If only we lived in an 'Idea'listic democracy

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | December 19, 2008
Idea Cellular is back with a new TV commercial - about an honest politician this time

You're & #BANNER1 & # going about your day when suddenly, your mobile beeps with a call from a 'mantri', who seeks your opinion on whether sex education should be made compulsory in schools. That's feedback mechanism for you, Idea Cellular style.

The telecom major has launched a thematic ad film which keeps in line with its 'social and political change' creative route. The film shows a greedy political staffer advising a minister to sign on a document that will allow a shopping mall to be created in the middle of an agricultural field. The businessman funding the project is also willing to fund the minister's party in return.

Before the minister can sign, however, her secretary (Abhishek Bachchan) suggests taking feedback from the 'janata' (public) first. He whips out his Idea powered mobile and, a couple of SMSes later, manages to collect an overwhelming 'No' as the answer from a good mix of people.

The good 'mantri' gives more weight to public opinion than to her own agenda and decides in their favour, much to the embarrassment of her greedy sidekicks. Bachchan deduces that if you listen to the public, they will listen to you. Or else, you're done for. And that's what democracy is all about. "What an Idea!" Bachchan signs off.

In addition to this 45-seconder, Idea has rolled out six 15-second films that are vignettes of similar issues, with Bachchan collecting people's views through his mobile - on whether plastic bags should be banned; whether sex education should be made compulsory; whether dry days should be done away with; whether a dam should be constructed on a particular river; whether policemen should be given better salaries; and whether renaming streets is a good idea. In each case, the politician decides in favour of the masses, while Bachchan and Idea play messenger.

Cracking the Idea

Since last year, Idea has attempted to show a change for the better in society in its advertising. "It's all about celebrating champion ideas," Pradeep Srivastava, chief marketing officer, Idea Cellular, tells afaqs!

In September 2007, Idea unveiled the Caste Wars ad featuring Bachchan, the first in this series, which had the point of view, "What if there was no caste system?" Later, in January 2008, the Taj Mahal film was rolled out, which had Bachchan playing a tourist guide in Agra, communicating with a speech and hearing impaired tourist through SMS. The point was that race and colour need not be obstructions to communication.

The next campaign was about educating underprivileged children with the concept of a "mobile classroom". "That one wasn't too far-fetched. With the advent of 3G, things like this may just become possible," says an optimistic Srivastava. The latest campaign has a politician seeking the opinion of the public before making decisions that will ultimately affect them.

"We were exploring where to go after the education films and thought of this idea," says R Balakrishnan (Balki), chairman and chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas, adding in a paradox, "We're putting forth a larger than life idea that affects people for real." Translated, this means providing quirky little solutions to big, real issues.

Srivastava says that the ad deals with the mood of the nation and is a point of view on how mass participation can help evolved politicians take better steps.

Various media including press, digital, radio and outdoor are being leveraged for this campaign.

A timely idea?
The release of this political ad comes on the tail of the recent elections as well as the devastating terror attacks in Mumbai, both events that mixed politics with public sentiment like no other. A deliberate decision?

Srivastava says the timing was a "coincidence", as the ads had been conceptualised a good three months ago. In fact, the editing of the ad was being done at the time when the terror attacks took place in Mumbai.

"It's just that now that public sensitivity and awareness towards the country are more heightened than before, we think people will be more receptive towards such communication," muses Srivastava.

Caste wars, racism, the education system and, now, politics: Is Idea going over the top with its idea of becoming an instrument of social and political change? "Not at all," says Srivastava. "It's about reaching out to people who use a universal product such as a mobile by taking up topics that touch them in some way."

Future ads from the telecom company will continue to be in the domain of ideas that have the power to change lives.

An ideal setting
This film, interestingly, has film actor Abhishek Bachchan in a similar persona as in his 2005 film, Bunty aur Babli (the Taj Mahal sale sequence, in which co-star Rani Mukherjee essays the role of a lady minister). "An existing association in the mind involving such characters helps make the ad entertaining," shrugs Balki.

One may even notice the subtle manner in which the famous Raghupati Raghav bhajan track has been woven into the narrative in the ad film, when the moment of truth dawns upon the minister and she decides to go with the public. As is common knowledge, the devotional song carries with it semiotic associations with Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian freedom movement, and has been thrown in to create a sense of rightness in the film. The addition of this track was thought of by music director Sameeruddin. The film has been directed by Amit of Chrome Films.

Feedback... Idea style
Is it a resounding 'yes' or 'no' from the creative fraternity for Idea's latest attempt at brand building? Mixed reactions are what we got from the ad 'janata'.

Prathap 'Pat' Suthan, national creative director, Cheil Worldwide, tells afaqs!, "I think the timing of the ad is fantastic, with enough cadence out there for revamping our political system and its toothless bureaucracy." Further, he thinks this is indicative of an increasingly technology receptive India, and how mobiles can be used to gauge, connect, magnify and even accelerate public sentiment.

However, he acknowledges the impracticality of the idea. "I am yet to live in an India where a minister will actually reach out to her people and make a decision in line with what they want. This could be ridiculed because of the general apathy of the government to be its people's genuine well-wisher."

Raghu Bhat, senior vice-president and executive creative director at Contract Advertising, says pensively, "I like the plot, but by trying to lambast the greedy politician, ironically, Idea is behaving like one."

Contrary to Pat, Bhat feels that the ad couldn't have come at a worse time, when the country is shrouded with cynicism over the ineptness of its politicians in handling recent crises. "People are sick of glorious speeches, and brands should be careful when playing the social change card these days. Idea was a fun brand during the 'Monkey' ad days. Maybe, it is taking its do-gooder image too seriously," says a grave Bhat.

Now that Idea has chosen to go this way, Bhat feels that the brand's cause can be helped if it supports this communication with actual social work on a large scale, instead of just taking a stand in its advertising. Srivastava of Idea is quick to assure afaqs! that such activities are well under way.

Pat concludes that the social change route still has a lot going for it. "The campaign itself has found its strength in getting close to social issues. And if directed along the same path, there are more nuggets in this gold mine," he finishes.