AdStand: Beyond the tokenism of International Women’s Day

The good thing is that brands want to celebrate Women’s Day. Some do it by celebrating their relationship with women consumers, and some by turning it into a joke. This Women’s Day one brand turned it into a shopping day (because it is a retail shopping chain) and other decided to show movies with women in lead (because it is a movie chain). There are very few brands that looked at the International Women’s Day theme of #BeBoldForChange. Inox did it in unique way of declaring woman as the #HeadOfTheFamily, Anouk did it by an online film #SaveItForAnotherDay, or Kriti Sanon did a nice take in it for her brand Ms Taken.

This has become the story of Women’s Day, and I suspect a lot of it is to do with coming of social media. Brands cannot be seen left out on a #TrendingTopic and they have to be seen a part of conversation. The fear of being left out is something that grips most brands for them to push messages out. With social media and shareability on social media driving the reason to do the campaign the messages tend to become overtly preachy.

This is what made me look for commercials that could have been done for International Women’s Day, but were normal everyday brand commercials. Each of these commercials made a deep impact on the brand, they did it by not overtly espousing a cause, were done by large mainstream brand, were definitely not preachy.

First one is a landmark commercial of Indian Advertising. Way back in 90s, TV had just started to become the lead medium of communication; brands were aggressively adopting TVC as the way to connect. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk did this commercial where the girl unabashedly celebrated the success of her friend. The girl jumping up with joy, dodging the security guard to run on to the field and dance with gay abandon. Remember it was 90s, and the message was about joy of eating chocolate. This could well have been the narrative about women celebrating their love without being judged. I know you guessed the TVC, but if you didn’t then here it is

About a decade later, the Samsung Washing Machines did an ad, that in today’s times may carry a click bait headline like: her husband challenged her to play football, what happened next will make you wonder! This was a commercial where the wife dressed in salwar-kameez challenges her husband for a game of football, trips him and beats him at his own game. All the things that brands today will not like to do or do it only for special occasion like Woman’s Day. This was a simple tale, told without the packaging of empowerment and did well for the brand. Here’s the original


Around the same time Hyundai broke the rules of car advertising by the tale of a girl, a boy and the father of the girl. It took a brave client to defy research to make the ad. Car ads in those days, and even today was about running product shots, here the car is almost a prop in the narrative. Here’s the ad:

This was the tale of small town India, about the ambitions of women and prejudices of father. In today’s time this would have become the narrative of changing desires if girls and how they are choosing their own partners.

A couple of years later HDFC Life’s ad was a fantastic take on how a girl can make his father’s life happier. The commercial

a part of their ongoing campaign about self-reliance was really progressive without the usual preachy tonality that we tend to see in today’s commercials. Here the daughter’s desire for a better car for father, and that she planned this fir her dad is priceless. I haven’t seen this narrative by brands even as father-son bonding. Compare HDFC to #NayiSoch from Star Plus which they did as a part of their women’s day campaign by roping in Amir Khan. HDFC Life beats the Star Plus commercial hands down, despite being made ten years earlier.

Post 2008, it is difficult to find commercials that can be picked as commercials that made women centric narrative as every day non-preachy affair. Ariel did #ShareTheLoad, but if they looked into their own brand history, they will find a TVC where husband did laundry to win a favour from wife. That too is over ten years back.

The professionals who created these ads are still in the industry. The clients, the agency pros, the researchers, all of them are still around, then where did the progress stop?

And Why?

My hunch is the emergence of social media and the ‘insight’ that social relevance in brand message makes an ad go viral. Now that none of the commercials this Women’s Day truly went viral, brands should relook at their narratives.

No more tokenism should be the mantra.

AdStand: The Campaign that People Own


Olympics at Rio is over, India won two medals, both by women, two athletes finished fourth, one of them is a woman.
The nation erupted in joy w hen an unheralded virtually unknown Gymnast, Dipa Karmakar became the first woman Gymnast ever from India to represent India in the sport and marched into final. She missed Bronze by a whisker and we all know the emotional support the nation gave her
This was topped by Sakshi Malik who won a bronze in Wrestling. PV Sindhu then made it an Olympic to remember by winning Silver in Badminton. Sakshi became the first woman wrestler to win bronze and PV Sindhu became the first Woman Shuttler to win Silver. History was made at Rio. History was made by three women.

The spark of campaign
It is difficult to pinpoint where and when the campaign started. It definitely started on Whatsapp as countless forwards that people get. The ‘forwarding economy’ was at it very quickly and in no time there were forwards about how the unwanted girl child have saved the blushes for the nation.
This quickly became a firestorm across social media with memes, status messages and tweets, all about how it time for India to pay attention to its daughters.
The messages have not stopped even now with more and more people sharing the messages

The first publicly owned campaign of India
The brilliance of this campaign is that it is not even a campaign. No one owns it, no one is creating it, and no one is propagating it. The public outpouring of the sentiment seems to suggest a overwhelming change in the attitude of the country on girl child. The absolute voluntary nature of the campaign seems to be an indicator that there may be small, but there is an aperture of change that exists in the society about the attitude towards the gild child.

