the easiest thing to do.

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AdStand: The diminishing power of impulse buying

Online shopping has changed many things. Things are available all the time, at the click of button and delivered instantaneously. This has killed the spontaneity of shopping. Earlier the brands used the point of payments to sell mints, razors, batteries, and in India candies. Even otherwise the joy of discovering something that wasn’t on the shopping list and buying it was an important part of the shopping expedition. Many a times consumers did pick up brands that they didn’t expect to buy on a whim and categories benefited from that behavior. With smart algorithms, shopping tips from the sites and suggested things to buy, the power of impulse has started to go down sharply.


 Shopping is now a lot about Like and Tags and Shares

There is a new filter that consumers now apply to shopping. This filter is of likes they will get on social media or the shares and comments they will have once they buy the brand. For instance the reason to buy a new cellphone is often how the circle of friends will react to the post and very little about how ‘I’ would feel about using the product.  Gaining approval and exerting influence are the new reasons to buy a brand and this is the factor that brands have to now factor in their communication strategies. Even trivial choices like the food to eat or movie to watch needs a pre-validation from friends and social circles. This is the new currency if digitally connected youth as digital conversations get ingrained in their lives, and this is where the influencers take over and impulse steps back.


Is trust then a big factor?

Trust is the result of impulse. While it sounds like trust and impulse don’t meet, this isn’t true. Most path-to-purchase start with impulse and repeat buys makes the impulse into habit. Its habit that eventually leads to trust. We trust those brands that we either buy often or we intend to buy in future. With new social buying driven far more from social pre-approval, the comfort of looking at the brand that is used by many stops becoming a motivating factor. In the digital scenario trust is really about fulfillment and not about usage experience. With a favourable delivery experience and acceptance from social peers, the whole trust game takes a new angle. This is a huge challenge for brands as poor delivery experience impacts the brand and not the site that delivered it, but a good delivery experience impacts the site and not the brand that was ordered. Brands will have to rewrite their strategies with trust becoming a less potent force to drive brand loyalty.


So then can brands be really single minded?

The diminishing importance of impulse is also diminishing the need for brands to be single minded. In the era of media proliferation brands pushed the same message across multiple channels to build same impression in minds. Has this started to change? In the earlier era of broadcast, it paid to be single minded. In the era if personal media, it pays to be intrusive.  If the message is not intrusive, the chances of it not being consumed are very large. If we look around, the biggest brands are not really single minded. Apple, Google, Amazon are far more than just one thing. They have crafted a wider narrative to overcome the pre-approval mindset of consumers. As the brands proliferate and media becomes personal, brands have to become more intrusive. Is the intrusion crafted with a single minded feature or a host of cleverly created connected features will be the difference between success and impending doom


Marketing theories in 2017 will need new editions, and some of it is a function of new consumer behaviours. Impulse is diminishing, the need for brands isn’t

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AdStand: A Demonetisation chaotic week and a few ads

Rarely a week will have as much action as this week has had. Post Diwali, the action normally slows down, everybody catches their breath and prepares for the wedding seasons. Brands jump from one offer to another. The week after Diwali this year will be remembered for long. First for the act that made people learn a new word  “Demonetization”.  Second for a rather improbable win by Donald Trump in US Presidential Elections. Two acts that created a tsunami on social media in India.

But Diwali seems to have happened in a distant past, it’s a hazy memory. If Diwali money is a key symbol of Diwali, then money unfollowed Diwali this year.

This week though, a small throwback at a few ads this Diwali, not from advertising perspective, but from depicting relationship perspective and a look at a category that can become mainstream.


Progressive and regressive on same screen

Ariel’s #ShareTheLoad campaign has been getting tremendous applause. The realization of the father that he could have imparted correct values makes the ad forward looking. In a context like that to come across the 2016 Diwali ad of LG is like travelling back in time.

LG’s 2016 Diwali ad is a range commercial that showcases Refrigerators, Washing Machine and LCD TV. All of this is showcased within a single home with a large extended family. The entire narrative is centered on the woman of the house. She is a mother; she works hard and chases success. But then the commercial takes many steps back. It links happiness to gadgets at home, which parents have bought for her. The husband then comes and announces in a grand fashion that the woman has been promoted from ‘wife to life’. There cannot be something more contrite than this rather silly portrayal of husband and wife relationship today.

