In the case of both Asian Paints and Ambassador, what the agencies have managed is giving the creativity a certain spin, which saves it from getting booby-trapped by clichés. "Agencies have to unearth new facets of the occasion rather than stick to the obvious," insists Shankar Nair, executive creative director, McCann-Erickson.
Atulit Saxena, vice-president, Bates India puts it a bit differently. "I think the 'What to communicate' element is decided by the history," he says. "You've got freedom, and you celebrate it. The 'How to communicate' element of advertising does vary. So you see all sorts of expressions… from the really Jurassic to the most minimalist contemporary expressions."
However, rather than see it as good and bad advertising, Saxena insists on looking at it from the client perspective. Taking the hypothetical example of an IFFCO and an IBM, he makes his point. "One is a semi-sarkari setup that sells low-end fertilizers to the rural consumer, while the other is a multinational that sells high-end technology to corporates and urban individuals. The client, the customers, everything is different. So their expressions will be different." He also doesn't see much point in putting these ads under a creative microscope, insisting that brands and their custodians have the right to congratulate the nation, irrespective of creative brilliance. "Yes, the connect could be tenuous, but this is merely a creative critique's obsession to calibrate the emotional bridge's strength."
Both Nair and H.V. Subramaniam (Prasad), director, Capital Advertising, agree that advertisers need not necessarily make a brand connect if the motivation of the ad is purely generating goodwill. "While it is important to have a connect between brand value and occasion, it is critical only if the ad is seeking to leverage the opportunity for brand sell," says Prasad. "Yes, brands which have a natural fit should do so. But that need not exclude others who can use the opportunity to bond with the consumer as a brand, without even attempting to force a brand connection. Communication that is sensitive and sincere to the occasion can do this successfully." Nair, on the other hand, insists that connecting is a must "if you're using the occasion to further a brand promise".
One thing is clear - force-fitted messages stick out like a sore thumb. "Force fitting the message works against the purpose of the ad," Prasad agrees, and adds, "If you are clear about why you are doing the ad, the end results are effective. Or else, it is a poor communication effort, and will sink without a trace in all the clutter, or evoke a response of incredulity in the consumer." Saxena too admits that "The stronger the brand-occasion connect, the higher will be brand EQ."
The point is, many occasion ads cannot even pretend not to be furthering a brand promise. So who's to blame? Naturally, both the agency and the client. As Prasad says, "The onus rests squarely on the agency creating it, and the advertiser who originates and approves it." Saxena adds that the same agency can end up creating two different ads for an occasion - one basic, the second lateral - depending on each client's readiness to buy creativity. "The final creative is the statement of the client and servicing executive's brief," he adds.
One reason for the paucity of good ideas in occasion ads is that these ads do not really bother to capture the consumer sentiment vis-à-vis the occasion. "A lot of these ads are the manufacturer's view of the occasion," Nair is scathing. "What they need to do is see how the occasion matters to the consumer. After all, festivals and occasions are not celebrated in some boardroom but in the mind. Agencies instinctively look at the symbols of the occasion. The Tricolour for independence, the vallom (long boat) or the Kathakali mask for Onam, the deep for Diwali… But these are only symbols, not the sentiment. If you're addressing today's youth, you have to know what a 15-year old thinks of Independence Day. Showing him a Tricolour is clouding the issue. Also, advertisers don't realize that an occasion is not a day or date but a sentiment."
Another problem with occasion ads is that consumers have come to expect a bombardment of ads whenever an occasion descends. Naturally, with so many ads jostling for attention on one given day, consumers have learnt to filter out all these messages. Which is why it is imperative to put forth a genuinely refreshing idea. "Yes the consumer does get an overdose," Prasad agrees. "Which places a greater responsibility on the advertising to be impactful. It's like the 'sale' ads in the consumer electronics category that dealers release. The page is full of the same message from umpteen outlets, sometimes for the same brand. The one who breaks the clutter stands out."
For advertisers, there is, perhaps, a way of getting past this clutter, and doing occasion ads that have a connect between brand and occasion. Advertisers should try and look for less 'mass-appeal', yet interesting occasions where there is a natural fit between the occasion and the brand. For example, considering liquor is all about bonding and friendship, a liquor brand could well appropriate Friendship Day and try and make meaningful connect. "I think it's a good idea," says Nair. "For instance, if Kingfisher's whole idea is about friendship, a good lateral connection will serve as a sledgehammer." Saxena is in agreement, and cites Cerelac as a brand that tries to make an emotional appeal on Mother's Day. "A brand must first fulfill its core emotional responsibility before going on to greet everything. Charity (good wishes) must begin at home (turf)," he says.
Clutter-busting has to happen for occasion ads to start making an impact. But, as Prasad puts it, it applies to advertising as a whole. "I agree that the standard of occasion ads are pathetic, but the only reason why the wastage component seems higher is because it catches the eye all of a sudden on one particular day. There's a lot of missed opportunity in this, but it's not a question of only occasion-specific ads. Routinely, the media is full of large ads that do not seem to do their job for the task at hand. Which is, create a point of difference."
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