Adstand: Going cashless

In last one month or so, India has learnt two new words. Both can be treated as a stimulous, the response to both has a deep sense of patriotism. One is ‘surgical strike’; the other is ‘cashless’. The two are interconnected. It’s the surgical strike that has aided the rise of narrative of cashless.  Surgical strike has not made it to the brands’ arsenal as yet, cashless has.

We know that India loves cash. Our cultural reference to riches is golden chest with piles of cash in it. Our symbol of someone being rich is someone who sits on pile of cash and carries not just a golden hue, but wears a lot of real gold. With such cultural reference, its tough for brands to build narratives around being cashless. What is helping the brands is the context. The country has gone cashless, not by choice, but driven by circumstances.


Cashless is new tactical opportunity

Snapdeal is running large print ads for what they call ‘unbox cash free sale’. For all ecom brands sale is a strategic reason to advertise, unlike brick and mortar brands that treat sale as a tactical activity. The cash less sale is mere branding for another of many sales that Snapdeal keeps announcing. The promise of keeping the transactions alive even if you dint have cash is a but too brand speak. It would have made far better sense if they had nit made it so transactional. Did the brand miss a big opportunity by not being strategic about it?

Toyota is the other brand that has made cashless the theme of its advertising. Every day finance offers are tactical activities for an auto brand and that is exactly how Toyota has treated the subject. Car brands have offered 100% financing for a long time, even if they don’t offer 100% financing, they rarely accept cash. The brand has just used the plank to be in the current context. Make My Trip too has jumped on the wave of cash crunch, and like the others has just mentioned the word.


Government’s public service ads

Surprisingly it’s the Government ads that seem to be doing a better job of connecting the issue with how it impacts people’s lives. The series of radio ads detailing how phone can be used for everyday transactions are doing a good job. Government’s entire campaign is to connect with the lowest common denominator and instill a sense of confidence. The campaign may have started late, but does the job. The narrative currently for all the ads is instructional. All the ads are about one urban erudite person telling the other person about how they can make use of phone to transact. May be the next phase of ads will become more conversational and less instructional.


The windfall for wallet brands

The wallet brands have seen unprecedented growth. The wallet brands have responded by being aggressively building traction. In last two weeks, PayTM has stolen the lead. It has almost become the default mobile wallet brand. The three options that most merchants today give are Cheque, Card or PayTM. This is making life tough for Mobikwik or PayU or Freecharge or even Mastercard who have been spending money. As the category moves on and becomes big, brands will have to occupy distinct spaces. This is the time when the category is in infancy and often the early leaders tend to become stronger. Its time for all the mobile wallet brands to step up. The challenge for them is tougher with PayTM launching payments bank and UPI becoming the new protocol of payments. The category called mobile wallets itself will mutate into something else. What will become even stronger is payment on the go. This is where the opportunity for brands exists. This is the edge they need to build; this is the long-term asset they can build.

May be there is a new wave of communication coming from wallets.

Today going cashless is driven by extraneous factors. Brands have the ability to impact culture, change behavior. Can they do the same with the need for cash?

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Adstand: Currency shock and fake news

No one, anywhere in the world has a clue on how to handle the currency shock. No country has done what India is doing, at the scale India is doing. There are figures floating around, arguments for and against are floating around, economist have their own take on the issue, lawyers another. All this has lead to a lull in advertising. When the demand for most consumer goods has nosedived, advertising has no option but to take a break. Yes there are mobile wallets and payment banks and unified payment regime, but beyond the promise of living life cashless, there is very little that is being advertised.

This week then let us look at how the social media has taken the mass media for a merry ride and how even Facebook needs to fix its terrible measurement metrics.


First the menace of fake news and how fake has become the mainstream news. Last week hundreds of people across whatsapp shared a link that proclaimed that video calling would be enabled on your whatsapp if you shared this link with all your contacts. Hundreds if thousands of us freely shared the link without even bothering to check if the news was correct. The forward came from a friend and there was no reason to distrust it. Similarly earlier people shared a link that allowed them to buy the newly launched iPhone at a fraction of cost. What looked like an apparent scam did not stop people from sharing the link. The news that the new Rs. 2000 currency note will have some micro GPS and can read a satellite signal 120 meters under the earth became mainstream news. Fake news took mainstream news for a merry ride. I am not sure if the news channels did realize that they were taken for a ride and if they apologized for it. I did a quick search to discover that the news has disappeared from the official portals but there are independent people who have uploaded the videos of the broadcast. This is the stuff that will keep the standup comics busy for a long time.