If LG went back to 70s Star Plus and Colors TV tried hard to become contemporary. The Mother driven identity in Star Plus brand campaign was a nice touch in a largely patriarchal country. Colors too did well to celebrate the lady of the house by asking family to declare Sunday as holiday for her too. I only wish that the new brand communication also had resonance in programming on both channels. The disconnect between the brand and its advertising is stark and creates a contra experience. Yet it needs to be lauded, for the both brands dominate the popular programming and have an impact on popular culture. May be the two brands are launching a new set of shows that are true to the progress the advertising depicts.


Cash crunch and rise of wallets and PayTM crisis

The Government seems to have a sense of time. On 8th November at 8PM the Government opened up a very large window for the mobile wallets to become mainstream. The 8PM opportunity is really large and the wallet brands were alive to it. Next day all newspapers across the country has almost all the wallet brands releasing full-page ads. PayTM, India’s largest wallet and FinTec startup even put the PM in its ad congratulating him on “the boldest step in the financial history of India”.  This did raise eyebrows in social media as people wondered if it is ok to use PM in a private sector brand ad. Technically the image of PM can be used, if the brand is authorized by the relevant authority, I am sure PayTM has the permission.

All the wallet ads were more informative asking people to sign up to tide over the immediate cash crisis.

PayTM, early this week released two ads featuring an electrician and a domestic help asking their employers to ‘stop the drama’ and do PayTM. The ads created the Snapdeal moment for PayTM. Social media went up in arms against the insensitive nature and some even uninstalled the app.  The uproar on social media was so strong that PayTM had to withdraw the ads and modify them.

In normal circumstances the ads were fine, they had a hyperbole that delivered the brand’s message. But in times of charges atmosphere where the whole context has created two camps, the TVCs became a tool in hands of both sides. Two factors went against the commercials. One the TVCs seemingly took the side of Government’s move by hinting that the inconvenience people are facing is Drama, and the other was the slightly condescending tone of voice that created a sense of elitism. Sharper crafting of relationship between the employer and domestic help might have avoided the backlash.

What was impressive was the speed at which PayTM reacted and owned up the criticism. Hey did lose a little faith, but I guess gained back a lot more. The smart thing was that the CEO of PayTM was leading the conversation and apologized to everyone who disliked the ad.


Should brands take a break from advertising?

This is a tricky question. This much is clear that trade has dipped in last week. With cash becoming scarce, the brands are not moving off the shelves. Should the brands reduce the intensity of their ads or should they hope that next morning will be a better morning and they should continue to engage the consumers?


There is no parallel to this move. There are new lessons to be learnt here. While there a new category that seems to have found its tipping point, the relationships that brands depict need to stay relevant

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AdStand: Branded Diwali

Diwali is great time for any brand. This is the only time when Indian consumers happily open up their purses, heartily shopping for brands across spectrum. The social media has become the platform for people to even announce what they bought, with people posting pictures of crowded markets, crowded malls, traffic jams and all the bargains they located. For the consumption society, Diwali is perfect festival; it’s a five-day long shopping festival with days dedicated to categories. There are auspicious reasons to buy bullion, buy clothes, buy appliances, buy sweetmeats, buy crackers, meet friends and exchange gifts. No wonder brands love Diwali.


The newspapers turned into flyers

Newspapers are well and truly alive for the marketing fraternity. This Diwali the newspapers got fatter, became so obese that delivery boys needed wheelbarrows to deliver them to every doorstep. The newspapers gleefully carried multiple jackets, gatefolds, reverse gatefolds and many more innovations that we may not have heard of. What is not alive and kicking were the brands and the ideas that they put out. Almost every brand turned large expensive ads into a list of things they have to offer. From Snapdeal to Amazon to Samsung to Sony, all the brands put out were Rangoli, Diyas and grids and grids of product listing. May be for brands the presence on print is bigger issue then what they put out as stimulus. I hope the consumers responded to each ad is large numbers. This Diwali, one thing was clear, there is no issue with the importance of print, the ideas on print is completely different story.


The season of giving?

Did the brands start their Diwali campaign hoping to go viral on Social Media? There cant be another reason for many brands to turn Diwali into a season of giving. Culturally we are not the most giving community. The consumerism driven society is more about consuming and less about sharing. If giving was such a big issue with consumers, then the anti cracker campaign would have been an unqualified success. Reliance Fresh and Surf Excel had almost similar messages; make lives of people around you happier. Both brands celebrate the goodness of those who are blessed with wealth and showcase their desire to share happiness. Pepperfry takes the same thought and celebrates the joy of sharing between two roommates, one of whom is senior of the other.  The battle of giving has been won by Big Bazaar. They have carried their Paper Patakha idea and given it a different spin. The celebration of Diwali with less fortunate bunch of children is very well crafted.


