afaqs!

Center Fresh: Zip the small talk

By Abhishek Chanda , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | July 31, 2009
The latest film that promotes the brand's Zubaan pe rakhe lagaam proposition takes a crack at the typical Indian habit of talking more and working less

Center Fresh is at it again! After introducing its proposition of 'Zubaan pe rakhe lagaam' back in early 2007, and following it up with the 'Slap' film in mid-2008, the brand is back with yet another commercial asking Indians to talk less and work more.

It also entered into a tie up with MTV, wherein the partners joined hands for a series of spoofs which attempted to put an end to unnecessary banter by celebrities. The spoof, Center Fresh Zubaan Par Lagaam, was aired on MTV during ad breaks and featured film stars, politicians and sportsmen.

The art of zipping

& #BANNER1 & #The Midget film that established the Center Fresh proposition for the first time was quiet stark. The film had a tight plot which built up as it progressed. Just when it reached the pinnacle, the character blurted out things he shouldn't have - and that's where the brand stepped in with the 'zipping the mouth' proposition. However, the second film couldn't live up to the impression created by the first one as it lacked the seriousness of the plot as well as the subtle humour which the brand came to be associated with.

The recent TV commercial, titled Small Talk, is back with a subtle crack at the typical Indian phenomenon of talking more and delivering less - something which is widely prevalent from the top-rung bureaucrat to the common man. Not to forget, it manages to do what most confectionery brands do once the ad finishes - let you have a hearty laugh!

The film is a montage featuring an apparently pumped up and proud IPS officer, an inspiring politician surrounded by his followers, a few zealous government clerks, a couple of dedicated cricketers and a genuinely concerned team of doctors. All the while, an inspiring track plays in the background that speaks of growth, development and general happiness for all, as interspersed shots of technologically advanced jets flying, children happily running to their schools and a field with a bumper harvest creates the impression of jobs getting done.

Just then, the film stops and rewinds to show the real picture. The song stops as the dialogues related to the scenes pour in. It is revealed that while the police officer was busy talking about a Bollywood movie with a lot of vigour, the politician was actually busy deciding the evening snacks. On the other hand, the young lot of cricketers and government officers were busy discussing women, while the doctor discussed division of his plot of land over a patient on the operating table.

While initially one is lead to believe that the film glorifies the path to India's growth and development, with the TVC being treated almost like an election campaign commercial, the latter portion reveals the work less and talk more attitudes of the perpetrators. The film ends with the super and voiceover urging fellow Indians to 'talk less and work more'.

Conceptualised by Ogilvy India, the TVC has been worked upon by a team comprising Abhijit Avasthi, Anurag Agnihotri, Ashish Naik, Saurabh Kulkarni and Nasrulla Hushami and supervised by Piyush Pandey. It has been shot by Prasoon Pandey of Corcoise Films in locations in and around Mumbai. The lyrics have been penned by Anurag Agnihotri, creative director on the account, and sung by Toshi Sabri (of Raaz 2 fame) and composed by Tapas.

Agnihotri reveals an interesting story behind the lyrics. Originally composed as a narrative to be delivered in the form of a VO, the prose was later developed in the form of a song with music. "The idea was Prasoon Pandey's. He wanted it to sound like a typical propaganda film that would fool the viewer, till he is taken aback by the stark truth," says Agnihotri. Later, the song was written and sung as it is, without any efforts made on the meter or tune.

Pushing sales or refreshing the brand proposition?

The first commercial for Center Fresh in India was launched in 1994. Perfetti Van Melle India (PVM) then rolled out another set of commercials for the brand in 1996. During that time, the gum was being projected as India's first gel-filled gum and the communication was largely of the nature of product explanation. After this, PVM did not advertise the mother brand, though it advertised variants such as Air Action Center Fresh, Center Fruit and Center Shock. It came back with the Midget film to talk about Center Fresh again, and from then onwards, it has stuck to its positioning of Zubaan pe rakhe lagaam. So, what's new?

Sameer Suneja, chief executive officer, PVM, says, "The present campaign is about refreshing the already established brand proposition, while adding a new twist to it. It has worked for the brand immensely and so we thought of building and progressing with it, as the consumer identifies the brand with this proposition."

The twist in this film is the apparent corporate social responsibility (CSR) angle, which Suneja says is not meant to be taken too seriously. In fact, the film was supposed to be aired during the elections, which would have added to the messaging. However, certain limitations pushed it to the post-election days.

The Perfetti stable boasts of taglines such as 'Lage raho' (Alpenliebe), 'Dimaag ki batti jalaa de' (Mentos), 'Muskurale, jagmagale...' (Happydent), 'Badi kaam ki cheez' (Big Babol) as well as 'Zubaan pe rakhe lagaam' (Center Fresh), which have become identifying factors for their respective brands.

Suneja feels that these propositions didn't make it to the consumers' mind overnight. It is only after backing them with good and humorous campaigns that they managed to become brand identifiers. Center Fresh is not going anywhere beyond 'Zubaan pe...' for some time to come, he adds.

The campaign is being carried out across TV and radio. However, in due course of time, it will also roll out into digital as well. Tie ups with channels are also on the cards.

Humour and the gum

Flip through a bunch of gum and candy commercials and you will find humour being a dominant device employed to hook the consumer. So, are commercials for gums getting type casted?

For a low involvement category like gum, it becomes extremely crucial to hook the consumer and garner recall. A product that has to appeal to a large cross-section of the population certainly receives help from the use of humour. "A good joke or a viral cuts across the clutter and travels very fast amongst the masses and keeps the brand salient," says Suneja. However, he warns that if the joke is bad or falls flat, the brand might receive a huge blow. So, ideally, humour helps, but it needs to be dealt with very carefully, keeping in mind sentiments at large.

Again, each brand has its own sub-set of emotions or feelings attached to it. So, if Alpenliebe comes out best with subtle emotions, Center Fresh and Mentos use wit and humour, while Happydent and Chlormint are about being bizarre and dramatic. Big Babol, on the other hand, is about kiddie fun and storytelling.

Behind all these is the omnipotent target group, says Abhijit Avasthi, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy India. He says that for a light category which is about youth oriented and impulsive products, laughter and the use of colloquial always pays off. After all, nobody's tired of laughing!

Zipping or unzipping peers?

When the campaign was discussed with a few ad professionals, nobody was ready to zip his mouth and let it pass. Here is what a couple of them had to say...

Jitender Dabas, vice-president and strategic planning director, JWT Delhi, says, "Using slapstick humour and cracking a joke is nothing new in the confectionary/snack foods category. But unlike the previous ads on Center Fresh, this one is not a forced joke."

He feels it will be liked better because of two reasons. Firstly, it passes judgment on the public institutions that we love to hate (which is the fad of the day for brands) and secondly, the song in the first part of the TVC adds the sarcasm that always makes humour more sharp and better.

When asked whether humour as a tool is paying off for the category, he says, "The fact that all the brands are doing it is an indicator that it must be working for them. However, the only trouble is when everyone starts doing it. While categories such as chocolates have successfully used softer emotions like romance and childhood, the chewing gum category seems to be content with cracking jokes."

In an unrelated observation, Dabas adds that now there are two brands telling India to get its act together in their own different ways. While Idea is telling India to 'walk and talk', Center Fresh is urging India to 'talk less and work more'.

Shivanand 'Doc' Mohanty, creative head, Dentsu Communications, appreciates the use of humour and says, "For those who grit their teeth and sit through the banal opening (like I did), this commercial is unexpectedly rewarding in the way it suddenly whacks you awake with its humour."

However, he wonders whether one can really get serious about chewing gum?