AdStand: Does Honesty Work

Two campaigns this week have been the most talked about campaigns of the week. Both have been blazing away on social media. Both have had reactions of bewilderment. One is for a leading telecom brand, the other for a brand of cables that makes fans. Honesty is a difficult virtue in both categories, lets look at what they are doing


Airtel’s honest campaign

Airtel has run a sustained campaign building itself as India’s ubiquitous mobile telephone network. The 4G girl has more followers on social media than many brands. For that brand to release a campaign that says “all networks are same” is a fairly brave move. It on one swoop has done away with all the muscle it built and goes lean.

Aitel has released full-page ads across the country promoting its open network initiative. The TV campaign builds on the usual lament of consumers, poor network, poor reception, call drops etc. These are complaints that all network operators face. The commercial then becomes an extended product demonstration of what the tech backend is, how the network operates, how the towers can be seen or not seen. This is how brands used to do product demos in past, Airtel has rediscovered it. The campaign offers no solution to the problems, it seeks participation from every subscriber, it hopes to solve a problem.

The campaign has stirred the hornet’s nest. There are comments on both sides for the campaign. Early comments (possibly seeded by brand) seem to indicate that the campaign is loved, but the later comments are all about how the network is dysfunctional. Either ways Airtel has succeeded in generating interest in how it runs the brand and acknowledges the problems the network faces. The campaign is possibly more of PR campaign, but does have an honest undertone. That is a radical departure from the 4G girl campaign

The Fan and rocket science

There is a very famous brand of cables that has just launched a range of fans. Chances are you have caught this really over the top long film about space station, about mom’s love and about pickle. What has it got to do with a fan? Almost nothing or everything. If you get taken in by the over the top narrative then everything, if you look for logic then nothing. If you haven’t caught the ad either on your social feed or as a whatsapp forward then here it is:

Building a narrative for a category like fan is not easy. If the aperture of evaluation is honesty then fan ads will be mundane, boring and utterly forgettable. This is a category that needs a slightly involved storytelling. Creative license is not a bad thing to use to craft a tale. In that narrative there has to a modicum of product truth. In crowded categories completely suspending belief gets chuckles, even memorability but not intention to buy

Finolex has a bizarre tale of mom’s love, pickle, space station, anti gravity, scientists, politicians, socialites, news anchors and even a loving servant who sings lullaby. How does all this work for a fan brand? It whips a tornado that makes a man fly to space. Escape velocity finds a new meaning in this TVC


Honesty and brands is not an easy thing to marry. But in today’s persuasion economy, consumers do look for a certain sense of brand truth. Airtel has made an interesting use of honesty, may be it works better then hyperbole of fan that induces tornado and servant who sings lullaby.

Original published here:


AdStand: The Public Service Ads

This week, the 11 minute anti smoking commercial has been making all the news. There was another ad that caught my eye. It may not have been the Internet sensation, but Brooke Bond Tea’s new ad is certainly worth applauding. Surprisingly this film is not on their social pages, but uploaded only on Kulzy.

The film ( opens on blank screen with noises that we hear everyday in Mumbai, honking, trains, and wedding. It then shows an old women sipping tea all alone on her rocking chair. The ad extolls people to go and end someone’s loneliness this weekend. The film is singular in building on the brand plank of Taste of Togetherness. Brooke Bond for some years has been building on the plank of bringing people together and this film takes that plank forward in a cheerful way.

Old age loneliness is a serious problem in a young country like India. I hope we see more of this from Brooke Bond and not wait till the next award season.

Alok Nath, Sunny Leone and Deepak Dobriyal have an indulgent anti smoking tale to tell. At almost 3.5 Million views in a week, clearly the star appeal of the actors has helped in the film becoming a super hit.  The comments across online forums suggest a warm welcome being given out to the film.

Is the film successful in pursuing smokers to kick the stick?

