Alokananda Chakraborty: Why 'occasion ads' fail to deliver

Last Updated: Mon, Nov 12, 2012 19:42 hrs

Pick up any newspaper from the last five days, and you will find an overwhelming majority of advertisements that begin with the same two words: Iss/This Diwali... Sample these: “Iss Diwali kise khush karoge?”; “Iss Diwali muh kurkure karo”; “This Diwali, Lakshmi’s blessings come in some special forms”; “This Diwali greet with GreetZap!”.

The slightly subtler say: “Let the lights of this festive season shine bright for years.” But the goal is the same, and so, the very next line goes: “Cromptom Greaves LED bulbs for every occasion.”

Evidently, all these ads are trying to sell something: Cadbury chocolates, Kurkure snacks and so on. Maybe there is a better name for it – but since I can’t remember – let me call it occasion advertising because they tend to appear around festivals. Note I am not calling them festive ads, so that I can club all the Valentine’s Day, Independence Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and Doctor’s Day ads in the same category — and vanish thereafter.

The issue is, whatever the occasion, these ads look just the same.

Let me correct myself. There is one fundamental difference: There is one set that explicitly sells a product or a brand using a promo mechanism — that is, they directly link the celebration and the festivities to a purchase by announcing special deals, discounts or freebies. Then, there is another kind — the kind of advertising that doesn’t urge the consumer to go buy the brand/product right now. They serve more as a memory device with hopefully a memorable emotional trigger.

This is where the problem – emotional trigger – because there is none. And, that is where most occasion ads fail and end up looking like one another.

Here’s how bad things get from here. Say, if you are a certain brand of readymade clothing and Independence Day is round the corner, you end up saying, “The united colours of Independence Day”. Or, if you are a certain brand of colour cosmetics, you show close-up of a woman’s face and say, “Freedom has never looked so good before”. No problem if the woman in the picture is distinctly European. And, no issues if you really can’t pinpoint the “colour” of freedom. You just need to force-fit the word “freedom” or “independence” somehow — that seems to be the thinking.

Let’s not even talk about originality. A huge chunk of what passes off as advertising is not original to begin with. A bigger problem with these ads is there is no “connect” whatsoever between the occasion and the brand’s core values, or what it stands for. Evidently, the overall brand message is introduced into the copy on the most flimsy ground.

So, why do brands spend lakhs, or even crores of rupees, if you take several spots across several days, on such ads? What purpose do these occasion-based ads really serve? First, there is the goodwill factor, though it is immeasurable. And that’s the reason a brand/company would take out ads like, “Brand X congratulates Olympics medal winners from India”, or “Company Y welcomes the delegation from Germany”.

It is clear that the feel-good factor plays an important role in such cases. Brands participate and share in the joy of the consumer in their own good or bad creative grammar. You don’t necessarily calculate the benefit when you do such communication, just like you don’t add up points while greeting your parents or friends, do you? After all, at an emotional level, brand-consumer relationships are complex, and can’t be quantified beyond a point.

Then, there is another reason — a reason that seems to be behind most of the occasion-driven advertising. It seems to give the brand/company a feeling of participation. If done well, an occasion ad should be able to reinforce the brand idea in the consumer’s mind. Isn’t that the whole purpose of advertising?

So, what do we mean by “if done well”. Say, you are a washing machine brand and want to use an occasion meaningfully to present your brand story. What better occasion than Holi to do that? There is an instant connect even if you pitch the advertising in the most basic form — that the washing machine can wipe all the colour and the dirt and the grime and restore your dress in its original shine. A lot of detergent ads have done it with great aplomb.

In short, the success of occasion ads rests totally on its execution, on the way the communication of the brand idea happens. It has to have a context like any other advertising; it has to be relevant and connect seamlessly. The whole effort falls flat when it looks contrived. That’s where most occasion advertising seems to trip.

I remember one ad for Ambassador released on the occasion of Satyajit Ray’s birth anniversary. It used a photograph of the film-maker sitting in the boot of an Ambassador car, shooting a film in a narrow Kolkata lane. Bang on!

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