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'Un-box' your mind: Ravi Deshpande at The Block

By , agencyfaqs! | In | July 12, 2004
Ravi Deshpande, CEO, Lemon Communications, believes a lot of safe advertising gets created because of a combination of syndromes that afflict the way of thinking


Out-of-the-box thinking, as everyone remotely connected to the ad industry acknowledges, results in the creation of clutter-busting and memorable advertising. Yet, for various reasons, a lot of advertising that ultimately gets produced locally is firmly and comfortably ensconced within the box. Ravi Deshpande, CEO, Lemon Communications and CCO, Euro RSCG India, believes that this has to do with the booby traps intrinsic to the boxed-in way of thinking, and urges ad folk to learn to 'un-box' themselves and their brands in order to produce refreshing advertising.

Speaking to young creative minds during the eighth session of The Block - the AAAI's 10-stage creative workshop - held in Mumbai on July 9, Deshpande maintained that the 'box' limits talent, curbs creative instincts and doesn't leave room for new ideas to grow. "The box is a place where we are comfortable, as it offers a safe environment," he says. "The safe environment results in the creation of safe ads, but acts as a barrier in producing good advertising."

Deshpande is of the opinion that a lot of safe advertising gets created because of a combination of syndromes that afflict the way of thinking in agencies and at clients' offices. "These syndromes are perceived to be safe, but in reality, they trap creative opportunities in the box and end up wasting a lot of the client's money," he insists.

The first such syndrome is what Deshpande terms the Category Syndrome, where the creative course is dictated by the existing category formula. "In this syndrome, the ad is decided even before the brief is written," he explains. "Knowingly or unknowingly, we start producing work that is defined by category advertising." Using an analogy from the law of the jungle, Deshpande explained that the desire to 'blend in' stems from the fear of getting noticed - which, ironically, defeats the purpose of all advertising. "Most brands choose to blend in and stay camouflaged as they are actually afraid to stand out," he surmises.

To make his point, Deshpande demonstrated how car advertising in India is a victim of the Category Syndrome. Using the examples of commercials for the Tata Indica V2, the Chevrolet Optra, the Honda Accord and Maruti Zen, he pointed out how "everything is a blur". As a counterpoint, Deshpande used the films for the Peugeot 206 ('sculptor'), the Toyota Celica ('dog') and Honda ('cog') to show how "ads can be anti-category, yet make powerful statements".

Country of Music Syndrome is another bane to Indian advertising, Deshpande observes. "We have the habit of mistaking jingles and happy images for ads, and we are forced to do this over and over again," he says, citing the jingle-based ads for Reliance Infocomm, Brooke Bond and Club HP as cases in point. "These are examples of how music replaces the idea. The idea has to come first, and music can only support the idea." Deshpande cited ads for Axe, Tooheys Extra Dry ('quest') and our own Hutch to demonstrate how good music can help a good idea deliver un-boxed advertising.

The Scream Syndrome is all about screaming to get the consumer's attention, and Deshpande thinks advertising often succumbs to the temptation of saying as many things as possible - as loudly as possible. "Yelling is not an idea, as that only gets the consumer to reach for the remote," he says. In his opinion, the films for Kinetic Velocity, ICICI Group and the Nokia 1100 are examples of ads that say too many things too loudly. "Scream if you have to, but scream out an idea. Be single-minded. Why load the consumer with tutorials?" Deshpande believes that good ideas that scream can be both incredibly noisy (the 'life is short' film for Xbox and the 'DJ Aon' spot for SPY Sparkling Wine) and incredibly quiet (the 'speed gun' film for the Kawasaki and the 'headlights' ad for OSRAM).

The Funny Syndrome, Deshpande thinks, stems from a natural desire to write funny ads. However, he also thinks humour doesn't come naturally to Indians - not at least in the typically wry British way. "So you have to be doubly sure that the end of the ad is funny… or at least brings forth a smile," he warns. Deshpande thinks the commercials for Nokia, Chlor-mint and Listerine, for instance, are symptomatic of a desire to be funny, without getting quite there. "Avoid humour unless you are a hundred per cent sure it will work," he says. "Don't set out to be funny. Set out to be interesting, and the fun will follow." In Deshpande's book, the films for Humo (fruit-flavoured condoms), Montavit ('moment of clarity') and Bud Light ('fridge') are good examples of well-timed humour.

The Celebrity Syndrome has of course got to do with an obsession with stars and celebrity endorsers. Deshpande clearly thinks celebrities don't always help sell brands, most certainly not when celeb ads don't have an interesting story at their core. However, he admits that when cleverly used, celebrities can help take the brand forward. Case in point: Aamir Khan in Coke's 'Thanda matlab…' campaign.

The Low Budget Syndrome, Deshpande agrees, is a "good excuse to do mediocre advertising and not feel bad about it". He, however, thinks that good advertising is not always a hostage of low budgets, especially because a lot of Indian brands do have the support of good budgets. "Also, good ads cost no more than bad ads, and simple ideas with small budgets are possible," Deshpande pointed out, citing films for Bright Milk ('football') and Sylvania ('changing bulbs').

Sharing his thoughts on how to resist the pulls and pressures of the various syndromes and produce sharp creative, Deshpande said the trick lay in relentlessly pursuing the idea, whatever the odds. "Never, never, never give up," he exhorted those gathered. "It's the only formula that works." He also urged creatives to get inspired. "Ours is a very mundane and monotonous life. We meet the same people and say the same things. There is virtually no room for inspiration in our daily lives, and inspiration is what is really required."

And what are these sources of inspiration? Getting out of advertising, for one. "Don't live within the world of advertising alone. To be original, seek inspiration from unexpected sources," said Deshpande, paraphrasing Paul Arden from his bestseller, It's Not How Good You Are… Listing various sources of inspiration, Deshpande said, "Get inspired by fresh air. Get inspired by movies. Get inspired by wildlife. Get inspired by cities, villages, by-lanes and cultures. And if you can't afford traveling, do visit the nearest bookstore, and it'll surely have books on places and cultures."

"Get inspired by extraordinary people," he continues. "Get inspired by ordinary people. The more you observe people, the more ideas you will find. The 'Bihari' ad for 'Thanda matlab Coca-Cola' was written that way because somebody had observed people and their behaviour. Get inspired by music, and it is important that you be sensitive to all sounds and not just music. Get inspired by images and photojournalism. Get inspired by nightlife and sex… The important thing is to keep searching for inspiration all the time."

In conclusion, Deshpande urged creatives to treat each and every piece of communication as a challenge and get the killer instinct going. Using the 'prepare to play' film for Nike as a symbol, he said, "Prepare to win and get the attitude right." © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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