The creative side of the economic downturn

By Neha Kalra , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising
Last updated : May 15, 2009
The economic meltdown, going beyond news, has seeped into advertising, becoming part of the communication message for brands. afaqs! explores a few creative instances

The economic slowdown has been a part of news, conversations with friends over coffee, and definitely a grim reality in boardrooms. Now, the slowdown has seeped into TV advertising, and we're not just talking budget cuts here.

Recently, ads for some brands are actually weaving the slowdown theme into their creative idea - something topical for consumers to identify with. Cases in point include Havells, Airtel and ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. afaqs! finds out the idea behind brands doing so.

The humorous slowdown

The two commercials released by Havells during the IPL is a series of slice-of-life vignettes. One ad has chatting employees going into a shock (with their hairs standing on end) when a peon puts up a notice of 'No Increment' on the notice board. The next sequence is that of a duo in a coffee shop getting shocked when a newscaster on a TV set nearby announces the news of a market crash.

The third sequence highlights the essence of slowdown - cars being replaced by cycles, and cycle peddlers riding down in a shocked daze as the VO concludes that one has already received a shock with the 'recession', but to avoid receiving an electric shock, one ought to use Havells.

The second ad is made up of similar sequences, including one in which a real estate dealer proudly puts up a board quoting the offer price for a property. The shock of the slowdown forces him to slash prices up to a point where he even puts up his shop for sale.

The films carry Havells' classic 'Shock Laga' tune. Anand Suspi, creative head, Lowe Delhi, who has worked on the ads, says that the premise of 'Shock Laga' is very open-ended and can be interpreted in many ways. "The economic meltdown, being a topical issue, was an idea waiting to happen."

Shock Laga took off last year and the company was sure about doing a sequel to that, says Vijay Narayanan, vice-president, marketing and communications, Havells India. "The economic slowdown has touched everybody alike, so we thought of carrying it forward." Havells plans to run the campaign the year round - amidst the upcoming India-West Indies series, as well as the ICC T20 World Cup; it has already decided to put at least 60 per cent of its ad budget on advertising during the IPL season.

The romantic touch

Due to rising uncertainties with regard to finances, expenditures by consumers have taken a dip. Even something of utility to people these days - the mobile phone - is being used with care and caution, as people cut down on unnecessary expenditure on calls/SMSes/VAS, which may have left telecom operators in a tizzy.

To address this problem, Airtel, in a recent commercial for its offering 'My Airtel My Offer', has the slowdown woven in its creative message. The film opens with actor R Madhavan trying to distract actor Vidya Balan, who is engrossed in a newspaper, with his romantic text messages. Vexed with the downturn, she questions him on why is he is wasting money, when everywhere the slowdown gloom is only getting people to cut back in various ways. With another call to her mobile phone, which she unconsciously attends, Madhavan informs her - Pyaar main cutbacks nahi hone chahiye (There should be no cutbacks in love).

Stating reality, Chandrashekhar Radhakrishnan (Chandru), head, brand and media, Bharti Airtel, says that during the economic downturn, consumers are looking at the best value for whatever they use. So, the company came up with the product - My Airtel, My Offer. "If one goes to see, the creative idea stems from the product."

Deepesh Jha, creative head, Rediffusion Y&R, understood that the slowdown theme was the right choice as the product in question also spoke about managing costs.

Airtel, through its brand positioning, has stood for building stronger relationships. "It was a good opportunity - a two-in-one opportunity to talk about strengthening relationships, along with managing costs," says Jha, and not letting the latter get in the way of the former. While a brand such as SBI Life Insurance may have bordered on the same thought in the past, the hero in Airtel's idea is clearly the slowdown.

Assurance, as always

A very obvious category to make the best use of this situation would be the financial one. From banks to insurance companies, everyone has been vying to be a financial support to consumers to gain their trust in these tough times.

An ad for ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, released earlier in the year, had a father looking forward to watching business news on television, when he is told not to by his little daughter as it is 'dangerous'. She explains that if the Bombay Stock Exchange dips, it would strain him. But quickly, she assures him that the ICICI Prudential Life Insurance policy that he had purchased will take care of her education and his retirement. The film closes on the father surprised to see her so well-informed about everything.

A VO concludes: Jinke paas ICICI Prudential Life Insurance hai, woh future ke baare main sochte hai, market ke tension baare main nahi (Those who have ICICI Prudential Life Insurance need not think about the future or the current market situation).

Amer Jaleel, executive creative director, Lowe, explains that insurance is one of the best forms of investment in the slowdown and uncertain times. "'Jeetey Raho' is the plank that allows us to experiment with such ideas," he says.

Sujit Ganguli, senior vice-president and head - marketing, ICICI Prudential Life, elaborates that while the markets tanked last year, people were moving away from investment, which was not a good sign. "Through our communication, we bring forth that financial goals are about long term planning periods and one shouldn't get upset with the current market volatility." So using slowdown as a part of the creative idea was a given.

How viable is it?

With the media full of news on the economic meltdown, one believes that the consumer has perhaps had enough of it. Would he be able to take the additional poke, with advertising, too, talking about it?

The slowdown is very much an accepted reality, agrees Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, South Asia, O&M. Companies are not in the denial mode - and neither are consumers.

However, what has made it easier is the fact that India has been relatively mildly hit by market turmoil, due to which even if there are jokes or jibes about it, few will take it to heart or absorb pessimism from it, feels Chattopadhyay.

Ashish Chakravarty, creative head, McCann Erickson Delhi, believes it's otherwise - "The financial crisis began from the US, and the jokes, too, are emanating from there!" he chuckles.

Jaleel of Lowe also feels that advertising by its very nature does a sort of euphemism of unpleasantness, decorating it with a positive outlook. "So, if one looks at the ICICI ad, it's about optimism about something that would have otherwise been taken negatively in such times," he adds.

The slowdown is as much a social phenomenon now like any other, and is simply not a financial phenomenon anymore, says Chakravarty.

Using the slowdown as an advertising idea is simply a pleasanter reflection of what is on the consumers' minds right now. In the past, too, advertising skimmed the topical wave: one may recall the time of the cricket match fixing fiasco a few years ago, when Cadbury Perk quickly rolled out three films that had mimicries of cricketers M Azharuddin, Ravi Shastri and Navjot Singh Siddhu, which wove the product into the match fixing story. Amul is a classic example of a brand that constantly puns on topical situations in the society - so much so that it has come to be known for it.

With the rising popularity of the economic situation as an ad idea for brands, it will be interesting to see whether the slowdown, which is expected to be on for this year, will have any more takers in terms of brand talk.

First Published : May 15, 2009

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