The Economist: Interpreting the world on TV

By Antara Ghosal , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | May 31, 2010
The Economist is back with its fourth leg of communication in India - a television campaign created by Ogilvy Mumbai

No more limited to outdoor and print, The Economist in India is making its debut on TV too, with a new brand campaign. The idea is to reach out to the large untapped markets in non-metros.

Last year, the magazine did convert its print-outdoor campaign into TV spots by animating them and running them across news channels on an experimental basis. However, for the first time - the premium magazine brand in the hard news space - has come up with a television campaign in this country.

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The move comes at a time when the brand intends to extend the awareness base beyond metros. While its earlier brand communication was focussed on three cities - Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai (with Pune included in the last brand campaign) -- the magazine wants to target a wider audience base now.

"We find that whenever we run an online campaign, the response comes from across the country. This indicates that there is a large market, which is still untapped due to lack of awareness. Hence, this time we have switched to a more mass medium - television. Given the potential for the magazine beyond metros, TV comes as a marketing and strategic call," says Suprio Guha Thakurta, managing director, The Economist Group, India.

The insight for the new campaign remains the same as the earlier one, as does the positioning, 'Interpret the world'. As Guha Thakurta explains, understanding the real story, getting the connections between events and how they create an unexpected impact, is the real joy of reading The Economist.

"It's called the butterfly effect -- any action anywhere in the world can influence phenomena elsewhere. For example, when a butterfly alters its usual pattern of pollen collection in China, it can create a hurricane in the US," he adds.

Interpreting the creative angle

The campaign, conceptualised by Ogilvy India, has broken in the form of two commercials. The first is based on the trend of Chinese workers migrating to work in Chinese-owned factories in India. The second is based on the impact of the civil war in Africa on children there.

The film shot in Africa shows two kids playing soccer. It's only when one of the kids strikes a goal, that one realizes that the goalposts are guns. The message is that the civil war in Africa is robbing kids of their childhood.

In the second film, Chinese kids are shown learning Hindi in school. As one wonders what the connection is, it is explained that China exports workers to its factories in India.

"The idea is that there is an invisible thread connecting events in different parts of the world, which apparently appear unrelated. The Economist makes that thread visible," says Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director at Ogilvy India. "In both the ads, we provided the explanation at the end to maintain the surprise factor, and to reinstate the message that The Economist helps its readers to understand things better."

While talking about the choice of situations, Chattopadhyay says that the creative team became avid readers of The Economist during the making of the campaign. They reviewed several issues of the magazine, picked up stories that could have mass appeal, and converted them into scripts.

The tone, texture and the music have also been selected to be in tune with the brand essence and the seriousness of the situations explored. "The film based on Chinese kids is in black-and-white; and the colour has been toned down in the African film to give it a realistic and documentary feel," explains Chattopadhyay.

Besides Chattopadhyay, the creative team at Ogilvy India that worked on the campaign includes Sukesh Kumar Nayak and Heeral Desai Akhaury, creative directors. The films have been directed by Shashanka Chaturvedi (Bob) and produced by Vikram Kalra of Good Morning Films. John Jacob Payapalli is the director of photography and the music has been composed by Ashutosh Phatak.

More stories may be included in the campaign later, depending on the response generated by the present campaign. Talking about the response so far, Chattopadhyay says, "The great news is that The Economist worldwide wants to run the Soccer film in other countries as well. It will be a great achievement, if the ad created in India can actually create worldwide appeal."

The campaign is on-air on English movie channels such as STAR Movies, HBO and Sony Pix; and infotainment channels such as Discovery, Animal Planet and National Geographic. Other than television, the commercials are also being promoted in movie theatres, and on social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Metacafe and Ibibo.

Looking back in time

As can be recalled, The Economist launched its first India-specific campaign, dominated by outdoor and print (which the brand is famous for using globally), in early 2008. The campaign first made use of the positioning statement, 'Interpret the world', which was communicated through a series of alphabet based creatives, where the reader was given a unique interpretation of regular terms revolving around the news realities across the globe.

This was followed up by the Script campaign in May 2009, in which headlines were written in what seemed at first glance to be a foreign script, but in reality was English. Thereby, the reader made two 'interpretations': first, that the seemingly foreign script was actually English, and second, the piece of international news the headline referred to.

Interpreting the communication

The ads have generated mixed response from the industry. Although most industry experts find the ads "engaging" and the message "beautiful"; but state that the TVCs are a "little low on the wit factor".

Rahul Jauhari, national creative director, Pickle Advertising likes the ads; but feels that they are a little less engaging than some of the outdoor work done earlier, where one had to decode the visuals. "Both the commercials are nice. Well shot, nicely done. I quite like them. But I feel, to people like us who know the international Economist work, one tends to miss the famous wit."

Similar views have been expressed by Titus Upputuru, executive creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi. He finds the films beautiful, and the message simple and intriguing. "They have an international vibe to them. The casting and cinematography is brilliant," he says.

To him, The Economist has huge legacy to live up to and he admits that it's a tough task. But with each creative, he feels that India is getting there. "One grew up laughing at the '42-year-old management trainee', which was all about wit and sarcasm. The current communication seems to be in a different space. Perhaps they are globally evolving the brand print," says Upputuru.

On the other hand, Sandhya Srinivasan, managing partner & chief strategy officer, Law & Kenneth observes that The Economist's advertising continues to be thought-provoking. "I quite like the quizzing in their print approach; and while it may have been easy for most, it got one involved. Television, however, has to tell a story, rather complete it. In the spirit of 'Interpret the world', I found the China story fresh and very present. The Africa story has been seen before, and didn't surprise me," she comments.

Both pieces of communication, she notices, are stark and studied, much like the content of The Economist.

"For an individual (as opposed to 'corporate') to act on this, I would bait readers with the long-running offer the magazine has with Jet Airways, which offers an annual subscription at a great price," she adds.