The film follows the usual narrative of smoking kills, this is known and most smokers know this. The claim of cigarette reducing life has now jumped to 11 minutes, how does this pious number come in being is left unexplained.  Is it 2 minute? Or 4?,Now it is 11. If a smoker gets into calculating the time left to live, they will laugh it out.

I think the film misses out on the wider narrative. While the netizens have been effusive in praise, there have been very few that have pledged to quit smoking, just a few who have thought of doing so. This is where the film could have had a deeper impact.

Why is the film not ending with a platform that helps people helps quit the habit? Why is the film not helping them taking the first step?

Why is the film not connecting those who quit with those who want to quit?

This is where the film could have risen to greater heights.

That leads me to the wider question: why do anti smoking campaigns generally fail? The answer lies in many behavioural studies done across geographies by many academicians. These studies are in public domain and are a wealth of insights. The basic thrust of most of these studies points to one factor. Anti Smoking campaigns stigmatize smokers, and while it may motivate a few to quit smoking, to a vast majority it makes them angry, resist the message and isolate themselves. This makes them light up the stick more then quitting the habit. Death is not the promise that motivates them to quit. Could the 11 minute long format narrative move beyond death and be in positive space? May be there is a next version coming.

The third TVC to catch fancy is Ariel’s Share the Load. Father has a moment of enlightenment when he sees his daughter balance home and office by being at two places at the same time. Father’s decision to correct his own mistake and share the load of housework with his wife is told with sincerity and humility. The brand could have become even more enduring if the final payoff was not just sharing laundry, and the product integration was a lot more muted. In its own archive, Ariel has a TVC where the husband does the laundry to win wife’s love. Kuch pane ke liye kuch dhona padta hai. This was before the social media became the force that it is today. This commercial was even more sensitive and loveable than Share the Load one.

Tea, detergent and anti smoking are three very disconnected categories to come across socially appealing narratives. Brands should continue to do this irrespective of timing of award shows. 

Original published here:

2016: Crystal Gazing

2015 was the year of mobile. There is no part of life that is now doesn’t have an active involvement of mobile phones. For many generations, newspaper was the morning habit and TV the evening habit, this has now changed. The day starts with mobile and ends with mobile. It doesn’t matter what brand or make or OS you have on phone, what makes a difference is the apps that people have on phone. The millennial who started, as extremely aware and opinionated kids are now the drivers of mobile age

2015 was the Ante Mobile year: the year mobile changed everything.

2016 then may be called Post Mobile era

Here is what I think the future may hold for 2016.

Social Networking will move to messaging apps: The hottest social networking place will not be FB or Twitter or Insta or Snapchat, but would be Whatsapp, and may be Hike, Line and Wechat. Whatsapp is already mirroring numbers of FB. What this will mean is that organic growth activity will die completely and brands will have to find intrusive strategies to speak with audiences. On the flip side, social networking will become a lot more about friends and a lot less about likes and followers. Broadcast based social networks will become one segment, participation based messengers will become the other.

Moving picture ads will see a transformation, they will find newer platforms to play on a mobile device and not just live on TV. The ability of the story to engage with audience on social platforms will define how the ads are crafted for TV. Moving picture ads for brands may become more participative or more interactive. Snapchat and whatsapp have a good chance to become the new TV station of your mobile.

Brands will actively repackage themselves to become chat worthy. While consumers will continue to buy regular household stuff regularly (even that has become tech enabled with Amazon Buttons), most indulgence or long purchase cycle driven brands will find newer ways to connect. This may mean fashion closets in hotel rooms to candy packs that make phone recharges happen. Digital graffiti will be the new indicator of pop culture. Mobiles will make consumers multitask every moment and drive the feeling of time poverty even more.

In the after mobile world, the old format of advertising will have to find new methods of engaging. Two things will happen. One the ads will have to be more intrusive for the short attention span consumers. Two the ads have to have multiple contexts, local contexts will help the brands connect better. In the Ante Mobile world brands used languages to be closer to consumers, in post mobile world hyper local contexts will drive communication.

