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Advertising is the most ineffective when it has to tell the truth: Santosh Desai

By , agencyfaqs! | In Advertising | March 19, 2007
A dissection of 'Thanda', Pepsi TV, overemotional sagas in ads, celebrity fatigue and ad stereotypes were only some of the topics Desai touched upon at the Annual Ad Club Ad Review, 2007. A full report on the entertaining evening


"2006 was an & #BANNER1 & #exceptionally good year for India. The economy was buoyant, and advertising did well as an industry," began Santosh Desai, head, Future Brands, at the Annual Ad Review, 2007, organised by the Advertising Club of Bombay. Furthermore, 2006 witnessed mass manufacture of celebrities, "and I only have to say 'Rakhi Sawant' for you to understand what I mean," quipped the ex-adman.

On a more serious note, Desai explained that 2006 was also a year when everything became entertainment, even something as serious as news, and something as diametrically opposed to that as advertising. "Ads no longer were a means of persuasion; they became a part of the entertainment industry," Desai said, because they ended up following the rules of entertainment (storytelling, in-depth characterisation, magnification and irony), rather than the purpose of communication. There was also a rise in the craft of creativity, with a more nuanced use of music, more refined dialogues, and new kinds of language emerging. A package of all the above qualities of entertainment, according to Desai, was the Moto Flip 'Parents' ad, which, marked by heightened performances and a sharp build-up, was almost like a piece of naked reality that was taken and placed on television.

Contrasting reality was another equally entertaining piece of communication, the Xbox 360 ad (featuring Akshay Kumar and Yuvraj Singh), which lent an Indian language to (the otherwise foreign) gaming culture. There was a different take on the same brand (the MTV 'Porok' ad), but Desai demonstrated scepticism at that one. "While this ad is quite interesting, one wonders if it is an ad for Xbox or MTV," he mused.

Not all was hunky dory in 2006. Desai pointed out that some ads ended up being too densely packed with entertainment, such as the Domino's Double Cheez Crunch one (featuring Paresh Rawal in a double role), which went over the top in a bid to grab attention. The year also witnessed an all-time high when it came to clichés in advertising. "By default, a boy has to be Rahul, and a girl can't have any name other than Neha," he said, inviting a roar of laughter from the audience. Other clichés that Desai found nerve-rattling were the use of old houses for a sense of character to the film, the forced retro mania (polka dots, etc.), the Shubha Mudgal/Sufi-esque music tracks, the use of 'Jiju-Chachu' in ads, screeching/belching voiceovers, the use of Rajasthan to show a non-city environment, and the spiky-haired look for young college boys.

Desai was quite annoyed with typical situations in ads. Examples include fruit drinks harping on the 'realness' of the fruits, two-wheelers passing petrol pumps and mocking them, and even ads such as the Haywards Soda one, which uses the age-old premise of men comparing themselves to one another.

While speaking of stereotypes, Desai mulled over the rise of the generic proposition, which speaks the category language for more than the brand. This was best exemplified in the online job portals category (by default, you're in the wrong job) and matrimonial sites (you land up finding the wrong guy). "Some ads became mirrors of each other, with brand territories actually merging," Desai said. Examples were aplenty: Dettol-Lifebuoy and Pizza Hut-Domino's, to begin with.

2006 was full of celebrity fatigue, too. "Dhoni was everywhere, as if he represented 'Neanderthal cool'. But none of his ads were classic ones," Desai remarked. "Also, I was quite fed-up of the Amitabh Bachchan 'talking to you' type of ads… it's not the Big B, as much as his voice, that was the brand ambassador!"

Talking of celebrity endorsements, Desai highlighted the evolution of the phenomenon of 'You use it because I do', which made way for celebrities actually acting out various parts in an ad. "Now, there is an awkward use of celebs, such as Sprite and Sania Mirza, or even Aamir Khan and Titan," Desai explained. An exception to the rule was Abhishek Bachchan with Motorola, which, although not flanked with great ideas, made for a smooth and easy celeb-brand fit.

The audience listened with rapt attention as Desai went on to talk of catastrophes such as Pepsi TV and the Tea Board of India ads ('Definitely Not a Tea Drinker'), which "didn't really have problems to solve in the first place". Desai admitted to having worked on a catastrophe himself, pointing to some of the recent 'Thanda' ads for Coca-Cola, chief amongst which was the 'Manno Bhabhi' ad. "The 'Thanda' campaign for Coca-Cola, like many other iconic campaigns, has perhaps become a victim of its own success," Desai admitted.

He also labelled campaigns such as Tata Indicom Don't Stop Mobile (the Kajol-Ajay Devgan 'Mrs Dixit' ad) and the Kissan 'Samose' ad as 'befuddling', whereas campaigns such as Surf Excel '10 on 10', Voltas AC ('India ka Dil') and ACC Cement ('Nirmaan') as being in the unnecessarily heavy emotion territory.

2006 was also fraught with the cola-pesticide controversy and Desai scoffed at the attempts by cola majors to squelch this. "One discovers the limits of advertising at the time of a crisis," he said. "And since advertising works best when it is away from unpleasantness, it is quite ineffective when it has to communicate the blunt truth."

The vanishing rural audience in advertising, the exteriorised housewife and the pride of being Indian (Bank of India, Intex) were other hallmarks of 2006's ads.

Desai concluded his talk by saying that while television still rules, print advertising was a no-show in 2006. "Some 80 per cent of the ads were scams that were seen only in award shows, and the remaining 20 per cent were ineffective or unimpressive," he signed off, on a candid note.

© 2007 agencyfaqs!

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