No brand could have done this
I haven’t seen a brand capture popular sentiment like this campaign has done. No brand could have delivered this message, not with this compounding power, not with this intensity. This is the power of forwarding economy. People joined hands, found interesting things to share, joined the conversation and sent a message for change.
Is there a chance of change?
If the power of sharing economy is on display with this campaign, so is the weakness. There is a good chance that people actually buy into the cause, but there is a good chance that they move on to a new issue and forget about this issue. This is what happens in true mass participative events.
Yet there is a good chance that this campaign will spark off some change in a few people’s mindset. For a issue that is deeply rooted in our psyche, the desire for change is not externally manifested. It has not been pushed as sermon from the authorities; it has not been pushed as a tearjerker from a socially responsible brand.

In future we will see far more such publicly created and fuelled campaigns. Campaigns that will have far greater power to change the contours if the society.
We as a country have not won many medals at Rio, but the two that we have, can change some deep-rooted societal issues in India.
That is a far bigger victory

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:

The R Day Weekend

This was the week when brands went into overdrive with Republic Day messages. The whole country seemed to be draped in tricolour and the entire country seemed to be on sale. Zomato even turned every word of Happy Republic Day into a food item!

Commerce usually triumphs patriotism.

This is where #belikebill meme had an interesting take on Republic Day. This is India. India minds its own business. India always feels young. Be like India. Well #belikebill did win the Republic Day social media war.

Mumbai Traffic Police around the same time broke on social media with some really funny tweets. In its effort to be seen as cool and young, it ran a series of tweets that could easily have been written by stand-up comics. Now that is the real issue: should cops come across as witty and funny? Is that the value that ordinary citizens expect from a law enforcement agency? Or should they come across as resolute, determined, watchful and tough? How long will cops be able to manage a funny tone of voice?

Delhi Traffic Police meanwhile took its game on social media many notches up. On the shared public transport app called Ridlr (DTP twitter handle is @RidlrDel), it is asking citizens to upload pictures or videos of traffic violators so that they can take action. Either way, the police are now using social media; once they move from adopter phase to interaction phase, one can expect a lot of things to change.

There is a huge amount of action happening in the video streaming end and social networks. Facebook till now allowed celebrities to live stream content to their followers; this has now been opened up to the public. Anyone can use an iPhone and live stream to select audience on FB. While this is currently available only in the US, it would be available on Android and iOS and across the globe in no time. Also, GoPro Hero now integrates with Periscope for iPhone and can now broadcast directly. Portable live video will open up completely new platforms for brands.

Imagine if brands let their commercial shoots be available live on FB. Till now brands tried to do this in a small manner on Snapchat. Video is the new frontier that will change the game.

ICICI is running a fabulous platform that allows the underprivileged to earn a sustainable livelihood. They have a short film chronicling the story of Manoj Kumar who, from being a scrap seller, learns from the books he collects and then joins the mainstream workforce. It’s a heart-warming tale that has been narrated very well.

Today, more than ever, brands have no option but to make an impression every day, consistently. To do that, brands have to move away from small victories to long sustained campaigns. Today, the tools have also changed.

Be like ICICI and the Raddi Library.

Original Published Here:

AdStand: Looking back at 2015. Episode 2

2015 is the year of apps and connected devices. The way technology has invaded every sphere of life is rapidly changing the way we live. From groceries to grooming, from music to machinery, from entertainment to elections, from fashion to farming, from car pool to carpenter, everything has a disruptive app.

Our celeb endorsers have added categories to their repertoire; they now sell groceries, music bits, discounted deals and many more things than you could ever imagine. The apps have changed the game for celebrity engagement; they now no longer only endorse a brand, they are now actively on apps where they happily tell their fans and followers what they wear, eat, drink and tell them to buy the same things. Gwyneth Paltrow has her own dedicated site,, and closer home celebs are on lots of platforms pushing their wares.

If the app economy is the first trend of 2015, app is the second trend too of 2015. I call it the Ashley Madison Bomb or the death of privacy in connected world.

If there is a flip side to connected economy, this is it. “Remarketing”, or the process of dropping a tiny programme on your system called cookie that lets brands follow you online, to constantly offer the product till you buy is now an old paradigm. Remarketing became more powerful in 2015, it broke the shackle of devices, following you from one device to another with social platforms taking it on with gusto. But despite this, remarketing is nowhere near what the new technology can inspire.

