afaqs!

Couple 'nok jhok': A done to death formula?

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | November 07, 2011
Several telecom brands have utilised the concept of bringing out product features through a series of playful, flirtatious arguments between make-believe couples, often played by celebrities. afaqs! explores the trend and finds out what tempts agencies to re-visit the couple story.

In a bid to establish the superiority and reliability of its network as compared to that of other service providers in the market, Reliance Communications recently rolled out a four-film ad campaign crafted by Grey Worldwide. The creative route used here is a playful 'nok-jhok' of sorts between a make-believe, romantically-involved couple played by actors Anushka Sharma and Rannvijay Singh. The tone is light-hearted and flirtatious.

Interestingly, this is barely the first time a telecom brand has adopted this route to bring out brand propositions. In the past, we have seen actors Vidya Balan and R Madhavan play a romantic couple that informs consumers about - STD and roaming rates, along with a host of other service features, through a series of romance-laden ads.

Similarly, Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor have played an on-screen couple and conveyed the benefits of - digital TV and the phone's hello tune recording service recorder. The brand's balance recharge offering was conveyed by a playful fight staged by actor Sharman Joshi and a lesser-known actress who plays his angry girlfriend.

Uninor has also brought out some important functional benefits such as discounts and talk time-related offerings through a humorous rapport shared by a young dating couple played by upcoming actors. Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, in recent the Tanishq commercials, have been portrayed as a couple with the usual, light-earted 'Mars versus Venus' differences, in a category usually dominated by product shots and the 'beauty' positioning premise.

Granted that the relationship shared by the couples featured in these ads keeps changing from campaign to campaign, but the overall concept is a constant. And endearing as it is, industry professionals opine that re-visiting this creative plot time and again, is a bit like re-inventing the wheel. What seems to keep the 'relationship' between advertising and the creative route of couple relationships going, more so, in categories such as that of telecom? We explore.

Exploring the 'why' aspect

afaqs! quizzed some brand and communication experts on this tried and tested, albeit clichéd communication concept.

According to Ramanuj Shastry, national creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi, showing a playful couple fight over petty issues is a sure-shot way to grab attention of the young Indian consumer. He attributes this to the fact that romance is an Indian weakness. "For Indian youngsters, a romantic relationship is the most relatable relationship; it is more endearing and recognisable than other relationships such as two friends, or parent-child," Shastry says.

Also, perhaps going the couple route is the best way for telecom brands to bring out functional product benefits while retaining the emotional factor. "The emotional aspect of the brand comes out better when it is showcased through a couple -- it becomes more human this way," he claims.

For Leo Burnett's national creative director, K V Sridhar or Pops, the explanation is simple. He feels that telecom brands simply ride on the chemistry that celebrity couples bring to the table, as "brands try to exploit factors that are already established".

However, for his executive creative director Nitesh Tiwari, repeatedly using couples in telecom ads could be due to either of two practical reasons. "Firstly," he ponders, "telecom brands, by nature, are all about helping consumers keep in touch with one another, and what better way to depict that than through a couple?"

But, why only a couple? Why not explore other relationships? Citing his own example, Tiwari jokes that a man gets maximum calls or messages from his wife/girlfriend, so that's the best way to convey how one's telecom brand helps you keep in touch with your loved one. "Though it may be a tried and tested route, based on practicality and usage patterns, it makes sense for these brands to take this route," he says. His second reason is that using couples may be the telecom brands' way of moving with the times, as "using couples in their ads portrays how relationships have changed over the years."

Though Santosh Padhi (Paddy), chief creative officer and co-founder, TapRoot India, doesn't observe the couple story as a trend in the telecom category alone, he guesses a possible reason for the creative route that has been used a few times across categories. "This could be a technique to address the youth segment as today they form 40 per cent of the telecom sector's TG (target group). Couple romance is something relatable for this part of the TG," Paddy offers.

Demonstrable superiority

According to the creative team at Grey, the most recent agency to exploit the couple route in its ad (for Reliance Communications), the basic idea was to demonstrate the brand's superiority in the communication and take what the team calls the overall platform of 'demonstrable superiority'.

When asked why the agency took to the often re-visited couple route, Amit Akali, national creative director, Grey Worldwide, retorts, "We certainly didn't start with the premise of a celebrity couple. That said, there are no copyrights on using couples to bring forth an idea! By that logic, we won't have so many 'romcoms' (romantic comedies) in Bollywood!" To him, the idea rules.

His partner, Malvika Mehra, national creative director, Grey Worldwide, explains that the team wanted to keep the couple real and candid, and not use the visual imagery of a typical lovey-dovey, mushy couple that's been leveraged by many brands in the past. "Couples fight, get angry with each other and tease their better halves; that's the sort of chemistry we wanted," Mehra elaborates.

Clearly, here's a winning formula that looks like it's here to stay, especially in categories which appeal to youngsters.

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