Celebrating Personal Relationships

Amazon stayed within the personal relationship space it has crafted and this Diwali is a story between father and daughter. Amazon does leave you with a lump in your throat, may be the insight is sharper, and may be the story is more heartwarming. Snapdeal stays within the zone of boxes and giving out box of Zindagi. Snapdeal stayed safe, the boxes didn’t light up the screen. One Plus did an indulgent long format film about homecoming, new beginning and video calling. OnePlus did manage to tug a few heartstrings through this commercial. Was there anything like OnePlus in the commercial? As a brand it celebrates rewriting rules, this film is like many others done in past. The Coke Diwali.  Homecoming film done a couple years back is far more heartwarming.

Not all brands were about giving

Its not that this Diwali most brands were on giving as a theme. Many brands were about pure indulgence and being unapologetic about it. Apart from Tanishq, almost every other brand was about being celebrating your own good fortune. Jabong turned self-indulgence into an almost new kind of social language. Jabong made its consumers selfish by turning them into a Festival. The #YouAreTheFestival campaign is the other end of spectrum of what most brands created this Diwali. Did Jabong go too far in celebrating the sense of personal importance?


Netflix, what is wrong with you?

Netflix has a MBA problem. MBA is Manufacturers Belly Ache, the MBA syndrome is at full display by Netflix. The best it could do was to mock the festival and ask people to watch Netflix. As someone said on Twitter, “is this the best Netflix can do? Mock Diwali?”

Vimal Pan Masala (a category that is in all kind of wrong news) did the same with a rather tasteless Diwali ad. The line of crackers going off wishing people “Dumdar Diwali” was really the worse ad of this Diwali.


Now that India’s shopping festival is over, it will be interesting to watch if the brands stay in the zone of giving and build a longer narrative around it. Slipping into indulgent territory of self-importance is easy; staying in the self less territory is tough.

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Adstand: The Airlines and ticket to fly

There is a very big battle that the ecom companies are waging. They are trying their best to make you and me open our wallets and spend more. There is an equally big battle that is on right now, the battle of airline seats. Unlike the ecom wars, the airline battle is fought just in press and also on social media.


Airlines are in customer acquisition mode

Airlines have been an elitist category for long in India, but this seems to be changing rapidly. Airlines collectively have worked hard at expanding market and get many travellers to try out air travel. The expansion of air travel has had an impact on railways. The premium end of rail travel is now struggling with many passengers preferring to fly rather than catch a train. The lesser time, plus the status of being in an aircraft has changed the attitudes of India. This change of travel preference is the reason behind the big marketing push of the airlines as a category. Like the ecom category, sales, offers and freebies are a big part of marketing campaigns. Seats are perishable and they need to be filled. If ever there was glamour in flying, it has been slowly eroded and made functional.


The glamour of flying comes with freebies

SpiceJet and Air Asia are running large campaigns luring the flyers with gifts and gold and discounts. Both brands have borrowed heavily from the durables category where the gifts were the bigger reason to buy a durable. The airline brands are recognizing that the experiences of flying or the values associated with flying are changing and the last minute flyer needs to be persuaded to switch. The airline brands do find it difficult to build loyalty, may be that is why there are offers that make the last minute flyer switch by offering a deal. At some level both Air Asia and SpiceJet are trying to carve a space for themselves away from the leading brands in the industry. This battle is fought with far greater intensity on social media. This is a clear indicator that social media now plays a vital role in last minute choice.


The battle of on time performance

Indigo built itself on the singular parameter of on time performance. This is now being challenged by SpiceJet quoting the DGCA data for September 206. Vistara made the clever repartee to this claim on their social feed. Now there are three brands that want to own the on time performance. What should be the bare minimum offer from airlines has now become the reason to differentiate the brands. Consumers do tend to reward efficiency, but over a longer time period, mere efficiency will make the brands boring.


The Air India – Indigo fight is pointer to things to come

Air India has a newfound aggression in the market and they are aggressively wooing the flyers with the offer of better seat pitch, hot meals and extra baggage allowance to target those who prefer to fly low cost airlines. They took the war to Indigo at Mumbai airport and Indigo reacted with posters claiming Air India has poor customer service and Indigo has better on time performance. This battle has just started for airline brands of acquiring customers.


This war is currently being fought in print in social and not so much on TV, may be there in lies some lessons for brands. They can build pressure of branding using print.

Railways is bearing the brunt of this war, may be its time for them to do something more then Palace on Wheels and wedding packages on POW

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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.

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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.

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