FCB-Ulka study tracks 8-year advertising trends

By , agencyfaqs!, na | In Advertising | October 16, 2002
...and shows that pure product-centric advertising is losing ground, humour-based ads have almost doubled in number, while jingles are still hugely popular with advertisers

N. Shatrujeet

Ask any advertising professional who has been around long enough, and he'll tell you Indian advertising - advertising on television, especially - has undergone a significant transformation over the past eight to 10 years. The execution has definitely got better, we're told. (Which is partly a function of the technologies available today.) And we've gained yards in the ideas department too, they insist. Like how? Well, our commercials are more engaging and clutter-breaking nowadays… and a lot funnier.

Yes, everyone agrees that we're making more funny commercials today than we were a decade ago. But does this across-the-board humour work, or does it only generate more clutter? And even if one were not to debate the merits of humourous advertising, is this the only change Indian television commercials have witnessed? What about a change in communication formats, in and across product categories? What about changes in the manner in which Indian brands tell product stories? Or changes in the use of mnemonics, the use of 'product windows' and, say, the portrayal of women in Indian commercials?

Although perhaps less obvious, there have been changes in most of these components of advertising, as revealed by a recent study - 'The Non-fiction of Indian Advertising, 1993-2001' - conducted by FCB-Ulka Advertising. Sharing some of the findings of the study with agencyfaqs!, Richa Arora, vice-president - strategic planning, FCB-Ulka, says, "The purpose behind the study was to see how exactly the content in Indian television advertising has evolved from the early 90s. We all know there have been changes, but little of that was quantifiable. This study shows that advertising seems to be acquiring a certain sameness, and it also shows a startling scale of opportunity to do things differently."

As a starting point, the agency made a compilation of over 1,000 television commercials from 1993 to 2001. These commercials were classified under eight category heads - Food & Beverages, Personal Care, Household Durables, Lifestyle/Apparel/Fashion, Automotive, Household Products, Pharmaceutical and Services. Each commercial was then mapped onto various relevant dimensions of advertising where possible changes could have occurred. These included the nature of storylines, the use of 'Hinglish' and mnemonics, product windows, the use of humour, the type of protagonist, the nature of payoffs (rational or emotional) and the portrayal of women.

"The agency did not use any criteria for selecting the advertised brands, nor did we do any sort of filtering," Arora informs, "We just took all the ads from TV Ad Indx's quarterly tapes from 1993 onwards. All we wanted was a single credible source, and I believe these tapes are a broad representation of spends, as the ads in these tapes cover 70-to-80 per cent of spends in this country."

The findings of the study are a mixture of the expected and the unexpected. Let's first take pure product-centric advertising… that is, commercials that tend to pan on the product, 30 seconds on 30. In 1993, this kind of advertising constituted 24 per cent of all commercials aired. However, by 2001, the figure had fallen to 11 per cent (which is 11 per cent too much, many creatives would groan). The study also shows that with a decline in product-centric advertising, there was a fall in the number of ads with no narrative storyline (from 51 per cent in '93 to 29 per cent in 2000). The reading could be that product-centric ads make less of a narrative, which, perhaps, affects their recall.

The drop in this approach to advertising, however, is counter-balanced by other forms of product focus. Product windows (those distinct visual capsules where the product fills every pixel on the television screen) increased from 10 per cent in 1993 to 26 per cent in 2001. While 'product stories' (with an emphasis on a specific product ingredient/feature) went up from 15 per cent to 20 per cent in the same period. "So today, if it can't be just product-centric, it seems the ad needs to have a product window," says the study. "Better still, support it with a ingredient-based product story like 'calcium in Maaza', 'carbon-busters in Castrol' or, perhaps, even Zap 'Em With Science (ZEWS), a la 'ZPTO Clinic All Clear' or 'SAF in Ponds Magic Talc' or Herbasol in Chlor-mint."

