TOI is to Chennai as Nike is to Mumbai?

By Neha Kalra , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | September 15, 2008
The new TVC for TOI, Chennai strikes a local chord

Music & #BANNER1 & # is a universal language that bonds unmistakably. And JWT and The Times of India (TOI), Chennai know that for sure. Then, what better way to talk to a city that's enthusiastic about its music and its cinema?

In the second phase of TOI's stepping into the conservative market of Chennai, the brand has launched a television commercial, titled Naaka Mukka. The commercial uses the popular Tamil song track composed by Vijay Anthony, Naaka Mukka.

The film opens on a shot of Chennai at the break of dawn and captures the hustle bustle, traffic jams, and hectic activity in the city. Along with this, begins the journey of an actor's life. His movies do well in the cinema city and he becomes a star, winning lots of adulation and fan clubs. The star grows into an actor-turned-director; and then rises as a political star.

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Finally, some wrong moves lead to his downfall and his fans turn against him. The medium for the entire story is a larger than life cutout of the star, which, after seeing glorious times, ends up as a scarecrow in a field. The background score, Naaka Mukka, tells the story and gives an extremely vivid description of the city. The TVC ends with TOI's 'A Day in the Life of Chennai'.

Agnello Dias aka Aggie, chief creative officer, JWT and the man behind the Nakka Mukka commercial, couldn't inadvertently be good at striking the local chord each time, could he? Remember the Nike commercial which brought out an instant connect with Mumbai?

Agnello Dias

Priya Gupta

Rahul Kansal

Senthil Kumar"There are certain categories and mediums of communication which need the local population to embrace the brand in a certain manner; so, it's really different from case to case, says Aggie.

However, here may be other cases wherein it is about portraying aspiration and not reality," Aggie says, citing the example of Pepsi.

Chennai is intense about its values and traditions, but the new Chennai accepts modernity. TOI wanted to be positioned as a brand that could straddle both tradition and modernity well. That was the brief given to JWT, the creative agency for TOI.

"The brief was about bringing out a connect emotionally and locally and about the city's idiosyncrasies," reveals Priya Gupta, assistant vice-president, brand, The Times of India.

How tough or otherwise was it to enter a traditionalist (as many consider it) city as Chennai? Rahul Kansal, brand director, Times Group, says, "The Hindu - the market leader - is based on strong values, which is a reality of Chennai. It caters to the traditional reader, but may not cater to the evolving reader, which is fully descriptive of Chennai. The Chennaite is comfortable with his/her traditions, and is equally modern minded. One has to realise that Chennai has changed and TOI is cognizant of the change."

He adds, "If we would have been simply a symbol of change, it would have been a bit difficult to gain acceptance in this market, but we have shown due respect to the city's traditions and culture and have also brought forth the modern side of the city, and thus the reality of Chennai."

Senthil Kumar, executive creative director, JWT and the copywriter of the film is enthusiastic. "This story of this cutout character is told in a folk narrative form, which was part of Tamil cinema, when actors were also singers. It is about showcasing the duality of the city - traditions with modernity; real estate with environment et al."

"There is a traditional creative insight that the brand TOI embarks upon - 'A day in the life of ....' It could be India, or any other city, and this film follows that route. Irony with humour is always engaging, and so, such a film. Keeping brand facts in mind, TOI can do some things nationally, which it can't do in Chennai as it is a startup here," states Aggie.

Creative onlookers have a lot to say for the film. They are game for the traditional, political and film-oriented side of Chennai, but feel that the city definitely has more to say for itself today.

Rajeev Ravindranathan

Gullu Sen

Vandana KatochRajeev Ravindranathan, creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi, Bangalore, says, "It is a highly entertaining piece of creative execution. The story itself is about typecasting the city. All are aware of the city people being movie buffs and the typical rise and fall of political gods. It's a weird feeling, you know. It's like the film does one job very well (putting together the facts of Chennai), and on the other hand, it just overlooks the rest. I think the storytelling is awesome."

He adds, however, "I only wish it were a fresher story, maybe a perspective on modern Chennai and its various paradoxes, rather than this stereotypical view of it, which we've all heard about."

Gullu Sen, executive vice chairman, Dentsu India, has a dual opinion. "I think one has to see this commercial in a much larger context. One thing about The Times of India is they have been extremely consistent with their communication platform, both in terms of content and form. Though 'A day in the life of India' is a generic line, by single-mindedly sticking to it, I guess the effort is to appropriate it as a property for themselves, and at the same time, cueing their leadership status in an endearing tone of voice, if you may. Initiatives like 'Lead India' and 'Teach India' further augment the position and deliver a complete 360 degrees dimension of the same across the media spectrum. The brand is trying to weave itself in to the socio-cultural fabric of India."

He continues, "Somebody is definitely thinking brand here, in a category where everybody deals with the same news; not to mention channels fighting each other in order to grab the consumer's sight and mindshare on a day-to-day, even an hour-to-hour, basis. Thinking long term branding in this scenario is a very ideal and brave decision."

About the film, Sen says, "Topical, highly energetic with very strong regional flavour, it definitely cuts through without any doubt. Especially the audio in typical folk genre strikes a very high chord in terms of impact. However, I am not very sure whether the pictures are really differentiated, though the visual editing is very crisp and sharp. I think I have seen images like this scores of times before, courtesy some music channel promos. Secondly, will the Chennai people find these images unique? I doubt it. But a lovely commercial for sure!"

Vandana Katoch, creative director, Contract Advertising, Delhi says, "The film captures the flavour of Chennai (Tollywood meets politics) rather interestingly. But I think the fun lies in the lyrics; so, for those of us who don't understand the language, the idea is watered down and the nuances lost. Sure, there are subtitles, but they run so fast, and in wanting to read them, you miss the spectacle. Considering it is a pan India TVC, I'm not sure how well that will go down."

She adds, "TOI advertising is legendary stuff, so the benchmark is pretty high. Even at an idea level, I don't think I would put this film in the same bracket as the 'pension file' film or the 'Sachin parody' film."

The commercial is on air on national channels, as well as Tamil ones. Cinema advertising is also being considered. The film has been produced by Good Morning Films. Shashank Chaturvedi is the director on the film and Vikram Kalra has produced it. The art directors on the film are Karthik Sekhar & Jeff Emmanuel.

As far as surviving in the market goes, Gupta of TOI says that TOI's immediate need is not about garnering market share. Its entry has grown the market, and the thought of catering to the changing consumer of Chennai is an objective in itself.