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Airtel looks out for #4amFriends

By Satrajit Sen , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital
Last updated : June 04, 2014
The three-minute digital video is an extension of the brand's recent TVC series that promoted its Night Packs offer.

We all need friends and have them - real buddies, Facebook friends and even friends of friends. However, not everyone can boast of a 4 AM friend. But then, what is a 4 AM friend?

Airtel Twitter promotion

Telecom bigwig Bharti Airtel believes that a 4 AM friend is one who can be called at any hour of the day for help. The brand has recently released a digital film which features a prank played by a guy on his '4 AM Friend'.

"Hundreds of friends on Facebook, how many can we truly count on to help us when in trouble at night? We helped Abhi to know his #4amFriends," says Airtel about the video.

Conceived by Hungama Digital Services and produced by Equinext Films, the three-minute video is meant exclusively for the digital medium. The film features the protagonist, Abhi, who plays a prank to test which of his friends are "4 AM friends", the kind of friends who will be there for him even in the middle of the night.

The video begins with Abhi calling his friends late at night, telling them that he hit a car and now has a bunch of goons asking for Rs 10,000 to let him go. As each of his friends come to his rescue, they are put through a series of bizarre experiences, replete with madmen and paranormal occurrences.

One friend named Rishabh survives it all and ultimately comes to Abhi's rescue, only to be surprised by a grand celebration. Published on May 27, the video has so far received more than one lakh views on YouTube. Airtel has been promoting the video with the hashtag #4amFriends across Twitter and Facebook by inviting users to share the pranks they have played with their friends.

The video is a digital extension of the company's recent TVC series where the brand caught the pulse of young India with a campaign that narrates a romantic wee-hour conversation of a soon-to-be married couple. The campaign aims to promote the 'Unlimited internet and calls at night' offer under Airtel's 'Night Store' (http://www.airtel.in/night) product.

Pranks are Good?

Prank videos and trolls have become the order of the day for many brands on social media, so much so that a whole new term called 'prankvertising' has been coined and many marketers want to be in on the prankvertising bandwagon. Prankvertising includes typical jokes ranging from small spoofs to elaborate fake campaigns, some of which we come to see on April Fools' Day.

Remarkably, in 2013, beer giant Carlsberg created a similar ad campaign, which asked a few volunteers to call their best friends between 1 and 5 am and ask them to bring some money to a shady poker joint. That video went viral as well and comparisons are inevitable. In fact, many people on social media have accused Airtel of copying the Carlsberg campaign.

Vineet Bajpai

Venkat Mallik

We quizzed digital experts about the concept and execution of Airtel's campaign. For Vineet Bajpai, group CEO, TBWA India, the video does not come across as an overly impressive one, especially when it is from a brand like Airtel, that has given category-building youth-oriented ads like "har ek friend zaroori hota hai".

"While the concept is good, the execution is stretched beyond a point that does not leave it so appealing. While the central idea is perhaps about testing the dependability of friends, it gets fulfilled when the friends arrive at 4 am. Now why they are subjected to horror-effects and practical jokes is beyond comprehension - because is stretches the idea from dependability of friends to bravery of friends! Somehow the ad does not leave a very pleasant taste," opines Bajpai.

However, Bajpai does believe that the creative idea is powerful enough to connect with today's increasingly nocturnal urban youth.

Venkat Mallik, president, RAPP India, likes the fact that the video is not run of the mill. "There is an attempt here to try something new and that attempt needs to be applauded. I also like the fact that this is part of a growing body of work where advertising looks more like content than like a sales pitch. We will keep seeing a lot more work like this especially given the increasingly digital world where consumers are in control of what they would like to consume and therefore the pressure on brand communication to mirror entertaining content is higher," he adds.

However, Mallik fails to relate to it as a story or script and feels that it is over-cooked in some ways. "I am not sure I like the narrative or the screenplay. I don't think it delivers the brand message in a succinct manner. In fact, the Airtel advertising with the couple about to get married probably does a much better job of the same overall message," he adds.

Though Mallik is optimistic and believes that it will break the clutter for whoever has the patience to watch the whole ad, Bajpai refuses to call it clutter-breaking, as there have been several ads in the past showing the same consumer demographics, SEC and central message.

"In fact since the ad is an all-boys feature, it does have the threat of alienating the vast female audience Airtel may not want to miss out on. A simpler, softer, gender-neutral ad with the same concept would have done wonders," Bajpai adds.

With inputs from Prachi Srivastava.

First Published : June 04, 2014
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