Simple narratives, great impact

The Great Khali powered Ambuja Cement to glory earlier this month; last week it was Shiseido winning the Internet hands down.

Shiseido’s High School Girl? is a delightful film about a good old beauty brand that taps into Japan’s popular culture to create a film that makes the brand super cool. Unlike most beauty brands, it doesn’t drown the viewer in scientific mumbo-jumbo or complicated product demonstrations or even a cleverly written base line. There is a clever little twist in the film, which if you have seen you will get it, so I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t watched it. In the beauty category, the twist is neither new nor surprising. What works is the way the twist has been woven into the narrative. Much like the earlier Great Khali TVC, the final brand baseline is simple: “Anyone Can Be Cute”.

The brand is not telling the tales of transgender or cross dressing, it’s a simple demonstration of what ‘transformation’ is all about and how gender fluidity is becoming a part of pop culture. At almost 6 million views in less than a week, Shiseido has been winning the world over.

I want to contrast the Shiseido effort with two TVCs that were all over my timeline this week – one brand new TVC from Tanishq and other, a year-old TVC from Dabur Honey.

Tanishq’s new Diwali TVC featuring Deepika and Prakash Padukone is for a range called Divyam. Divyam by Tanishq is about a good start to the New Year, as the brand promise suggests. The narrative is all about how the family is going about celebrating Diwali like it goes about every year. Like every year, they clean, cook, wish and gift new things to each other and to loved ones. It builds a routine till the daughter talks about the gift she gets. It is then that the narrative changes, it is not mundane, it is happy and melodramatic. Was Deepika surprised about the gift or was she expecting the gift to be Tanishq all the time? Does the father-daughter bond go up many notches because of an expensive gift? Tanishq has done much better than this. Somehow the twist in the ad is more mundane then the entire sequence the TVC builds up to.

Dabur Honey’s TVC is a year old by its date of upload on YouTube, but the review of the ad is fairly recent. Either way, the TVC is stuck in the 70s in its narrative. It’s a good thing to position honey as beauty food, not many food brands have been able to do that, but to build the brand in such a stereotypical way is completely out of sync with today’s times. Even advertising which is not the most progressive when it comes to gender portrayal has done much better than this. What if it had kept the narrative simple? What if the effect of attractive wife was the husband trying to get fitter and leave being glued to his laptop or whatever he was trying to come to grips with on his desk?

Brands win when they keep the narratives simple. Brands win when the narrative doesn’t dumb down the audience. That’s why more power to Ambuja and Shiseido.

Original published here


Shocking, Bizarre or Strategically Sound?

Can any brand ever imagine that a billboard done by it four years back and displayed in one city would be remembered? The almost impossible was achieved by C Krishnaiah Chetty and Sons, a jeweller from Bengaluru. For those who may not remember, the billboard screamed, “Let the world see your family jewels”. Serious, no jokes. They put this in the main city square, big and bold. Internet hasn’t stopped laughing ever since.

Grabbing attention to become memorable is the reason brands advertise. Attention is a rare commodity, it is not easy to find. Memorability is even rarer. In the cacophony of brand messages, status updates, newsbreaks, cricket scores, football goals, news of bans, WhatsApp jokes, et al, how much can one remember?

Today, more so, brands have it tougher grabbing attention. With the rise of social media, consumers have more things to do and watching and commenting on ads is just one more activity. Is creating bizarre ads with over the top appeal the best way to gain attention? Does it always work for the brand?

Scotch Brite had a hilariously comical conversation between a woman and God and how God blessed the Scotch Brite instead of her as God was distracted. The TVC is designed to be comical and make the viewer laugh. Dish cleaning is not the most involved category; making the consumer excited about the category is not easy. If anything, the brand garnered attention and conversation.

Does this work in categories, which are not low involvement?

AskMeBazaar has a strange take on online shopping. With Farhan Akhtar as brand ambassador, the brand has a
more comical take on shopping, services and other stuff that the brand does. Instead of what could have been a very engaging take from the brand on shifting habits from offline to online, what we get is a bizarre caricature of the brand.

GreenPly has had a melody chocolate moment (Melody itni Chocolaty kaise hai) with its series on Ask Greenply, the
context setting has no connection with the question being raised or the connection with the category. Many years ago Asian Paints had an almost similar take on home painting services: that take was brilliant.

