Perhaps there's a better name for it that we don't know of. But for want of one, let's term it 'occasion advertising'.
We're referring to the kind of advertising one gets to see on Independence Day, Valentine's Day, Holi, Durga Puja, Christmas etc. Those one-off congratulatory ads released on occasion of those assorted festivals and celebrations that purportedly couch a national or regional sentiment. Ads aimed at forging some sort of a long-term relationship with the consumer, usually (but not always) on the emotional or mental plane.
Naturally, this means discounting all those ads that explicitly sell a product or a brand using a 'promo mechanism' - that is, directly linking the celebration to a purchase by offering discounts or freebies. The kind of advertising we're talking about doesn't prompt the consumer to go buy the brand/product right now. It serves more as a memory device… with a memorable emotional trigger.
At least one would hope so. Sadly, the opposite is true. In most cases, occasion ads in India are eminently forgettable, with just the odd one really making any effort at standing out of the clutter.
Take, for instance, the occasion ads that appeared in national dailies on August 15, this year (and we are not counting those released by DAVP for PSUs and sundry ministries). Twelve big national-level corporate advertisers ran 500-cc-plus ads in most national dailies, many of the ads in full colour. And not a spark of an idea anywhere, save the 'Quit USA, Enter India' ad for Indiatimes.com.
Here's a sampling of how bad it can get: A colour ad for Revlon ColorStay showed the close-up of a woman's face and said, 'Freedom has never looked so good before.' (The woman is distinctly Anglo-Saxon, ironically.) Where's the connection with freedom? Okay, the body copy perhaps provides a tenuous linkage, but the consumer is past caring. Then there was this ad for Godrej Colour Soft… The visual was, expectedly, a rendition of the Tricolour. One line said 'Colours of India', while another - placed strategically next to the brand - announced, 'Hair Colours for India'. Oh, please!
Another was this colour ad for Hero Honda splashed across most front pages. A stiff Hrithik Roshan holding aloft a Tricolour, looking every bit like a schoolboy at drill. The 'inspiring' headline read, 'Freedom. Movement. Celebrate the spirit of independence.' Then there was this full-page colour ad for OM Kotak Mahindra. Big visual of a man, pigeons flying… laborious body copy. And finally, the contrived tagline: 'Insurance. It's how you can stay independent.'
The problem with all these ads is the total absence of originality. Even worse, there is no 'connect' whatsoever between the occasion and the brands' core identities. What pulled these ads down was the fact that the brand message was force-fitted into the communication using the most tenuous of 'connections'.
So it's worth asking what end do these occasion-based ads serve? "There are two basic things here," feels Shankar Nair, executive creative director, McCann-Erickson. "Releasing occasion ads gives the client a feeling of participation, and there is this goodwill factor, which is immeasurable. On the other hand, the idea of using an occasion ad should be to reinforce the brand idea in the consumer's mind. After all, that's the purpose of advertising."
It's clear that the 'feel-good factor' plays an important role here. As Atulit Saxena, vice-president, Bates India, puts it, "Clients who believe and do connect their brands' emotional reservoirs with consumers' hearts will always like to express brand sentiments. It's like a brand coming alive and wishing me Happy Diwali. Perhaps brands participate and share joy in their own good or bad creative grammar. However, you don't calculate 'benefit' when greeting your parents or friends or relatives. Similarly, at an emotional level, brand-consumer relationships are complex, and can't be quantified beyond a point."
The advertiser's motivations too need to be understood. "On such occasions, there are three broad categories of advertisers," explains H.V. Subramaniam (Prasad), director, Capital Advertising. "The first are the 'patronage types', who have a budget to consume, have a media request to patronize and who end up saying, 'On the occasion of so-and-so we greet…' A lot of such stuff happens with special media supplements, on occasions. The second category is those whose brands have a relevant connect with the occasion. For example, a washing machine brand may want to use the occasion of Holi meaningfully to present its brand story. The third category consists of those who try and create a 'feel-good' benefit that rides piggyback on the occasion. It is in this third category that if the brand finds a special way to communicate the occasion, and ladder it back to its core brand value - without it being contrived - that it stands out. Even if there is no direct brand benefit, like in the washing machine case.
Without doubt, the success of occasion ads hinges totally on the way the communication of the brand idea happens. It has to be meaningful, relevant and seamless, not contrived. "The trouble with most occasion ads is that they do not share any identity with the bigger theme of communication," Nair says. "They look as if they are a separate unit, conceived in isolation and viewed in isolation. The brand has to ride the occasion without losing its key attributes."
Take the Asian Paints hoarding that coincided with Independence Day a few years ago. 'Brush strokes' of saffron and green on a white background formed the visual element, underscored by the line 'Hamaare waale rang'. Concept-wise it is similar to Godrej Colour Soft's lame ad this year, but what makes the Asian Paints hoarding remarkable is the way the line ties in with the brands communication that centered at 'Mera waala cream' and 'Mera waala blue'. Similarly, some time ago, there was this ad for the Ambassador that was commemorative of Satyajit Ray's anniversary. The visual was an archived photograph of the filmmaker sitting in the boot of an Ambassador, shooting a film along narrow Calcutta lanes. Relevant, and bang on target.
What makes the Asian Paints and Ambassador ads so out-of-the-ordinary? How important is it for occasion ads to be seamless in their communication? And who's to blame for the poor standards of occasion ads?
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