Take Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar out of his thrilling action scenes and replace him with a pudgy little man in Chinese clothes. What do you get? You get a Bajaj Allianz television commercial featuring actor Manoj Pahwa, another humorous attempt at driving home a 'safe' positioning by the brand.
Created by TBWA Mumbai, the commercial aims to position all the plans offered by Bajaj Allianz as 'safe' plans. The insurance player offers plans extending across four broad categories - health insurance, pension plans, child education and safe maturity plans (basically, investments with a guarantee period or a guaranteed value).
The creative byte
The TV commercial opens
with rotund actor Manoj Pahwa in a Chinese market, savouring a bowl of noodles. He blows a kiss to a Chinese woman watching him. Taking offence, she appears to yell for help. Within seconds, a group of men appear, creating a flurry of activity and finally surrounding him. As they are about to lay their hands on him, Pahwa pulls a lever behind his back. The next shot shows him being pulled up by a harness to the upper floor of a nearby building.
A clapboard shot reveals that Pahwa is actually a shooting for a sequence in a film. The people, still chasing him, reach the floor and begin chasing him through narrow corridors. In a typical stunt shot, Pahwa takes a leap from the balcony and jumps onto a trampoline kept ready for him. Towards the end of the commercial, he springs up from the trampoline and, hanging from the harness in the air, does some Kung-Fu action, saying, "Agar safety hai toh sab hero" (Everyone who has safety is a hero). The film closes on a shot of the brand.
The whole plot is a metaphorical representation of the significance of safety, he explains.
But wasn't the humorous skew a risky proposition? Sengupta admits that it definitely was. "If you're going to put up something like this, people are going to take notice. It's sensible to do advertising which is truly advertising and not whispering to each other," he says firmly.
The communication of the 'safety' quotient also may have something to do with the slowdown of the economy. In line with safety, almost every financial brand, especially insurance brands, are aiming to assure consumers in various ways that the respective companies are in good condition and that they need not fear a possibility of losing their investments and earnings.
Humour is not new
Apart from Bajaj Allianz, brands such as Sahara Life Insurance and SBI Life Insurance, too, have adopted humorous stances. Judging by the recall factor of some of these campaigns, it is evident that a breaking away from conventions, coupled with a strong script, pays off sometimes.
The Vijendra Singh and the Capital Shield ads have received good responses, with almost 500 SMSes pouring in on the first day of the campaign, reveals Akshay Mehrotra, head, marketing and corporate communications, Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance.
Mehrotra says, "To be clutter breaking, one needs to be different. What more, when the ad is functional and makes people react?"
The China Town in Mumbai
"Manoj Pahwa was the last guy anybody expected to see doing Akshay Kumar stunts!" exclaims Sengupta of TBWA. A well known actor, he was a perfect choice for a few chuckles and also a casting that Sengupta believes one could rely on.
The Chinese set-up was taken into account because such action movies give an altogether different look and feel, and one could draw parallels with actors such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Sengupta adds that with the Chinese twist, it was only an attempt to push the cinematic expression further.
While Sengupta would have liked to shoot the film in China, it ended up being shot in Mukesh Mills, Mumbai due to financial constraints. The 'Chinese' people who featured in the film came from the China Town of Mumbai, Mazgaon.
Creating a Chinese track, with an RD Burman remix to spice it up, was an enjoyable experience. Sengupta recognises this as one of the films that he had a lot of fun executing.
Of reviews and more
"All it provides is cut-through and has no relevant emotional connect. It lacks motivational pull," he adds.
Shobhit Mathur, associate vice-president and senior creative director, JWT Delhi, says, "Every brand wants to take itself to the 31st second. For sure, humour works in doing so. But does it work in a serious category that involves serious decisions such as money and life? Debatable."
Naresh Gupta, executive vice-president, strategic planning, Publicis India, is confident about the attempt to humour in a financial product such as Bajaj Allianz. "Till the communication conveys what it is supposed to, approach should not be a deterrent," he says.
"You will get noticed for sure. Subsequently, it is purely up to the brand to convert the familiarity into a relationship," he explains.
The collective challenge to Gabbar, Kalia and Sambha in the Sahara Life Insurance ad was an interesting watch for Mathur of JWT. "Besides a smile, it left behind a message of self confidence and introduced the brand in an endearing manner. This commercial for Bajaj Allianz is also based on self confidence emerging from safety but the portrayal of it gives me a sense of déjà vu and somewhere fails to surprise me," he says.
In what seems like a break-free idea for the insurance category, Bajaj Allianz, amongst many others, has taken the humorous route - which surprises many advertisers in the category who have taken the emotional stance in their advertising. Could this make a dent in the always emotional Indians - especially when it comes to something as intimate as insurance? Wouldn't the consumer look for the most reassuring brand rather than the one which they can recall?
Sharma of Leo Burnett affirms, "As insurance to the buyer is a serious business, emotionally charged approaches have worked better historically."
He views the insurance category as less about personal safety and more about responsibility. The buyer of such plans is buying it for the people who are dependent on him. "Therefore, showing the protagonist in a situation where his own safety is compromised, however humorously, is misplaced and ignores this basic truth of human nature," he says.
Gupta of Publicis is optimistic about the humour strand. "Personally, I see it as comical and more like Bingo. To see a financial brand doing it in a light hearted way can really make it memorable. Though I am unsure of what impression it will create for the brand."
"The insight is generic and there is nothing wrong in it being generic. But when the insight is generic - the execution should be different. That is where the commercial loses out," he reiterates.
He brings out that internationally, AXA uses humour in a very engaging way. SBI Life has been fairly successful at it. Visa's current campaign, too, is funny and shades of humour have been there in many other financial brands.