These are just a few examples of ads from categories that are high involvement, where the task of generating interest is tough and where the image of the brand matters in making the choice.

Today, with millions of messages consumed across the day, being able to make an impression has become difficult.
Perhaps that is the reason brands are getting funnier.

Bizarre, funny or not, I think there are some things that brands do need to keep in mind to get attention. These are classical, old world rules that still work in today’s day and age.

One: Brands solve a problem; the reason they exist is because they have a unique solution to every day’s boring, mundane issues. They have to be meaningful in the way they approach the issue at hand and have an outlook that makes the brand stand out. Brands are not always about being faster, taller, grander, sometimes the brands are about doing one thing, but doing that one thing in a manner that others don’t do.

Two: The brand has to have a wider perspective, has to have a purpose to exist. The brand’s purpose has to be more than the sum of features that it has, has to be more than the what, where and how issues that brands often communicate. Purpose is a wider belief that works for consumers in the ever-changing world. Purpose gives the brand a charter to live by, a sense of manifesto that they can adhere to, a belief system that makes the brand long lasting. Consumer attention is scarce and miniscule; a sharply defined purpose will always get her attention.

Over-the-top cheesy brand appeals are created to grab attention. There is nothing wrong with doing so till the time the brand stays true to its purpose. When the brand loses focus and cracks jokes for the sake of cracking jokes, it becomes difficult for the brand to stand out.

Three: No brand can survive without the context. The context has to be real, relevant and something that makes consumers look at the brand. Often in being comical or strange or bizarre, brands lose their sense of context and then stand out like a sore thumb. When brands get the context correct, the creative metaphor becomes an easy vehicle to deliver the message.

Over-the-top cheesy brand appeals are created to grab attention. There is nothing wrong with doing so till the time the brand stays true to its purpose. When the brand loses focus and cracks jokes for the sake of cracking jokes, it becomes difficult for the brand to stand out.Even over the top appeals need an underpinning of smart strategy. Or else as the brand that promised something about family jewels, the world laughs and moves on.

Original published here

Gandhi jayanti posts

Brands were on an overdrive this Gandhi Jayanti. Social media was buzzing with brands paying homage to the Father of the Nation. 2015 marks the 100th year since Gandhi returned from South Africa to India. This is a fairly significant milestone in the history of our nation. Most brands created usual Gandhi tribute using three of his most famous quotes. Here are the top posts from a variety of brands that caught my eye.


It’s Gandhi Jayanti, and he helped formed a political party in India. Indian National Congress’ post on Gandhiji was a usual one about how he became the Mahatma. At 17,000 likes, the post had a significant traction. However, it were the comments that took away from the posts completely; the entire feed was about hate and vitriol that the netizens had heaped on Gandhiji. There was no attempt to monitor, debate or delete the comments from the party.


BJP, too, had a post on Gandhiji, which was also a usual quote from him that got 8,000 likes. Even here the comments section was pure acid, cutting through any level of sensitivity. Here, too, the moderator made no attempt to debate or moderate the conversation. For the man who practiced restrain and preached shaking the world gently, the two political party feeds were anything but gentle. May be the parties should do something about civility in the cyber world.


The post that possibly had the greatest traction was from Idea Mobile at phenomenal 87,000 likes. The comments section of the post was anything but a tribute to the Mahatma, it was full of complaints and the brand’s revert on the complaints. Some moderation here, too, may have gone a long way in ensuring that the brand stays true to the message of peace.

It was AIB that had a post on Gandhiji that cleverly used four emojees and the message was subtle and clear. The comments feed and the Twitter feed were relatively clean from the fans and followers.


Some brands tried to connect the brand with the philosophy of the man, and did it well. Sennheiser had a post on making music and not war. FitBit, the fitness tracker brand, paid tribute to the man with a message on walking, nicely done by a brand that is all about being fit and active. Telenor paid tribute to the man by dipping into his ability to inspire and lead.


Liverpool FC club had a simple post on the man, which was a nice gesture from a British brand.