Another interesting finding related to product stories is that currently, in 'considered purchase categories' such as Automotive and Durables, a mere 5-to-10 per cent of all ads have product stories to tell. In contrast, in categories such as Food & Beverages and Personal Care, 22-to-33 per cent of commercials had product stories/rational cues. Reasons for this can be traced to the nature and evolution-levels of the respective categories. "Considered purchases like Automotive and Durables are now being sold more on product experience/lifestyle parameters than on rational sell," observes the study, citing the examples of Mahindra Bolero's 'breaking free' idea or the 'Mummy's magic' theme for Whirlpool White Magic. The study, however, makes an allowance that in these categories, press advertising could be providing the rational cues.

"In contrast, categories like Foods and Personal Care are using more and more rational cues as support, be it Cadbury chocolates with 'doodh ki shakti' or the fruit vitamin-based Poppins," says the study. Explaining this, Arora says, "Automotive and Durables have a status connotation, so the communication tends to become emotional. However, one crème or one moisturizer is almost as good as another, so you need a rational argument to push your case."

Interestingly, the study notes that commercials having a 'purely functional payoff' (which could range from product displays to commercials with a promise rooted in problem-solution) have only marginally declined from 62 per cent in 1993 to 53 per cent in 2001. "This is because, typically, communication for utility products, business products and dotcoms has been, by and large, based on a functional payoff," the study concludes. "Examples of a pure functional payoff are more common than we think, be it the Pepsodent 'matka' ad symbolizing 'long-lasting germ fighting strength', or Epson printers offering 'clarity'." But what is most surprising is that today, ads with 'testimonial formats' constitute just 4 per cent of all commercials. "It is more the lavish media spends of the Vims, the Ariels and the Doves of the world that make testimonials seem more common than they really are," the study proffers an explanation.

Vis-à-vis the portrayal of women, the study reveals that, "While the rise in the portrayal of women sans 'typically traditional values' was up from 55 per cent in 1993 to 79 per cent in 2001, the change in their appearance was more marginal. The 'modern look' was up from 48 per cent to 56 per cent." The study also notes that, "The relatively more conservative depiction of women is what typifies the F&B category. In 2001, F&B ads portraying women with traditional values were 20 per cent, versus only 13 per cent across other categories (a similar trend was apparent in 1993). It seems as if women in F&B ads find greater favour in their 'annapurna' roles even in modern times."

Speaking about this facet of the study, Arora reveals that other studies done by FCB-Ulka suggest that there is more outward (appearance-wise) change among Indian women and less change in their traditional values. "What our studies have shown is that the package has changed, but the core has not," she says. "However, advertising seems to reflect the opposite. The 'look' is one area where quite a change has happened, so it is surprising that advertisers choose to keep the relatively conservative look, even today. There seems to be, so to say, a gap between advertising and reality."

During the time the Indian consumer was making a switchover from an auditory medium (radio) to a visual one (television), radio jingles used to double to form the backbone of commercials too. Remember 'Washing powder Nirma' and 'Videocon washing machine'? Well, nothing's changed. Jingle-based ads were as high as 45 per cent in 1993. In 2001, the figure is still at 43 per cent - when internationally, jingle-based ads constitute around 2 per cent of the total. Adds weight to one professional theory that ours is a culture tuned to the oral-auditory tradition.

One 'common knowledge' that the study corroborates pertains to the increase of humour in Indian advertising. In 1993, only 28 per cent of all commercials were humour-based. Today (2001), almost every second ad tries to tickle the funny bone - 46 per cent of all ads are (or at least try to be) funny. "It's almost a 'humour herd' out there," says the study. Of course, the idea is not to say 'No' to humour, especially if humour sells. "The trick may lie in creating a distinct brand of humour within the genre, so that that humour becomes a kind of a signature for the brand," Arora points out. The way The Economist uses 'intellectual humour', or the way Fox Sports uses exaggerated, absurd humour.

Arora admits that this is a "first-cut analysis" of the findings. "This was more to take a macro look at the industry and the advertising we are doing," she says. "Based on this, we are now planning to study the more interesting constituents in greater detail… things like ZEWS, testimonials, mnemonics. We will also now look at things at a category level, and I am sure there will be valuable information we can unearth for our clients."

© 2002 agencyfaqs!

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