Madhukar Sabnavis: Ad themes of 2012

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 04, 2013 05:43 hrs

Madhukar Sabnavis reveals what they foretell for 2013 and onwards

It's the start of a new year and a good time to reflect on the year gone by. It's also a good time to see what opportunities lie in the immediate future. This article does not pretend to be a comprehensive compendium of the media and advertising market for 2012; it is based on one's impressions, from what one saw and heard. So readers are invited to add their own observations to make the path to tomorrow richer.

It was the year of couples in advertising. Brands explored multiple facets of that relationship - from the young, honeymoon couple discovering each other in Cadbury Silk's "boat" commercial and in Dominos' "Goa hotel room" advertisement, to an older couple's reaffirmation of love on their 10th anniversary in Tanishq's "solitaire" commercial. And then a number set in between, traversing the joys and pains of early married life: Tata Sky's Video on Demand "Muffin" commercials, building on the eccentricities of an expectant mother; Tata Sky's service commercials; Philips Lighting commercials tapping into marital tiffs; and Platinum, Superia soap and Parachute oil showing other facets of marital life. Given the surfeit, one questions whether such expressions will have any impact now.

Given that we live in a young India, it's not surprising that advertising is focusing so much on this relationship. However, at the same time, it's interesting to note that around 2005 one had a tough time convincing clients to focus on this relationship - and India was not much older at that time. The debate got stuck in the advertising jargon of strategy or execution, and so was set aside. There was always the comfort of throwing a child or two in, to be family and yet new-age - away from joint families. The next opportunity could be to explore the lives and times of the "singleton" household - a growing segment, with large-scale migration and adults getting married late. This could even aid the introduction of "attitude" into the brand, with lifestyles and images distinct from what one has seen in the last two decades of joint families, nuclear families and couples.

In the last year, advertising got more brazen. The "Aapke pass nahi hai, uncle" catchphrase in Samsung Galaxy Y commercials clearly struck a discordant chord with the senior members of society. But the youth seems to have enjoyed it. Or take Pepsi's "Na tameez se khela jaata hai, na tameez se dekha jaata hi" campaign, in particular the hospital advertisement. The youth has been always seen to be irreverent, but this year it moved into the "insolence" area, and this was bold. Society is getting comfortable with putting things straightforwardly, and advertising can perhaps push frontiers in both language and visuals with beeps and pixilation. It can even try creating dark characters.

Music and songs have been part of Indian culture and advertising for years. And so have blockbusters. This year, they have returned in a form that signals change. Nike's "parallel journeys" and Cinthol's "alive is awesome" commercials revealed the power of blockbuster scale. And ICICI Rewards' song-based commercial, "Hukus Bukus", used a longer duration to tell its story. As we move into the future, marketers need to recognise that "impact" is a term both in the media and in creative strategy. As the media gets cluttered, the impact of the commercial will come not only from the idea, but also from scale and duration. Given consumers' lowering attention spans, cluttered minds and remote controls, longer duration is a way of standing out and forcing viewers to engage. Hopefully, marketers will actively factor this in when evaluating media plans and will go beyond gross rating points (GRPs), reach, and opportunity to see (OTS).

Dotcom version two arrived last year. After the euphoria and then bust in 2000, dotcom advertising resurfaced on a large scale this year on the tube. Flipkart (with its disruptive kid-adult advertising), Jabong,, Quikr, ibibo and even the global giant eBay made their presence felt. Jabong and eBay again used the couple format. Interestingly, most were in the e-commerce space, which is instructive. Whether they advertised for traffic generation or market valuation, it's indicative that e-commerce is coming in on a large scale and provides opportunities for traditional offline marketers. Maybe Asian Paints can come back with its advertising that it did two years ago, rather than promoting its hard-copy Beautiful Homes Guide, which it did thereafter.

Two distinct moods captured the youth's imagination this year: Idea's "Hello Honey Bunny" and The Hindu's "Behave yourself India, the youth is watching" TV commercials. While one is light-hearted and the other a strong social comment, what is common to both is that they premiered on the internet first, creating excitement and becoming viral before they appeared on television. In fact, the Idea "song" made its debut on the Net before the film was released. This presents an opportunity for the future: a chance to create excitement about an advertisement before delivering it to the masses. With the arrival of direct-to-home television and the existence of its default channel, scale advertisements can also explore the opportunity to create stories around their creation. India is still an advertising-excited country and these strategies could add to the brand's aura and charisma.

Parenting revealed a new face last year. Historically, it was all about physical and mental development. And brand promises were in that direction. But given the competitive times today's children live in and the changing parent-child relationship, two new roles emerge. The first role is of being the emotional counsellor and source of stability to the perpetually stressed kid. And the second is of inculcating good values. The latter is particularly interesting, as we today live in a world where parents encourage their children to be street-smart and, in a nuclear family world, grandparents are not present to pass on values. Bournvita's "Tayari jeet ki" campaign has undertones of the emotional anchor concept, and Tata Salt's latest "Desh ka namak" execution openly exults the importance of values.

Finally, though it's not an advertisement, it's worth pondering over the most impactful TV programme of the year, Satyamev Jayate. While it did much to redefine entertainment, the fact that it got good traction among housewives in small-town India is instructive of how ready they are for social causes and movements. Tata Tea in the past has attempted to tap that dimension. This programme revealed that brands could stand for purposes rather than propositions to connect with middle-class Indian housewives.

Something worth thinking about.

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