The two strange posts came from MI, the mobile phone brand, and Junglee Rummy. MI launched a Mahatma theme for its mobile phone users. They did turn Gandhiji into a pure commercial icon. Stranger still was online gambling site Jungle Rummy paying tribute to Gandhiji. Will the man have been amused by an online gambling site invoking his name?


The 100 years of homecoming was not a theme for any of the post on social media. Initiatives like Make in India could have turned this into a significant event.

We at Bang in the Middle had our humble post on the man. From our perspective at the agency, we had the best tribute to the man.


Original published here:




Sugar Bomb Effect

Luke Sullivan, in his book ‘Hey Whipple’, speaks of the lengths brands go to differentiate themselves. The book narrates the story of the category called Breakfast Cereals. Brand one is the leader in breakfast cereals, to differentiate itself, brand two adds a bit of sugar and calls it frosted. Brand three goes a little further and makes it extra sugary, this ends when finally a brand just has only sugar and no cereal, we call it sugar bomb. Cereal to sugar bomb is one continuum that rules the world of brands in many ways. Look around, there are many sugar bombs that can be seen. One kind of sugar bomb is the innovation that a brand communicates, purely cosmetic and heightened by the clever advertising; the other, delivered through a meaningless advertising device that makes little sense in the overall scheme of things.

The product innovation kind comes from the Panasonic Eluga TVC. Panasonic claims to have redefined the entire usage experience of the cellphone. Now you don’t have to look for the ‘correct’ side, the phone works with any side as the display adapts to the side you pick it up from. Now, I never knew that figuring the right side of the call was such a big issue. Will this lead to people leaving the choices they had and rush to buy Panasonic? Would be fun to watch.

The second kind of sugar bomb comes from creative devices that ads use to make a point, which to start with may not be such a major point. Take Tata Tea’s latest commercial, which builds on small and big leaf mixture for that perfect cup of tea. The ad actually has a fairly progressive theme. Two daughters in the family, the elder one has come home, the younger one lives at home, it’s time for the father to enjoy the company of both his daughters and sink in the good taste of tea, till the mother pipes up and pours cold water over all the festivities. To the amazement of the father, she says that the taste of tea has nothing to do with both daughters at home, but to do it with the mixture of tea leaves, it even has a product window to show this. From being an absolute joy, the ad sinks to morass from where it is difficult to dig it out. Pure sugar bomb moment because the brand had to make big story about some curl and cut of tea.

Take Faasos, for example, it’s a new concept, it’s a food delivery app, may be at the back of it it’s a restaurant that makes tasty food. It answers one question – #aajkhanemainkyahai (what’s for food today). What could have been an engaging conversation turns into a contrived setup because the brand had to bring in the ‘f’ word for Faasos. Pure sugar bomb moment.

Coverfox, an online aggregator of insurance packages, has a delightful radio commercial about stray dogs chasing cars and causing accidents and how one should be prepared for any eventuality. Now, this engaging conversation takes a bizarre turn for its latest TV campaign. The whole setup is contrived, the need for insurance at that moment is forced, the product demo is force fitted. Coverfox has to convince us to buy the insurance and has to do a demo of the app, the context made to work around the need for demo. Wish they had stuck to the dog and car story, it is so much more meaningful.

If you missed the new Sintex tank commercial, you must catch it. This is the one where the family lives with a plumber because ordinary tanks always need fixing. Sometimes the brand strategy needs fixing to avoid getting into sugar bomb moments.

These are a few that I have noticed, I am sure you would have noticed more of your own, possibly this is what makes the profession of creating brand messages boring and mundane.

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

Mother brand appeals

Car brands have a peculiar grammar. Most car ads have two messages – one for the brand that they are advertising and the other for the mother brand that owns the brand. Theoretically, the mother brand statement should have an impact on the overall brand message of each sub-brand. Theoretically, the one difference every sub-brand should make is to that overall mother brand appeal. With every car brand having multiple brands with multiple configurations at multiple price points aimed at drivers at different life stages, the mother brand appeal needs to be built sub-brand by sub-brand.

Renault signs off with “Passion for Life”. It has just unveiled a new TVC with Ranbir Kapoor and music by AR Rehman on celebrating life, being good and surprising people. The word passion gets spoken in the commercial, it does build a sense of liveliness for the brand. The same liveliness is not reflected in the other commercial that they are running for Lodgy.

