AdStand: Of Fairness and the Celebrity Code

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


The Abhay Deol Troll War

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

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

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

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

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

Will ASCI guidelines for Celebrities work?

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

First, who is a celebrity?

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

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

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

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

May be we need more Abhay Deols.

Original published here:

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.

Original Published Here:

Ad Stand: Nike, Channel 4 and Human Stories

In persuasion economy every human story becomes a selling tool in hands of brands.  

Humans are a lot into social felicitation and conformism. A story well told can lead to people altering behavior even if it is transient. Advertising and communication tries to make this alteration in behavior longer lasting.

Pokemon Go becomes a global rage in no time for people want to be a part of what seems like the latest fad, they cant be left behind.

Nike uses human story to do the same but may be doesn’t do it so well.  

In today’s new age persuasion economy, brands are turning everyone into a salesperson. Everyone’s story is also used to sell us something.


Nike and Deepika, could it have been better told?


To her 31 Million followers on FB, this is what Deepika Padukone posted her story of depression and how she came out of it.

 When I was growing up my father said to me, “To be the best, always remember the three D’s – Discipline, Dedication and Determination. Follow your heart. Do what you are passionate about.”

Sport has taught me how to handle failure. It has also taught me how to handle success. It has kept me grounded. It has taught me humility.

Two years ago I struggled with depression. I was sinking. I almost gave up. But it was the athlete in me that gave me the strength to fight and never ever give up!

And so I want to say to every girl and every boy and every woman and every man…play a sport…because it changed my life…and it will change yours too!

Sport has taught me how to survive! It has taught me how to fight! It has made me unstoppable!”

Deepika comes out in open about depression, says she fought it using sports, and this is where it starts to get murky. The Video is actually for Nike. Deepika trades her story to convince thousands and thousands of girls out there to take to sports to cure depression. This is what is wrong with the whole video, it’s a sob story that has been used commercially to sell a brand. It doesn’t matter to the brand if the disease called depression needs medical intervention, needs a medical assistance, needs cure. They have done what everyone does in case of depression: advise with no scientific basis.

What makes the whole thing even bad is that the video has India’s most accomplished athletes, but they have are playing a supporting role to Deepika, who is a Badminton Player in the ad. Joshna Chinappa, Ishita Malviya, Jyoti Anne Burrette, Rani Rampak, Shweta Hakke, Shweta Subbiah and Tanvi Hans. Squash, Surfer, Footballer, Hockey, Trainer and Footballer. These women are on top of their game. They should have been the inspiration for Deepika and millions of other women to take up sport and fight life issues.

By making it other way round, Nike just exploited a human story for commercial gain.


Not Just do it, but #YesICan

Channel 4, the broadcaster for Rio Olympics has created what Nike couldn’t for Paralympic Athletes. The Music Video has 15Million views on FB and almost a million on YouTube celebrates the Superhuman feat of the athletes. The music video features 20 athletes who will compete in Rio Olympics

the Paralympians demonstrate a wide variety of athletic feats—high jumps, weight lifting, and archery as well doing everyday tasks. Ultimately, it the focus is more on ability then disability.

The video has met with tremendous response on social media. That is a demonstration of the power of how the human stories have been told.


Human stories are powerful, they need not be soppy

The Channel 4 Rio Olympics music video and the Nike Deepika video are cut from same cloth.

They both celebrate achievements of human ability and tenacity.

Channel 4 has turned them into an inspiration for humanity. Nike has just made a mess of it

Channel 4 has done what Nike should have.