Is the Indian soldier the new hero of adland?

By Ashee Sharma , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | October 17, 2016
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Hero archetypes in Indian advertising change with the mood of the nation and the consumer. Now, it is the season of the protector.

If you are active on social media, chances are that you must have come across some form of content designed as a tribute to India's soldiers. Following the surgical strikes that India carried out across the LoC in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, in response to the Uri attack, brands and online content creators seem to have found a new currency in patriotism. Or was the phenomenon triggered earlier?

While the answer to this question may be ambiguous, adland appears to have decoded the dominant mood in the country, thanks in part to social media, which sets the agenda these days. So, while a patriotic poem 'Kashmir toh hoga lekin Pakistan nahi hoga' by head constable Manoj Thakur from Himachal Pradesh goes viral on social media, popular brands such as Bajaj, Hero and online furniture marketplace Pepperfry come up with campaigns that play on the same theme.

For Bajaj Auto it was an opportune moment to revive its campaign for Bajaj V- the bike that contains the metal of the legendary warship INS Vikrant, with a fresh ad that calls on Indians to celebrate national pride every day.

#HeroSalutes, the Hero MotoCorp campaign, was released on YouTube a fortnight ago, and has since then got over a million views. Pepperfry's 'Is Diwali kuch badalke dekhiye' ad carries forward the brand's 'Do-good' thought.

Also leveraging the sentiment is Bollywood music channel 9XM with a new Hindi song 'Salaam Haq Se' (a play on the brand's tagline 9XM Haq Se). "Khadi Sarhad Pe Fauj Hai, Tabhi Teri Meri Mauj Hai', go the lyrics. Featuring rapper Fazilpuria, the video that is a tribute to the soldiers guarding our borders was released on October 11. It too crossed the one-million-view mark.

Also in the fray is aerospace company Boeing's print ad. The copy reads, "A peaceful sky, thanks to those who defend it. Boeing is proud to salute the Indian Air Force as it celebrates its 84th anniversary." But to think that it's only the men in uniform or popular brands displaying the nationalistic fervour will be unfair to the online content platforms that have in their own ingenious ways paid tribute to our bravehearts.

Names in this list include V Seven Pictures' 'Surgical Strike, A reply video from Indian soldiers to (Arvind) Kejriwal' and Telling Tales Film Company's 'Surgical Strikes made simple by Pallavi Joshi'. Both the videos take a dig at the doubting Thomases and their reckless demand of furnishing video proofs for a secret operation relating to national security. The V Seven Pictures video has also gone viral with close to 1.5 million views.

Of interest here will be to note that the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy have also come up with their respective campaigns that call on the nation's youth to join the armed forces. While it may be unintentional, the ads seem to be tactically timed so as to tap into the patriotic zeal.

Heroes in making

While the men in uniform are undoubtedly the current prototype of the ad world's heroes, brands exploiting prevailing consumer sentiment is no novel phenomenon. And, hence, the audience have - time and again - got new role models to look up to.

Examples range from children who became major influencers following Lifebuoy's 'Help a child reach five - Gondappa' ad to cool and spunky grandmothers like Kamlesh Gill of Vicky Donor fame who featured in some of the most memorable ads such as the one for Tanishq and Abbott.

Following a stellar performance at Rio Olympics, sportspersons and differently-abled athletes became a rage among brands. Examples in this category include Sony LIV's tribute to the Rio contingent and adidas' Odds campaign featuring Major D P Singh, India's first blade-runner and a war hero.

Interestingly, the distinction of being the archetypal hero does not belong to people alone. In a recent wave of advertising it was the unconventional professions that enjoyed the privilege. Top-of-mind ads in this category are, undoubtedly, Nescafé's stammering comedian, the cartoonist and, more recently, the radio jockey.


Saurabh Varma

Saurabh Varma, CEO, Leo Burnett, South Asia, thinks that the hero archetype is an incredible way of building a brand. "Human beings have always been moved by challenges and people who have overcome the odds through struggle and sacrifice. The challenge is, of course, not about doing it or not, it's about how to do it. The context and culture might offer an opportunity, but brands will need to choose how to represent themselves as a part of the narrative," he says.

Varma believes that brands have a responsibility of furthering the hero's archetype rather than reducing it to a cheap, transactional opportunity. He cites the example of the Bajaj V to make his point. "Bajaj V is an example of unleashing pride into popular culture. 'Sons of Vikrant' is a classic example of how you can take everyday heroes and become a part of popular culture," he states.

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