While on life, Fiat signs off all brand messages with “Hello Life”. For a brand that has the kind of design and brand heritage that Fiat has, the car maker doesn’t capture any of that in India. The overall mother brand appeal does not guide what the brand does.

Maruti Suzuki is the third brand that builds on Life. “Way of Life” defines Maruti Suzuki in the most apt way. The brand is omnipresent, defines what cars mean to India. Should the brand be left at one indulgent habit the country has or can there be something more that the brand can interpret and build in advertising?

Hyundai promises “New Thinking. New Possibilities”. Ideally with a big brand tag like that, Hyundai should have a slightly inspirational tone, always building on future, always showing an unexplored angle of life. The brand delivers the thinking and possibility in design and looks, but not so much in the sub-brand communication.

“Find New Roads” from Chrysler is a promise that comes from exploring mind sets. For a category that is built on emotion of mobility, finding new roads is a very evocative promise. Yet the brand does very little in its sub-brand communication to build on the feeling of exploration and mobility.

These are not the only brands; most car brands, save for Tata, have a two-layered brand communication strategy. The German brands do it slightly differently; they build the overall appeal for the brand and not for the individual sub-brands, making the overall brand stronger and desirable.

What if the car brands actually were true to the mother brand appeals? Would the category become far more insightful?

Culture Connections

here are two contrasting ads going around, both speaking to women. Then there are two ads going around from the same brand, one liberating and forward looking, the other regressive, crass and deserves to be thrown in the dustbin. Two ads reflect the new consumer culture brilliantly; two get it wrong on all counts.

Titan Raga and Katrina Kaif have a contemporary take on weddings. #HerLifeHerChoices takes on the societal reasons for wedding while showcasing a wedding. For a while the ad looks like an ad for jewellery brand and not a watch brand, weddings and watches have not been showcased before. Titan Raga as a brand has bridged the gap between jewellery and watch in last few years, and this is a smart move to bring the two even closer. Weddings are a big reason to buy watches, in one move Titan Raga has associated itself to the wedding occasion. The narrative in the commercial is delightful and very much in today’s tonality. In a country where finding a reason for someone to get married and playing a match maker constantly is the norm, it is nice to see a brand saying don’t get married. I liked the way they linked time to the reason to get married and showcased the watch. Not a hardsell, but very memorable.

What if the lady in those terribly regressive and patriarchal Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ads had heard the advice from Ms Kaif long ago? The Gobhi and Lauki would have been saved from the murderous attack they had to endure. The AAP ad is the most retarded and regressive ad that has come from a political party. Women are key constituent of the support base and to speak with them in a tone that doesn’t acknowledge what they do can only be called political suicide. In the free fall that the AAP brand is in, this ad will add to the downward momentum. Last heard, the Lauki Association was thinking of going on a dharna and threatening to expose The Gobhi Union of misdeeds and corruption.

The second set of ads is from the same brand. Myntra released three ads for Anouk with contemporary narratives. The same gender love story, the spunky single mother and the super cool single girl in a bar are stories that consumers lapped up. The same brand has released a sale ad that reverses everything that these three ads have achieved.

The Fast and Furious Sale ad set in a café has a well-dressed fashionable girl calling a gawky looking nerdy boy to join her at her table. By the time the boy even realises what has happened and what he needs to do, a handsome fashionable boy comes and takes his place. Watch it here

The ad reminds me of the iconic ‘One Black Coffee Please’ ad of Ericsson Mobiles done in the early 2000s. I guess it won India’s first Cannes Lion in TVC. The Myntra ad is such a shame and difficult to believe that one brand can tell the tale of choice and freedom in an extremely liberal way and also in a trite regressive way. Every transactional brand has to treat its sale ads too with strategic intent. They have an impact on the brand equity; a wrong ad can really dent the equity badly.

What is good to see is that adland has started to break the stereotypes again. The brands have once again started to tap into popular culture to tell stories that reflect the contemporary lifestyle. It is surprising that an urban political party has the most regressive tale to tell.

Despite the flaws and mishits, ads from mass brands can teach political parties key lessons in evolving consumer culture.

Original was published here