What would you expect to see in a television commercial that features Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, easily two of the most explosive batsmen today in world cricket? Bowlers of all shapes and sizes paying the penalty for making cricket a career option, yes. And towering last-ball sixes, of course. (Though how one could bend the rules of the game to get both batsmen to hit sixes off the last ball still needs sorting out.) Never mind. A six or two, someway or the other, would go down well with the viewer.
And what would you expect to see if the television commercial happens to be one for sportswear brand adidas, that too one directed by Ram Madhvani? Sixes, certainly, but very, very stylized sixes. For who can forget the techno-wizardry in the 'when Sachin bats' commercial that debuted for adidas in 1998 - the one where Madhvani used the 'time slash' technique extensively to dramatize the effect Sachin's batting has on followers of the game. So 'time slash', extended slow-mo, whatever, one would expect some sort of pupil-dilating technique in the new ad.
Welcome to the unexpected.
The new television commercial for adidas, which has just gone on air, has no shots of either batsman whacking the ball into the next neighbourhood. No stratospheric sixes hit, no impossible googlies bowled, no gravity defying catches taken. Not even a glimpse of the two men out in the middle, in the thick of action. What's more, there's zero trace of 'cutting-edge technique' in the whole 60 seconds that make up the commercial's playing time.
Told very briefly, the commercial is all about Sachin and Sehwag in the dressing room - minutes before stepping out to take on the bowling - and what goes on in their minds as they prepare for the battle ahead. So you have a tranquil Sachin seated meditatively, wearing headphones and listening to some soothing music, while Sehwag limbers up, waiting almost impatiently for the first ball to be bowled. Sounds pretty dry, but that's just the gist of it. In film, this entire process of 'preparation' has been dramatized to visually communicate the different ways in which these two batsmen gear up for a common objective. So if Sachin's meditative personality is all about hues of calming blue, austere chanting and gentle string instruments, Sehwag's aggression is all shades of fiery red, purposeful war dancing and drums. 'Jugalbandi' is the idea here, but we'll come to that anon.
The larger idea here is 'pre-game preparation'. Which, in itself, is something new as far as Indian advertising is concerned. But what surprises is the fact that the ad is for a brand that typically operates in the regions of 'performance' and 'achievement'. By that logic, last-ball sixes are more relevant to adidas than to the umpteen other brands that have used the situation in advertising. So why is adidas focusing on 'preparation' rather than 'performance'?
Part of the question just got answered two sentences back. "We felt that the cliché of a batsman smashing the ball out of the ground has been done to death by brands in every conceivable category," explains Harish Doraiswamy, COO, adidas India. "As a leading sports brand, we needed to have different take on the sport - something that was 'inside sport'. Not frivolous, but rooted and genuine. We, therefore, decided to focus on a concept that was unique, yet relevant. Most importantly, it needed to strengthen our core brand values of being authentic, inspiring, committed and passionate. The moments before the start of the innings is pretty much unexplored territory, yet viscerally connected to the sport."
'Preparation' is certainly a new communication concept, but the cricket-watching public pays to watch 'performance'. So will 'preparation', as a thought, sell as well? adidas believes it will. "The big moment in cricket is before the first ball is bowled," says Doraiswamy. "This is the time when the eagerness, anticipation and excitement levels are at the highest, both for the spectators and the players. This explains why there would be 100,000 people waiting at the ground an hour before the match begins, and millions of viewers glued to their television sets to watch the first ball of the match. Moreover, the sight of Sachin and Sehwag walking out to open the innings is something that sends every Indian's heart racing. We wanted to capitalize on that 'moment' - the moment before the big game. If one could master this moment, the rest is like putting principles into practice. And adidas has a place in that 'moment' as it is 'tools of the trade' for the players." He adds that the attempt is to "inspire people to adopt the attitude (of mastering the moment), and to empower them in translating it into their sporting and, preferably, normal lives".
For the agency - TBWA India - the idea of 'preparation' was both "freeing and freezing", to quote Executive Creative Director Narayan Kumar. "We were pleased that we didn't have to travel the usual cricket territory of sixes and fours linked to 'performance'," he admits. "But the excitement of cricket lies in 'performance', not 'preparation'. So the challenge was to take the communication into new ground and make 'preparation' interesting."
That's where the jugalbandi idea took root. "We realized that we couldn't just get into the dressing room and capture the grammar of preparation in a documentary sort of way - that would be terribly boring, as there are only so many ways you can pad-up or tie your shoelaces," says Kumar. "So we said, different people prepare differently, so let us look at the mental aspect of preparation and the different ways this preparation manifests itself. Here are two talented cricketers, so how differently do they mentally prepare for the game. That's how Shubho (Shubhabrata Sarkar, creative director, TBWA India) and I came up with this jugalbandi thought. One thing led to another and we arrived at this script."
The responsibility of translating the script visually fell on Madhvani. "The idea in the script was to externalize the internal states of mind, so the challenge was how to symbolically externalize internal preparation and visually show what happens in that one minute," he says. "So we had Sachin in a meditative mood, listening to gentle music on his Walkman (incidentally, in real life, listening to music is exactly how Sachin prepares for his game) with chanting in the background. This suited his calm, passive 'guru' persona. On the other hand, Sehwag is this earthy guy who wants to go out there and do what needs to be done. The red colour and the sound of the drumbeat reflect his active character. The aspects of sound (string instruments, Vedic chanting and drums) augmented the visual communication."
Madhvani insists that his only contribution to the ad was "executing the idea so that it did justice to the mood". He also gives credit to his production designers (Fali Unwalla and Zehera Latif), producer (Vinod Iyer), cameraman (Vijay Khambatti), and music director (Ram Sampath) for the end result. "I just made sure I didn't screw up," he laughs. He adds that the ad's core treatment is mythological as "cricketers should be treated mythically and not as mortals, as they are some of the few Gods left for the common man to look up to".
So was there a temptation to repeat a technique-driven execution? "Technique is conceptual and has to be linked to a need. This time there was no need for that," Madhvani replies.
"Different time, different idea, different execution," is Doraiswamy's take. Â© 2003 agencyfaqs!