Friday, September 21, 2007

Vodafone does NOT get my vote

Such a perfectly wonderful media opportunity killed by lousy lousy creative.

Star discussed the day branding opportunity with us a couple of months ago and we rallied hard around one particular launch to make it happen, but just couldn't muscle up the required money. Plus I was very keen to get the creative people from the agency and the channel involved too - when you have thousands of seconds to use, you've got to use them right - and was therefore willing to trade time for immediacy, and still am. (In those far distant "Real Value on Sholay" days, we came up with nine TV commercials for that one day!)

Alas, all Vodafone could come up with were three uneventful capers by H and I, and poor Chico heaving and huffing his way in the hot sun on an open field to find a silly red kennel that he is too plump to get into or out of. Even his protesting whimpers didn't seem to catch the attention of the guys at Hutch.

The original Chico lived in Porvorim (the original boy-and-dog Orange film was shot in Goa), and has been treated by three or four vets in the area, including my hospital. None of them enjoyed doing it. A few months ago, Dr Deby, who runs my hospital, inspected a breeder at Margao, who keeps pug parents in miserable cages. So that unsuspecting little pug pups can find their way into metropolitan homes for Rs 35000 each. We went there after a complaint of a parvo viral outbreak among pups sold by that breeder.

Since Hutch, now Vodafone, refuses to accept its responsibility in the 'production' of thousands of ill-bred pugs in India who will be doomed to short suffering lives, I have decided to release an ad with a picture of the pugs we found in dirty cages and a byline that says "Change is good. Will someone please come forward to change the lives of these poor creatures?"

My family uses BPL, Airtel and Dolphin. Hutch never did get our vote. And with this new cruel, irresponsible and unimaginative avatar, Vodafone certainly won't.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Where have all the ads gone?

(published on, and the Brand Reporter in September 2007)

We presented a television plan for a new product launch to a leading client last week. Across the 5000 odd exposures scheduled, I observed that over two thirds consisted of stings, and sponsorship tags, and vignettes, and break bumpers, and screen shots of logo and sell line, and in program product placements, and scrolls, and several other elements of the telecast that showcased the brand and what it stands for without actually featuring the entire ad.

We presented another media plan for a new theme campaign to another leading client today. With more of the same across all media. RJ mentions, specialized print units, search engine optimization, virals and games. Where on earth was the ad?

Then I observed that close to 80% of the money was indeed being spent on exposing the 60 second TV commercials created by the two best creative agencies in this country, and breathed a sigh of relief. (After all, one of them pays my salary!). But the media planner in me couldn’t help but notice that 20% of the money bought over 60% of the exposures. That these exposures were embedded into content, or interwoven into the telecast in a manner in which advertising avoidance was suppressed to the bare minimum. That these exposures may not pass the test of a creative planner’s powerpoint or a creative director’s viewpoint, but they will be seen by the consumer, understood by the consumer, perhaps even acted upon by the consumer (some of them had short message response codes inbuilt). These exposures would undoubtedly contribute to ad awareness and recall scores, even if their individual impact may not be singly measured up in these tests.

These exposures were entirely conceived by the media management team on the account – planners and buyers – in consultation with the programming and marketing teams at the channel end.

Switch on your tv set to any channel on any genre, turn on your radio, run thru the morning newspaper, flip thru the pages of your favorite magazine, browse thru your regular websites, and you will see this for yourself. You see ads, yes. But you are also being insidiously bombarded at by brand messages where you really don’t expect them. If you think Lead India is a Times Group initiative to find the next Indian leader, think again. It’s just an incredibly smart way to get you exposed to the brand values of the paper and the group in an associative form that makes you go hmm! instead of ugh! Ditto with Airtel’s sponsorship of the national anthem rendition by classical musicians.

The Wills Lifestyle Fashion Week has very little ad support. However, besides lending itself automatically to great editorial coverage, the event allows for full length tv shows that subtly promote the brand and its attributes, news clips, a WLS “look of the day” in newspapers, some of which are paid for, some not, but all at a cost that is far below advertising rates. A cost that more than makes up for the cost of the event. If you asked the client, where would you rather put your money – behind sponsoring this event, or behind producing and airing 30 second commercials that show one girl, two guys, half a celebrity, and lots of clothes on a boat in Europe, I guess you know what he would say.

This may sound rather rude of me, but quite honestly, I do feel that over the past few years the baton of good creative talent and work has been handed over by the ad agencies to the media owners. Content and marketing guys in the channels and radio stations seem to find the pulse of their consumer quicker, know how to engage them, and are able to achieve much faster turnaround times. I daresay they also tend to be more result oriented.

As I watch my planners and buyers toss ideas and compare notes over pizza and coffee with their friends in the media, I am reminded of the days when I did the same. Except that I would be with Chris Rozario and the venue would be Trishna. The passion for good work, for new ideas, for the brand and its health, hasn’t changed, but the players have. I still look forward to the day when creative directors and media planners once again break bread together. But I am not sure that it will ever come. The rules of the game have changed, maybe forever. No single player has control over content, whether advertising or editorial. Perhaps the only real control is now with the consumer, the viewer, the listener, the surfer and the reader, and that’s how it should be.

I rather like it actually.

Comments welcome.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Whirling dervish

That's what I've been for the past ten days. Dashing from city to city, client to client, pitch to pitch, one annual strategy presentation after another, high level media negotiations, and a conference thrown in.

In the middle of all this, I spent last Thursday morning at Corbett. Sounds like a strange thing to say. Nine hours of serenity and sanity, needing twenty hours of travel to get there and back, to spend just thirty minutes with my Initiative friends from around the country. That's me in the Corbett hat.

We reached Corbett at 3.30 am, woke up at 6 am, took a Gypsy ride into the forest, where we met monkeys, spotted deer, kingfisher, woodpecker, school kids, mules, an olde english bridge, sal and teak, and a museum with the usual taxidermist handiwork. No tiger, because we didn't have time to get to the only open gate 25 kms away, but having once sat on the chest of a 250 kg tigress to stitch up tear wounds in her armpits, her eyes and jaws wide open beneath my face in a ketamine induced stupor, spotting tiger now holds no particular fascination for me.

Back at the lodge after a few short but splendid hours, after which I spent another hour with Laxmi the elephant whose wide hazel eyes had me smitten. I suggested a homemade lep to her mahout for her inflamed right flank, he promptly sent out for the ingredients (glycerine and maxsulf), and I hear she was back on her safari rounds the next day.

The Initiative gang arrived at 11.30 am after a gruelling 12 hour coach ride from Delhi including five hours of being stuck in a traffic jam. Since Sudha and I had to leave by 12.30, we all just stood around under the trees by the banks of the river Kosi for my opening address, a gentle mist all around, the melodious gush of freshly flowing water in the background, with birdsong for accompaniment.

There's nothing like a river in a forest to bring you back to earth after spinning around like a whirling dervish out of whirl. I later lost the multicolored riverbed pebbles I had collected at Delhi airport, my flight back hovered over Mumbai for two full hours, and at 1.30 am I found myself tending to an ill family member before falling into a deep sleep. But I am wide awake and ready to take on the next four weeks in which, sigh, there will be more of the same mad rush. This time around I hope there will be a refuelling stop at the Salvador-do-Mundo forests, my very own personal Corbett.