Who has got the prettiest girl?

By Abhishek Chanda , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | March 26, 2009
Motorbikes, for a long time, have been playing around with the same clichés of women, stunts and speed. afaqs! takes a look at why bike ads have got boxed and how fresh creative routes can be thought of

In 1999, Hero Honda released a television commercial for its then recently launched model, CBZ. The ad film showed model-turned-actor, Dino Morea, competing with his younger brother in the race for luring women.

Exactly 10 years later, a similar ad is doing the rounds. This time it is for Bajaj XCD 135 DTS Si, where two sisters engage in serious catfight to decide who will be the pillion rider.

In the last decade, numerous bike ads have used the same creative route -- races and stunts to get instant attention from women.

While Indian bikes have evolved in terms of technology, features, looks, style, power and quality; the communication approach seems to have stagnated -- the only change is myriad executions of the same creative thought.

afaqs! investigates the reasons behind this me-too approach and how bike ads can go beyond this.

It's obvious that bikes represent masculinity and it's logical to use women to highlight this trait.

Abhijit Avasthi, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather, says, "The creative route will be different only when male fantasies and orientation see a change."

"Post Dostana, the creative route might see a change," he quips.

Jitender Dabas, who is vice-president and strategic planning director, JWT Delhi, is quite insightful, probably because he has worked on the Hero Honda brand for many years.

He says, "Portrayal or masculinity and femininity is common across categories, but bike brands tend to project it more overtly."

Bikes have also taken this portrayal of masculinity a step further. "Masculinity is expressed through your control over another powerful entity. In the previous era, the knights rode horses; and how well one rode his horse was proof of how superior a man he was. The same goes with the bike," Dabas explains.

In other words, bike brands are carrying forward the romantic fantasy of the knight in shining armour, who comes riding a horse.

Other people in the industry opine that the functionality of bikes has evolved over the years, from being a commuting device for the entire family to becoming a product of personal possession. And since every personal possession comes with an image or personality, it becomes important for bike brands to portray certain attributes.

Whatever the reason, there is no denying the fact that the creative route has been done to death. On the other hand, over the years, certain bike ads have adopted different creative routes and are still remembered for this reason.

KS Chakravarthy, aka Chax, national creative director, DraftFCB Ulka, recalls, "When, once in a while, there is a truly differentiated two-wheeler, it stands out. Like Hero Honda's Hunk -- a bike designed with the sole objective of looking lethal. Or the Bajaj Avenger -- the only chopper-style bike that was affordable enough to justify advertising and an ad like, 'Feel like God'."

In terms of positioning, Bajaj's 'Definitely Male' also won brownie points from most of the professionals whom afaqs! spoke to. Other ads that managed to cut through the clutter include the old Bajaj Caliber ad with quite a different take on the biking story; Hero Honda Splendor Plus' Blind Man ad; the 2007 Hero Honda Karizma ad featuring Hrithik Roshan; Bajaj XCD DTS-Si's Traffic Signal ad and the beautifully executed Bajaj Pulsarmania.

Citing the example of Splendor Plus' Blind Man ad, Dabas states, "This is an example of a brand that has been built on the trust factor. There were no stunts or women there. Not even speed shots -- just a conversation between a father and a son."

On why creatives are reluctant to think out-of-the-box where bike advertising is concerned, Rohit Srivastava, executive vice-president - planning, Contract Advertising says it is due to the lack of powerful positioning ideas. However, he feels that there have been some ideas that have been executed very well, despite using the same creative thought.

Jaikrit Rawat -- who was part of Kersy Katrak's team, which conceived the famous Humara Bajaj ad 20 years ago -- adds to Srivastava's comment. "Let's not forget where the brief flows from."

He explains, "The end product of any campaign is the final result of the agency-client relationship. And the creator follows what is latent in the consumer's mind and heart. A similar approach is also followed by filmmakers."

At present, Rawat runs a film production company, Nirantar Films.

However, a senior account planner is of the opinion that this creative route is very typical of one category of bikes. He explains, "Bikes can be divided into three broad categories: 100 cc, 125-135 cc and 150 cc and above."

In the first category, the consumer is looking for fuel-efficient and easy-on-the-pocket bikes. These bikes are not as stylish, and therefore, do not feature women in their advertising.

The middle segment of bikes is targeted at the youth, and is positioned as stylish and glamorous, coupled with some cool and stylish features. This segment relies a lot on women and is generally referred to as the 'chick magnets'. The Bajaj XCD and Hero Honda 'Man ki Baat' ads are some recent examples.

Next is the "power" segment. Though, some bike companies rely on women in this segment too, most choose stunts, aggression and speed as creative routes.

However, even within their own segments, bike brands tend to follow the me-too approach.

In discussing the way forward to fresher ideas, industry professionals agree that it's not the end of the world for bike ads. There is certainly room for fresher perspectives and better positioning statements.

However, to do this, one has to acknowledge that bikes are used for multiple purposes, and therefore, adopt a multi-dimensional approach to communication.

"We need to look at the consumer and not the competition. Bikes are used by sales guys, the elderly, and farmers too. What about them? Like cricket, we need to focus on the ball, and not the bowler," suggests Jagdeep Kapoor, chairman and managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants.

He suggests that one needs to look into the locations of consumption and the occasions of consumption (a proprietary module of Samsika Marketing Consultants) to increase usage. As far as creative leaps are concerned, varied real-life usage of bikes, when imagined and creatively portrayed, would help generate fresher ads.

Rawat of Nirantar Films says, "All one needs is to live the brand honestly. For example, a bike, being a very personal vehicle, the owner can be as possessive about it as he is about his woman. This can be very well demonstrated by his possessiveness -- the way he takes care and maintains it day in and out."

Dabas feels that there are a lot more shades to masculinity than what the category has explored so far. A superior male can be a good provider, a good protector or an aggressor/destroyer as well. A man or boy riding a bike is also a son, a brother, a friend, a father and a husband, apart from being a young dude trying to impress a girl to be his pillion rider. As far as emotions go, humour is also underused in the category. "I don't think the category has explored all of those dimensions as yet," Dabas admits.

© 2009 afaqs!