Putting pickpockets out of business

By , agencyfaqs! | In Advertising | March 30, 2006
Linking pickpockets to a debit card seems rather unusual, right? Well, the latest communication for the SBI Debit Card seems to have done the job well

Before you start

thinking that this one's all about a self-sponsored survey on pick-pocketing… wait.

What we're talking about is the new State Bank of India (SBI) Debit Card commercial, conceptualised by Mudra. The commercial could trick one into thinking that it is a documentary done by an NGO on how a pickpocket transforms into a hard working labourer. It is only later that the brand message steps in and the viewer gets to know that the message is all about how much safer it is to carry a debit card in your wallet than large sums of cash.

Ravi Kaul, general manager, ATM, SBI, explains, "The strategy is to induce people to conduct their transactions in a cashless world. We have done this by highlighting the main reason for owning a debit card - security. Therefore, the idea of showing a pickpocket going jobless fits like a glove."

The commercial opens on the shot of a manual worker struggling through his day, doing all kinds of menial jobs. At the end of the day, he sits down to eat his meal - a coarse piece of 'pav' (bread). That's when a super appears on the screen: "Bholu. Ex-pickpocket." The voiceover concludes, "Welcome to the State Bank Debit Card. Welcome to a cashless world." It is then that the viewer realises that Bholu was an ex-pickpocket who is now forced to earn his living the hard way because people have started carrying debit cards instead of money.

Sukumar Menon, creative director, Mudra, says, "The 'Beware of Pickpockets' sign is common to many locations all over our country. Here is a message that almost everyone has seen and relates to. We thought this caution would have no meaning if people started carrying debit cards. If there's no cash to steal, what will happen to the poor pickpocket? How will he make his living? And that's how the idea was born."

After an insight mining exercise, Mudra found that the biggest reason to possess a debit card is safety/security. So, the task before the agency was to tell people that they needn't carry a wad of cash in their wallets any more. All they need for most of their cash transactions is a State Bank Debit Card. "It's a secure replacement for cash, which does away with the hassles and worries of robbery," explains Menon.

Through this communication, SBI is targeting the masses in general, not any particular segment. Hence, both the client and the agency were looking for an idea that people from all segments would relate to easily. With pickpockets being an extremely common phenomenon in India, the 'ex-pickpocket' idea seemed to be the one that fitted best.

Vinil Mathew, ad film maker and director of the commercial, offers his take, "Everything about the film had to look real and natural. Even the humour had to be subtle and understated. The punch had to be delivered quietly, almost surreptitiously."

One of the challenges while directing the film, according to Mathew, was to make sure that it was different in terms of both look and storytelling. "I was specifically told that nobody should be able to pre-empt the idea or anticipate what the film was about till it drew to a close."

The film had to be a complete antithesis of what an everyday commercial was and that was even more of a task, considering the ad was for a category such as banking. "It was an adventurous, bold idea and, thankfully, the agency and client stuck to it till the very end," Mathew remarks.

An extensive screen test was held to select the protagonist, who had to look real, yet be intelligent enough to portray all the fine nuances of the character, and blend well with the ad's emotional and humour requirements. Finally, small-time feature film actor Ashraf-ul-Haq was selected to play the lead. He was given a makeover so that he wouldn't be recognised easily.

The film was shot near some of the older landmarks of Mumbai such as Chor Bazaar, Mohammed Ali Road and Cotton Green. As Mathew puts it, "The locations had an interesting texture and fit our colour palette perfectly."

Mathew adds that another challenge was that he had to stop himself from making an over-the-top film. The keyword was 'simplicity'. "There were a lot of complexities in the character and the plot, which had to be delivered very simply," Mathew says.

While shooting the film, a rather funny incident occurred. When the lead actor was entering the sets, the security on board picked on him and began questioning his credentials. It was only later that Mathew explained who he really was. "That explains the 'perfect fit' part!" he quips.

Kaul of SBI hopes that the commercial will lead more people to use debit cards at the point of sale (PoS). He says, "Most people use debit cards to withdraw money from ATMs, while actual purchases are made by cash. We want to motivate our cardholders to use their cards at shops as well for making purchases."

SBI has successfully helped a large number of its customers migrate from cheque transactions to ATMs. The aim is to now make debit cards the next popular item in the value chain.

Apart from the TVC, the campaign also includes print ads for prominent magazines and newspapers.

The SBI Debit Card was launched in 2002 and, currently, the bank has around 1.4 crore cardholders, but it feels there is still tremendous scope to expand this segment.

© 2006 agencyfaqs!

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© 2006 agencyfaqs!