Lifebuoy's moving message

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | February 25, 2013
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Lifebuoy's latest viral video addresses the issue of diarrhoea-related deaths in Indian villages that can be prevented by regular hand-washing. The online buzz generated by the film has led its makers to consider launching it on TV soon.

From safeguarding masculine 'tandurusti' to promoting social service through 'Gandhi-giri' and urging pre-meal hand washing by serving branded chapattis at the recent Kumbh Mela, HUL's Lifebuoy has come a long way. In its latest film, the brand addresses the issue of diarrhoea-related deaths in Indian villages, numbers for which run into millions.

Lifebuoy's viral video

The film draws viewer attention to Thesgora, a village in Madhya Pradesh that has one of highest rates of diarrhoea. Since many of these deaths can be prevented by the simple act of washing hands with soap, the brand has taken its educational activation programme (that, as per the information given at the end of the video, has already reached 130 million people across the world) to this village. The idea for the film came from the fact that the brand authorities were keen on adopting an Indian village.

In the film, noticeably set in rural India, a man walks to his local temple on his hands, as other villagers look on in wonder. He does this to express his gratitude to God because his son turns five, unlike his other children who succumbed to diarrhoea and other such infectious diseases well before reaching this age.

While the film is in sync with Lifebuoy's plans to rid MP's Thesgora of diarrhoea, the visual imagery and Tamil soundtrack mentally transport viewers to a rural setting in South India. Amer Jaleel, national creative director, Lowe Lintas & Partners (the agency that has made this campaign) tells afaqs! that while the two decisions -- one regarding which village to adopt and the other regarding where to shoot the film to support the initiative -- were taken concurrently, they were de-linked.

Amer Jaleel

Amit Sharma

"The creative decision to make the film the way it is right now and the actual on-ground activation were different. So, it's not that we're depicting this particular village (Thesgora) in the film," he explains.

Jaleel shares that though originally conceptualised as a viral video, plans to release it on TV and in cinemas are very likely. Apparently, while industry insiders and trade professionals are appreciating the film from a craft standpoint, feedback from lay consumers, who've caught the film online, leans towards enquiries about the issue being addressed. "People are keen on finding out how they can help contribute towards the cause," says Jaleel. Given such a response, the agency is keen on widening the net by placing the film on more media platforms.

Speaking about the film, Samir Singh, global vice-president, Lifebuoy tells afaqs! that the brand's goal is to change the hand-washing behaviour of a billion people by 2015 and consequently save lives. "Besides the work we have been doing on-ground for the last decade, we needed people to support our cause in huge numbers and wanted to tell the world 'the Lifebuoy story' in an emotional way," he says.

Singh reveals that his brief to the agency was to translate a statistic -- namely, 'two million children in the world still die every year before the age of five due to preventable infections like diarrhoea and pneumonia' -- into something real, personal and powerful.

Directed by Chrome Pictures' Amit Sharma, the film has been shot at various locations on the outskirts of Madurai and near Hampi. "It was not an easy film to shoot," Sharma confides. The entire shoot took around four and a half (non-consecutive) days to complete and was done with the help of on-set translators (since the people in the video only spoke their local dialects) and physiotherapists (for the benefit of the hand-walkers in the video).

Interestingly, two people played the part of the protagonist who walks on his hands all through; one whose face is visible to viewers and another, who served as a body double. Interestingly, both are Chennai-based non-actors. "To make it look real, I deliberately didn't use a harness to hold the men up; they actually walked on their hands without any artificial support," shares Chrome's Sharma.

Squeaky clean message?

Senthil Kumar

Minakshi Achan

K S Chakravarthy

afaqs! approached a few creative experts who speak Tamil and asked them to share their thoughts on this effort. The soundtrack -- a lyrical, Tamil prayer-like narrative about a father expressing gratitude for his son's health and seeking blessings for his long life -- is an undisputed hit.

For Senthil Kumar, national creative director, JWT India, the film is "an intense, life-saving and idiot-proof piece of communication" that is true to its proposition. "It's a very real and moving film. The visual landscape of rural South India has been captured in a natural manner," he says.

Kumar, however, wonders why the supers that elaborate the premise are given in English. And that's not his only doubt. "Do you need the tourist who speaks only in the national language? Shouldn't they all be in Tamil, talking to that particular village audience in their own language? Maybe there is a deeper need to bring alive the 'lifesaver' proposition of Lifebuoy to benefit the downtrodden and the ignorant in different local languages to achieve the desired response faster," he thinks aloud.

Minakshi Achan, co-founder and creative head, Salt Brand Solutions, says, "The execution is top class. I love the moments built into it, the casting and the whole vibe. It drives the message home beautifully and tugs at the heartstrings. The execution just doesn't seem like a typical 'advertising film' and sits beautifully with the message given at the end."

According to K S Chakravarthy (Chax), national creative director, Draftfcb Ulka, the film is a great example of a brand staying true to its core and "raising its game from merely washing hands to a matter of life and death for every child."

"The creative execution and track are perfect; you have no idea what's coming till it hits you squarely between the eyes -- and this is despite my knowing it's a Lifebuoy ad," Chax adds.

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