Early in 2015 two hackers – Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek – remotely took control of a new Jeep Cherokee, took control of its climate control system, its entertainment system, activated the wipers, and even disabled the engine and made it come to a standstill, while the driver in the car could do nothing. Watch what happened here: This is as scary as it gets. Mercifully it was an experiment by ethical hackers, or else a ‘Transporter’ kind of movie can play out every day on our roads. May be the cops can enforce the odd-even formula of Delhi remotely from a connected control centre!

We all know that hackers released 36 million accounts that were members of Ashley Madison. Now Ashley Madison’s services are not the services that someone will put on their social networking profile, this is something that they would like to keep hidden. The hackers were not the keepers of morality or conscience; they were seeking fame out of moments of weakness or notoriety of others.

What the leak tells us is that internet is neither private nor anonymous. Even if the site or service wants to guard the privacy, it is not easy in today’s hyper-connected world. This will have implications on consumer engagement strategies in 2016.

Imagine the possibilities.

Travel sites will know about your travel plans and will bombard the users with rival offers in real time making choices difficult.

The shopping websites will know about your shopping basket and in real time will alter their offerings to lure you away from rivals, either by offering value-adds or by offering better prices.

Fashion sites driven from data they have, will know about your fashion style and will first offer the stuff that fits your style, making the process of choice a lot more data driven and a lot less look driven.

Marketing is all about creating a following for the brand, the new Ashley Madison Bomb effect may enhance the commoditisation of a variety of categories for it will become easy to tailor offers, and offer discounts.

This is discounting the fact that all of us may be sitting ducks for cyber terrorists who can wreck our lives by string of codes.

Next week, a look at a third trend, something that may not have been a result of the internet dominating our lives.

original published here

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

Lessons from ecom brands

Communication industry has often been dominated by certain category for a long time. Rules, codes practices are evolved from the categories that dominate the landscape. The packaged goods domination created the famous product window and a complex product demonstration. The automobile industry took the product window forward and created longwinded demonstrations of the product. Automobile advertising was surprisingly narcissist in approach as the world always revolved around their cars or bikes or trucks or busses. The cell phone and cellular network domination brought a lot of tech mumbo jumbo to mainstream conversation. Thanks to this industry we know a lot about processor, screens, apps, speed and many more such things that should have no connection to why someone buys or chooses a cell phone or cellular network. Cell Phones sold the tech babble much more successfully than the PC brands!

Last two years seem to be the age of ecom brands. Most of these brands are armed with bottomless resources, play the game of dominance in media, and have created an eco system of their own. This is a very large bunch of brands that span categories like fashion, technology, automobiles, books, groceries, housing, buying and selling, travel, food delivery, bill payment, furniture, dating, art, auction jobs, and almost every other thing that you cannot think of. What it means that the category called ecom is a misnomer; almost the entire communication industry is a part of it. Yet there seem to be something that defines that you are being engaged by a brand that belongs to the new age category and somehow is rewriting the old rules of communication. Here’s my quick look at what the world of ecom is teaching us

 First, it is obvious that if you are an ecom brand you will redefine the concept of pricing. Normally a brand will build a sense of ‘brand’, as to what values it stands for, what is the reason for consumers to trust it and then eventually give an offer to pre pone the buying decision. Ecom brands have collapsed the whole cycle, in fact sale communication is now not tactical, it’s strategic. Three brands have turned the entire ‘sale’ communication on its head.

Snapdeal is a brand that has being built on the premise of saying ‘never pay full price’ has taken Amir Khan and made the search for discounts and deals into a memorable appeal. The brand audaciously even implies that Mr. Khan is proud to hunt for deals for himself. Flipkart turned the sale communication into a self-indulgent look at creating communication. The whole set up of agency executives struggling to create one more ad for never ending sale on Flipkart helps in consumers engaging with the brand. Amazon is the third brand using the sale as an aggressive brand building activity. The initial ‘aur dikhao’ was about setting up the fact that the platform has hundreds of products at the best possible prices. Notice that they used price as a strategic tool, and not as a tactic to drive shoppers to site. The new communication currently by Amazon to push the sale has a very different tonality and treats price as a tactic to drive conversions. Ecom brands are making sure that they use price as a strategy and not as a tactic

Secondly, humor is a big part of the ecom brand arsenal. Often to sell concepts or ideas that are different or difficult to fathom, humor is used to create the brand appeal. The entire bunch of brands in the servicies category like Freecharge, PayTM, Ola Cabs, Quickr, Olx are using humor in different ways. The Freecharge ads are delightful in the way they portray the gender gap between father and sons to sell phone recharge is phenomenal. The brand uses the insight of middle class fathers thinking their sons are frittering away life and sons need to prove that they are smarter in delightful way. They get the cultural context absolutely correctly. The Olx commercial of the harassed by snoring wife and seeking a way out has a ring of human truth, again in a delightful way. Both brands also end up using price as a strategic tool. The Ola cab ads to my mind miss the mark completely with their tale of forgetful protagonist who needs to escape sticky situations. The ads could have been funnier if they were crafted better.