How does fake news then get traction?

Its all about the source.

Fake news is obviously false news dressed as real news; the design template of FB makes it look real. Its human tendency to look at news that reinforces beliefs and reject information that challenges it. Remember India on Diwali night picture from NASA, or UNESCO declaring Narendra Modi as best PM or India’s National Anthem as the best anthem in the world? It all confirmed our biases. The second reason is the source. It is shared by somebody we know, we feel happy sharing it. Because such news come with high count of shares, adds to overall appeal. When the lie is discovered, it is never shared as widely because it demolished the trust.

There are 1.6 billion of us on just FB and imagine the amount of money that can be made by inserting adverts based in fake news. Last I heard, fake news impacted the US presidential elections too.


But Facebook itself has been too lax in its measurement.

First there was the issue of how FB counts video views. A mere three-second viewership was counted as interaction by FB. Now if I had autoplay enabled on my phone app, the video will play even if I didn’t want to and FB will count it as in interaction. This has opened up the whole issue of how FB measures the interactions across the entire platform. Its reach, and engagement figures are fairly opaque and often not open to a third party audit. Facebook is now the biggest digital engagement platform, for hundreds if brands, FB is integral to advertising campaigns. Its time for FB to do something about this. Google Display has similar issues about credibility of the display sites and brands have started to look GDN with certain skepticism.


Currency shock is making life difficult for average man on street and for the brands. Both fake news and poor metrics are issues that add to the complexity of digital campaigns. Today FB is the first port of call for brands and both are issues that FB needs to address swiftly.

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AdStand: The Fightback

Its not often that agency fights back to protect its reputation publicly. Last week this happened. Rediffusion fought back.

Its not often that consumers force a bog brand and a bigger celebrity to blink and pull out an ad, Jack and Jones was forced to eat humble pie by the consumers.


When agency fights back


The client agency relationship in India is a lopsided relationship. The clients hold all the aces and agencies are subservient. Often when the relationship ends, it’s the client’s side of story that is known, but the agency’s side of story is seldom told. Rediffusion found itself caught in the cross fire between the two warring factions of Tata Group. The outgoing Chairman of Tata Group, Cyrus Mistry alleged, among other things, in a nine page open letter released across media that there was a financial misdeed in the appointment of Rediffusion as the agency to manage the corporate reputation of Tata Group. The agency was quick to refute the allegation and released an ad of its own refuting the allegation and placing the entire matter in public domain. The ad, more of an open letter was signed by Mr. Arun Nanda, factually countered the allegation of financial misdeed.

This was a smart and concise fight back from the agency. By placing the facts in public domain, Rediffusion maintained its upper hand and did a lot to protect its reputation. While this was an expensive way of protecting reputation, its time more and more agencies found a way to put facts in public domain on the reasons behind the split. Agencies are skilled organizations and are hired for their expertise. Kudos to Rediffusion to find the gumption to stand up and be counted. It has done a huge favor to the entire communication industry


When consumers fight back


There are many brands that release ads that are misleading, portray gender equality in bad light or objectify women. Consumers do notice some of them; find a way to complain to ASCI, which takes up the matter. By the time ASCI decides, the campaign is over. Last week Jack and Jones, a leading fashion brand released a new campaign called #DontHoldback featuring Ranveer Singh. Ranveer Singh has a style of his own, and the campaign leverages that tonality to the hilt. It was one outdoor creative from the brand that generated a lot of controversy. The creative was definitely in bad taste, lesser said the better about it. Consumers on social media did go after this one piece of campaign. Over the weekend, between Friday and Monday, the outdoor got discussed and trashed by many who are the prime audience for the brand. Some of them did even file a complaint with ASCI.

By Monday evening, Jack and Jones tweeted to hundreds of tweeples that they are withdrawing the outdoor creative.

In the age of social media it is difficult for brands to walk away after doing a bad creative. The consumers today are quick to react to brands that are politically incorrect and the loss of reputation of the brands is instantaneous.


Both these instances of fightback are good instances. Consumers are the watchdogs and social media is their power. Agencies too can use a bit of this power to drive a sense of balance.

Original published here:


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

Original published here:

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.

Original published here:


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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