afaqs!

'Babu Moshai' Khan gives Coke a clean chit

By , agencyfaqs! | In | October 22, 2003
The latest installment in the 'Thanda matlab…' series touches upon the recent controversy, with endorser Aamir Khan donning the garb of a Bengali


Less than 10 days ago, this website had run a feature on the role of advertising at a time when brands are trapped in the vortex of a short-term controversy. In that context, we had mentioned how cola brand Coca-Cola had, hitherto, chosen not to counter the damaging allegations (made by the CSE) in any of its theme-based advertising.

Well, Coke has just said something in its defence. In the form of a television commercial - based on the 'Thanda' theme - which went on air on the day before. A commercial featuring endorser Aamir Khan, where… Hold it, you say. A commercial where Aamir Khan downs a Coke before telling us he hasn't cut back on his daily quota of thanda, so don't listen to them chaps out there and just go on swigging, you guess.

Guess again. Okay, Aamir as a Bangali babu (anyone could pick that much from our headline) convincing his pals in his adda that it's now 'thanda matlab safe' or something to that effect, you chance your reasoning skills again.

Nope. That's not how it goes either.

The commercial is about Aamir (an authoritarian Bengali babu moshai this time, complete with starched white dhoti-kurta, giant mustache and glasses, and well-oiled shoulder-length locks) visiting a quintessential Kolkata coffee house, wife and kids in tow. The wife asks the waiter to fetch some 'thanda', but babu moshai will have none of that. His wife demands to know why, so Aamir scowls and snaps that there's some 'gadbad' in the thanda… because 'oi log bola na'. The wife reasons with him, arguing that there are limits to how one can change one's way of living on account of what 'they' say. She even dwells upon thanda's 100-year heritage and global consumption (Coke is pulling all the stops this time), but makes little headway. Why? Aamir's argument is simple. 'Laboratory mein test hua hai,' he hyperventilates.

That's when the wife whips out her trump. 'Test hua hai, suna. Result nahin suna. Aadha sunta hai, aadha samajhta hai,' she marvels. She then informs Aamir about the independent tests conducted in India, England and the Netherlands, and how thanda has got an okay everywhere.

Hmmm… Aamir considers this for a while (eyeing the Coke bottles on the table before him), then defiantly announces that he'll have to test it for himself. He knocks back all four bottles, belches and smiles. 'Thanda hai,' he proclaims appreciatively, and breaks into an impromptu dance to humour his wife…

Since it first made headlines two and a half months ago, this is the first time that Coke has alluded to the controversy in film (we're not counting all those tactical print ads). Not surprising, considering recent tests conducted by TNO of the Netherlands and CSL of Britain (the latter done independently by Outlook magazine) have gone in Coke's favour. McCann executives, of course, admit that the decision of whether or not to do a 'counter ad' was debated extensively at the agency and client offices. "But we finally said that we should clear our stand and reassure people that Coke is absolutely safe," says Vishal Mehta, business director, McCann-Erickson India. "Independent tests had proved that Coke was safe, so we could say as much with utmost conviction. Also, we found that people still harbour some doubts, so we said it is something we owe consumers. We had to do it, so we did."

Saying Coke is safe is one thing. Getting your star endorser to say Coke is safe is also a most natural thing to do. The twist in this ad, however, is having Aamir play the role of the doubting Tom. The same Aamir who, over the past year and a half, has so thoroughly convinced the consumer of what real thanda is. "Getting Aamir to say he trusts Coke is the most logical thing to do," agrees Mehta. "However, even though Aamir is a spokesperson for Coke, if you look at the 'Thanda' campaign, you'll notice that Aamir represents the common man and is reflective of the consumer sentiment. Aamir has doubts about Coke in this ad because his character in the campaign is representative of the masses - who have doubts about Coke. If Aamir had simply said he trusts Coke, it would have been seen as just another 'paid-for' endorsement. His doubts make the communication honest."

Put another way, Aamir's doubts are seen as real, but when he discards those doubts, his reasons for renewing his trust in Coke become more credible. "Getting Aamir to behave like a typical endorser would have done an injustice to his stature of being a representative of the masses, and it would have robbed the 'Thanda matlab…' campaign of its down-to-earth feel," Mehta reasons.

Speaking about the creative execution, Prasoon Joshi, national creative director, McCann-Erickson India, reveals that Aamir in the garb of a babu moshai was something that he had been toying on for a while now. "But the moment this script happened, a Bengali Aamir made perfect sense," he says. Yes, the argumentative, firebrand, sloganeering nature suits the Bengali stereotype. Joshi admits that striking a balance between countering a serious issue and retaining the fun flavour of the 'Thanda' campaign was a challenge. "This commercial was tricky. We had to keep the 'Thanda' style alive and intact, but we couldn't go overboard with the fun aspect. But we did make the argument funny, and Aamir's egoistic character has come out quite well." Incidentally, the commercial has been produced in record time - six days from shoot to telecast!

Interestingly, this is the first ad in the 'Thanda' campaign that has not been directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. The filmmaker this time is Pradeep Sarkar. "To get the right flavour of Bengal in the ad," Joshi explains. "Even the music this time is by a Bengali, Shantanu Moitra. We just wanted everything to be perfectly Bengali. And I must credit Ramanuj Shastry (creative director) and Huzaifa Alibhai (films unit) who worked closely in the execution of this ad." © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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