To say the least, it's a 'cover-up operation' that has been pulled off with immense chutzpah. But before we come to that, a bit of history (particularly for all those who're not from Mumbai), just to ensure we're all on the same page.
On May 3, the Mumbai police issued notices to O&M India and Maxwell Industries, the advertisers and manufacturers of the VIP range of men's underwear, to pull down all hoardings advertising VIP's Frenchie-X brand that dotted Mumbai's thoroughfares. The reason? The police was apparently acting on complaints made by 'concerned citizens' who found the ads offensive and obscene.
Mind you, in terms of the so-called obscenity quotient, the Frenchie-X ads were nowhere near the hugely infamous Tuffs shoes ad ('python') featuring models Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre in the buff. All the Frenchie-X ads showed was a shot of a male model wearing slightly brief briefs. The ads appear to have outraged the modesty of our moral brigade nevertheless, and it was enough for the police to act upon.
Even as the debate over the alleged impropriety of the Frenchie-X hoardings raged in Mumbai (the controversy is likely to have got a lot more press had it not been for the elections), the hoardings were pulled down in the hope of expunging the advertising from public memory. However, instead of conceding defeat and withdrawing into a shell, Maxwell and its agency have bounced back with a new creative. A press ad that appeared in a city supplement last week had the visual of a man's midriff, a bath towel wrapped around his waist, the top portion of his red brief peeking out. 'Now making a bigger impression,' said the headline. (Just in case you haven't figured it out, the slug for the Frenchie-X reads, 'Makes a big impression.')
Not only is the ad a perfectly placed repartee to those attacking the brand and its advertising, it is also an extremely relevant and topical piece of communication that borrows from and builds on the controversy by marrying it to the brand's slug. It is also demonstrative of the brand's pluck in not cowing down to pressure. Speaking about the ad, Piyush Pandey, national creative director & executive chairman, O&M India, says, "When such a lot of hullabaloo happened over the advertising for Frenchie-X, a good two months after the campaign broke, we asked ourselves, 'What are these people talking about?' Hoardings were pulled down and there was so much drama that we decided this requires an answer in style. So we covered this man with a towel and spoke of the 'bigger impression', which ties in with the brand's baseline. More importantly, it shows that the brand is alive and kicking and packs attitude, and it also answers the media controversy."
The controversy and the allegations therein appear fairly specious, it must be said. For one, the complaints against the Frenchie-X ads apparently surfaced a couple of months after the campaign broke. The fact that this was a fairly visible campaign, and the fact that people who find such ads offensive tend to react immediately (instead of allowing the resentment to simmer for two months or more), points to a theory that is being forwarded in some quarters - that the whole controversy was motivated by vested interests. "I think this controversy is crazy," snorts Rensil D'Silva, senior creative director, Mudra Communications. "What is offending people? Advertising showing underwear has existed since the time the category started. And why rake up a controversy three months after the ads break? I don't think people wake up one fine morning and say 'I find this ad I have been seeing for so many days offensive.' To me, the whole thing smacks of a ploy by the competition."
That may or may not be the case, and for lack of evidence one way or the other, we'll let it rest. However, even assuming 'concerned citizens' did lodge the complaints against the Frenchie-X campaign, the fact remains that those involved are barking up the wrong tree. Heaving bosoms and pelvic gyrations are rampant on television and cinema, and our music videos are an endless source of titillation. So why single out an ad, that too for a brand of underwear? "Which underwear ad has not shown people wearing underwear?" Pandey asks, adding, "I have always maintained that television is no longer a home medium. Today, with television present in railway stations, bus stands and airports, television is a moving hoarding. The Frenchie-X ads are nothing compared to what comes on TV today."
D'Silva agrees, alluding to the late night fare on television. "If models wearing underwear bring out the prudishness in people, I guess it's a bit late in the day for such prudishness." He also demands that if - and it's a big if - a code for decency is required, it must be universal, covering all aspects of the media. In summation, he says, "Moral watchdogs must know what affects people and what are the real issues. I don't think the target audience of VIP has a problem with the advertising. This is a non-issue, and some people are seeking mileage out of it."
In fact, the new ad is evidence of the fact that VIP's target audience hasn't taken offence to the campaign. Marketers are extremely sensitive to consumer perceptions, and any controversy that threatens to shake the foundations of consumer loyalty is taken seriously. Flippancy at the cost of the consumer's respect doesn't come naturally to marketers, and there's no reason to believe Maxwell is an exception to the rule.
Within the industry, the ad itself is being seen as a good example of a brand bouncing back from a controversy. "I quite liked it as you rarely see a sense of humour in press advertising these days," smiles Sean Colaco, senior creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi India. "It was also a fitting reply to all those who made a noise about the earlier advertising. Let me put it this way: In spite of not showing any bum anymore, they are still being cheeky. If the first campaign was provocative, this is true to that attitude by staying provocative." D'Silva also thinks the brand has taken the decision of saying something without being too obvious about it, "but is still in your face, pardon the pun".
chlorophyll's Kiran Khalap thinks the ad is a very clever way of turning negative publicity into a positive takeout for the brand. However, he believes that for the communication to achieve its desired effect, it has to talk to the target audience through all relevant media. "If the idea is limited merely to showing a finger to the people who they believe started the controversy, it will only be an exercise in self-indulgence," he says. "The idea has to be taken across media - print and outdoor - so that it builds and connects with the consumer. It has to form a virtuous upward spiral to really gain strength." Khalap is also of the opinion that the idea has to get picked up by the media - where the whole controversy became public - so that the loop gets closed. "If all this happens, it will be an extremely intelligent use of negative publicity to the brand's advantage." © 2004 agencyfaqs!First Published : May 17, 2004