The third is many brands dipping into the old world of packaged goods brand demo route to educate users on how to use their app or service. May be they have a reason to do so, may be the intention is widen the user base, for me, they seem to miss the mark completely as they create no engagement with potential users.

In contrast is the fourth bunch of ads that use strange animals as mascots to create appeal. Now a mouse can get you a job, a dog can get you a car, a panda can get you a meal and even a humble owl can be a reason to get food delivered home. Mouse is about rat race, dogs run after cars, panda is always in active graze mode and knows about food, owl may be has highly developed taste buds, but all are funny.

There is a fifth bunch of brands, maturing in the way they use communication, go beyond price, humor, demos and brand mascots. These brands tell compelling stories about who they are and what they do. Make My Trip’s “dil to roaming hai” is a wonderful take on what travel can do to family bonding. For a brand that built itself as the most efficient travel site, the focus away from efficiency is a welcome move. The second is Jabong’s Be You campaign that celebrates individuality and turns that into fashion statement. I wish more brands from ecom turn into compelling storytellers.

Ecom as a category is relatively new, they face two big challenges of seeding new habit and of creating an alternate way of living, something that didn’t exist before. These are early days, and they will evolve in more exciting ways in coming days

Original appeared here:

Engaging with the Alpha Male

Women are the prime target for the marketers. From shampoos to fashion, from food to cosmetics they hold the key to brand’s success.  Youth is the other most important target, from beverages to cellphone; from bikes to online shopping they are the creators of trends. Brands have mastered in creating nuanced appeals for the two.

What about the alpha males? They sure are prime audience for a variety of categories. Cars, bikes, banks, insurance and off late fairness creams target them. To understand what the advertisers are saying to the males, I went through a series of ads targeting them.


Let’s start the day with an undergarment brand, Akshay Kumar, Hritik Roshan, Sunny Deol, the iconic alpha males are pedaling undergarments, it has to be an important category.

There is one undergarment brand called Rupa, which used to be endorsed by an Ex Miss Universe at some time, now is endorsed by the red hot Ranvir Singh. Today Ranvir is one really successful alpha male with his own brand of swagger and street mannerism. Ranvir is ensuring that we forget the feminity of the brand name and consider the brand as one made for the male world. He works hard to lend extra charm,swagger and a dash of Ravir style of humor. Its not often that a whale will take a punch in the nose and swim away, for the Hero has to get the damsel in distress. David Hasselhoff would have quit Bay Watch after watching this ad.

The critical question is how do you as reconcile to wearing an innerwear brand that is named like a beautiful girl even after endorsed by Ranvir?


After you have sorted your innerwear and get ready to move out of home, take your big bike out, suit up, slip on the helmet and go vroom. The girls will look back at you if you are the handsome John Abraham. Handsome hulk though has an issue with his skin colour. It takes double action, with some charcoal and clay and a dual colouured face wash to fix the problem and make him ‘fair’. Whatever happened to tall, dark and handsome? After building the excitement by being the big macho man, everything comes crashing down when you realize that you have to be fair to get ahead. Next time you take your bike out, grab a whitening face wash first, the big bike and the good looks won’t take you far.

Consider giving up on bike and consider looking at big muscular SUV. There is nothing that spells machismo like a car with muscle. There is Sushant Singh Rajput doing a high-energy dance and the Nissan Terrano responds with matching moves. Nissan Terrano is a big macho SUV, which is being serenaded by an alpha male. After the car and Sushant match steps for step, an attractive female comes and drives away the car leaving our guy looking a bit sheepish. So was the car an attractive female who Sushant was serenading? Or was the car a macho male who the attractive girl drives away with? Here the big guy gets neither the car, nor the girl!


There are beverage brands that celebrate being a man in their unique style. One such brand is Carlsberg, which makes possibly the world’s best bar glasses. We know the glasses are meant to hold beer; Carlsberg has a take on board meetings in its latest on TV. Board meetings obviously are meant for people with power and influence. This is a rich fertile territory and the brand could have created memorable male symbolism. The board meeting though turns out to be bit of an apology. To say that probably world’s best board meeting is conducted wearing swimming trunks inside a swimming pool is possibly what an imagination deprived teenager will dream of. Does this kind of board meeting appeal to someone with power and influence? Carlsberg seemed to have served flat beer in this ad.

It looks like being an alpha male in adland is a tough thing. Its time we engage the males in a far more intelligent manner, otherwise #feelslikeaman will mean #feelslikealoser


originally published at for #AdStand