The last of the possible trend in post mobile world may come as a bit of surprise, I expect people to have lot more friends in real world. Mobiles will play the matchmaker and make people physically meet each other. In the Ante Mobile world, networks allowed people to stay anonymous, in the new Post Mobile world; anonymity will be a barrier to status. Anonymity will be shunned and mobile personal social networks will drive societal status. This would be a radical departure from Ante Mobile age

The Post Mobile age has dawned, and 2016 will be just the start. I am not saying that all of it will come true exactly the way I have predicted, but they may move in this direction for sure

Originally written for

AdStand: Look Back at 2015, Episode 4

Sujay Ghosh, Sudhir Mishra, Anurag Kashyap and many more of their kind are filmmakers who know how to tell compelling stories on the large screen. They are also consummate storytellers for the small screen. Not for TV, but for a computer screen or a mobile screen. They are now spawning a new category of content. Sujay Ghosh’s ‘Ahilya’ is now topping 5.5 million views and there are short stories across languages getting critical accolade and multiple views.

2015 has been the year when technology became mainstream. Apps were not outliers, they are now mainstream. The second trend of last year was the absolute death of privacy in connected world. And the third was the rise of live entertainment events as a category.

The fourth trend can be called the deluge of ‘Long format content’.

Long format films have been popular this year with many brands experimenting with long formats. Long format is much larger than just what the brands have been experimenting with. There are long format films made by the most prominent filmmakers, they have the cast that has both new comers and established artists. Some long format films have become so popular that people seek them out, download them on their phones and watch them many times. There have been hundreds of mainstream short films that have been made across many languages. This deluge of short films has been turned into long format content by the brands.

Royal Stag was early in this game. They created the platform that showcases the craft of short films. Some of the landmark short films made for this platform include ‘Ahilya’ and Sudhir Mishra’s ‘Khirchiyaan’.  Royal Stag has found a winner., later in 2015, partnered with Talent House to launch India Mobile Film Festival, where aspiring filmmakers were asked to make films using just their mobiles. The response and quality of films were a clear indicator that more brands can use this platform for push messages.

Brands have used long format films in multiple ways. Some brands have left the films to be standalone pieces with just the final branding, and some have used them to tell brand stories in branded manner.

Oyo Rooms lent their name to the Independence Day short film featuring Manoj Bajpayee and Raveena Tandon, garnering 1.6 million views and a very large social conversation. Though bulk of the social conversation was not on their hashtag #Azadi4me, Urban Ladder did the latter with a long format film about parents visiting their son’s family in a large city and feeling out of place. The son and daughter-in-law redo parent’s room using Urban Ladder furniture to make them feel at home. The film garnered close to a million views.

The stand-up comedians entered the fray and created a series of content for brands that were lapped up by consumers. Creepy Qawalli from Truly Madly became a viral hit, even bigger than the boy browsing TVC. The stuff the stand-ups produced for FlipKart too were very well received.

Long fomat ads are a new trend and brands have used them in multiple ways. 2016 will see this trend gain momentum, more so because this allows viewers to see the content across devices.

I am sure 2016 will pose more challenges than we can imagine.

Here’s wishing everyone a very happy New Year.

Original published here:

AdStand: Looking back at 2015, Episode 3

The two dominant trends of 2015 have been mobile, apps data and how they are invading every sphere of our lives. While there are challenges that the new technology makes us face, largely this invasion is good for us, the consumers. The third trend is actually not inspired by technology, and while the trend may have started a year ago, it became a thing to speak about this year.

Trend 3: India now has a new category called Live Entertainment properties.

Chances are some of us now know Rakesh Kumar. I am not sure we know who the India captain was when India won Gold Medal in Asiad Kabaddi, but as the captain of Patna Pirates, he is well known; his videos on YouTube have massive following. India has seen the birth of some new stars, and they come from football, hockey, kabaddi and badminton. The big news is not that other sports are going the IPL way. Nor is the big debate about whether this is good or bad for sport. The big news is that advertising industry now has a completely new category – a category that has no old rules to fall upon, no examples to learn from. There are very few categories that excite a wide swathe of audience, that bring men, women and children on one plank and cheer for themselves with abundance of excitement.

