Nirma: A 'soap' and suds story

By , agencyfaqs! | In | November 24, 2003
The new television commercial for detergent brand Nirma is very much at odds with the familiar goody-goody Nirma advertising of the eighties and nineties

By no stretch of imagination does it resemble your regulation Nirma detergent film. (If you stop to consider, no film can remotely resemble your regulation Nirma detergent film minus pleased-as-punch women dunking clothes into buckets and converting the backyard into a miniature dhobi ghaat.)

That aside, if the film is actually about people squabbling and getting downright nasty with one another… Let's just say it's very much at odds with the goody-goody Nirma detergent advertising most of us have grown up with and have been conditioned to expect from the brand.

It stands to reason that the sheer dissonance of the new Nirma commercial has got the ad (and the brand) noticed. Which, in the final tally, was the ultimate advertising objective, as we'll soon learn. But first, let's briefly go through the ad for the benefit of those who've missed it on the tube.

The film opens on a well-laid dining table, with members of an extended 'parivaar' seated around it. Bahus, bhaabis and maajis dressed like Christmas trees. Betas, bhaiyas and devars, dapper and nicely deodorised. A sedate, all-knowing patriarch presiding over the table… However, simmering ill will waits at the table, as dagger-like glances are exchanged.

Suddenly, the situation comes to a boil when one of the women of the household bursts out, 'Samaaj mein mera sar jhuk gaya hai… aap ki parivaar ki krishn-leelaon se!' Irked by this effrontery, one of the bhaabis picks up a dish from the table and hurls its contents at her outspoken relation. Curry splatters on pristine white. A moment of stunned silence. Then all hell breaks loose as the spat quickly degenerates into a free-for-all.

Casting aside the last vestiges of propriety, the women of the parivaar vent their pent-up anger by chucking food - curry, sabzi, chutney, whatever - on one another. The younger men try to restrain the womenfolk. Try. While pitaji solemnly munches his way through the chaos (imparting an 'everyday' air to the proceedings). Finally, having spent all the food and most of their ire, the womenfolk (their resplendent wardrobes in shambles) leave the dining table cursing - and hefting packets of Nirma. '…Hema, Jaya, Rekha, Sushma… Sab ki pasand Nirma…' the familiar jingle rounds it all off.

The commercial - scripted and directed by Prasoon Pandey for Nirma's long-standing agency Purnima Advertising - is the result of what Pandey terms "a two-year perseverance" on the part of Purnima's managing director, Ashok Soni. "Ashok first approached me to make a film for Nirma nearly two years ago," says Pandey. The filmmaker admits that he wasn't quite sure he wanted to make a 'typical Nirma film', so he kept buying time every time Soni came to him, hoping it would be the last he'd hear of it. "Then I saw Ashok at Cannes this year, and I realised that this man has come to see what is good advertising, so he must be really serious about the business," Pandey recounts. "That was when I said to myself I must do something for him. I started work on the ad in earnest in August."

Soni, for his part, knew what he wanted when he went to Pandey with his shopping basket. "I have always wanted to make a film with Prasoon, which is why I was bent on getting him," he laughs at the mention of his two-year effort. "I think Prasoon is extremely creative and dedicated to the idea, plus he is a perfectionist. Also, he is not only a director but also an adman. I know he only makes films that have something different at the heart of it. We wanted to make a very different film for Nirma, which is why we went to him. We were not looking for a routine idea or film."

The need to create something out of Nirma's routine stemmed from a need to get consumers to notice improvements in Nirma, Soni observes. "The product has gone through changes in terms of ingredients which give clothes superior whiteness. This was essentially a relaunch of the product, and we felt that if people had to notice this, we couldn't just change the models. We had to change the format of the ad. The popular Nirma jingle has been retained, but by being so different, the new commercial forces people to talk about Nirma. The focus was on recall and top-of-mind." Soni adds that the radical shift in the tonality of Nirma advertising was put through informal research, and "the reaction was largely positive".

Speaking about the conception of the idea, Pandey says that he pushed for the wacky route knowing Nirma was looking for a dramatic change in its advertising. "I was playing on the front foot as, at the back of my head, I knew they had come to me only because they wanted a fresh, lively approach," he says. "They had obviously thought through the merit of having me do the ad."

The basic idea, per se, came from a line in the Nirma jingle. "Nirma has never been about micro-granules or some such," Pandey reasons. "Net-net, the Nirma thought has been 'Hema, Jaya, Rekha, Sushma… Sab ki pasand Nirma'. That has been Nirma's differentiator. A detergent that four different like-minded people buy. What I did was see if the next step can be about four very unlike women buying and using Nirma. And the best way to show this is have four women who disagree on everything else agreeing on Nirma, without making it obvious. For this, I took a current popular entertainment idiom - the Great Indian Family with all its discords - as the base, and used the dinner table where the entire family gathers to spark a food fight. It gave a twist to the story, and provided stains… the biggest endurance test for Nirma, so a wonderful opportunity for Nirma to come into the picture. When we narrated the script to the client, they were willing to go with it immediately."

Pandey agrees that crafting played a big role in the commercial. "I knew of these popular saas-bahu serials, but I had never watched one. Once the script was approved, I got 10 episodes each of 'Kyunki Saas…' and 'Kahaani Ghar…' and a copy of 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham', and watched all of it to educate myself on the style and language of the genre. I took the help of my mother and my maid to understand the characters in these serials. In fact, four women in the ad are actually from one or the other of these serials. I got my German cameraman (Jason Guest) to understand the style by watching 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham'. Gavin Miguel got us the right kind of wardrobe. We got the lady who did the set for 'Kahaani Ghar…' to do our set, and then I tweaked the end product by changing the colours and the lighting to make it slightly more aesthetic. It was a very enjoyable experience." © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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