The various leagues have created campaigns that moved the audience. From #baddies or the badminton league to pro tennis league that brought global icons to India, we have never had a time as good as this.

Sports leagues have helped the leagues to become large and become a mass consumption category. But sport is not the only arena where we have seen the emergence of live events as a category. Music is the other.

Sunburn is now well established and it runs many formats across the year. There are new brands that came to the concert this year in a much bigger way. NH7 Weekender and Enchanted Valley Festival are two large properties that became more than mainstream this year. Music as an industry is actually as large as sports and holds as many possibilities. From small, localised properties to many more large formats, the consumers will sing along with them.

The overwhelming response that we have given to live entertainment events is a clear indicator that this was a large gap in the market.

Rakesh Kumar is one of the first new age celeb that this trend has created. Wait for many more to happen that won’t have roots to either cricket or Bollywood.

Original published here

Grocery Wars

He is a powerhouse celebrity; he has sold suiting, cars, real estate, home décor, cellphones, cold drink, fairness cream, durables, watches, owns a cricket team, and now is busy selling groceries. To see Shah Rukh Khan get excited about potatoes, onions, tomato and pulses is not something that you could ever imagine.

That is the reality of the grocery war that has broken out in the Indian e-commerce market. The online grocery sites are on fire and they are going hammer and tongs at your kitchen.

Big Basket calls Shah Rukh Khan a ‘Big Basketeer’. Basketeer is someone who is an ace player of basketball; surely Big Basket is not referring to the slam-dunk kind of game in its communication. The brand builds on range, offers and convenience. While the brand offers the viewer the ease of using the app, or ease of ordering, at the same time it takes the viewer through the journey of home delivery, customer satisfaction and a hint of repeat order. The brand plays the SRK card to the hilt. What it leaves behind is SRK, not the brand.

Grofers, on the other hand, is cleverly building on its ability to deliver anything quickly in a quirky, funny manner. Unlike Big Basket that mimics its delivery process in its advertising, Grofers builds on its vast range of products in its store. In the process of building range and convenience, it does knock the husband-wife relationship off the ledge. To hint that the wife did not get the husband she deserved but can get the grocery she wants, is wicked. Incidentally, the husband knows what the wife wants, and that too is some leap of faith.

Both Grofers and Big Basket seem to believe that the future of e-commerce grocery brands may lie in the hands of the male members of the house. I am not sure if there is a small gender stereotype that is at play in these ads.

Grocery is big news in the e-commerce market at this time; there are many more brands that are after your wallet. Local Banya builds on specific membership plans that consumers can sign up for. Peppertap builds on speed of delivery – ‘from phone to door in 2 hours’ is its promise to move the consumers from brick and mortar stores to the e-commerce process.

Grocery and veggies constitute the bulk of the Indian retail market; almost 70 per cent of Indian retail comes from this segment. In developed markets, where modern retail is the only way to shop for groceries, where grocery shopping means taking time out and lugging big packets home, moving grocery to e-commerce offers a radical new idea. In India, where the average order value is not very high, where almost every retailer delivers to your doorstep and where veggie buying is a high involvement task, e-commerce brands have to work harder to change habits.

Range and convenience is not something that will move people to the new habit, the brand will have to cut this pie in a more imaginative manner.

This segment is set to get even more competitive and players like Godrej Nature’s Bazaar and Reliance Fresh can augment their physical stores with virtual. They hold the potential to open up the market in newer ways if they launch click and buy kind of service, something that allows the potential consumers to buy in advance and pay after physically checking the goods but not standing in long queues to pay.

This market will see a further churn with Amazon Fresh coming to India and Flipkart joining the rush to get potatoes to your home faster.

Technology may power grocery, but to reach the kitchen shelf it needs more than range and convenience narratives. The battle hasn’t even begun.

Original published here